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Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts. Supporters and detractors speak out

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This goes without saying, but I'll say it. Donald Trump has polarised opinion in this country. In the case of his indictment, some of the differences are surprising. Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, says Trump's indictment on 34 felony counts shows that nobody is above the law.

Jonathan Chait, also a liberal, a writer for New York Magazine, begs to differ. I've just been reading his case that Trump was in reality beneath the law. Yes, Chait says, he paid to cover up an affair and may well have violated laws to do that. But Chait argues that's mainly just sleazy, not something to prosecute.

If you want more opinions, NPR's Eric Westervelt has been listening to some from people across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let's make some noise.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: In Minnesota, more than a hundred people rallied at the state capitol in St. Paul Tuesday to protest the Democratic-led state government. But the Trump indictment drama was clearly front and center. Some people waved Trump flags and wore MAGA hats and shirts to show their support for the former president. Ginnelle Edgette is a 52-year-old hairdresser from Blaine, Minn.

GINNELLE EDGETTE: The No. 1 thing that I feel for Trump right now is I pray that God is protecting him from people. I mean, right now he's out on an island kind of by himself.

WESTERVELT: Monica Nelson-Thiel, a 56-year-old from Maplewood, Minn., also attended what was dubbed a freedom rally. She works at a local liquor store and as a school lunch aide. For her, Trump's felony charges for falsifying business records set a dangerous example that, in America, you can go after ex-leaders.

MONICA NELSON-THIEL: Former presidents have not been charged. And it's a horrible precedent, and it's going to be difficult to go back to the way it should be.

WESTERVELT: And in St. Petersburg, Florida, 68-year-old Republican Peter Seanz called the Trump charges a crazy witch hunt that he thinks also mark a dangerous lurch towards authoritarian rule by Democrats.

PETER SEANZ: They're taking control of us now. You know, it's going to be like a little communist country now. You know, it's going to be like China. You know, the people have no say-so, you know?

WESTERVELT: But 19-year-old Chloe Resler, a college student at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, says it's about time Trump is held accountable for some of his lies.

CHLOE RESLER: I think it sends a message that nobody is above the law. I don't think anybody should be able to pay off people to not say the truth about them. I think him, quote, "getting what he deserved" is a good thing rather than him just being able to hide behind his money.

WESTERVELT: In Illinois, Alyssa Shih, a student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, says she understands that indicting a former president who's also running again for the White House will be seen as highly political. But it underscores the strength of America's democratic system, she says, precisely because Trump has been so brazen about his ability to stay out of a courtroom despite years of investigations into his personal business and political dealings.

ALYSSA SHIH: Not a lot of presidents have had that sort of unabashed macho energy that they are the law. So I know that people will say, oh, this is a slippery slope, but this is something that we need to do because Trump was so open about the fact that he was the law, and he wasn't above it.

WESTERVELT: Meantime, in a neighborhood on St. Louis' west side, 38-year-old Frank Williamson, a businessman and Democrat, told us he worries the indictment will simply end up boosting Trump's appeal. And Williamson has little faith that the legal case will change Trump's style, rhetoric or strategy.

FRANK WILLIAMSON: It's a long time coming. You know, hopefully he learns his lesson. But, you know, it's Trump you're talking about, so.

WESTERVELT: He's still No. 1 in polls among Republicans, Williamson says, adding, so we'll just have to see how all this plays out.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.