Column: Donald Trump is dangerously close to proving that presidents are above the law

How many times have you heard it? “No one is above the law.”

But this aphorism of American democracy is a myth when it comes to presidents.

Fortunately, few presidents have shown such a penchant for crime as Donald Trump. And none have done so with a more heinous end: threatening our system of government. To stay in office, he worked to overthrow a historically free and fair election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Even when he failed, Trump undermined democracy; Many millions of Americans, Republicans, mistakenly believe that President Biden stole the 2020 election.

The Justice Department under Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland should take the time necessary to build a case against Trump for his central role in the January 6, 2021 uprising, strong enough to convince a unanimous jury beyond a reasonable doubt – and thus ensure that as Rep. Liz Cheney says, Trump will never “come near the Oval Office” again.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

But if justice doesn’t indict and prosecute the unrepentant former president, the truth will be clear: one man is above the law.

Garland has repeatedly insisted without naming Trump. His desperation was evident Last week, when a reporter challenged him after his latest assurance that the law would reach all Americans, “Even a former president?”

“I don’t know how – maybe I’ll say that again,” came the reply. “No one is above the law in this country. I can’t say it any clearer.”

Days later, NBC anchor Lester Holt came back to Garland, but asked if Garland was concerned that “the indictment of a former president and perhaps a presidential candidate would tear the country apart.” The Attorney General did not back down:

“We pursue justice without fear or favor. We intend to hold everyone criminally responsible for the events surrounding January 6 accountable for any attempt to disrupt the legitimate transfer of power from one government to another.”

Prove it.

Current and past presidents undeniably enjoy higher levels of prosecution, and not without reason: the national interest.

For incumbent presidents, the Justice Department has held, since Richard Nixon’s time, that criminal indictment of an incumbent “would unduly undermine the ability of the executive branch to carry out its constitutionally assigned duties.” Thus, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Trump was not charged in 2019, despite citing ten damning cases suggesting he obstructed justice in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

For former presidents, there are no constitutional restrictions on prosecution, but there are handy political red flags, especially for Trump.

Inevitably, many Americans — a minority, various polls suggest, but a significant one — will view any Justice Department indictment against Trump as biased, especially when the government is led by the opposing party and by the man who has been Trump’s one-time, and perhaps future, political rival was . A conviction failure could uplift Trump politically, as he was emboldened after Senate Republicans thwarted his conviction in two impeachment trials. And trying to tempt Trump could trigger rounds of revenge proceedings as the parties switch powers over time.

But the consequences of not putting Trump in the dock – and ideally in an orange jumpsuit – would be even worse. I agree with the two renegade Republicans on the January 6th House Committee.

Cheney recently warned that letting a president get away with treasonable activities is a “much more serious constitutional threat” than prosecuting him. On Monday, Rep. Adam Kinzinger said, “If we just wash that under the rug… will there be anyone else, whether it’s Donald Trump in 2024 or anyone else somewhere in the future, who realizes that this was the bottom of his behavior.” , and press some more. And we cannot survive that.”

After all the chants from Trump’s MAGAts to “Lock ‘er up” and “Hang Mike Pence,” the karmic prospect that it would be Trump actually facing jail time, with the rope to figuratively hang him, by testimony from his own inner circle, is particularly satisfying.

Seriously, the evidence we know of — you know there’s more — supports charges of fraud, seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct a government process (January 6 session of Congress to confirm Biden’s victory), or for all of the above.

From election night, Trump has insisted he was cheated out of reelection, despite top advisers telling him otherwise. He pressured Justice Department officials to confirm such fraud, even though they denied it — “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” he said.

He urged Republican officeholders in the states Biden won to back bogus pro-Trump slates for the electoral college. He summoned his MAGA army to Washington for the Jan. 6 congressional session and then, knowing some supporters were armed, urged them to march on the Capitol. For three hours he did nothing to stop the killing spree; Instead, he called Republican senators to get them to keep trying to block Biden’s electoral credentials.

In 1974, like most Americans, I opposed President Ford’s pardon of Nixon for his Watergate actions and other crimes in office. A quarter-century later, however, I agreed when the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented its Profile in Courage award to Ford for his unpopular act of helping a divided nation emerge from scandal.

But now we’ve come full circle: Had Nixon been indicted for his crimes, we would have had a precedent for Trump’s trial.

Instead, we would have proof that, in fact, no one is above the law.

@jackiekcalmes Column: Donald Trump is dangerously close to proving that presidents are above the law

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