As the world awaits graphic T.V. coverage of the 45th President of the United States being arrested; including him being photographed, fingerprinted, and potentially handcuffed, we examine what got us here: the Left weaponizing the "Rule of Law" to bring about Trump's destruction.
We are not lawyers and leave legal punditry to other columns. The summary, however, from eminent prosecutors across the political spectrum is that Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg's case against former president Donald Trump is sketchy at best and hopelessly weak at worst. Bragg is trying novel arguments that could run afoul of the statute of limitations and mix state law with federal electioneering laws. The Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission had already decided against pursuing an election case against the former President, guided by the Supreme Court decision in the John Edwards corruption case after the 2004 election campaign.
But the most novel thing yet is that Bragg is trying a former chief executive of the United States. Never before in history has an American president been indicted for a criminal act, that too for violating local statutes.
Theoretically, pursuing a former president under the "Rule of Law" doctrine employs an idea we learn in high school civics classes: No person is above the law in America.
But in truth, the Rule of Law is routinely bent in practice. The D.O.J.'s own guidelines stipulate that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. The International Criminal Court, a body outside of the United Nations whose jurisdiction is not accepted by the United States, China, or Russia, has language that exempts sitting heads of state from prosecution.
Even in civil cases, exemptions exist for heads of state. When candidate Narendra Modi was running for the office of Prime Minister in India, the Obama administration continued to enforce a visa ban on him, although he had been absolved of all charges, in April 2013, by the Indian Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. As soon as Modi won the election, the U.S. government revoked the ban and allowed him to visit America.
At the time, Modi still faced federal court charges and was technically exposed to arrest if he landed in America. But long-standing Department of State practices ensured that Modi wouldn't face any legal issues under the principle that permits sovereign leaders free passage. The same rule nullifies American visa bans on leaders of rogue nations from landing at J.F.K. to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (The U.N. Headquarters complex in New York is considered neutral territory, although J.F.K. airport and the road from the airport to the U.N. fall under American jurisdiction.)
The vexing question is whether a former president should be granted the same privileges as the current president. Applying the Rule of Law becomes murky here because former presidents continue to draw from the federal purse. They are accorded Secret Service protection for life, are eligible for monetary allowances, including for maintaining an office at a location of their choice, and their spouses continue to receive emoluments when they pass on.
The Rule of Law becomes murkier when a former president is a leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination. The Department of Justice has held that Trump illegally kept boxes of highly confidential material in his Florida home and is considering bringing criminal charges, ignoring its own rules not to interfere in a general election. The wind from that D.O.J.'s case slowed considerably when confidential papers were also found in President Joe Biden's home in Delaware from when he was Vice President. Does the D.O.J. give Biden a pass but prosecute Trump?
Alvin Bragg is not alone in going after Trump. Letitia James, the New York attorney general, is leading a civil investigation against Trump and the Trump organization. The chief prosecutor of Fulton County, Fani Willis, is investigating if Trump broke the law when he allegedly tried to apply pressure to overturn the 2020 Georgia election.
All officials have several things in common. They are all Black liberal Democrats elected to city, county, or state offices and have used their positions to engage in fundraising and prepare campaigns for even higher office. They realize that if Trump were not the target of their efforts, the media would let out a loud yawn and not cover their cases. Most people today would have never heard of them, but for the artificial fame, the press has bestowed on them as only the press can.
Even among ordinary people, the Rule of Law principle is routinely stretched in reality under another idea called prosecutorial discretion. Severe charges against criminal defendants are dropped or lowered if the defendant agrees to cooperate with prosecutors. If the law's intent is to punish people for crimes committed, how can penalties be reduced for actions by the defendant after the fact?
There's also the question of harm: did Trump's actions do any damage? In the Bragg case, the $130,000 payoff occurred between two consenting adults, arranged by a middleman. In Fulton County, despite pressure allegedly brought about by Trump, Georgia's Secretary of State had the election certified for Joe Biden.
We urge restraint among these aggressive local prosecutors and urge them to give deference to former presidents as a matter of courtesy. If they have evidence that crimes have been committed, they should refer the matter to the Department of Justice. It is unbecoming for the world's lone superpower to have local officials use minor infractions to needle and harass former presidents duly elected nationwide, who have a large following and who ably served while in office. Our framers certainly did not intend for such an outcome.
If Bragg, James, and Willis want to defeat Trump and the G.O.P., we urge them to follow in Stacey Abrams' footsteps. She ran statewide in Georgia twice, mobilized an entire country of liberal activists, and became a national superstar, even making it into V.P. shortlists. As a Democrat, she lost both times, but we applaud her for trying the democratic way rather than exploiting the "Rule of Law."
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