One of the biggest questions that will confront our nation after Donald Trump (finally) leaves office is the issue of his crimes both in and out of office. What are they?
- Tax evasion
- Financial fraud
- Use of government resources for personal benefit
- Campaign finance violations
- Obstruction of justice
Not being privy to adequate detail, I can’t say whether Trump might be found guilty of such crimes. But the evidence as publicly known is certainly enough to secure indictments for crimes at the federal, state and local levels.
Whether that is the right course of action is a difficult question. The essential American doctrine that “no person is above the law” emerged specifically from the tyranny of a king. Trump’s crimes appear to be plentiful and significant; ignoring them sets a dangerous precedent and belies the values we profess to cherish.
But the criminalization of politics is itself a threat to those values, embracing the tactics of tin-pot dictatorships and ruthless authoritarian regimes alike. To be sure, Trump himself promoted this dangerous idea with the “lock her up” chants at his rallies and the baseless but relentless accusations of crimes, including “treason,” routinely leveled against his political opponents.
The arguments on both sides are valid. One is simply forced to choose among competing values. To me, the “rule of law” argument wins out, in this case, because the known evidence clearly suggests one or more serious crimes were committed. That can’t be said for the rhetorical bombs Trump is fond of throwing at his opponents (or even his allies, when they cross him). The criminalization of politics is a real problem, but unless prosecutors and courts become complicit, poses only a rhetorical threat to the rule of law. Trump’s crimes, on the other hand, appear to be the real deal. Ignoring them would be an affront to justice.
What, then, are the penalties we should seek? This is, after all, a man who held our nation’s highest office. Fines – even hefty ones – seem inadequate to the offense(s); significant jail time seems appropriate, even if the thought of a former president wearing a prison jumpsuit makes one shudder. A prohibition on seeking future public office would certainly be welcome but may prove constitutionally difficult – there are any number of elected officials who have reclaimed their office even after being jailed for public corruption!
Trump may yet obviate risks to his freedom at the federal level by pardoning himself (or leaving office early so that Pence might do so on his behalf). That said, it is NOT too soon for President-elect Biden to announce his intention to name a Special Counsel or a commission to consider in detail the crimes that have been committed and make recommendations for a measured but appropriate response. Democracy simply demands that we not ignore Trump’s many violations of both norms and the law.
Trump has not only convinced himself that he did not lose the election, he also seems unaware that he may be following in Jeffrey Epstein’s steps!
Bars beckon Trump – not those with alcohol!