The Donald in Jeopardy

Not even former President Nixon of the sinister Watergate fame had such an ignominious series of legal impediments befall a departed President


By Jan Arden

On Tuesday the 13th of June much of the attention in the US was caught up in a historic first: the arrest and charging in a federal court in South Florida of former President Donald Trump on 37 counts, going from obstruction of justice, retention of classified top secret documents and, much to the shock of Trump and his legal team, of related crimes under the Espionage Act.

Two months ago, Trump was arraigned and convicted by a New York grand jury in a civil case of sexual misconduct, and by this summer, he is also expected to be arraigned in Georgia about his attempts to pressure Republican election officials to « find him enough votes » to be declared the winner there. As for his role in inciting the Jan 6 riots in the US capital by a wild armed mob causing some policemen’s deaths and considerable trauma, we may yet hear if that could also lead soon to other formal charges. Not even former President Nixon of the sinister Watergate fame had such an ignominious series of legal impediments befall a departed President no longer enjoying the immunity of office.

The pictures shared in the indictment by the Special Prosecutor, Jack Smith, of boxes of documents, many concerning the USA’s most sensitive military or nuclear preparedness secrets, piled about or stored in closets and bathrooms at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and golf resort, should have been enough to give acute hair-raising pangs of revulsion to a Republican Party (GOP) traditionally attached to the military strength and national security of the US and, even its now aghast Western allies in NATO. Can they ever trust the US with state secrets or classified intel information they wonder at the sight of these carelessly stored and hidden boxes of classified documents at such an insecure location as a golf resort which international spies are known to haunt?

But Trump has grabbed hold of the party base – the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) extremists – who have turned him into a cult figurehead who can do nothing wrong and is only a long-standing victim of Democrats, variously described as vicious fascists, wild communists, dangerous leftists or simply thugs or Trump-haters as the latter terms the Special Prosecutor and even his wife. While such a stance, however laughable to the outside world, may serve to coalesce and even strengthen that extremist wing around his Presidential bid in the Republican primaries, it could only serve to distanciate the independent voters, tired of all the whining about stolen or rigged 2020 elections and shocked at the latest case of misappropriated federal top secret documents, which if misused could endanger the lives of US and allied secret agents. And if that thought were not enough, the perspective of a re-elected Trump in 2024 pardoning himself, his criminal stooges and the violent armed Jan 6 insurrectionists, may give them the final push.

In fact, some analysts openly believe that the greatest wish of President Biden is a rerun against a damaged and emotionally volatile Donald Trump in 2024, which, barring any major mishaps, would be a far safer road to victory than any contest against a younger Republican candidate. Biden’s employment figures are impressive (four times more jobs created in 2-3 years than under a full-term Trump administration), debt levels have been successfully negotiated with the Republican House, the economic growth figures are satisfying and post-Covid inflation is being brought down to about 4% this year.

Biden has some time ahead to move the Ukraine-Russia conflict towards some resolution, stand up to China’s geo-political moves, and better address the immigrant infiltration at the southern borders. Were progress to be achieved on those fronts, admittedly they are all thorny issues, the Republicans may face heavy weather sticking to the MAGA culture and identity wars in an electorate that may be increasingly tiring of the country’s internal strifes and divisions. The Trump card is perfect for President Joe Biden’s eventual second-term bid in 2024. After all, Trump had actually lost the popular vote to Hilary Clinton when he was elected by the electoral college in 2016, he lost even more badly to Biden in 2020 and even managed to turn a predicted Republican wave for mid-term House and Senate elections into a loss: he is a demonstrable serial loser.

In response to Trump’s desperate appeals for energetic crowd support at both of his arraignments in the New York and Florida courts, it was fortunate and significant that only a few hundred of die-hard loyalists turned up, keeping well clear of rowdy demonstrations, and the same may apply for any future Trump arraignment elsewhere. Whether that is indeed a sign of weariness with the same old Trumpian victimhood themes, with the tiresome name-calling of adversaries or the as yet unrealised desire to move on and look more confidently to the future, only time will tell as Trump’s legal and political dramas continue to unfold.

* * *

Handling Former Heads of Government

Donald Trump of course remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but his claim of being targeted by the Biden administration and the victim of an unprecedented evil conspiracy to indict a former President and front-runner of the next elections, still some way off, although accepted by 75% of his MAGA base, does not really hold water.

The classified documents were being requested politely and with gloves from Trump for over a year by their legal owner, the National Archives, until the latter, tipped off, realised they were being taken for a ride and decided first to subpoena them and later, despite assurances from Trump lawyers that all had been returned, requested and conducted a legal search that revealed the trove of boxes of more top secret documents.

The inquiry conducted by the Special Prosecutor was conducted with utmost care and professionalism over months, taking account the political sensitivity of Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Democrat administration, before formal charges were carefully weighed, formulated and Trump was allowed to waltz into court with his special security detail in tow. No media and cameras were allowed in court and while finger-printed he was not subjected to a humiliating mugshot. Clearly, this is a mature democracy where the political change-over of guards is not accompanied by a vendetta rushing to arrest a former head of state or government on provisional charges.

In France, many might have followed the legal woes of former President Sarkozy, elected in 2007 against socialist Segolene Royal and losing five years later to socialist Francois Hollande. Neither of such democratic changes were accompanied by rumbustious policemen armed with a provisional charge sheet bull-charging their way to arrest and haul in the former head of state. The numerous cases against the former President were painstakingly investigated over several years before the first cases (the Bygmalion case in which Sarkozy was accused of illegally overspending by millions of euros on his failed 2012 re-election campaign and the Azibert case about influence peddling and corruption) were heard, tried and a condemnation pronounced in the court of ‘First Instance’ only in 2021.

Closer to us culturally and as Commonwealth member, the BJP came to power in 2014 running on a campaign that successfully depicted the Indian National Congress and the Gandhi family as totally corrupt in several mega projects. Yet, in that fractious but vibrant mature democracy, general elections were not followed by what would most certainly be the unseemly hounding of the Congress leadership on any provisional charges as the BJP government turned its sights on major development issues facing the country still harbouring numerous problems. Any case against political heavyweights being brought to courts these days in India are the result of painstaking inquiries revealing strong suspicions and prima facie cases of misdeeds.

The abuses of provisional charges made here have been amply demonstrated since the current government came to power. It has launched the country into the era that may well haunt us for a while, unless as our friends in Seychelles, we turn to more civilised political mores where painstaking and professional investigations precede any noisy high-profile political arrests and possible legal charges. Otherwise, the Westminster model our Attorney General boasted about, may just be a fig-leaf for a banana republic which none of our institutions, except the judiciary and a free press, have proved able to rein in.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 June 2023

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