Trump at Bay: A Somber Moment for America

If the reporting leading up to this indictment is borne out, this could turn out to be a case not of the former president being above the law, but below the law.

AP/Evan Vucci, file
President Trump in 2020. AP/Evan Vucci, file

The reported indictment of President Trump by a grand jury at New York county is a somber moment — not so much for the country’s former leader, who has been putting up a brave face, but for all Americans who place a premium on due process and hew to constitutional principle. We carry no brief for the former president, but the investigations of him during his post-presidency have reminded us of nothing so much as Lavrentiy Beria.

Beria was the chief of Stalin’s secret police who quipped, “Show me the man, and I’ll find you the crime.” Not long after Stalin’s show trials and purges, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attorney general, Robert Jackson, in a speech to federal prosecutors, warned of that kind of thinking, marking the “dangerous power” of “picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.”

That is precisely what appears to have taken place here. We don’t yet know the precise charges, as the indictment has yet to be unsealed. We do know that it would be difficult even for Snow White to have weathered the kind of investigations of Mr. Trump that were boasted of by Letitia James, even before she got elected Attorney General of New York, and by District Attorney Alvin Bragg and members of his own camarilla. 

If the reporting leading up to this indictment is borne out, this could turn out to be a case not of the former president being above the law, but below the law. The charge that is widely bruited as being at the center of the case is a misdemeanor breach of campaign finance laws. It could be beyond the statute of limitations. So, the press has been reporting, Mr. Bragg has sought to use a technical point to transmute the charge into a felony.

Either way it’s impossible to imagine this kind of prosecutorial pretzel-making in order to snare some poor schlepper who wasn’t so reviled as Mr. Trump is to the voting base of Ms. James and Mr. Bragg. When Mr. Bragg was a candidate, he helped secure the Democratic nomination by boasting to primary voters that he had “sued Mr. Trump’s administration,” the New York Times reported, “more than a hundred times.”

In 2020, CBS News reports, Mr. Bragg stressed the “staggering” number of cases that were “swirling” around President Trump and noted that “a matter involving Trump’s former ‘fixer,’ Michael Cohen, stood out.” Mr. Bragg opined that “presumably, the evidence is there,” though he vowed not to “prejudge” the case. Yet “if they’ve already said it in a charging instrument,” he added, “I presume it could be, you know, accurate and charge ready.”

As reports began circulating that Mr. Bragg would likely seek an indictment, the Wall Street Journal — which is no apologist for Mr. Trump and has been prepared to criticize him severely when warranted —  issued an editorial saying “It’s impossible to overstate Mr. Bragg’s bad judgment here.” The Journal noted the folly of “resurrecting a seven-year-old case that even federal prosecutors refused to bring to court.”

We don’t mind saying that as the months dragged on, we held out some hope that Mr. Bragg might use his prosecutorial discretion to make a priority of attacking violent crime in New York. He was said to have been a moderate and a peacemaker when he was a student at Harvard. We’re not suggesting he’ll lose the case. In New York County 85 percent of voters in 2020 cast ballots against Mr. Trump. It’s going to be some voir dire

Which brings us back to Robert Jackson. He warned how in “times of fear or hysteria” people, “often from the best of motives, cry for the scalps of individuals or groups because they do not like their views.” Such an atmosphere, Jackson said, put a premium on prosecutors being “dispassionate.” He stressed their “responsibility” to exercise “extreme care” so as to “protect the spirit as well as the letter of our civil liberties.”

The New York Sun

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