Trump’s Post-Presidency Will Be Plagued By Criminal Probes
Last week, Donald Trump made history when he achieved the ignominy of becoming the first US president to be impeached for a second time. The first impeachment, in 2020, arose from his attempts to solicit foreign interference in an election and now he has been impeached for incitement of insurrection. Whilst it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll be convicted by the Senate, this is only the start of the legal trouble that the soon-to-be ex-president is likely to face, as his political career comes to a humiliating end.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has been protected by his Republican colleagues who, due to their moral bankruptcy and desire to cling on to power, defended him. However, when it turns 12:01 pm on January 20, 2021, Trump will again be an ordinary citizen at the mercy of law enforcement across the US. Thus starts a debate about how all of the alleged corruption and criminality that Trump and his associates have engaged in, prior to entering office and throughout his presidency, should be handled.
Before we look at the most recent and, arguably, most troubling criminal behavior that Trump has been accused of engaging in, let’s consider the legal action he is already facing: New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance are conducting separate financial investigations, civil and criminal, into the outgoing president.
This is why Trump is quaking in his boots and desperate to hold on to the legal protection he’s received while in office. New York’s AG is focusing in particular on a civil case into the Trump family’s dealings with Deutsche Bank, which recently severed ties with the President and his businesses; additionally, criminal charges haven’t been ruled out if the evidence is there. The DA’s work in Manhattan is a criminal investigation into whether Trump, or Trump organization employees, including his family members, committed financial crimes related to bank, mortgage, and tax records.
On top of these ongoing investigations, there are the Trump campaign finance violations, relating to the Stormy Daniels payoff, which resulted in the sentencing of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. After agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, Cohen effectively named Trump as a co-conspirator, stating in court that the then-Republican presidential candidate directed Cohen to break the law in order to influence the election.
Trump’s desperate attempts to find any way to overturn the result of the presidential election have been accused of being deeply troubling, shameful and undermining the legitimacy of America’s democratic system. However, one moment has been cited as potentially illegal. Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, urging him to corruptly overturn the results in Georgia, could have broken election laws. 52 US Code Section 20511 makes it a federal crime for anyone to knowingly and willfully deprive, defraud, or attempt to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartial conducted election process. What Trump would deem a “perfect phone call”, House Democrats call evidence of illegality, urging the FBI Director to open a criminal investigation into the matter.
With all that noted, we can come back to what took place earlier this month, on January 6, and the role Trump played in inciting an insurrection. For months, Trump has riled up his supporters with false claims of voter fraud, accusing Democrats and election officials, even from his own party, of trying to steal last November’s presidential election. This reckless and outrageous behavior, combined with the dangerous rhetoric he’s used during his presidency, such as labeling the press ‘the enemy of the people’ and setting his followers on lawmakers who stand up to him, is undoubtedly what sparked the attack on the US Capitol.
In response to the violent scenes that shocked America and the world, the Washington DC Attorney General, Karl Racine, has said that he is contemplating charging Trump, under the DC code, for inciting violence in his speech to the mob before they stormed the Capitol and killed a police officer. However, Racine stopped short of threatening to charge the President with treason or insurrection, even though Trump’s supporters are being arrested for the attack.
So, with that laid out, what happens next? Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner made it clear when he appeared on my podcast, The Hardy Report, discussing the allegations leveled against the President: “Not holding criminal politicians accountable for their crimes sets a dangerous precedent.”
The idea that no one is above the law is a cornerstone of American society, whether poor or wealthy, employee or business owner, ordinary citizen or president. If you allow some individuals to avoid accountability for the crimes they have committed, the foundation on which society has been built will be weakened and the judicial system is undermined. That’s why Trump’s status cannot enable him to escape accountability before the law.
This isn’t about politics. Trump has done many heinous political acts during his short time in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from locking migrant children in cages to creating an environment where racial tensions have grown, to engaging in deliberate disinformation for partisan gain. But the legal cases he is now facing aren’t about any of that. These cases are about alleged breaches of the law both prior to, and during, his time in the White House.
Any political figure, Democrat or Republican, who is credibly accused of breaking the law should be investigated and, where found to have committed a crime, given a fair trial. Law enforcement officials should not be deterred by political arguments about unity or healing the nation, as Former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi explained on The Hardy Report: “Healing the nation is going to require not walking away from crimes and damage to our democracy, but rather addressing it head on.”
Trump is entitled to the same fairness that any defendant in America should get. Regardless of the disdain he has shown for institutions in the United States, the legal system must be above all that and there has to be nothing but the highest levels of respect for due process. That is why President-elect Joe Biden must play no part in any investigations and prosecutions, leaving it to an independent Justice Department, or a Special Prosecutor, and, where appropriate, the relevant AGs and DAs.
Democrats and, according to some media reports, even Republicans like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell want to remove Trump and his cult from the political sphere. That will not be achieved by pursuing political prosecutions. Rather, the removal of Trump from political life will be achieved by exposing him as a common criminal, who has engaged in white-collar crimes to corrupt the system and enrich himself at the expense of others. That’s what the New York AG and Manhattan DA will hopefully be able to achieve with their investigations. Trump built his political career and, to an extent, his business career on the falsehood that he is a successful tycoon. That can all be torn away in the courtroom when the truth is revealed.
Prosecutors must move quickly here. They don’t have any time to waste. Once Biden’s inauguration has taken place, any officials who believe they have a case, or potential case, must move to charge Trump. After all, during the 2020 campaign, Trump indicated that if he lost he might “have to leave the country.” He’s a clear flight risk and, if he truly fears criminal charges, he could easily attempt to seek sanctuary in a country where the US does not have an extradition treaty.
If evidence is needed that Trump believes there are legitimate investigations that are being conducted against him, or that could be launched into his actions, with the risk of charges being filed against him, why else would he be considering a self-pardon? The last three presidents, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, didn’t pardon themselves. The only president in US history to be pardoned is Richard Nixon, who was facing criminal charges over Watergate, and he got his successor to do it for him.
On the surface, this is, of course, about Trump. There are credible accusations that should be put before a judge, in front of a properly constituted jury. If he is truly innocent of all charges, Trump and his supporters should welcome the opportunity to clear his name and prove his critics wrong. If he is guilty, shouldn’t he face the same punishment as ordinary citizens who commit crimes?
But, this is about a wider point. If legal officials stand by and refuse to prosecute for fear of the political backlash that could ensue, they will be setting a dangerous precedent for everyone that follows in Trump’s footsteps. Without accountability before the courts, politicians in America will believe they are above the law and that they can act with impunity. Do Americans really want to live in a country like that?