When you cross the Rubicon, there is no going back. Democrats are getting very close to that fateful moment.
Their dream to indict Donald Trump has turned into determination, putting them on a collision course with history. No president has ever been prosecuted after leaving office, with even Richard Nixon escaping that infamy after Watergate because of how it would tear America apart.
Yet day by day, the evidence shows Dems have liberated themselves from such concerns and are resolved that this time will be different. The number and fervor of their army of prosecutors reveal a contagious fever, and it often appears they are competing to be the first to file charges.
Or will the first shot come from Georgia, where the Fulton County district attorney is using a special-purpose grand jury to investigate “election interference” in the state by Trump and his associates after the 2020 election?
Or maybe the first charges will come from the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running probe into whether Trump broke tax laws by the way he valued his buildings. Having secured a guilty plea from a top company official regarding his personal tax scheme, probers are desperate to get him to turn on Trump.
These cases raise concerns about conflicts of interest and selective prosecution, but the party’s peanut gallery is blind to everything except the goal. Seeing the Bad Orange Man in handcuffs is a porn-like fantasy for many on the left.
The fact that an indictment would be a hit with many voters can be seen as a motivating factor for prosecutors. In the midterms, enthusiasm could help Dems stave off a red wave, and on a personal level, charges could do wonders for the prosecutors’ careers.
Take the case of Daniel Goldman, the lead counsel in the House’s first impeachment of Trump, the ginned-up Ukraine farce. Goldman, a Levi Strauss heir, is running for Congress in Manhattan and has spent $4 million of his own money, dwarfing the spending of his primary rivals.
That’s normally the sort of thing The New York Times hates, but in its endorsement of Goldman, the paper cited his impeachment role and his fatuous claim he was dedicated to trying to “protect and defend our democracy.”
So while an indictment of Trump would gladden the little hearts of the Dems’ media handmaidens, what would it do to the country as a whole? With political violence and disorder surging, there is a possibility that charges would be like throwing gasoline on a fire.
The Trump faithful
Tens of millions of Trump’s supporters are sticking with him, warts and all, because they believe he is the only person in politics who speaks for them and understands their alienation from an elite establishment. Seeing him arrested, especially on borderline grounds, could make their estrangement permanent and create more dangerous rifts in our already-fractured society. Some might become violent militants like hundreds did on Jan. 6.
There is also concern the unprecedented step would usher in the Third World habit of each administration prosecuting its predecessor. President Biden made it known months ago he was frustrated Garland hadn’t prosecuted Trump, so, presto, it’s happening.
Why shouldn’t the next attorney general under a GOP president prosecute Biden?
In fact, there is already more clear evidence that Biden participated in and benefitted from his son Hunter’s corrupt foreign business than there was against Trump when a special counsel was appointed to probe his ties to Russia.
And how is it kosher that Garland, appointed by Biden, is permitted to hound his boss’ potential 2024 opponent?
The immediate reaction to charges against Trump would depend on the facts and how they are obtained and presented. If they are clear and convincing and, most important, involve misconduct large enough to justify the break with history, they could earn a consensus of support.
That was the test I applied to the Mar-a-Lago raid, which Garland flunked. He said little and explained nothing, and is fighting to keep secret the crucial affidavit that led a magistrate to approve the search.
He also let anonymous officials spread tall tales about confidential documents Trump supposedly had. The Washington Post claim that the papers involved “nuclear weapons” had all the hyperbole of the Russia, Russia, Russia scam.
The pattern suggests Garland doesn’t understand or care he is playing with fire. His claim that he’s playing it by the book is absurd because there is no book on indicting a former president.
That’s not an accident.
On the final day of his presidency, Bill Clinton avoided a criminal charge in a deal where he admitted to independent counsel Robert Ray he lied under oath about Monica Lewinsky.
“I think it’s a collateral benefit to the country that the new president be given a fresh start if that can be achieved,” Ray told The Washington Post.
“The best interests of the country would be achieved by letting the past be the past.”
Ford the peacekeeper
President Gerald Ford expressed a similar sentiment. In his 1974 inaugural address after Nixon resigned, he declared that “our long national nightmare is over.”
Nearly a month later, as Nixon’s legal fate was unresolved, Ford issued a “full, free and absolute pardon.”
In explaining why, Ford cited the fear that “ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad.”
He regarded Nixon as a friend, but it was not Nixon’s fate that concerned him.
“My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility but to use every means that I have to insure it.”
Of course, Trump’s circumstances are different in many ways, especially that he could serve another term as president. Much of the prosecution passion is driven by the desire to make him ineligible to run again because many Dems fear he would win.
Finally, there is also the chance that the public view of decisions made now will change over time. The Nixon pardon was instantly unpopular — Ford’s approval rating declined by 21% overnight, with 53% opposed to the pardon, a factor in Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter two years later.
But by 1982, Gallup found the nation was evenly split for and against the decision. By 1986, the last time the question was asked, a majority of Americans said they supported Ford’s decision, with 54% approving against 39% disapproving.
So whatever decision Dems make now, history will be their final judge.