The Trump indictments


In an opinion column this week in the Wall Street Journal former Harvard law professor and Donald Trump backer Alan Dershowitz said: “Mr. Smith (special counsel in the case) has made a stronger case against Mr. Trump than many observers, including me, expected… The indictment quotes tape-recorded conversations that form the basis for several charges under the Espionage Act. The critical recording is of a conversation between Mr. Trump, a writer, a publisher and two Trump staffers, who were discussing a claim that a senior military official had persuaded Mr. Trump not to order an attack on ‘country A,’ which in context is surely Iran.”

Mr. Dershowitz goes on to say, “The reason this recording is so powerful is that it is self-proving. It doesn’t rely on testimony by flipped witnesses or antagonists of Mr. Trump. It is the kind of evidence every defense lawyer dreads and every prosecutor dreams about.”

It’s never a happy moment when a former president is indicted by a grand jury, in this case that grand jury is in Florida. After reading the 49 pages of the 37-count indictment, the case seems to be pretty straightforward and the trial will take place in the Florida courtroom of a judge, who by appointment, could perhaps be sympathetic to Donald Trump’s situation.

I’d say, let’s let the judicial system run its course. Trump is likely to take the offensive using procedural tactics to slow down the proceedings, at least until after the 2024 elections. So, it might be a while before we know the outcome.

If he’s innocent, that will be the conclusion of a jury of his peers. If he’s found guilty, the jury will have concluded that he did expose top-secret information about military plans to guests at his resort, any of whom potentially could have sold that info for a premium to folks looking for a fast, unpatriotic buck, or to eager extremist governments.

If his guilt is decided, the interesting downstream question for me is, will the president at that moment in time, whoever that might be, do what President Ford did with Nixon, that is, will he/she intervene? If convicted, Trump could be pardoned as was the case with Ford and Nixon or he could have his penalty reduced by commutation by the existing administration.

Part of what the jury will have on its mind, whether or not it’s legally relevant, is, was Mr. Trump intentional in making these top-secret documents available to friends or foes for the purpose of dealing or trading to his benefit, or was he naively hanging on to these documents as trophy-like spoils, emoluments he thought he deserved for having served as president of the United States — mementos?

Another aspect of this is, would he ever have to serve a prison term? For these alleged criminal offensives the sentence could be 20 years or more in prison? This is unchartered territory. As a former president, he has a right to Secret Service protection for life. How do you accomplish this obligation if there was a prison term involved?

Several lawyers have made the case that these indictments would have gone nowhere if Mr. Trump had just turned over the documents when he was asked by the National Archives and the Department of Justice. This is in essence the difference between Trump’s current circumstances and those of former Vice-President Pence and President Biden. Former Trump Attorney General William Barr said very directly in an interview on CBS this week, “This is not a case of the Department of Justice conducting a witch hunt. This would have gone nowhere had the president just returned the documents, but he jerked them around for a year and a half.”

In the midst of these indictments is the undeniable context of the looming 2024 elections. As fractured as the Republican Party appears to be, heading into the presidential primaries with somewhere between 9 and 13 candidates wanting to be the next president, Donald Trump’s poll numbers remain steady, indicating that he’s the one to beat. That means that campaign advisors are going to be historically challenged to make nice with Trump supporters while at the same time trying to define their candidates as the right alternative standard bearer for the Grand Old Party.

As these dozen or so candidates weave through this political obstacle course, Trump’s trials will evolve over the next year and a half. It could be one of the most remarkable, or one of the devastating political dramas in this nation’s history. For the sake of the nation, let’s hope that it all develops with resolute civility.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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