Reaction to charges against Trump will say much about our politics

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Last week Special Counsel Jack Smith, representing the U.S. Department of Justice, indicted former President Donald Trump in federal district court in Florida.

Let’s be clear:

            —The indictment was not part of the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump’s allegedly instigating the mob at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as part of a plot to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

            —Nor was it related to the District of Columbia attorney general office’s investigation of the same event.

            —It was not part of Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis’ investigation of Trump’s alleged attempt to get Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” in that election in order to make Trump the winner in that state.

            —It was not part of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s 34-count felony indictment of Trump for falsifying records in an alleged hush-money scheme involving payoff of pornography personage Stormy Daniels.

            —It was not part of New York Attorney General Letitia James’s civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s alleged fraud regarding the value of the company’s assets.

            —It was not part of the Westchester County district attorney’s investigation of the Trump Organization in New York State for allegedly misleading local officials about Trump National Golf Club’s value in order to lower its tax bill.

            —It was not part of the lawsuit ten U.S. House members brought against Trump and others for allegedly trying to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 electoral votes on January 6, 2021.

            —It was not part of the lawsuit U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell of California brought against Trump and others for allegedly violating a federal civil rights law in the attempt to block the electoral vote count.

            —It was not part of three separate lawsuits U.S. Capitol police officers filed after sustaining emotional and physical injuries during the January 6 attack.

            —And of course it was not part of E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Trump, who accused her of lying regarding an alleged sexual assault in a New York City department store. A jury found the former president liable for defamation and sexual abuse and ordered him to pay Carroll $5 million. After Trump made more disparaging remarks about Carroll following the decision, she sued him for considerably more money.

No. Last week’s federal indictment was on 37 felony counts involving Trump’s handling of classified records of which he retained possession after he left office January 20, 2021.

The indictment lays out the following charges:

  • 31 counts of willful retention of classified documents;
  • one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice;
  • one count of withholding a document or record;
  • one count of corruptly concealing a document or record;
  • one count of concealing a document in a federal investigation;
  • one count of scheme to conceal; and
  • one count of making false statements and representations.

Like all criminal defendants, Trump is presumed innocent, unless and until he is proven guilty. Democrats would do well to restrain themselves from piling on until the federal district court trial is completed and the verdict rendered.

Republicans would do equally well to refrain from automatic claims of Trump’s innocence, or from equating the charges against him with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server when she was secretary of state, or President Joe Biden’s and former Vice President Mike Pence’s retention of documents from their previous terms in office.

The investigation of Clinton found her careless with her technical data storage but not guilty of crimes. Biden and Pence returned their documents when requested to do so. Their supposed misdeeds hold no candle to what Trump allegedly did with classified material.

Many Republicans were and remain extremely critical of how Clinton handled her emails—remember chants of “lock her up”? But so far, most have given Trump a pass, and refuse to say what the consequences of his actions should be if he’s found guilty. Can’t have it both ways.

The 37 counts will play out in federal district court, and may be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. How the Trump campaign, his Republican opponents, and his faithful supporters handle the situation will say a lot about his party, and ultimately about the American people.

Top photo of boxes stored in the unsecured Mar-a-Lago ballroom was first published in the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump.

About the Author(s)

Rick Morain