What Exactly Did You See Yesterday That Made You Want To Consider Trump Your President?
In a federal courtroom in Miami, the historic campaign for overturning the rule of law in America reached for another important beginning step but may just have stubbed its toe on the facts involved.
For an arraignment, yesterday’s court appearance was a breathtaking snapshot of where American democracy stands, hung up among justice efforts, self-image, accountability, and partisan strife.
Despite the protestations, denials, distractions and more, Donald Trump is arrested and formally charged with crimes that could put him away for life, however doubtful that outcome.
By any calculation, yesterday’s step towards overthrow was halting and flawed, built on Trump’s runaway ego and his counter-principle of self-promotion over justice, rather than on a war for a more just society, for example. Yesterday made us wonder anew why, in anyone’s mind, foe or friend, Donald Trump should be president.
Trump himself, invisible for most of the time and his fate sat in the hands of a federal magistrate, was suddenly denuded of his usual coterie of sycophants and the protections of his money and his constant loudspeakers, to face a daunting set of criminal charges that he himself has undercut repeatedly.
Trump’s insistence that there never should have been any criminal charges arising from what the detailed indictment showed to be intentional pilfering of 13,000 federal documents, including 300 with classified markings, and a conspiracy of hiding them from federal authorities and even his own lawyers, felt awfully unresponsive to the current situation. The indictment charges only for 31 of the most sensitive documents, which photographs showed were being stored in totally unsecured areas within his resort properties.
The not guilty pleas from Trump were expected, of course, but belied a shakiness about balancing would-be presidential expectations against a wanton disregard for the riskiness of disclosing nuclear and military secrets and putting information sources in danger.
What is Presidential Here?
Fortunately, the threats of an instant popular uprising towards protesting the very idea that Trump would have to answer for criminal acts never materialized in a major way.
But the mystifying political hold that Trump maintains over his beloved MAGA movement and Republican supporters still was demanding that Trump never have to answer for his acts. At the same time, the attackers of a “weaponized” Justice Department were insisting that a Democrat – Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton or someone else – would have to go down if criminal charges would result in a Trump trial, as if that in itself was not political “weaponization.” Indicting them won’t answer for his own legal violations, of course.
What makes the moment truly remarkable is that this very same Trump, who twice escaped impeachment only on the political split in the Senate, who has another criminal charge of business fraud already pending and faced more from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, who has been adjudged by a jury as a sexual abuser, sees himself as a legitimate candidate to return to the White House. So do a healthy proportion of Republican primary voters, if not the general electorate needed for a return to the presidency.
Indeed, stop me when it seems excessive, but what exactly did you see yesterday that made you want to consider Trump your president:
–Reading the indictment that pit Trump’s acts in taking, hiding, and sharing classified secrets while inveigling at least one employee and his lawyers into lying to the FBI and authorities, all while purposefully misleading all on the limiting Presidential Records Act as an excuse to be seen as obstructing justice and endangering national secrets.
–Scrambling to find a lawyer to stand with him during arraignment because most of his other lawyers have fled to avoid their own trouble with the law.
–Launching personal attacks against the prosecutors and investigators who were following normal federal procedures, even repeatedly leaning over backwards to offer Trump off-ramps to prosecution,
–Threatening mob violence and the use of innuendo to invite armed resistance to the very Justice Department he says he intends to aim at his own political rivals.
–Corralling allies in Congress to ignore the law and legal enforcement while using the same powers to attack political opponents.
–And, of course, capping off the day by inviting fund-raisers with a $100,000 minimum entry to a private event.
Meanwhile, in Congress
While Trump was pleading in a courtroom, Republican House allies like Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, were summoning oversight powers to attack the prosecuting agencies.
Jordan is harassing prosecutors by demanding a wide set of internal investigative documents about a live case, a violation of every courtroom standard and the Justice Department’s own procedures. Jordan is still fighting issuance of a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, despite findings at the Court of Appeals of the legitimacy of the search.
Jordan is on the hunt for hints of prosecutorial misconduct, despite the seemingly careful case assembled by Special Counsel Jack Smith.
By contrast, the open speculations about the named judge for the case – Aileen M. Cannon – whose record of issuing other Trump-friendly rulings raises questions about what she might decide about admissible evidence and timing. It illustrates that it is far more possible that her courtroom and not the Congress could prove the more important avenue to derail criminal charges, though both agree that Trump deserves special treatment, not equal treatment under the law.
We can expect that Jordan will try to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt, a futile attempt in a split House. By contrast, Jordan is likely to lead a campaign to withhold money for the FBI and Justice, an act that will be difficult to outline, but that appeals to the emotions of Republicans who want to Do Something.
Jordan’s track record at oversight in his “weaponization” of the justice subcommittee has proved awful to date. Despite reliance on unnamed but singular FBI “whistleblowers,” there has been little evidence to back his claims. As Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent notes, “Above all, Jordan’s committee seems devoted to creating the impression that he is striking great blows against the Biden administration on behalf of MAGA nation and its persecuted masses, and especially on behalf of Trump himself.”
Yesterday said it’s showtime for the case that American law indeed applies equally to all.