Trump Indictment Damages America

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The absurd indictment of Donald Trump is a new low in American politics.

The underwhelming document released earlier today consists of 34 counts of falsifying business records. The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, is quoted in a related press release as saying that the former president “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records” in order “to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

Falsifying business records is important only if someone got hurt because of it. But no one did. There is no allegation of stealing, for instance – nor even tax fraud.

Concealing crimes is interesting – but here the “crimes” the state district attorney is claiming appear to be alleged campaign finance violations, which he can’t pursue directly because that’s a federal matter — and which depend on a never-before-asserted theory.

What is that theory?

That a candidate for a public office can’t use his own money to pay someone to not disclose information about embarrassing (and legal) conduct without also reporting it as a campaign donation, and that if he does it’s a crime.

This theory is ridiculous.

It would make more sense to throw out all campaign finance laws than to uphold this theory.


The Naughty Women and Naughty Trump

The underlying contention, according to the district attorney’s “Statement of Facts,” is that Trump paid money to a pornographic film actress and authorized a tabloid magazine to pay money to a former nude model so they wouldn’t make public during the 2016 presidential campaign sexual encounters they had with him in 2006, while he was married to Melania Trump, his current wife.

If Mr. Trump engaged in extramarital affairs – he denies it; there’s plenty of evidence he did it – it’s a shame.  No one should have sexual relations with someone who isn’t that person’s spouse. If one or both participants is married, the offense is much greater. Adultery betrays the spouse, harms children, undermines marriage, damages the participants, and offends God.

If Trump committed adultery with one or more women, it’s bad.

But these are moral offenses, not legal offenses.

They also have little or no proper bearing on politics. Trump has lived a largely shady life, as we all know – and knew long before he ran for president. It was part of every voter’s calculation before election day. These alleged moral offenses offer no new compelling information.

The best evidence for that:

Trump was an extraordinarily good president – better by a par 5 tee shot than Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, for instance. (Joe Biden doesn’t even merit his own comparison.)

Pre-coronavirus, Trump sparked a roaring economy, in part through significant tax cuts. He made important gains in our nation’s often-sorry foreign policy, including forcing supposed allies to pay for a portion of our largess. He appointed constitutionalists to the U.S. Supreme Court who have ruled correctly on abortion, religious freedom, free speech, and other matters.

If Trump could have somehow eliminated or at least limited the craziness he created, he might even have been a great president.

Either way, though:

His private behavior 10 years before he took office is irrelevant.


Americans Don’t Do This – Or At Least We Used To Not Do This

Even more to the point …

At the end of the month, on April 30, we will mark the 234th anniversary of the first inauguration of George Washington as president of the United States. (At Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan, about eight-tenths of a mile southwest of New York Criminal Courthouse where Trump was arraigned this afternoon.)

In all that time, before today no American grand jury had ever indicted a former president.

It’s not because our previous presidents were all upstanding individuals.

Among the obvious candidates for the penitentiary post-presidency are Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.

But none were ever charged.

The reason is we don’t want to criminalize politics in America. It is not worth it to give the impression that winning at the ballot box equals immunity from prosecution and losing at the ballot box equals jail.

That is Banana Republic behavior.

That doesn’t mean a president is above the law. If he commits a violent crime, for instance, he should be prosecuted vigorously. If he undermines the existence of the republic through criminal behavior, he ought to get the book thrown at him.

But that’s a high bar to meet.

And for actions that don’t cry out to Heaven for vengeance, former presidents ought to be left alone.

And they always have been.

Until now.

And our already-wounded politics sinks lower.


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