It Is Past Time To Bring Trump to Justice

Light blue background with broken up image of the U.S. Supreme Court and Donald Trump looking over at the Court smirking and a red-toned document of the Supreme Court's decision in Anderson v. Trump, the 14th Amendment disqualification case.

This week, Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president when he swept all but one Super Tuesday state from Nikki Haley, who subsequently dropped out of the race. Predictably, most of the handful of remaining elected officials who had not lined up to endorse Trump soon proved themselves to be lemmings ready to jump off the electoral cliff into the MAGA sea. 

Led by Mitch McConnell, these MAGA quislings preach the gospel of Trump even as they know, in their hearts, the existential danger he poses. History will curse them for their cowardice when the nation was in its moment of need.

From the attacks on the 2020 election to his recent efforts to discredit his criminal cases, the four-time indicted former president has lied to the American public, trampled on the U.S. Constitution he swore to uphold and smugly abused the legal process. He has threatened witnesses, intimidated court officials and attacked prosecutors. Aided by a misfit band of loyal attorneys, Trump has advanced bad faith legal arguments and frivolous cases.

Now, having all but gained the nomination, Trump’s assault on the rule of law will have the formal imprimatur of the GOP. We should expect his tactics will become bolder and his rhetoric more dangerous.

While it is at precisely this moment that the courts must stand up for democracy, there are signs they too are faltering. Already, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions to allow him to stay on the primary ballots and to consider his absurd immunity arguments has strengthened the belief that he is above the law.

Trump has so far succeeded in escaping justice by tying up his first federal incitement — for mishandling and failing to return government documents — before a sympathetic federal judge he appointed in Florida.

The Jan. 6 election subversion case against Trump — which was supposed to go to trial this week — remains on hold pending the high court’s ruling, which could come as late as June.

The Georgia election subversion case has become a circus sideshow over claims of an improper personal relationship between two of the prosecutors. It seems impossible for that case to be tried prior to the November election.

Only the New York porn star hush money criminal case seems clearly on track to be heard before the November election. The mere fact that I can write that sentence about someone Republicans just made their presumptive nominee speaks to the moral bankruptcy of the former “Grand” Old Party.

With the fate of democracy hanging in the balance, we are left wondering whether the courts are up to the task of holding Trump accountable at all. Increasingly it seems that they are not.

When it comes to Trump versus the judiciary, the failed former one-term president has serious advantages. The first is his utter shamelessness. Even when judges are wrong, they don’t call people childish names or make up complete lies. Judges do not maintain armies of Twitter trolls to enforce their judgments and cannot unleash shameless surrogates to go on TV on their behalf.

This does not excuse the judiciary’s failures, however. The truth is that nearly every judge who has dealt with Trump in the last four years has paid him too much respect and deference. As a criminal defendant, he has too frequently been afforded rights that no other criminal defendant would receive.

Just as the courts face a pivotal moment, so do those who believe in holding Trump accountable.

Trump has managed to create an assumption among many in the media that his status as a candidate entitles him to special privileges — to make outrageous remarks that threaten the safety of witnesses, jurors and court staff and to delay his criminal trials until after the November election. Though neither the criminal code nor the Department of Justice rules contain a blackout period this fall for trials of political candidates, Trump is acting as if he is entitled to special dispensation.

Let’s be clear, Trump doesn’t want a trial before Election Day or after. He wants to abuse the legal system so that he never faces trial. No criminal defendant has that power, not even a former president. That is, unless the courts cede it to him. No other criminal defendant facing serious felonies is afforded the privilege of blocking out certain months not to stand trial because they are too busy with other matters.

Trump’s criminal trials should begin as soon as the Supreme Court dispatches with his absurd immunity claim. There is no legal reason why they cannot start in August, September or even October.

In fact, there is precedent for exactly this. In 2008, former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was indicted on federal bribery charges. Though he was facing a tough November election, his trial started in September and went until nearly the end of October. Stevens went on to lose that election, ending his six-term career in the Senate.

The judges — conservative and liberal alike — handling Trump’s legal matters stand at a crossroads. They will either assert their authority to ensure that all criminal defendants receive equal justice under the law, or they award Trump a special tier of justice for the shameless and powerful.

Just as the courts face a pivotal moment, so do those who believe in holding Trump accountable.

I am aware that many are ready to give up on the courts. They are prepared to accept that Trump will escape judicial accountability.

That too is one of Trump’s powers — the ability to drain hope from those who see him for what he is. Trump wants us to lose hope. He wants his opponents to see the courts as he does: instruments of power that he can manipulate. If we give that to him, we are letting his hopeless vision of an America without justice prevail. Instead, we need to reimagine a more optimistic and dynamic future with equal justice for all.