We can all agree that the indictment by a New York Grand Jury of former President Donald Trump was a terrible day in American history. Whether you view this as a weaponization of the justice system by Soros-backed operatives (it’s not) or, more likely, a final comeuppance for a man who has spent his entire career avoiding accountability through abuse of the courts, we should all agree that this is the nadir for the office of the presidency.
Barring a few sparse footnotes, this is the first time a president — former or sitting — has ever been charged with a crime — though that was almost certainly coming for Richard Nixon before he resigned. Trump is also the first without any government or military experience, the first to be impeached twice, the first to fill moving trucks with documents and artifacts as he left the White House.
Like those things, the indictment has stretched the restraints of our system of checks and balances and pushed us into entirely new territory.
In New York on Tuesday, Trump was indicted on 34 felony counts of business fraud. It’s important to note that an indictment by a Grand Jury is not a guilty conviction — it means only that there is enough evidence to bring him to trial.
If you believe the New York Times — which, sometimes, we do — Trump’s guilt could be difficult to establish in court. And if you believe Trump supporters, he didn’t do anything wrong, and he never did and he never will. Though they likely thought differently when John Edwards stood trial for doing the same exact thing: using campaign funds to silence an extracurricular lover.
It seems Trump was worth indicting. With more than 30 counts of fraud, certainly this bears looking into. And by submitting Trump’s case to the Grand Jury, prosecutors in New York’s Southern District have effectively shattered a presidential norm behind which Trump has been hiding for years, namely that a president cannot be charged with a crime.
Plenty of Trump supporters echoed that refrain while he was in office and under investigation for everything from extorting the Ukraine for weapons to inciting a crowd to riot on Jan. 6. But not as many are saying it now that he has left office. And since he’s already been indicted and will be formally arrested this week, that seal has been broken.
Because Trump has several other investigations running right now. Besides this criminal case in Manhattan, there is also a civil case pending against the former president, accusing him of lying about his net worth in order to obtain substantial loans. There is a criminal case pending in Georgia over whether he tried to interfere with the 2020 election. He is being investigated by a House committee over his actions on Jan. 6. He is being investigated by the Justice Department over his handling of classified documents.
He is also being sued for defamation by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of raping her. Though this is not a criminal case, Trump’s defense is the same as it is for all of the other charges: A president can do what he wants, and no one can file charges against a sitting president.
As to whether a former president can be arrested, as of Tuesday, that question has been answered.
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