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Thursday April 18, 2024

Rule of law

By S Qaisar Shareef
June 22, 2023

On June 13, Donald Trump appeared in federal court and pleaded not guilty to all 37 charges leveled against him for putting national security secrets at risk and obstructing investigations.

A few days earlier, a grand jury had indicted him for the above crimes. The proceedings will now move to a jury trial which may take several months to conclude. In the meantime, Trump is a declared candidate and front runner for the Republican Party's nomination for US president in 2024.

While the indictment of a former president on serious federal charges is unprecedented, much about Donald Trump's presidency and his actions following his defeat in 2020 have been without precedent. While serving as president of the US he was shielded from legal action by Justice Department procedures. Now that he is a private citizen, there are no such protections.

The US National Archives, repository of official documents, had suspected that Trump had removed documents from the White House when he had to leave on January 21, 2021, following his loss in the election. Trump has asserted the documents in his possession were not classified, or that he had declassified them before leaving office. The fact is the documents, classified or not, belong to the US government and not personally to any former president.

Trump had refused to acknowledge he had any unauthorized documents until an FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago home in August last year produced several marked ‘Top Secret’. In addition, evidence has emerged that Trump had shared top secret US defence and war plans with people not authorized to see them. It is also alleged in the indictment that he asked his lawyer and an assistant to lie about the presence of such documents on Trump property.

During his presidency, in fact even during much of his business career, Trump has operated as if he is above the law, and by and large has gotten away with it.

Through all the drama of Trump's legal challenges and allegations of wrongdoing, a solid base of Republican voters, perhaps 30 or 35 per cent of the country, has continued to support him.

Serious accusations against Trump, such as paying hush money to a porn star and writing it off as a business expense, financial misreporting in his business to get unfair tax advantages and now jeopardizing national security by mishandling classified documents and then trying to cover it up, do not seem to faze his Republican base.

Trump has been uniquely successful in American politics, in creating a cult around himself with a largely white voter base promising to ‘make America great again.’ It is not entirely clear which exact era these Trump supporters would like the country to go back to – when voting rights were denied to minorities in parts of the country? or when America was fighting wars halfway around the world leading to millions of lost lives?

His strong support among Republican voters was of course not sufficient to win him the last election. However, this is also a politician who doesn’t let facts get in his way. To this day he continues to assert that he actually won the 2020 election, and that it was rigged to snatch victory from him. His campaign’s loss of 59 out of 60 court cases pertaining to the 2020 election results, notwithstanding.

This has put the country at a juncture it has never seen before, at least not in the last 100 years. Donald Trump’s chances of securing the Republican Party’s nomination for president appear high. It is possible legal cases against Trump may not yet be decided when voters go to the polls in November 2024. Interestingly, neither the US law nor the Constitution prohibit a convicted person from contesting the elections for president or leading the country while incarcerated.

The prosecution of these cases has also posed a challenge for the Biden administration.

Should the former president be allowed to openly violate the law, so the current administration doesn't come across as being vindictive against a political opponent? “So serious are these allegations that not to have charged Mr. Trump would have been to single him out for special treatment”, reports The Economist magazine. Regardless of what ultimately happens to Trump, the country itself has entered a sad period in its history and with no end in sight.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC. Website: www.sqshareef.com/blogs