...that Trump has so far gotten away with
In college I was close with the Blue Oyster Cult, going all the way back to when they were the Soft White Underbelly. Years later, one of my first assignments when I got to Sire Records was to work with Ian Astbury's band The Cult. Both bands were fantastic and inspiring. Trump's cult is not related in any way to either.
Jack Smith should not cut any kind of a deal with Trump that protects him from full accountability. Conservatives are already trying to make the case that Trump be imprisoned rather than executed. Remember, under 18 U.S.C. § 794, which is part of the Espionage Act, the death penalty can be imposed in cases where the convicted individual's espionage activities resulted in the death of a U.S. agent, like these that Trump has so far gotten away with. This applies to offenses involving the transmission or communication of information relating to the national defense of the United States to a foreign government or agent. Among the documents that Trump stole were the identities of U.S. spies working in in other countries. And then there’s the question of what exactly he sold Saudi Arabia— and possibly other countries.
Trump understands the jeopardy he’s in. As his former chief of staff said about his show of bravado, “He’s scared shitless. This is the way he compensates for that. He gives people the appearance he doesn’t care by doing this. For the first time in his life, it looks like he’s being held accountable. Up until this point in his life, it’s like, I’m not going to pay you; take me to court. He’s never been held accountable before.” And his whole campaign is about keeping himself out of prison— in fact that was the top motivating factor in his run again this time. And this isn’t just about using his problems with the law as a way of raising money. CNN:
The ex-president, who tried to steal the 2020 election, accused President Joe Biden and a band of misfits and Marxists of election interference and of mounting a political persecution typical of a fascist or communist nation. He also falsely insisted he had to the right to keep secret documents that were the property of the US government.
His remarks were among the most chilling and demagogic ever uttered by a major figure in modern American history. And on a somber day in the nation’s story, they said everything about the former president and the divisive spectacle ahead as he runs for the White House under the shadow of two criminal indictments to which he has pleaded not guilty – with more possibly to come.
Trump’s defiance reinforced the impression he views the law with contempt. By ignoring the gravity of a situation he created, he once again put immediate personal and political needs ahead of the national interest – a trend reflected in his haphazard storage of classified documents in a bathroom, ballroom and shower. The material included secrets about America’s nuclear program and key military plans and, according to the indictment, he allegedly obstructed government efforts to get them to safety.
Trump’s showmanship bolstered a strategy of putting his legal woes at the center of a campaign already rooted in claims he’s the blameless victim of a politicized justice system.
“Some birthday, we got a government that is out of control,” Trump was heard saying in the Cuban restaurant hours before turning 77. This is the kind of victimization theme that has long been at the center of Trump’s grievance-based populist appeal. He’s once again trying to delegitimize the institutions holding him to account, seeking to light a fire under GOP voters and even to shape an eventual jury pool in Florida.
But Tuesday’s political choreography showed this approach is more than a political strategy. It revealed a deeper, emerging reality about the 2024 campaign. Trump’s legal defense strategy is now entirely fused with his electoral one. His bid to regain the White House is no longer a mere political campaign but has now become about self-preservation. As his court battles grind on, his biggest aim appears to be recapturing the presidential authority that might give him the power to make his potential criminal liability— and even the threat of jail time, if convicted— go away.
“He’s not running to save America, he’s running to save himself, and if that means tearing down the judicial system and special counsel, he’ll do it,” CNN political commentator Van Jones said on The Lead on Tuesday.
And he probably can’t bullshit and bully his way through a trial this time. Quinta Jurecic wrote that tight after he— not the Justice Department— announced he would be indicted, he had a slick video his camp had prepared for the lemmings at Truth Social whining about persecution. “Over the course of four minutes, he claimed multiple times that he’d won his reelection bid, asserted his innocence, called the Russia investigation a plot engineered by Hillary Clinton, and insisted that every investigation into his conduct was ‘a hoax and a scam.’ His speeches over the weekend featured a torrent of false claims.” His attorneys have apparently persuaded to not behave that way in court and on Wednesday he sat quietly during the arraignment, letting his lawyer do all the talking.
Trump has built a political juggernaut out of shameless lying. Or perhaps not even lying. It’s practically a cliché at this point to refer to the philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit, which Frankfurt describes as distinct from, and worse than, a lie, in that the bullshitter doesn’t even care whether or not what he’s saying is true. Trump is a consummate bullshitter— but the courtroom is an inhospitable place for that sort of bluster. It’s an environment designed for careful, systematic evaluation of meaning and argument. In court, Trump is no longer on his home turf. In that sense, the Mar-a-Lago indictment represents the latest collision between the legal system and Trump’s insistence on defining the terms of his own reality.
Trump has folded the indictment into his quest for reelection, demanding a chance to deal out retribution against those who have wronged him. Cannon’s role in the courtroom suggests another way to understand the stakes of a second Trump presidency. Given another four years, he’d be able to further refashion institutions in his image— and, in doing so, limit their ability and willingness to hold him to account again.
Bret Stephens is a long time NeverTrump conservative— very conservative— who writes for the NY Times. Yesterday he was advocating for Trump to go to prison rather than face the firing squad he’s earned. “For many years, but especially the past three, conservatives have warned of the dangers of a criminal justice system that is overly reluctant to put and keep dangerous people in prison. The law is the law. Violations of it should be prosecuted. We are, and must remain, the land of equal justice, not social justice dictated by the ideological fixations of angry Americans. These same conservatives should try being consistent when it comes to the federal indictment of Donald Trump. It is stunning to read the grand jury’s 37-count indictment, with its depictions of a former president treating the law with the contemptuous disdain of a mafia don— but with none of a don’s concern for covering his tracks. It is even more stunning to hear what some of those in the legal community who have been defenders of Trump have to say about it.”
Alan Dershowitz: “It is the kind of evidence every defense lawyer dreads and every prosecutor dreams about,” the retired Harvard law professor wrote of Trump’s recorded admission of unlawfully possessing highly classified documents.
Jonathan Turley: “Some of the evidence is coming from his former counsel, and these are very damaging statements made against him,” the Fox News legal analyst said, referring to notes made by one of Trump’s lawyers, in which the former president plots to obstruct a government subpoena. “All the government has to do is stick the landing on one count, and he could have a terminal sentence.”
Bill Barr: “It’s a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damning,” Trump’s former attorney general told Fox News Sunday. As for the suggestion that Trump is the victim of a witch hunt, Barr noted that the Justice Department had “acted in a very patient way” in trying to obtain documents from Trump, only to be met with “very egregious obstruction.”
Stephens noted that Barr made a point of adding that “Trump held on to and possibly shared vital national secrets— including, reportedly, the Pentagon’s planning documents for an attack on Iran— in a way that ‘anyone who really cares about national security, your stomach would churn at.’”
Unfortunately, Republican hard and persistent work to destroy the American public school system on every level has been largely successful so, as Stephens further noted “None of this will sway Trump’s base because nothing will sway them. It doesn’t matter that they were the ones most outraged in 2016 by Hillary Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified documents. Or the most disgusted by the conclusion by the then-FBI director, James Comey, that ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would bring charges against her. Or the most lustily cheering ‘Lock her up’ at that summer’s Republican convention. But what about more mainstream conservatives who know the 2020 election wasn’t stolen, that Jan. 6 was a disgrace for the ages, that Trump is a one-time-lucky serial loser whose bottomless narcissism keeps costing Republicans winnable Senate and gubernatorial races, that his entire presidency was a drunken joyride with a reckless driver careening around hairpin turns at high speed, that his renomination as the GOP candidate would give President Biden his best shot at re-election and that another Trump presidency would be an orgy of petty political retribution and reckless policymaking that would make his first term seem, by
It remains true that the federal prosecution of Trump, along with his potential conviction and incarceration, will be a fateful moment in American history. Far more fateful would have been the failure to prosecute. If Trump can be above the law, in a case of this kind, then we will have lost the rule of law.
As for larger considerations of justice, of both a legal and a cosmic kind, the English language is well stocked with phrases for occasions like this.
Turnabout is fair play.
Hoist with his own petard.
What’s sauce for the goose…
Lock him up.
Democracy Now had academic fascism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat on yesterday. She reminded the listeners that “Trump has been preparing this in two ways for many years. First of all, since 2015, he used his rallies— so, back, we’re talking, you know, seven, eight years now— he used his rallies as radicalization sites. And over and over, he told his supporters at these rallies that violence was a good way to solve conflict. How many times did he say, ‘Oh, you know, in the good old days, we used to be able to punch people, and nothing happened?’ So, that discourse of violence, which encouraged January 6th, is part of this. The other is his victim cult. So, this won’t be a surrender for MAGA extremists. This will be an act of victimization. And all strongmen since Mussolini say they’re victims. And this is very compelling to their followers, because they feel protective of them, and this is part of their leader cult. And January 6th, of course, was he summoned the faithful to help him in his time of distress. So, that narrative is continuing now.”
Questioned about why Republicans are letting this happen to their party, she noted that the GOP “is an autocratic party operating inside a democracy, and it is a party in thrall to a cult leader. And Donald Trump— I’ve been studying cult leaders for a hundred years’ worth of them— he has all the signs. He is not a conventional politician of either the Democratic or Republican, you know, old school. He is a cult leader. And the GOP has long been, you know, submissive to him. He put them under an authoritarian discipline, and then he made them complicit. And this is what corrupt, violent authoritarians do. They make you part of their crimes. And so, the GOP is in damage control mode. And, you know, there’s fear. There’s fanaticism. And they don’t see a way to break away, because they’re cowards, because— or they’ve bought into this war, this battle that he’s waging.”
Unfortunately, what the GOP has waiting in the wings if Trump dies or goes to prison, isn’t much better.