The only people who benefit from Donald Trump’s indictment are Trump himself and Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg. A significant chunk of the GOP primary electorate will now rally around the first president ever to be criminally prosecuted (though Ulysses S. Grant was once arrested for speeding in his horse-drawn carriage). Bragg, meanwhile, has set himself up for a Democratic primary win—and therefore election—to whatever New York political office he next seeks.
The big losers are the rule of law and the American people, who get dragged evermore into the Trump-versus-anti-Trump muck rather than being able to focus on real issues.
If you think Trump is a bad man who did bad things and doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near public office, you’re worse off because he’s now a better bet to get the Republican presidential nomination. And any further indictments, either from a federal investigation of improperly handled classified documents or the one in Georgia over subornation of election fraud—both of which stand on firmer legal ground—are now politicized and less likely to end up in any real accountability for Trump. The weakness of Bragg’s case undermines all other potential prosecutions.
If, on the other hand, you think that Trump can do no wrong, you’re worse off, too. Bragg’s prosecution makes it less likely that Trump returns to the White House, even if it improves his chances of being on the ballot in November 2024, because swing voters (whether truly independent or just those alienated by partisan radicalization) are turned off by the Trump Show. The only mandate that Joe Biden won in 2020 was not to be Donald Trump. Biden’s overreach since fulfilling that mandate, as well as his age, makes him a singularly vulnerable incumbent. Perhaps the only Republican whom Biden could beat is Trump, whose electoral ceiling at this point (not enough to win a general election) is about at the same level as his floor (enough to win a primary).
And if you just want to see American politics return to a “normal” state, well, you’re also worse off, for reasons I need not spell out.
There may not even be a final verdict here. Trump’s lawyers will move to dismiss the indictment on multiple grounds. First, it’s a stretch to find that an improper recording of a hush-money payment as a legal expense is criminal. Second, this kind of ticky-tack misdemeanor is barred by the statute of limitations. Third, the idea that Trump’s bad accounting, even if intentional, becomes a felony (with an extended limitations statute) simply because the purpose of the hush money was to violate federal campaign-finance laws, is fanciful. Particularly because, fourth, this would be an example of targeted prosecution—going after Trump after several prosecutors (including Bragg himself once) had reviewed the same facts and declined to press charges. There’s simply no legitimate reason, such as newly discovered evidence, to revive a cold case years later.
The former president can also make a strong claim of selective enforcement, defined as the singling out of a particular person when prosecutors generally choose not to charge other people who committed similar offenses. Trump’s lawyers will argue that accounting errors are typically handled as civil matters and that transmogrifying them into election-law felonies would be an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial power.
Would this case have been brought against anyone else, even any other politician? To ask the question is to answer it. Trump famously said that he could get away with shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. But prosecuting him for this other stuff looks particularly rich, given that District Attorney Bragg has declined to prosecute so much gun crime on other New York City avenues.
Trump’s would-be Republican rivals have begun to sound off in support of the beleaguered ex-president. Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin tweeted: “It is beyond belief that District Attorney Alvin Bragg has indicted a former President and current presidential candidate for pure political gain. Arresting a presidential candidate on a manufactured basis should not happen in America.” Youngkin continued: “The left’s continued attempts to weaponize our judicial system erode people’s faith in the American justice system and it needs to stop.”
The chief non-Trump Republican, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, had a more urgent and legally barbed take:
The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.
It is un-American.
The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.
Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.
To paraphrase Stanford DEI dean Tirien Steinbach, now suspended for having encouraged a mob to shut down a federal judge’s speech, this indictment’s juice just ain’t worth the squeeze.
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