There has been some cheering about the 10 House and seven Senate Republicans who voted for impeachment. All honor to those who took the difficult path. But, good God! The president attempted to steal the election. He launched an insurrection against Congress. That only a handful of Republicans could vote to convict him is a sign of deep rot.
It also leaves millions of Americans who thirst for justice unsatisfied. Chances of a criminal indictment for incitement to riot are slim.
Many are placing hopes in a Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney who is investigating whether Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger demanding that he “find” 11,780 votes was the crime of election fraud. New York’s attorney general is investigating Trump’s possibly deceptive manipulation of property values to avoid taxes, while the Manhattan district attorney is probing the Trump organizations’ “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct.”
Additionally, Trump could be the target of multiple civil cases arising from the events of Jan. 6. The NAACP has filed suit on behalf of Rep. Bennie Thompson against Trump and Rudy Giuliani alleging that they violated the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan Act by conspiring with white supremacist groups to prevent members of Congress from executing their constitutional duties.
The list of possible future plaintiffs includes the families of the seven people who died on Jan. 6 or immediately thereafter, the 138 Capitol and D.C. metropolitan police officers who suffered broken ribs, lost fingers and eyes, and endured concussions, burns, heart attacks and psychological injuries.
Even Sen. Mitch McConnell, after voting to acquit Trump on jurisdictional grounds, issued an unconcealed plea for some sort of accountability: “President Trump ... didn’t get away with anything — yet.”
We need some sense that you cannot trample norms and laws with impunity. We need a sense that truth still matters, that justice is not an illusion and that you cannot “get away with” causing the worst subversion of American democracy since the Civil War.
So, godspeed to all the prosecutors, IRS officials, and lawyers who are assembling cases against Trump. Judges and juries are less likely to be conned than millions of voters.
We know in advance what Trumpworld will say about the coming legal tsunami. They will seize upon the favorite dodge of criminal officeholders worldwide — political motivation. They will claim that every suit or indictment is part of the conspiracy against Trump and Trump followers. They will proclaim, as they have about the Mueller investigation, the dozens of women who’ve accused Trump of abuse and worse, and both impeachments, that they are fatally flawed because they’re “politically motivated.”
This is the off-the-shelf excuse for every corrupt politician, and Trump’s shelf appears to be unusually well stocked. Responding to the Georgia criminal inquiry, Trump staffer Jason Miller dismissed the investigation as “simply the Democrats’ latest attempt to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump, and everybody sees through it.”
What everyone should see through is this feeble talking point.
Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, gained fame for corruption that exceeded even Illinois standards (his predecessor also wound up in prison). In addition to trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat, he shook down a children’s hospital and threatened the owners of the Chicago Tribune. What was Blagojevich’s excuse? He launched a (successful) lobbying campaign for a Trump pardon claiming that his prosecution was “unjust and politically motivated.”
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was convicted of charges of graft and money laundering. His explanation? “There was a pact between the judiciary and the media to remove us from power,” Lula told a rally of his supporters in 2018. “They couldn’t stand to see the poor rise up.”
In 1998, the American first lady, Hillary Clinton, claimed that her husband was the victim of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was among the very first House members to endorse Trump, pleaded guilty to misuse of campaign funds for a variety of personal expenditures including family vacations. There was tension with Mrs. Hunter when it was revealed that campaign funds were also devoted to romantic weekends in Lake Tahoe with individuals “14, 15, 16, 17, and 18.” Hunter described the investigation as a “politically motivated witch hunt.” (Trump also pardoned Hunter.)
Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for racketeering, bribery and money laundering. He apparently used donor funds to pay down his son’s college tuition debt and accepted an $18,000 bribe to help a friend secure an ambassadorial post. What did Fattah say about the investigation? Plenty. It was “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” and, yes, “politically motivated.”
Trump is no longer shielded by the Justice Department policy against indicting sitting presidents. He is no longer able to claim separation of powers when Congress asks for documents. He is no longer able to put off the IRS audit.
So, yes, he and his followers will shout “political motivation” and “witch hunt,” but it rings tinny now, not just because it’s so flagrantly false, but also because it’s all they’ve got.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.”
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