Donald Trump indicted; critics and skeptics weigh-in

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Official portrait of President Donald J. Trump, Friday, October 6, 2017. (Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

Last month, a New York district attorney, Alvin Braggs filed a 34-count indictment against Donald Trump for falsifying business records in the matter of hush payments to porn star, Stormy Daniels. Last week, Special Counsel Jack Smith filed a 38-count federal indictment against Trump regarding the possession and mishandling of classified documents. 

 In addition to the indictments, Trump is being investigated by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for interfering in the 2020 election in Georgia. Indications are that Trump may be indicted in July or August for that offense. New York Attorney General Letitia James is pursuing an indictment for the Trump organization’s manipulating records to illegally lower its taxes and to illegally obtain bank loans. Special Counsel Jack Smith is also conducting investigations into Trump’s role in attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and in the January 6th Capitol Insurrection.

All of these indictments and investigations give the appearance that Donald Trump could spend the rest of his life in prison and paying damages for the alleged crimes. It helps call to mind the assertion by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi two years ago that he could spend the rest of his life in an orange prison suit. Indeed, many news commentators seem to speak more out of wishful thinking rather than hard reality. Recalling the fate of Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon, and other high-level officials, many people question whether Trump will be punished as were John Dean and other lower-level Nixon’s Watergate conspirators.

There is room for their skepticism that can be seen by narrowing-in on just the classified documents case. There are cracks in the system through which could enable Trump to escape punishment. 

On the one hand, Special Counsel’s 49-page indictment is very clear and compelling, leaving little room for doubt as to the guilt of Trump and his main alleged conspirator, Waltine Nauta. Counts One through Thirty-One covers 33 pages, spelling out the willful detention of national defense information. Count Thirty-Two covers two pages, describing the conspiracy to obstruct Justice. Count Thirty-Three covers one page, showing the withholding of a document or record. Count Thirty-Four covers one page, describing Trump’s corruptly concealing of a document or record. Count Thirty-Five covers one page, spelling out the concealing of a document or record in a federal investigation. Count Thirty-Six covers one page, describing a scheme to conceal the documents. Count Thirty-Seven covers two pages, outlining false statements and representations. Count Thirty-Eight covers three pages, outlining additional false statements and representations. The detailed nature of the evidence is such that the average citizen, to say nothing of those who may be experts or who have followed current events with any regularity, would easily find Trump and Nauta guilty of all charges.

On the other hand, this detailed work can be virtually cancelled-out by technicalities and extenuating circumstances. If that happens, a Donald Trump punishment can become as unlikely as a Texas snowball in July. That is the thinking and fear of many citizens. They have seen the cracks in the system and have observed the growing sentiment toward fascism and white nationalism, both of which Trump and many of his followers embrace. 

Based upon such possibilities, skeptics point to several of the things that could happen. For starters, the case is currently assigned to federal judge Aileen Cannon. This is the same Trump-appointed judge who bent the laws so badly last year, trying to clear Trump in another case, until she had to be reversed by the appeals court. She appears so pro-Trump until given the influence of federal judges in such cases, she could easily delay the court proceedings to such an extent that Trump is able to get off the hook, even if she does not somehow find a way to dismiss the case or critical components of it. It is not clear to many what can be done to get the case re-assigned to another judge or protect the case from any corrupting influence that she may try to assert. In short, the first point to which critics point is that Judge Cannon can de-rail the exacting of justice no matter how clear and air-tight the indictment and evidence may be.

Secondly, they caution observers to keep in mind that in this, as in other cases, a jury will determine the verdict. When Emmett Till was lynched, the evidence did not matter, the jurors were determined to see that Roy Bryant, J.W. Milam, and/or any other perpetrators were set free. Such has happened countless times and can easily happen again in this divided political environment. Given the fact that the jurors in this instance are being selected in Florida, there is a good chance that one or two, if not the entire pool, will be so sympathetic of Trump that no amount of evidence will persuade them to vote to convict him. Trump is already trying, through his rhetoric, to poison any potential jury pool that may be selected.

A third thing that skeptics consider is that any delays in the court proceeding will benefit Trump by lengthening the time for the atmosphere to be poisoned and by bringing him closer to being elected and the political change which that would bring about. There may be delays as he tries to secure local attorneys to represent him in court. There may be delays as motions are made in court. There may be delays as other courts in Georgia, New York, or elsewhere engage in their indictments.

Despite what others may say, Trump is getting the kind of special treatment that can make a difference in the final outcome of the trial. Among other things, there appears to be no restrictions on his travel or his rhetoric, which can enable him to influence the case. Imagine other people who have faced lesser charges and were immediately locked-up or restricted in many other ways. Even the fact that for months there was reluctance to indict Trump because of the optics of it, or because of the reactions of many of his rabid followers represent differences in his treatment. The federal government literally begged and pleaded for the documents which Trump had illegally taken to be returned, but now the system is still trying to determine if he has committed chargeable offenses.

Will Trump be punished for his handling of the classified documents? As quietly as it is kept or as curious as it may be, in the 38-count indictment filed by Jack Smith, for each count the minimum time of imprisonment is listed as N/A, which could indicate that he could possibly receive very little prison time, even if he is somehow found guilty. This kind of situation with the documents case may also mean that, if there is to be greater assurance of imprisonment, it may have to come from one of the other indictments and subsequent convictions.

Another possibility that critics consider is the idea of Trump and the government reaching some kind of deal, as Spiro Agnew did, in order to avoid jail time. There are rumors that such a deal was passed-up earlier, but it could come up again, enabling him to stay out of jail despite the mountain of evidence presented in the court and in the public arena.

Sixth, they point to the possibility that Trump could prevail on an appeal of his case, given the fact that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is reputed to be very conservative and that there is a decidedly conservative majority on the Supreme Court, either or both of which could end up with the documents case. In short, in the judicial sense, there is no slam dunk when it comes to convicting and punishing Donald Trump.

Finally, they reference the possibility of Trump being pardoned for the offenses detailed by Jack Scott in the classified documents case as well as for the federal charges regarding attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the staging of a coup on January 6, 2020. Many have witnessed current efforts to get Republican presidential candidates to promise to pardon Trump if they are elected. Furthermore, who knows whether or not the Supreme Court would enable Trump to pardon himself if he is elected?

The bottom line to this entire article is that Americans would do well to become and remain informed on the actions in the court, that is, from the indictments through the final dispositions. Citizens have the right and the responsibility to use their influence to see that justice is done, no matter who is the plaintiff or the defendant. 

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Donald Trump indicted; critics and skeptics weigh-in

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
June 26, 2023