Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 13, 2020
There’s something ironically upside-down about Donald Trump deciding once again to call on his team to engineer criminal charges against his real and perceived 2016 foes: Should he lose this election and the veneer of presidential distancing from the law, Trump is going to be arguing exactly the opposite.
Specifics aside, wide swaths of voters, longtime officials and watchers have argued that going after one’s defeated rivals is beneath us as a Great Democracy. That kind of behavior is what we expect from Banana Republic tyrants, we tell oursaelves.
So, here comes Trump, more and more desperate in what is shaping up to be a losing effort at the polls (unless he wheedles a court intervention to dictate the outcome), pressuring the Justice Department to bring charges against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden all for different aspects of opposing him and launching collusion investigations between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives — made up charges already four years old and debunked multiple times.
Actually, Trump is still hammering away at what he thinks were serious problems with Hillary’s emails moving through private servers, and demanding that the State Department disclose its copies of whatever those emails contained — whether they were personal, government business or contained after-the-fact classifications. Apart from all else, his own administration, starting with daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner and wife Melania also have used private, non-governmental servers for government business, the exact substance of his rails against Hillary Clinton.
But if he should lose this election — and perhaps even if he wins — Trump looks to be facing any number of criminal investigations of his own.
And you can be sure that Trump will be screeching against persecution in any such prosecutions, whether by federal or state agencies.
Any further delay by Atty. Gen. William P. Barr in producing election-eve criminal charges against Biden in particular is a “a disgrace,” according to Trump, who thinks Biden should be disqualified from running for office. Criticizing Barr is a new tactic.
Clinton belongs in jail, he said. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately said he would look for the emails anew, as if repeated investigations of their contents had never occurred.
Threats against Democrats including Obama obviously go beyond even his oft-repeated claims of victimhood, and the plea that he is owed at least four more years in the White House just because they tried to oust him from office.
As it happens, Barr, who has moved heaven and earth to help Trump legally, faces an issue in having launched what he had promised would be a more complete look at the Russia investigation, including its origins, as well as a review of the Robert S. Mueller special counsel probe by U.S. attorney John Durham. Durham apparently has told Barr that he isn’t done, and won’t be before the election.
That does not suit the Trump timetable, of course. Trump wants Clinton, former FBI heads James B. Comey Jr. and Andrew McCabe, former intelligence figures like John Clapper, John Brennan and others brought to answer charges for investigating him at all. Trump’s National Security Adviser John Ratcliffe just unclassified documents with intelligence notes about a Russia investigation that he said implicated Clinton, but that intelligence figures said were notes about Russia’s own intercepted intentions.
It is difficult to say that any of this will result in any criminal charges at all –one lower level FBI agent has pleaded guilty to signing a false after-the-fact declaration about surveilling Trump associate Carter Page — never mind the big names. But Trump’s goal here clearly is more about politics than justice — a sentiment that could apply equally to coronavirus or job growth or China policy.
The Durham probe eventually will finish. He has questioned why the FBI opened the case, though the Justice Department inspector general determined agents had just cause to do so — as well as their various processes. If there is a report and no indictments, there are questions about whether the results even will see light of day.
Even with involvement of Barr, who has intervened in the prosecutions of Trump associates Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, it is apparent that the timing is not working to Trump’s desires — and thus the tantrums.
The point is that Trump can bay at the moon as much as he wants, and he can get even louder the closer we get to Nov. 4 with capitalized, frantic tweets that are believed by about 40 percent of the country.
What you don’t hear is any acknowledgment that in America up until now, we’ve had a tacit understanding that prior misdeeds are not the subject matter for current administration Justice Department indictments.
That is about to change if Trump loses, since New York State, at least, appears to be moving ahead with criminal charges about years of tax practices that preceded and continued through the Trump White House years. Lots of the same ground covers infringement of federal tax laws, campaign finance laws, and fraudulent business practices.
You can just about hear Trump’s voice crying for relief from any incoming Democratic administration look at prosecuting his actual, provable crimes.