Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled conclusively that Donald Trump’s attempts to stage a coup against the United States while president are not above the law.
That it needed to be said is incredible. The decision takes the wind out of the sails of any remaining argument that Trump’s federal criminal trial should not expeditiously take place. As the three judges ruled: “Former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
The idea that Special Counsel Jack Smith is pursuing some sort of strained political hit job, targeting Trump because he’s the likely Republican nominee and not because he flagrantly committed heinous offenses, is ludicrous. We all watched — some horrified, some elated — as Trump whipped up his sycophants to storm the Capitol. We heard the audio as he begged the Georgia secretary of state to come up with the votes to flip the election. His supporters cheered him on precisely because he did these things.
The assertion that this is a campaign engineered against him for simply engaging in the job of being president goes beyond absurdity. Yes, Trump’s lawyers are right that no future president would be able to actually do anything if constrained by the threat of criminal prosecution for making the tough choices inherent in being the nation’s most powerful official. That is fortunately not at issue here because that is very much not what Trump is being prosecuted for.
To claim that it is is basically akin to arguing that a cop can’t do his job if he’s worried about prosecution for heading into the evidence locker and setting fire to some things at the behest of a mob pal.
If anything, the system continuing to work in a way that anyone trusts — which is, at base, the thing that undergirds our ability to have a society at all — absolutely requires that the prosecution move forward. Sending the message that you can burn evidence or try to subvert a democratic election without any consequence is as close as you can get to a public entreaty that you can and should do it again.
There’s a very obvious reason that Trump does not want this trial to move forwards prior to the election: he knows he’s guilty. The delays, the complaining, the procedural sleight of hand, it’s all an effort to simply run out the clock because he is well aware that after decades of grift and bluster and just steamrolling decency and the rule of law, his luck is running out.
Republican policymakers and officials who’ve adopted the mealy-mouthed position that they won’t support Trump if he’s convicted are banking on the same; they know he’s guilty and are hoping to stall until they can get him into the White House again and they can say that this is all a distraction and we should put it behind us.
They don’t intend to let due process play out because they don’t believe Trump should face it, that he’s simply above the law and should take his place as America’s autocrat. They must be proven wrong.