Edited by Patricia Simoni, proofing in progress
The criminal charges being leveled against Donald Trump are the product of his systematic disdain for the law and, in fact, decency.
For the first time in history, a former president of the United States will have to appear before the law to answer to criminal charges. This concerns Donald Trump, of course, for whom disdain for the law is a key part of his general conduct and which he brought to never-before-seen extremes during his 2016 campaign, his four years in the White House and even after his defeat in 2020. Finally, however, he will be held to account in a court of law.
The decision to press charges against Trump was made on Thursday by a Manhattan grand jury. Its members, who in the American system act as the first filter of the legal process, arrived at the conclusion after considering extensive evidence, that sufficient reason exists to suggest that a crime has been committed, and consequently, that this matter ought to be brought before a court.
The precise charges are not yet known, but they will be revealed this Tuesday,* when, as lawyers have confirmed, Trump will be tried before a Manhattan district judge. He will have to prove his innocence, be cross-examined and, almost undoubtedly, will have to pay a fine determined by the judge.
The implications of this will be enormous, not only for the case itself, but for other reasons that will have much more significant consequences. Outside of its political ramifications, however, which will be extensive and unpredictable, the important thing is that he is complying entirely with a fundamental pillar of the American justice system based on respect of the law of the state: equality before the law. This is to say, it is not the size of the crime he has committed that is important but, instead, the fact that no one can claim, as Trump himself has done in the past, to be above the law.
The case that will be brought before the judge is the least significant of ongoing cases against Trump. It concerns the alleged payment of $130,000 in 2016 to an adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels, with the intent to buy her silence regarding an extramarital relationship that, if revealed, would have seriously damaged Trump’s presidential ambitions. His lawyer and chief “fixer” at the time, Michael D. Cohen, admitted making the transaction following Trump’s instructions, who additionally arranged to falsely record it in the books of the Trump Organization as a reimbursement for legal fees.
Of the other three legal investigations in progress, the most advanced is taking place in Georgia, due to pressures that the then-president exercised to overturn election results to win in the state. The matter has already been examined by a grand jury in Fulton County, but its findings have not yet been revealed: something that is expected to happen in the coming days.
The two remaining federal cases are in the hands of the Department of Justice, which acts on behalf of the attorney general.
One relating to the storming of Capitol Hill on Jan 6. 2021 alleges intent to overturn the result of the elections that awarded the presidency to Joe Biden, while the other concerns the discovery of unprotected, confidential documents at his personal residence after he had left the White House. Other civil judicial processes are also ongoing.
The most important part of the New York trial is that, with it, the barrier — or rather, the precedent — that was protecting Trump has been removed. It was not of a legal nature, because nothing in the Constitution safeguards former presidents from being summoned to court, although it is widely accepted that those who exercise power do enjoy such protection. That said, never has a resident of the White House been accused of so many acts of breaking the law that are, moreover, clearly criminal. It was Trump who first crossed the line.
Of course, Trump and the majority of the Republican Party have tried to claim that the Stormy Daniels case is nothing more than a witch hunt, a perversion of justice and part of Biden’s vendetta against them — although the president does not have anything to do with the decision made by the grand jury. The same thing has happened with the other cases. The same story has been repeated since the announcement of his indictment, and it could be something that for his loyal support base, ends up strengthening rather than weakening the former president.
The legal reality is different. Trump and the Republican leaders loyal to him (the majority), have tried to undermine first the popular will expressed at the ballot boxes and then, the course of justice. So far, they have not succeeded. It will fall to the courts and the American people to ensure he does not emerge from this unscathed. His impunity must not be accepted.
*Editor’s Note: Donald J. Trump pleaded not guilty on April 4, 2023 to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, all of which are tied to the former president’s role in a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.