Commentary: No American is above the law, not even former presidents
Published in Op Eds
No American is above the law — not even former presidents. After a monthslong investigation, a New York grand jury indicted former president Donald J. Trump on charges related to hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
The grand jury, consisting of typical Americans across race, background and political party, weighed the evidence and decided to bring charges. Other indictments of the former president may be forthcoming for his mishandling of classified documents and for his role in attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The charges out of New York stem from a January 2018 Wall Street Journal story breaking the news of the hush-money payments made to Daniels to keep her from going public in 2016 about an affair with Trump. Recognizing a series of apparent campaign finance violations, Common Cause quickly drafted and filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission. Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty and served jail time for his role in the violations. Still, until now, the former president was only an unindicted co-conspirator.
Campaign finance violations are a threat to democracy that must be taken seriously. History has shown time and again that abuses will proliferate without checks on influence-buying and enforcement of campaign finance laws, and our democracy will end up on the auction block to the highest bidders. Campaign finance violations played a key role in the Watergate crisis that ultimately led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon. Americans deserve to know who is trying to influence their voices and votes, and Common Cause has a long history of holding presidents accountable. In 1972, we sued then-President Nixon’s campaign for failing to disclose its donors, and we won.
At the height of the Watergate crisis, the Department of Justice determined that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president “would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.” That policy has not changed, but that is not the policy for candidates for the nation’s highest office. Running for president cannot and must not serve as a shield to allow criminal conduct to go unpunished.
Investigations of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election may well draw additional indictments. As the nonpartisan January 6 Committee investigation revealed, Trump was fully aware that he had lost a free and fair election when he knowingly and willfully incited an armed mob of insurrectionists to attack the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. People died that day, and scores were injured while for hours — with the lives of his vice president, members of Congress, staff and law enforcement in danger — Trump refused to call off the mob he had unleashed.
Multiple investigations of various aspects of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election continue, and the former president remains under local, state and federal investigations. Prosecutors must be given the time and opportunity to do their jobs and weigh whether to indict individuals for criminal conduct. Partisan political interference with these decisions by members of Congress or any elected official is inappropriate and completely unacceptable.
Unfortunately, MAGA Republicans in the House of Representatives have already attempted to interfere with the grand jury’s work and intimidate Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. In the act of knee-jerk partisan fealty, no fewer than three House Republican committee chairs demanded that Bragg testify in Washington and turn over documents related to the investigation of Trump’s hush-money payments. This blatant abuse of power came after Trump complained on social media about a coming indictment in New York and, notably, before the grand jury had even voted to indict the former president. This bullying attempt to interfere with a law enforcement investigation by Trump accomplices in Congress was surely noted by other prosecutors weighing their indictments against the former president.
Americans expect the truth, and we deserve justice. Donald Trump’s indictment in New York is a step in the right direction to achieve both. But ultimately, our democracy will not be safe until all those responsible for Jan. 6 and the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election are held accountable.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Aaron Scherb is the senior director of legislative affairs at Common Cause, which since 1970, has passed hundreds of reforms at the federal, state and local levels to protect and strengthen our democracy. Common Cause does not endorse or oppose candidates for office. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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