Jackie Calmes: We can't count on the courts to hold Trump accountable before November. It's up to us

Jackie Calmes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Op Eds

Well, my fellow Americans, it's up to us to hold Donald Trump accountable at the ballot box. We can't count on the courts before election day.

This was supposed to be the opening week of Trump's Jan. 6 trial, the first ever of a former president facing criminal charges, for his unprecedented attempt to overturn a U.S. election and remain in power. A verdict could have come down well before November.

But there is no trial today in Washington, thanks to the Republican-super-majority Supreme Court, one-third of whose members are Trump appointees. The court's decision last week to spend months considering Trump's spurious claim of absolute immunity from criminal charges will likely postpone the Jan. 6 trial so long that a verdict before Nov. 5 is nearly impossible.

Pundits who suggest otherwise underestimate Trump's talent for forcing delays and the willingness of some judges and justices to accommodate him.

Whether there's a preelection verdict obviously matters. Polls consistently show a significant number of voters would spurn the presumptive Republican presidential nominee if he's a convicted felon, enough of them to swing a close election to President Biden. (Trump has, remember, already been found liable for financial fraud and for sexual assault and defamation in civil courts.)

Only the least significant of the four criminal trials Trump faces seems likely to start anytime soon. The New York state case, alleging that he falsified business records to cover up hush money paid to adult-film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, is scheduled for March 25.

Meanwhile, the Georgia election-skullduggery case is up in the air as the judge considers whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can keep trying it amid questions the Trump side raised about her conduct.

And most of us long ago gave up hope that rookie federal Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, would do anything other than what she's done: indulge his stalling tactics in the Mar-a-Lago case, in which he's charged with taking top-secret documents, lying about it and obstructing justice.

But it is the Jan. 6 case that is — was — the most crucial, preelection. Americans deserve to see whether a jury would find Trump guilty of conspiring to subvert the 2020 election before they vote on returning him to office in 2024.

Rarely has the saying "justice delayed is justice denied" seemed so apt. In this instance, the wrong will be done to us, the voters.

We can spread the blame around. Attorney General Merrick Garland has been so consumed with erasing the stain of politicization that the Trump gang left at the Justice Department (a thankless task, as Republicans' baseless yammering about its "weaponization" attests) that he dallied before naming special counsel Jack Smith to investigate Trump. Willis indeed has shown bad judgment. And Cannon appears to be auditioning for promotion to a higher court by a reelected Trump.


Smith, at least, moved with alacrity, along with the federal judge in the Jan. 6 case, Tanya Chutkan. But the Supreme Court has all but foiled their efforts.

The justices could have — should have — taken up Trump's immunity claim in December. That month Chutkan rejected Trump's argument for what she called "a lifelong 'get out of jail free' pass" and when Trump appealed, Smith urged the Supreme Court to cut out the middleman — the D.C. appeals court — and quickly decide the historic matter. It refused.

Then, after the appeals court panel unanimously ruled against Trump, the justices could have — should have — accepted its widely praised opinion as the final word. They didn't.

Worse, in a case that's more consequential to a presidential election's outcome than any since Bush v. Gore, one of the Supreme Court's members, Clarence Thomas, has a clear conflict of interest, and he's refusing to recuse himself. Thomas' wife has been implicated in the pro-Trump machinations to overturn Biden's victory.

A ruling from the justices could come as late as the end of June. They aren't expected to support Trump's immunity claim but they could send the case back to the appeals court, further postponing a trial. A verdict on Trump's attempt to hold onto power is now "much more unlikely" before the election, conservative former appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig told MSNBC.

That's why the voters' verdict is all the more critical. As Liz Cheney often says, Trump shouldn't be allowed to get "anywhere near the Oval Office again." If he does get reelected, he can scuttle the federal cases against him, and he's vowed to pardon those already convicted for their actions on Jan. 6.

Dan Pfeiffer, the former Obama White House adviser, told readers of his newsletter on Thursday that Democrats "should make some chicken salad out of this chicken s—." Call out the already unpopular Supreme Court, he argued, and hammer the argument that "Donald Trump is running for president for one reason and one reason only — to avoid accountability for crimes he committed."

We should stop looking at calendars and calculating on fingers when Trump can be convicted in a courtroom. We're the jury we've been waiting for.

And then, once Trump is defeated again, the trials can play out. And those other juries can finish the job of holding Citizen Trump accountable.


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus



Joey Weatherford Mike Beckom Mike Peters Dave Granlund RJ Matson Phil Hands