Indicted by the Feds
Here’s where we stand as of Thursday evening:
First, Trump claimed on social media that he’s been indicted in what he has taken to calling “the boxes hoax.” There is nothing official yet from DOJ, we have not seen the official indictment but word began to trickle out, confirming the former president has been indicted by the federal government.
Here’s what Trump said.
Of course, except for the fact of being indicted, the rest is garbage.
The New York Times is reporting Trump was charged with a total of seven counts, including willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements and an obstruction of justice conspiracy, according to people familiar with the matter. That first charge is an espionage act violation that carries a statutory penalty of up to 10 years. The second two charges most likely have a statutory maximum of 5 years each, although it’s not possible to be certain until we see the indictment itself.
We’ve come a long way. A year ago, the January 6 committee was preparing to start its hearings. There was little, if any, certainty that the process would succeed, and less that our legal system was up to the task of holding Trump accountable. There were some early signs that DOJ had begun grand jury proceedings, but the Trump-spun narrative of a witch hunt had taken hold, and many people believed that the former president who inspired an insurrection would walk away clean.
We are in a much different position a year later, with the former president now indicted. The Attorney General, who said in a January 2022 speech that he was committed to following the evidence no matter where it led has fulfilled a part of his commitment, even if these first steps involve the surprise detour into Trump’s abuse of his access to classified documents and other sensitive material. Garland had signaled he would not interfere with the special counsel’s decisions unless they were outside the mainstream of how DOJ would conduct similar cases, and he did not.
We are an America that is in a much better place than we were a year ago. Yes, it’s still fraught. But the rule of law seems to be gaining strength. These next few weeks will bring public reactions to indictments. We will learn whether the special counsel is willing to and has the ability to make his case to the American people, within the confines of due process. In other words, can he explain the process and the charges, without veering into improper argument at this stage about the former president’s guilt. And in the midst of all this, we are still surrounded by the political aftershocks of the Trump era, including a rising tide of would-be authoritarian entrants into the political arena and a Republican Party that appears to have no interest in stemming it. It’s a volatile moment. But we enter it as a stronger nation than we were a year ago.
The Trump era was one characterized by shock, as we saw the laws and norms that girded our democratic institutions stripped away. We learned that a leader who worked to advance his own interests, not to secure the future of the country, could ignore, twist and even violate the basic principles and laws that have served our country well over the centuries, often with impunity. In a constitutional republic like ours, there is a basic assumption that our leaders will be people of good faith people who work, perhaps not exclusively, but primarily, with the interests of the country at heart. As Americans we may have reasonable disagreements about what those best interests are and what executing them looks like, but Trump, uniquely among our presidents, was willing to burn down the country in service to himself. These are plain truths that far too many of our country’s leaders are still unwilling to publicly acknowledge.
If Trump had his way, by the end, there would have been no peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration. Free and fair elections would have been at an end in our country. Institutions would have served Trump and his minions. Career employees who couldn’t or refused to demonstrate loyalty to Trump would, at best, have been dismissed. And Trump has made it clear that democracy would suffer death by a thousand cuts if he ever regains the White House.
But that is not where we are. Our republic has shown surprising resiliency in the face of not only a corrupt president but a political party that was willing to shield him. We are not the healthy, vibrant democracy, the shining city on the hill that can speak with authority to other nations about improving democracy at home and abroad, but we are still here. And we are in the moment that will determine whether we continue to grow stronger and what our future looks like.
Trump predicted that if he was indicted in NYC there would be violence in the streets. That prospect did not materialize. The District Attorney’s charges will move forward on their merits to resolution in court. Trump has amped up his calls for “support” from his base on social media. There is no reason to believe the president who instigated January 6 to hold onto power will not pull out all of the stops available to him to save himself from prison. We can’t predict with certainty what will happen now. Perhaps people will go on with their lives, waiting to see what happens; the idea of a former president under indictment sufficiently normalized by the Manhattan charges. Perhaps there will be protests—that is our right as Americans. What we cannot tolerate is a repeat of January 6-style efforts to further damage our government. Our political leaders, government officials, and law enforcement must stand prepared to resoundingly turn back any effort to respond to a Trump indictment in an extra-legal fashion. As citizens, we must insist that they do so.
Nonetheless, this is a moment to take stock and to realize how far we’ve come from the fragility that shook the country in January of 2021. We’re entitled to a small moment of self-congratulation to appreciate everything that we have accomplished, and to double down on the commitment to preserve an American Republic from succumbing to a dangerous cult leader with fascist tendencies.
The American dream has always been aspirational, in the sense that there is always more work to do to extend its promise to include all of us. Women, Black people, immigrants, people who follow different faiths or none at all, people who were formerly incarcerated, and on and on. We, like always, have much important work ahead of us as a country to make sure we have a more perfect union. The good news is, we have fought our way back from a struggle it looked like we might not survive. We have the strength and the grit to restore ourselves. The next few weeks will tell an important story. Tonight, we go to sleep knowing no man is above the law. We still live in a rule of law country where even a former president can be prosecuted for violating the law.
We’re in this together,
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