If he wins the presidency while still enduring these legal troubles, the US will enter a constitutional crisis
This article was first published in The Telegraph on August 3, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.
Donald Trump’s continued pursuit of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination will damage both the party and America, particularly if he succeeds. Neutral observers might think the growing mountain of legal challenges — criminal and civil — including the one filed Tuesday in Washington, would give Trump pause, notwithstanding his current opinion-poll lead in the Republican race. And everyone not named Trump recognises the enormous risks if he becomes the first convicted felon nominated for the presidency, or worse yet elected president.
For Trump, however, staying in the race increases his chances to get the nomination and secure funding to pay his rising legal billS. If he wins next year’s general elections, as is entirely possible, he will be able to terminate the pending federal investigations and prosecutions (although not the New York and Georgia criminal proceedings) or pardon himself if already convicted.
This growing disjunction between the national interest and Trump’s personal political and economic interest is nothing new. Unfortunately, however, there is little doubt he will seek to maximise his personal well-being over the country’s. America is in uncharted waters.
For any normal person, the burden of defending against criminal indictments, as well as civil lawsuits (which could significantly damage his personal finances) would be more than enough to reorient his priorities away from politics. The time involved to prepare for multiple trials and the magnitude of the legal jeopardy Trump faces should impel him to put other matters aside to concentrate on his serious risk of criminal convictions and substantial civil damages.
But Trump is an aberration. Ironically, he sees his best strategy is to use politics as his legal defence. His lawyers will argue at every opportunity that pre-trial proceedings and the trials themselves should be delayed and delayed again, to somewhere past election day. They will file every conceivable pre-trial motion and take every appeal permissible, which follows a long history of Trump’s approach to litigation.
Moreover, given this strategy and his already extraordinarily high legal fees — estimated at roughly $56 million since departing the White House — he needs the presidential campaign to help finance his legal defence. His outlays include legal fees paid on behalf of aides, which in many cases raise ethical issues. Prosecutors have questioned whether lawyers representing witnesses whose interests may be adverse to Trump’s can properly accept compensation from him.
If Trump’s delay strategy prevails, once inaugurated he can dismiss the federal special counsel and order the cases dismissed, which is within the executive branch’s prerogative. The two state cases are a different matter, and would remain pending against Trump, though he will certainly argue that they should be stayed during his presidency. If the state prosecutions proceed, however, and Trump is found guilty in one or both, it would be very Trumpian to refuse, as president, to accept the verdicts, expecting to skate free yet again. The US would face an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
The overall effect of this abnormal turmoil on America’s confidence in the integrity of its law-enforcement and government generally makes predictions hazardous. The vital question is just how deeply divisive and debilitating the consequences would be, and low long-lasting.
Internationally, America’s adversaries would swiftly take full advantage of Trump’s vulnerability and his propensity to comingle national interests with his personal interests. For Trump, obstruction of justice seems to be a way of life, with everything seen through the prism: “How does this benefit Donald Trump?”
Trump is already making clear his governing agenda will be retribution against his political enemies. He recently asserted, erroneously, not to mention almost sacrilegiously, that “I am being indicted for you”, having proclaimed earlier, “I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” Since Trump undoubtedly sees himself as the most “wronged and betrayed” of all, his intentions couldn’t be clearer or more dangerous.
Polls show that Americans do not want a repeat of 2020’s Biden-versus-Trump race; a majority want Trump to drop out. If someone with a rare gift of persuasion could talk sense to Trump, and persuade him to withdraw, any number of pretexts could be found to mask the real reason. There could be “health” issues, or perhaps he could argue no one should be president in their 80s, thereby also throwing shade on Biden. And Biden may yet decide to withdraw, which could lessen the zeal of Trump supporters who want a grudge rematch against the man they think stole the 2020 election.
The only real solution lies in one or more of the criminal trials taking place before November 3, 2024, which is still possible. If Trump is found guilty of one or more felonies, that may be sufficient to awaken enough of his supporters to abandon him, thereby derailing his campaign before he derails the country.