If there’s been a day in his adult life that Donald Trump didn’t break the law, it was because he forgot or was too busy watching porn. To him, the law is something for other people to follow and for him to pervert and subvert with delays and motions and countersuits and people who’ll lie to cover up his lies. In a just world, he belonged in a prison cell decades ago.
There’s nothing I’d love more than to see the whole family get sent up the river. Ivanka included. True, we do not live in a country that has made it a habit of sending pretty, rich blond women to prison, but if ever an exception might be made, it’s here.
So it’s a pretty serious bummer to see Joe Biden’s aides leaking out through NBC News that he wants to move on and “move the country forward.” I know, we all know. It’s not in his nature. Just like it wasn’t in Barack Obama’s nature to see Bush administration officials prosecuted for torture or bankers prosecuted for driving the entire world to the edge of the financial abyss.
But what is it about Democrats’ natures? Why are the Democrats always the nice guys here? If President Hillary had done 1/50th of what Trump’s done, Republicans would be screaming to lock her up. Hell, they’ve been screaming it for five years, and she didn’t even get to be president. But Democrats take the high road. Why?
Partly out of some fantasy that they’re going to bring healing, I guess, but I don’t think it’s only or even chiefly that. They’re politicians, and they’re making a political calculation. And as much as it pains me to say, it’s not an entirely crazy political calculation, either.
And it’s this. Trying to put Donald Trump in prison on federal charges is going to be hard. He can probably escape prison for all the same reasons he’s been able to escape it all his life—pricey, conniving lawyers, and sets of laws, both federal and in New York state, that make winning a conviction against a white-collar criminal, even one as brazen as Trump, tough. In fact, the more brazen the crook, the tougher prosecution gets.
Read this exhaustive new New York Times Magazine piece by Jonathan Mahler on the various theoretical cases that now exist against Donald John Trump and how tough making each one would be. The law in this country, and really in the world, is well-designed for putting not-so-smart small-time crooks with bad lawyers in stir. Devious, big-time crooks with great lawyers—our system nails these people less often than shortstops hit home runs.
So if Biden even looks at bringing a high-level prosecution, about as high as a prosecution can be, then—well, first of all, merely bringing it will invite instant charges of hypocrisy. Oh, you can hear them bray; he said he was going to run a clean Justice Department, and now look at this, he’s using it to go after Trump! Now, in real life, I don’t believe Biden would do that, because he’s actually an honorable man, and if the campaign taught us anything it taught us that Rudy couldn’t find any dirt on Biden because there is no dirt. So all the right’s charges about politicization of the Justice Department would be false, but of course that wouldn’t stop them.
And then, say Trump got acquitted, which as I said is likelier than conviction. Then Trump’s a hero to those 73 million people all over again. Plus, a lengthy trial, and what trial like this isn’t lengthy, and Biden’s whole four years are about Trump.
It sucks. It isn’t fair. But life with a psychopathic narcissist isn’t fair.
Still, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing Biden and the Democrats can do about this situation. Here are five things they can and absolutely should do:
One: Do not talk all the time about wanting to heal and move on. Obama did that to excess and it drove the Democratic base insane. So just don’t do it. I understand why he wants to talk that way now, when he’s not president yet and the states haven’t even certified the results and the electors haven’t voted. But once he’s in the Oval, say four or six months from now, his tone should shift. He needs to drop the occasional rhetorical hint to the base that Trump isn’t out of the woods.
Two: His administration should leak everything dirty about Trump and his family that they can get their hands on. Or even, within the law of course, declassify stuff. There’s undoubtedly a motherlode. Get some dirt out there and watch Trump’s standing go down, and maybe support for prosecution of Trump will go up.
Three: Go hard after everybody not named Trump. That means Bannon, already indicted. Giuliani. Bill Barr, if they can find any way that he broke the law in meddling in these investigations. Lindsey Graham for that phone call. The whole lot of them. Nobody outside the hard right cares about any of these people. America knows they’re corrupt. Indicting any of the supporting characters would be still controversial, but very few Americans will really go to the mat for Bill Barr.
Four: By all means let Cy Vance and Letitia James go after Trump hammer and tong. These are basic tax evasion cases. Leona Helmsley went to prison for 18 months for something far less operatic than what Trump appears to have done, at least according to those blistering New York Times reports from earlier this fall.
The Trump Organization has just been waiting for years for some prosecutors to start poking around in that hornets’ nest. Remember that former CFO Allen Weisselberg was granted federal immunity to testify against Michael Cohen. But a year ago, Vance’s office weighed whether Weisselberg might face criminal charges from New York state. That guy must know something.
Five: The Democratic House needs to pass a law making it clear that the president is not above the law for acts he commits while campaigning for the office or serving in it. We like to say that no one is above the law, but what we’ve learned in these past four years is that the president is indeed above the law, thanks to a couple of wobbly Justice Department memos that say so. Enough. Pass a law. If you break the law while running for president or as sitting president, you can be prosecuted—yes, while still in office.
Seeing Trump in prison is probably a pipe dream. But moving public opinion to a place where 57 percent of the people know that’s where he belongs is not. And that’s what the Democrats need to do here. It may not put him in the Big House, but it will keep him out of the White House.