Trump indictment is not Armageddon. Presidential accountability should be the norm | Opinion
It is widely reported that a New York grand jury has indicted former President Donald Trump on multiple counts and that a formal announcement will come soon.
Some on the right who have done Trump’s bidding are treating this as Armageddon.
“American politics was thrown into complete chaos, perhaps permanently, about three hours ago when a grand jury in Manhattan, one of the most liberal cities in America, a place where 80% voted for Joe Biden in the last election, decided to indict Biden’s political opponent in the upcoming election, the Republican front-runner, a man who leads by 30 points in polls, Donald Trump,” said Tucker Carlson, listing a long series of completely irrelevant facts.
It is possible that the power of prosecution could be misused for political reasons, but there’s no evidence that a political prosecution has taken place here. Grand juries made up of citizens indict people; political parties don’t. The exact charges aren’t even known yet, so Carlson — and so many others blowing smoke about this — are in no position to evaluate them. It seems unlikely they will change their minds no matter what the grand jury unveils, because the facts are not what matter to them.
A more serious argument is that there is a norm against former presidents being indicted, but that argument really isn’t very serious either.
That norm seems to stem from a single incident: President Gerald Ford’s decision to issue a blanket pardon to fellow Republican Richard Nixon, who had resigned the presidency in disgrace just ahead of being impeached. That seemed corrupt to many at the time.
It’s high time a president was held to the same standards as ordinary people: If there’s evidence, you’re charged and you get your day in court. Trump is also entitled to the presumption of innocence, just like everyone else.
This is ordinary in other democracies. Nicholas Sarkozy, the former French prime minister, was sentenced to a year in prison in September for campaign finance violations.
Our country’s founders contemplated that this would be ordinary here.
Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution discusses what happens after a president is removed from office. “ ... the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law,” it reads.
So our founders clearly anticipated that a president might be indicted after leaving office.
And it seems at one time presidents were treated basically like ordinary people. President Ulysses S. Grant was arrested and fined in 1872 for repeatedly speeding in a horse-drawn carriage.
In Idaho, we take it for granted that our politicians are sometimes charged and convicted of crimes, often while still in office.
The vilest recent example is former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who is serving 20 years in prison for raping a 19-year-old legislative intern. That stands in a category all its own.
But there have been many other crimes by Idaho politicians, for which they were prosecuted while in office.
Former state Sen. John McGee pleaded guilty to a DUI in 2011 and then to violating probation and disturbing the peace by engaging in sexual harassment in 2012.
Former state Sen. Edgar Malepai pleaded guilty to a DUI in 2010.
Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2007.
Former Gov. Butch Otter pleaded guilty to a DUI in 1992, when he was the lieutenant governor.
We’re used to seeing local elected officials charged as well. To list just a few examples:
Former Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland was sentenced to jail in October for aggravated assault.
Former Jefferson County Sheriff Blair Olsen was convicted of misuse of public funds in 2015.
Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles was sentenced to jail for misuse of public funds in 2003.
Idaho is not falling apart because it holds elected officials to the same standard of criminal law that it does ordinary citizens. Neither will the U.S. fall apart because a former president has been indicted. There is not “complete chaos.”
No one should be above the law, not even presidents. This should be the most ordinary thing in the world.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser.