Donald J. Trump, America’s 76-year-old former president and the current Republican Party’s 2024 presidential front-runner, will not, like a good soldier, just fade away. He insists on continuing to haunt the consciousness of American people — and with them the consciousness of the rest of the world.
And it all came into full relief on Tuesday afternoon in a federal court in Miami.
No one will disagree that America has been in turmoil since that surreal day exactly eight years ago this week when Donald. J. Trump, real estate developer turned casino magnate turned television celebrity turned presidential aspirant, descended the escalator of his eponymous New York Tower to launch his bid for the presidency — a bid he kicked off with a speech in which he accused Mexico of sending “criminals” across the border to the US.
The turmoil was amplified ten-fold on Tuesday as the most prominent defendant in the nation’s political history was booked and then escorted by US Marshals into the 13th floor of a sprawling federal courthouse where he faced a total of 37 counts of criminal mishandling of highly sensitive classified documents.
No one will be above the law
During his arraignment for the charges brought against him by the Justice Department, in Case No. 23-8001-CR, The United States of America v. Donald J. Trump, the man who once boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and wouldn’t lose voters for it” sat quietly in court with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face.
These extremely sensitive documents, which reportedly included ones detailing the vulnerabilities of the United States and its European allies to military attack, were shipped in boxes from the White House to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where they were haphazardly stored there on a ballroom stage, in a closet and inside a bathroom, with a photo taken by the FBI showing the contents of at least one box there strewn on the floor.
This clearly was seen by the government as the inexcusable act of a man who, in 2016, while on the campaign trail, solemnly spoke of his commitment to protecting classified information.
At the time, he declared: ”In my administration, I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.”
Indeed, no one should. That is the crux of The United States of America v. Donald J. Trump.
Bedrock principle of American political culture
US Special Counsel Jack Smith said on Friday, as he unsealed the indictment against the former president, “We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone” The rule of law, Americans never cease to tell the rest of the world, is the bedrock principle of American political culture.
In short, the rule of law applies to everyone in equal measure, whether you are the nation’s chief executive or K-Mart’s checkout operator.
Yet, the indictment, ironically, does not in fact charge Trump with having (illegally) shipped classified documents from the White House to his estate in Florida and retained them there, but that he calculatedly conspired to hide them and to calculatedly refuse to hand them over to the National Archives where they officially now belong.
Robert Mintz, a well-known former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post on Sunday: “If Trump had returned all the documents he had, he never would’ve been charged with a single crime”.
Donald J. Trump v. The United States of America
On Tuesday, in Federal court, Donald J. Trump was charged with 37 of them.
Without a doubt, the former occupant of the White House is in serious — very, very, serious — trouble. Even Mathew Turley, Fox News’s own legal expert, said on-air soon after the indictment was unsealed, that Trump could end up in prison since “all the government has to do is hit the landing on one count and he could have a terminal sentence, for we’re talking about crimes that have a 10-year or 20-year [incarceration] period as a maximum sentence”. For each.
Trump’s own former Justice Department’s Attorney General, Bill Barr, concurs. In an interview with CBS News on Friday, he said: “If half of it is true, he’s toast.”
Trump, who has a weakness for tautological observations, posted a video after the indictment declaring himself “an innocent man, an innocent person”. Only a jury of his peers will determine that.
After eight years of Donald J. Trump v. The United States of America, it appears that, now that the chickens have come home to roost, it is time to consider the outcome of the United States of America v. Donald J. Trump.
— Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and author based in the US. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.