No Donald Trump Is Above the Law

            In the United States, no man is above the law, not even the President—if his name is Donald J. Trump.

            A decade before 1884, when he was elected to his first term, Grover Cleveland fathered a child with Maria Halpin, a widow. Thing is, she testified under oath that Cleveland had raped her. Ambitious and wealthy, Cleveland did what any rich mean 19th century dude would do: he arranged to have the baby sent off to an orphanage and the mother committed to an insane asylum. (It didn’t take. They let her go.) For good measure, he had her smeared in the press as an alcoholic slut. As it happened, Halpin turned out to be an upstanding churchgoer with a good reputation.

            No charges were ever filed against Cleveland.

            Ronald Reagan’s best-known scandal was Iran-Contra, in which his Administration violated its own sanctions and sold weapons to Iran and broke federal law by spending the proceeds on right-wing death squads in Central America. He wasn’t new to this sort of thing.

            Worried that the American embassy personnel who were seized as hostages by Iran might get released before the 1980 election, thus allowing Jimmy Carter to win reelection, three top Reagan officials—campaign manager and future CIA director James Casey, former Texas governor John Connally and Connally’s protégé Ben Barnes—promised the Iranians to sell them arms in exchange for their promise not to release the hostages until after the election. True to their side of the deal, Iran sent them home a few hours after Reagan took the inaugural oath. Reagan reneged on the weapons.

            Reagan was never charged.

            The Gipper may have been inspired by the Chennault Affair, then-GOP candidate Richard Nixon’s scheme to undermine incumbent Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to achieve peace in Vietnam and thus deny the White House to Hubert Humphrey.

            Two weeks before the 1968 election, things were looking up for the Democrats. Worried about a Nixon victory because we was rabidly anti-communist, the USSR ordered North Vietnam, its client state, to agree to a peace deal. LBJ agreed to stop bombing the North. All that remained was getting South Vietnam—America’s client—on board.

            So Nixon used back channels (Mrs. Chennault) to ask South Vietnam’s president to boycott the peace talks, promising continued military and economic support after he won. The South Vietnamese leader scuttled the deal, Nixon won and the war ground on seven more years, killing hundreds of thousands more people. “This is treason,” LBJ said when FBI wiretaps revealed the plot.

            Nixon wasn’t charged.

            Executive Order 12333, signed by Reagan, states: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” It’s still the law of the land.

            Reagan didn’t follow his own rule. He ordered a hit on Lebanese cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in 1984; Fadlallah escaped unscathed but 80 innocent bystanders were killed. In 1986 he bombed Moammar Gaddafi’s home, killing the Libyan ruler’s infant daughter.

            No charges there.

            George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden murdered thousands of people in drone strikes—each and every one of them by definition a political assassination (a person killed “for what he represents politically”). Obama ordered the murder of Osama bin Laden and Trump murdered Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general.

            No charges.

            Actress Heather Lind accused George H.W. Bush of groping her at a 2014 photo-op. Juanita Broaddrick says Bill Clinton raped her in 1978, when he was Arkansas attorney general. Tara Reade claims Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993.

            No charges have been filed in any of these cases.

            Richard Nixon received a presidential pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford, whom he had appointed. So he was immune from prosecution for Watergate.

            Bill Clinton paid $25,000 in order to avoid being prosecuted for perjury in the Paula Jones case.

            From Andrew Jackson, who killed a guy in a duel in 1806—dueling was already illegal at the time—to Bush, Obama and Trump, who all presided over Guantánamo torture camp—the U.S. is a signatory of the Convention Against Torture, which makes it a treaty obligation and thus carries the full weight of federal law—no president or former president has ever faced criminal charges.

            Until now.

            Merciful and easygoing by nature, the American people can easily turn a blind eye to a run-of-the-mill political assassination—or a thousand of them. Who of us can say we haven’t killed a man in a duel? Rape is unpleasant for the victim, but think how much worse it would be for the rapist if that rapist were a president or former president—better to move on.

            Conspiring with a foreign country to manipulate a presidential election strikes one as gauche, even tacky—especially when they mean extra-long wars or extra time spent for a hostage. But going after a president or former president over such things seems excessive. Best not to think about such matters, much less act upon them.

            Even in America, this most permissive of countries if you’re rich and white and powerful, there are limits. And that limit is: falsifying business records in order to violate federal campaign finance laws in the course of paying a former mistress to shut up. Donald J. Trump has crossed that hard line.

            And he must pay.

            If Trump, the worst president America has ever had and ever could have, and the worst person the human race has ever produced, doesn’t go to prison for the maximum five years over paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, it will send an awful message:

            Anything goes.

            Can’t have that!

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


2 Comments. Leave new

  • Damn, I’ve been reading this blog forever but this is the first time I’ve been driven to comment. Rall may be a crazy liberal, but he gives a perspective that you don’t see anywhere else. It’s incredibly bad what Nixon and Reagan did. It’s worse that these stories never make the news. I regularly watch the news and am well-informed, but I have never heard about Reagan sabotaging Carter.

    Ted, thanks for reporting news that no one else does.

  • alex_the_tired
    April 4, 2023 5:32 PM

    I applaud the message. My only note:

    Bragg has set up an unforced dilemma with this.

    Even if this thing is raced through the legal channels to go to a jury trial — Trump’s team might try for a bench trial on the theory that you’d need to be a pretty ballsy judge to set yourself, literally, in the cross-hairs of Trump’s fanatics by handing down a guilty — it will take months. More likely, when discovery and challenges and pleas for change of venue and so forth are done, it will be years. The presidential primaries start in 10 months, the general election is just over 18 months away. Any trial date that might interfere with the elections will be automatically booted to the Supreme Court.

    Trump’s team can run the clock out with no trouble: voir dire, change of venue, jury selection, discovery. This is the standard tactic. And during all of it, the MSM will be filling the airwaves and webpages — and loving all the lovely ad revenue — with “coverage” of what Trump put on a hot dog outside the court steps. (Click here for six weird toppings the government doesn’t want you to know about.) And then cut back to David Muir for a three-minute segment on whether a hot dog is a sandwich. Sorry, we don’t have time to cover the Uyghurs — we don’t cover pop-synth bands as a rule …

    Television is Trump’s natural environment. What news director is going to air Joe Biden reminiscing about his dead son and events that never happened on Amtraks when he can go with Trump’s spittle-flecked tirades and fables?

    Bragg’s an idiot. Almost as big an idiot as Hillary Clinton when she bought the nomination from the dnc back in 2016. (“Well, everyone knows the Republican base hates my guts. The polls show that I’m going to have a challenge with Sanders, even though I have the whole dnc working double-time to kneecap his campaign). What could possibly go wrong? I couldn’t possibly lose to Trump; I’m not even going to write a concession speech.”) A hush money case? Any good PR firm can turn that into “Poor Donald Trump. They blackmailed him. He panicked. It was his latest marriage. It still has a couple years before he trades her in for a new model.”

    Let’s watch the train wreck unfold …

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