by Jesse Jackson Sr.
(TriceEdneyWire.com)—The federal indictment of Donald Trump—the first federal indictment of a former president in U.S. history—poses the question. Trump’s enraged reaction —calling it the “greatest witch hunt of all time” and denouncing special counsel Jack Smith, a career prosecutor, as a “deranged lunatic”—makes the question unavoidable. Obviously, Trump deserves a fair trial, his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of his peers. But every candidate for president should be asked if they would pardon Donald Trump if they were president. As Gerald Ford proved when pardoning Richard Nixon, a presidential pardon can be issued before a trial, or even before formal charges are brought, so the question needn’t wait on the trial.
Whether Donald Trump is found guilty or not (it will only take one juror in his upcoming Miami trial to produce a hung jury), the charges in the indictment are serious, and the facts alleged describe clear violations of the law. The president took classified documents that did not belong to him. These included truly consequential secrets —“information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries, U.S. nuclear programs … and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.” Trump shared classified information with guests who did not have security clearances, essentially crowing about his possession of them. When the National Archives and the Department of Justice sought return of the documents, Trump hatched efforts to hide some of them, even after he was issued a federal subpoena—a legal demand—that he return them. He lied to federal officials, and even deceived his own attorney. As Bill Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, stated, “there is no excuse for what he (Trump) did here.”
Anyone running for office must decide whether to stand with Trump and accuse the Justice Department of being “weaponized” or stand for the principle that no man is above the law, and the law should be applied to the powerful and the powerless alike.
The leading Trump challenger in the Republican Party, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, reacted to the indictment by charging that the “weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.” Former Vice President Mike Pence tried to have it both ways, comparing the indictment to the way a “third-world nation” would use criminal charges to attack their opponents, while saying that it is imperative that the law be enforced even-handedly and demonstrate that no man is above the law. Similarly, Sen. Tim Scott tried to straddle, saying the charges were a “serious, serious challenge” to Trump, but denouncing the DOJ as “weaponized” against Trump.
Sadly, the only Republican contenders to criticize Trump are those that run lowest in the early polls. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called on Trump to withdraw from the race, and urged the Republican National Committee to revise the requirement that any Republican participating in the debates pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee by excluding anyone found guilty of espionage or a felony. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called Trump’s perils “self-inflicted,” dismissing the attack on the independent special counsel.
Trump, of course, is free to run for president while under indictment or even from prison if he is found guilty. In 1920, Eugene Victor Debs ran for president while jailed for opposing World War I, garnering 900,000 votes as the Socialist Party candidate. Trump and his supporters now are promising violent “retribution.” Kari Lake, the failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate, addressed the Georgia Republican Party convention, warning the prosecutor, the attorney general and President Biden that “if you want to get to President Trump (sic), you are going to have to go through me and … through 75 million Americans just like me. And “…Most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA.” That’s not a threat,” she said, “That’s a public service announcement.”
That rhetoric will grow ever more heated as the prosecution proceeds —and as seems likely, if Trump is indicted in Georgia for trying to overturn an election and in Washington for his complicity in the sacking of the Capitol on January 6. So, it is incumbent on those who seek the presidency to be clear about where they stand. Do they stand with the proposition that no man is above the law, or would they give Donald Trump a pass? Will they support the criminal justice system— whatever the verdict—or will they offer Trump a pardon? Trump, of course, has made it clear he would pardon himself. Where do the other contenders for the presidency stand on that?
Many issues will be debated in the presidential race—the economy, abortion, guns, the “war on woke,” Ukraine, catastrophic climate change, the right to vote and more. One central issue is posed by Trump’s vicious attack on the Justice Department, and the independent special counsel. Americans have the right to know: Would contenders for the presidency allow the criminal justice process to proceed or would they issue Trump a get out of jail free card?