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From the years 1973 and 1974, I have vivid memories of watching the Watergate Hearings with friends (on a black & white TV where we had to plan our time to be there, no such thing as DVR or on demand.)
The story, by its very nature, was all-consuming of the public’s attention. These were the days before a continuous 24/7 Breaking News cycle when the words “We interrupt the broadcast” actually meant something.
Today, every lead story, even if it is a continuation of the previous day’s news cycle, is breaking news.
The drama of a sitting US President being subjected to the possibility of impeachment—the idea of criminal charges wasn’t even a thought outside of impeachment—was an enormously troubling consideration.
No matter how one felt about Nixon—there was plenty besides Watergate to cause such feelings, there were also some significant accomplishments by him—his actions caused him to lose what should have been rock solid support in the Senate and the House.
There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, about Sen. Barry Goldwater—a more stalwart Republican would be hard to find—that illustrates the serious jeopardy Nixon was in.
Goldwater met with Nixon and told him, “You have maybe six votes in the Senate. I’m not one of them.” Whether or not the story is true—Goldwater later claimed he never discussed Nixon resigning—the President did just that the next day.
Watching Nixon waving in front of Marine One before they flew him from the White House was high drama.
The person who violated his oath of office, no matter how powerful that office might be, was forced to resign in the face of not political willpower but by the force of law supporting the continuity of the American government. We thought we were watching a once in a lifetime disaster averted in America.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Now, impeaching a President has become another exercise in partisanship. It is thrown around like leaving legislation in committee to die with little thought of the impact on the country, both domestic and foreign. Today we have Senators acting like petulant children by holding up critical military appointments for nothing more than cheap headlines, grandstanding, and a smokescreen to their lack of legislative effectiveness.
Our government has fumbled on the one yard line.
A sitting President’s actions may deserve impeachment, but today the vote almost always falls along party lines with few exceptions, making it a poor way to address the issue. And a dangerous one if party affiliation is the only deciding factor.
It would paralyze the country. When politicians speak about weaponizing the government against opponents they seem to forget they are the ones buying the weapons and the ammunition.
Now we face the specter of a former President indicted on ninety-one felony charges, and a host of misdemeanors, with trials looming amid an election cycle. Something even in our wildest imaginations we could never have conjured.
This is not a piece about the validity of the grand jury system used to investigate and issue indictments. Nor is it about the validity of the charges. Opinions have no place in the administration of justice. That is why we have trials.
This is about the trajectory of the county. Because if we cannot have faith in the justice system, we are teetering on the edge of anarchy.
In 1974, we witnessed history. A man who once won 49 of 50 states in the 1972 electoral college orchestrated and committed crimes while in office. He was forced to resign because there was a system in motion that would remove him because he committed crimes while in office. (Who remembers the Don’t Blame Me I’m From Massachusetts bumper stickers reminding everyone it was the one state McGovern won in that Presidential election?)
In 1974, we thought we would never witness such turmoil again. Yet here we are.
I find it amusing that those steadfast supporters of the indicted former president also are the most vocal about strong criminal justice. They bemoan the relaxation or elimination of pre-trial cash bail provisions ignoring the presumption of innocence.
Strange they remain silent while the former President, facing ninety-one felony counts, walks in an out of court with limited restrictions. The outrage about releasing any other person facing a similar catalog of felonies before trial, particularly one with the means to flee the jurisdiction, would be thunderous.
Or is it they suddenly understood what innocent until proven guilty means?
Here, there is not even a whimper out of fear of offending their idol. They seem unaffected by the fact we are funding Secret Service protection for a defendant and standing by while he uses the very charges he faces as fund raising tools. Disingenuous has reached new heights. The former president is benefitting from the eleemosynary generosity of Americans blinded to reality. (Long story about the word most of you are feverishly searching for the meaning, but it involves a former nun, recently deceased, who happens to be my aunt, and her disdain for lazy writing.)
Their other argument is one about fairness. The fact that the trial Judge in one of the cases is an Obama appointee automatically confers bias on her rulings. This country’s judicial system is supposed to be as free of bias as is humanly possible. Yet the former president’s supporters would argue that, absent a complete dismissal, only a Trump appointee could be expected to be fair.
I wonder if, had Hillary Clinton actually committed crimes, they would have been equally vocal if she faced a Trump appointed judge?
Of course, fair in their mind means the case gets tossed regardless of the evidence. Again, not how the system is supposed to work. We, the people, are entitled to hear the evidence and let a jury decide. That is the only way to ensure justice is carried out.
But if partisanship is important, than let me quote from a Amicus brief filed in the United States V. Donald J. Trump CRIMINAL NO. 23-cr-257 (TSC) matter. For those of you having trouble keeping all the cases straight, this is the one where the President allegedly tried to unlawfully overturn the results of the election, incited a riot, and tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. I’ve included the list of those who signed the brief in the appendix below and the link to the document.
The brief supporting the trial date of January 2, 2024 for the case is signed by eleven former US Attorneys, current and former Judges, former Attorneys General (both state and federal), and every one of them is a Republican.
EVERY ONE IS A REPUBLICAN for those who may have skipped over, ignored, or otherwise missed the statement.
INTEREST OF AMICI CURIAE The criminal prosecution in United States v. Donald J. Trump will be an historic trial of a former American president of surpassing public interest to the American People. This trial will present for decision by a jury of the former president’s peers the momentous question of whether a President of the United States of America committed grave crimes against the United States when he attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election by conspiring to defraud the United States of the lawful results of an American election, conspiring to obstruct the Joint Session of the Congress of the United States as it counted the electoral votes for the presidency of the United States, and conspiring to deprive millions of Americans of their constitutional right to have their votes counted. That attempt is further alleged to have precipitated the violent attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, a vicious and unparalleled attack and assault on the temple of American democracy and on American democracy itself.
Under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, the Nation is entitled to and deserves an expeditious resolution of the criminal prosecution of the former president for his alleged election interference and his prevention of the peaceful transition of power for the first time in American history. That national imperative corresponds with the former president’s own constitutional entitlement to a speedy resolution of the grave charges that have now been leveled against him by the United States.
If we are to survive as a country, these case must be tried as fairly and expeditiously as possible. No defendant’s outside interests, with the exception of medical conditions, is ever a consideration in setting a trial date. That such matters may impede the former President’s pursuit of another term is irrelevant. No defendant is excused because they are too busy to attend trial.
And in the end, we need to accept the verdicts. If we rise to criticize those who would subvert the system we cannot then criticize that very same system for the verdicts rendered. It is the way American Justice works and the only way it can survive.
What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! But not a resolution at the point of a gun, the threat of a mob, or swayed by the weight of public opinion.
A-1 APPENDIX: LIST OF AMICI
The amici listed below join this brief as individuals and do not represent or advise any party in the matter; institutional affiliation is noted for informational purposes only and does not indicate endorsement by institutional employers of the positions advocated in this brief.
Donald B. Ayer served as Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice from 1989 to 1990; Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States from 1986 to 1989; and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California from 1981 to 1986.
Steven G. Calabresi worked as a Special Assistant to Attorney General Ed Meese from 1985- 1987 and in the West Wing of the White House as the Chief Aide to the Hon. T. Kenneth Cribb, Assistant to President Reagan for Domestic Affairs. He is currently the Clayton J. & Henry R. Barber Professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
John J. Farmer Jr. served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, New Jersey Attorney General, Senior Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, and Dean of Rutgers Law School, and is currently Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics.
Stuart M. Gerson served as Acting Attorney General of the United States during the early Clinton Administration, as President George H.W. Bush’s Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Justice Department, as an advisor to several Presidents, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia (1972–1975).
Alberto R. Gonzales served as the 80th Attorney General of the United States from 2005–2007, as White House Counsel from 2001–2005, and as an Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1999–2001.
J. Michael Luttig served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from 1991–2006, as Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel and Counselor to the Attorney General from 1990–1991, and as Assistant Counsel to the President, The White House from 1980–1981.
Richard W. Painter served as the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005– 2007. He is currently the S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Minnesota Law School.
Jonathan C. Rose served as Special Assistant to President Nixon from 1971 to 1973, Associate Deputy Attorney General from 1973 to 1975, and Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Legal Policy from 1981 to 1984.
Paul Rosenzweig served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Department of Homeland Security from 2005-2009, in the Office of Independent Counsel from 1998-1999, and in the United States Department of Justice from 1986-1991.
Stanley A. Twardy, Jr. served as a United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut and Chief of Staff to Connecticut Governor Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.
William F. Weld served as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 1981 to 1986; as the Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division from 1986 to 1988; and as Governor of Massachusetts from 1991 until 1997.
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