A ray of light has burst forth from the chambers of U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon making a Trump indictment very unlikely. At last, we find a jurist with a real world understanding of the stakes involved and the meaning for the country of a possible criminal proceeding against the former president.
Until Judge Cannon’s ruling granting Trump’s lawyers’ request for the appointment of a special master to review the documents seized in the Mar-a-Lago raid, I felt that the case was in the grip of bureaucrats who had no understanding, or even any interest, in bringing any sense of proportionality to the controversy over the archives.
Here we faced the possibility of a former president and a future candidate for president facing prosecution for what amounts to an overdue library book. The Archives of the United States is, in essence, a library with some of the nation’s most important documents. But, like most libraries, it is also cluttered with trivia.
We had been faced, before Judge Cannon spoke, with the possibility that some bureaucrat/librarian would conspire with the Democratic partisans at the Justice Department to indict Donald Trump for failing to return documents to the library. Nobody seems to have equated the potential punishment — catastrophic to our political system — with the largely record-keeping crime.
But then Judge Cannon proved that at least one judge had a proper sense of proportionality. She wrote, of the possibility of a Trump indictment, quoting a previous court ruling that: “A wrongful indictment is no laughing matter; it often works a grievous, irreparable injury to the person indicted. The stigma cannot be easily erased. In the public mind, the blot on a man’s escutcheon, resulting from such a public accusation of wrongdoing, is seldom wiped out by a subsequent judgment of not guilty. Frequently, the public remembers the accusation, and still suspects guilt, even after an acquittal.”
And, because the stigma might fall on a former president, the judge wrote, “It is in a league of its own. A future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude.”
At last, we find a judge who grasps that all violations of the law are not equal and that it would be disproportionate and smack of judicial authoritarianism to indict a former president for the issues at stake in the Archive controversy,
If there were any implication or accusation that President Trump had jeopardized the national security by mishandling the documents, it would be a different story. But if his offense is that he consigned the documents to gathering dust in the Mar-a-Lago basement, as opposed to the basement of the National Archives, is this worth a prosecution? An indictment? The repetitional damage to a former president and, perhaps a future presidential candidate, makes the only possible answer a resounding “NO!”
Now that a judge has seen the issue in a perspective unavailable to the tunnel vision of the bureaucrats at the Archives and the politicians at the Department of Justice it appears likely that this cup will pass from our lips.
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