I have written harshly about the president from time to time. It is partly in reaction to his frequent, reckless spouting of “alternative facts” and partly the hard-line partisans he appoints and the damaging policies he promotes. Still, like all Americans, he deserves a fair trial, so let me point out that nothing has ever been proved about this man or his character that disqualifies him as commander-in-chief.
You can say paying $25,000,000 to defrauded customers of his now-defunct Trump University is an admission that one of his self-named companies committed fraud on a large scale. The jury’s out (of the picture), the settlement terms are not public, or if so, are very boring, outside of the amount he paid (“pennies on the dollar”) and that he admitted no wrongdoing in settling the class actions .
You can attack his now shuttered Trump Foundation the same way. You are free to draw any conclusions you want, but they are not legal conclusions, nobody is going to jail.
This is even more true for the assumptions flowing from the criminal convictions of several of his confidants, including his longtime personal lawyer and his former campaign manager.
His “fixer” Michael Cohen was convicted of tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress. How any of this has anything to do with his boss, Mr. Trump, has yet to be shown. It is a huge leap, to say that the CEO of a closely held family business, even one famous for its CEO making every decision, was involved in any of the illegality his unprincipled personal lawyer is going to prison for.
The same goes for his one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort. He’s been convicted of tax fraud and bank fraud and made his situation worse by lying to federal investigators, violating his deal with them by sharing details of the ongoing Mueller probe with the president and his lawyers. Sure Manafort pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to defraud the United States” and witness tampering, but how does this make Mr. Trump guilty of anything? Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager for only two months, for godsake!
It may look suspicious, sure, that Manafort had many dealings, continuing through the short time he was managing the Trump presidential campaign (for free), with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the man known as Mr. Putin’s favorite oligarch. Is it illegal now to be friends with a Russian billionaire?
It may be illegal to commit bank fraud, to commit tax fraud, to tamper with witnesses, to lie to federal investigators. It might be stupid to violate the terms of a deal with the Special Counsel, but, again, what does any of this have to do, specifically, with Donald J. Trump? Just because some of these illegal acts appear to have been done to benefit Mr. Trump, why is that his fault?
Also, it’s not as though Trump is such an outlier as president, every president does things some people think are bad.
Ronald Reagan’s two terms were clouded by the illegal sale of arms to Iran that illegally funded the Contra death squads (“freedom fighters”) in Central America, though he was personally untouched by it (due, in part, to his affability and the increasing perception that he was senile). Reagan retained his popularity and his successor were generous with presidential pardons that pretty much neutralized the scandalous conspiracy, undertaken in the name of freedom by a small group of patriots like the current head of the NRA, Oliver North.
One of George HW Bush’s last acts as president was pardoning Iran-Contra principal, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, on the eve of a trial that would have likely implicated Bush in the illegality.
Bill Clinton signed off on the end of Glass-Steagall, resulting in the financial disaster a few years later. He signed bills that tightened already strict Welfare qualifications and vastly increased the incarcerated population of the United States. He also, famously, lied under oath about a series of blow jobs he received while president. Thanks to Ken Starr’s diligent, unredacted report, posted on-line, children in America also learned that their perjury-committing president also inserted an unlit cigar in the young woman’s vagina, and then lewdly put it in his mouth.
George W. Bush brought back torture and turned worldwide sympathy for the US after the 9/11 attack to worldwide fear of the US, after he unleashed the perpetual, borderless War on Terror, starting with the invasions and long-term occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the first American president to maintain an active kill list and execute suspects extrajudicially, by drone. His administration engaged in widespread illegal surveillance of millions of Americans and covered this up. He cut taxes to the rich, unsuccessfully lobbied to end Social Security and left office with a record low approval rating.
Barak Obama used the 1917 Espionage Act, more than all past presidents combined, to threaten and intimidate the press. He also gave wonderful speeches about the importance of government transparency and accountability. He expanded George W. Bush’s international secret drone war, killing suspects and civilians in many countries. Obama was the first to cooly execute American citizens without trial, or even charges. He gave speeches that warmed the hearts of millions while always serving his corporate and financial constituency. He gave a good speech as he lied to the people of Flynt, Michigan about their toxic drinking water being perfectly safe to drink (and pretending to drink it, to the horror of his Flynt audience and later during his press conference). Obama used executive orders more than most presidents (and, in fairness to him, he had rigid, amoral Mitch McConnell and a hard-line “tea party” Congress to impede him every step of the way), even once invoking emergency powers.
So, just because Trump has been closely associated with a large number of people indicted for felonies, and a few convicted for serious crimes, doesn’t automatically make him a bad person or a guilty one. It’s easy for someone like me to hate the rich, and revile their unaccountable privilege. The president deserves a fair trial, and hopefully a long prison sentence.
The question of whether he can pardon himself, preemptively (as in HW Bush’s pre-trial pardon of Caspar Weinberger, who could implicated him in the criminal conspiracy), is an interesting one that Boof Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch (Trump’s replacements for the less doctrinaire Merrick Garland) will consider fairly, as will Attorney General William Barr, the impartial legal mind who helped George HW Bush with the pardons of Elliott Abrams, Caspar Weinberger and other defenders of freedom (whatever Congress may have said about the illegality of their specific acts) back in the winter of 1992.
As always, we are a nation of laws, not lynch mobs, except as needed.
 USA Today:
Trump claimed as a candidate that he “never” settled lawsuits, and would not do so in the case of Trump University. “That’s why I won’t settle,” Trump told MSNBC in 2016. “Because it’s an easy case to win in court … How do you settle a case like that?”
But Trump entered settlement talks days after the 2016 election, agreeing to pay the millions under terms that let him admit no wrongdoing.