Image design by Vinicius Tavares for DWF.

This piece was originally published on Divided We Fall, which AllSides rates as mixed. It was written by Orlando Sanchez, Founder, Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee, and Sean Fischer, Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University.

The Trump Indictment Is Another Display of Political Gamesmanship

By Orlando Sanchez – Founder, Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee

The recent indictments against former president Donald Trump has fallen flat, just like so many of the previous “bombshell” gotchas that the Left and their allies in the mainstream media have concocted.

The effort to “get” Donald Trump has been going on for years now. First, there was the Russia collusion hoax through the investigation codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. Next, there was the phony Steele dossier and the lies and misrepresentations to the FISA court in order to spy on Trump. Yet, the two-year Mueller investigation did not find sufficient evidence that members of the Trump campaign team conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

Then came the two impeachments with no convictions. Surely when Democrats got ahold of Trump’s tax returns, that would be all they needed. But still, the elusive Trump remained free. So finally, the Trump indictment.

A Dangerously Anti-Democratic Precedent

Alan Dershowitz, a lifelong liberal Democrat and former Harvard law professor, explained in his new book, Get Trump, how Trump Derangement Syndrome has led to so many misbegotten efforts to nail the former president. So what about the recent indictment?

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg ran for the office based on a determination to get Trump. Bragg has listed 34 felony counts for the falsification of business records, which are misdemeanors in the state of New York. These actions could only be treated as felonies if they were falsified for the purpose of concealing another crime, which Bragg refused to identify. This despite the fact that the purpose of an indictment is to lay out the charges so that the defendant can prepare a defense and to prevent double jeopardy later down the line if necessary.

That other crime Bragg is apparently bootstrapping the misdemeanors to is a federal election violation, specifically alleging that the $130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels was to help Trump get elected. But the problems with the case are legion. In addition to Dershowitz, many others see the case as terribly weak and possibly politically-motivated. The Federal Election Commission chose not to prosecute this matter, as they did not think it was a violation. Nor did the Justice Department or the previous Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance Jr. In December of last year, a top Biden administration Justice Department official who had previously investigated Trump, Matthew Colangelo, left the DOJ and was hired by Bragg to jumpstart his Trump investigation, further politicizing the effort to get Trump.

Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, who put away the World Trade Center bomber in 1993, has called the case “utterly incoherent” and a “disgrace.” He points out that Bragg is alleging that Trump defrauded voters into electing him president on Election Day of 2016 through his hush money payments and non-disclosure agreement, but that Trump’s first related crime was committed in February of 2017.

The Dubious Legal Theory at the Heart of the Charges

Bragg’s theory, according to Dershowitz, is that “Trump concealed the true purpose of these payments…to protect [his] 2016 presidential campaign, rather than to hide the adulterous affairs from his wife, children, and business associates or shield his brand.” But, as Dershowitz points out, there is nothing to support Bragg’s theory “beyond the questionable evidence of Michael Cohen.”

Dershowitz and McCarthy are not the only high-profile liberals who are dismissive of Bragg’s case. David Axelrod, a top political adviser to Barack Obama, tweeted, “Of all the offenses for which Trump is under investigation, the Stormy Daniels hush money is probably the least meaningful. If he’s going to be indicted in any of these probes, this is the one he probably would want first to try and color all of them as politically-motivated.”

A Washington Post editorial stated that “Donald Trump deserves the legal scrutiny he’s getting — which has come from many corners on many counts. Yet of the long list of alleged violations, the likely charges on which a grand jury in New York state voted to indict him are perhaps the least compelling. There’s cause for concern, and caution, ahead.” Washington Post associate editor Ruth Marcus wrote that the Trump indictment is “disturbingly unilluminating, and the theory on which it rests is debatable at best, unnervingly flimsy at worst.”

No One is Above the Law, Not Even a Former President

By Sean Fischer – Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University

The indictment of Donald Trump is awash in politics and gamesmanship, as Mr. Sanchez has indicated. Thus, his concerns about the potential of politicization in the justice system are entirely fair. All citizens should seek to ensure such a circumstance does not happen. However, there is a deeper and more pressing consideration related to the Trump indictment—the rule of law. Fundamentally, Donald Trump has found himself in the position of having to face legal consequences for his actions. This, while surely a frenzy to the political class, is not rooted in politics. Rather, it is rooted in the sacred standards enshrined within our founding documents—that regardless of wealth, power, or status, all are equally subject to the rule of law.

Mr. Sanchez has characterized the grand jury indictment of former president Trump using terminology that has been so frequently bantered by Trump and his camp. It remains somewhat surprising that serious conservatives remain comfortable defending the conduct (legal, personal, political, or otherwise) of the former president. Yet, Mr. Sanchez nevertheless provides the common refrains of “phony” and “hoax,” in reference to Mueller and Steele, and the fact that Trump suffered no formal penalty from impeachment trials, as the root of his argument that indictment is but the next attempt to “get” Donald Trump.

The Trump Indictment is About More Than Politics

While such thinking might be seductive for the former president’s supporters, it is betrayed by the facts. Never in our history has a former president ever faced such circumstances. Trump’s distinction should be saddening for those who revere our Constitution and laws. Despite accusations that the Trump indictment is politically motivated, attempts to hold Trump accountable for anything have galvanized his base, enabled him to fundraise, and retain core support. In other words, while Trump is suffering a legal consequence, it is far from clear that he will suffer a political one.

On the flip side, Democrats have no compelling reason to undermine Trump for purely political purposes. He remains easily beatable as a candidate. He cobbled (almost by accident) enough votes in 2016 to obtain the presidency against an individual who was rightly or wrongly considered one of the least-liked candidates the Democratic party ever nominated. Nevertheless, as the popular vote indicated, Trump was not well-loved going back to 2016. Trump’s party was beaten in the 2018 midterms. In 2020, Biden not only beat Trump, but won states long considered Republican strongholds. In 2022, Biden’s party had a historically successful midterm election because Trump could not help but make the election about his sensational grievances, which harmed the national Republican effort. In short, Democrats do not need to manipulate any system to contrive a new wound for Trump; they know they can beat him.

Equal Justice Under the Law is Our Strength

As to the references to Axelrod, Dershowitz, McCarthy, and Marcus, they are speaking in largely political terms. Regardless, even if they are essentially correct—that this hush-money case is the least damning of all potential indictments—it is refreshing to see that the justice system in New York has ignored political considerations and applied the rule of law. As The Atlantic’s David Graham indicated, that is expressly the point: in the United States no one is exempt from the rule of law.

Regardless of the outcomes, what is likely to remain is the inconsistency of the talking points issued by Trump’s camp. To them, Trump was not removed from office, or prohibited from holding federal office after impeachments—the system worked. When that same system fails to coronate him the winner of the 2020 election, it is “rigged.” When it relates to state’s rights, we need to get the federal government out of the way. Unless of course the sovereign state of New York takes an action Trump does not like, then we will call in the Congressional attack dogs. Through this it is revealed that Trump and his followers have seemingly no limit on how often he is allowed to move the goal posts of acceptable conduct. Thankfully the justice system is not in the business of moving them when enforcing the rule of law. For this standard to be applied everywhere equally, anyone Democrat, Republican or otherwise should be grateful.

The Trump Indictment Remains Political

By Orlando Sanchez – Founder, Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee

I am pleased that Mr. Fischer agrees with the main point of my argument: “The indictment of Donald Trump is awash in politics and gamesmanship… Thus, [my] concerns about the potential of politicization in the justice system are entirely fair.” I also agree with his point that “Donald Trump has found himself in the position of having to face legal consequences for his actions.” That by no means proves, or even argues, that he did anything illegal. It instead falls back on the indictment being “awash in politics and gamesmanship.”

Yet Mr. Fischer makes no attempt to elaborate on how the 34 felony counts of the indictment can be justified by the law or the actions. And does Mr. Fischer really believe that “regardless of wealth, power, or status, all are equally subject to the rule of law?” What about Hillary Clinton, for example? Former FBI Director James Comey acknowledged Hillary’s illegal mishandling of classified material but absurdly claimed that no prosecutor would charge her with crimes. That is the same James Comey who launched the Russia collusion hoax. Yes, hoax!

As to Mr. Fischer’s opinion that “Democrats have no compelling reason to undermine Trump for purely political purposes” because “he remains easily beatable as a candidate.” That was Hillary’s opinion too in 2016, which explains why she failed to campaign in Wisconsin, against the advice of her husband and others. We know how that turned out. Maybe Mr. Fischer should go talk New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman off the ledge, who, with fear in his eyes, is predicting a close election between Trump and Biden, calling it “Code red.”

We Must Defend the Rule of Law

By Sean Fischer – Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University

To be clear, Mr. Sanchez and I do share common philosophical ground, but we do not share a common interpretation of current events. A former president and current presidential candidate was indicted, but the politics came after the indictment, not before. I also made no claim that justice is fairly distributed in our system; I asserted the standard of what should be as rooted in the rule of law, not the truth of what always happens. I agree that the application of justice is too often compromised because of individual wealth, status, and power – all the more reason we as citizens should be encouraged when an individual who possesses unique wealth, status, and power has to face that system. Moreover, I made no claim Trump is guilty—like the indictment itself, that is under the purview of the justice system.

Sanchez again wades into common waters for Team Trump. When in doubt, use a “whataboutism,” citing events related to Trump-world villains Clinton and Comey. Even if I agreed with his point that Clinton avoided the fair application of justice, it has no material impact on whether or not Trump should be subject to the justice system. While such deflections often play well among the MAGA faithful, they offer little in terms of legal defense.

Furthermore, Sanchez makes the point that underestimating Trump’s political appeal was once a mistake as his evidence that there is a need to contrive legal proceedings against him. Indeed, Trump shocked the world with a surprising electoral college victory in 2016. However, he did so as a novelty figure without a record in government. While 2016 worked out for him, he (or his party) lost in 2018, 2020, and 2022. Regardless, this too is a political point, not a matter for the justice system.

The point that remains unchallenged by Sanchez is that a jury indicted Trump based on evidence of illegal activity. That evidence spoke to Trump’s conduct, not the machinations of an opposing political party. Trump’s theatrics notwithstanding, this development is not a testament to the failure of our system, but to its success—that in the United States, imperfect as it may be, we are champions of the rule of law.