Prosecutorial Independence the Dumbest Reason to Vote Trump

A certain species of Republican has seized on Donald Trump’s first criminal conviction as a rationale to vote for the former president. “Many Republicans we talk to are now more likely to vote for Mr. Trump after watching how Democrats have politicized the law to target a presidential opponent,” asserts the Wall Street Journal editorial page. “They worry that a vote for Mr. Biden would vindicate this Democratic campaign by lawfare.” The neoconservative Free Press has a puffy feature on people “Voting for Trump to ‘Save Democracy.’”

Both these pieces fall just short of direct advocacy. They are not directly calling for Trump’s election to save democracy, merely pointing suggestively toward their friends who believe this. It betrays a hint of embarrassment, which is fully warranted.

While there are no reasons to support Trump that I would call good, there are plenty I would concede are fully rational. If you want to ban abortion, slow down the green-energy transition, or reduce taxes on the wealthy and spending on health care for the poor, Trump is definitely your candidate. If your priority is to make liberals upset, electing Trump will accomplish that. If you believe Trump legitimately won the 2020 election and/or is entitled to rule regardless of election outcomes, well, at least it’s an ethos.

Voting for Trump in order to oppose politicized prosecutions is not like those reasons. While I share those qualms about the charges that led to Trump’s hush-money conviction, voting for him to stop politicized criminal prosecutions would be totally insane. This is not a “reason” to vote for Trump, it is a cry for help.

First, there is no evidence President Biden or any national Democratic figures directed Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution. Conservatives have insisted that “the Democrats” are behind this prosecution, but they have no basis for this claim whatsoever. The best attempt I’ve seen to support it comes from a wild Federalist article seizing upon the fact that one of Bragg’s prosecutors worked at a law firm that has a lot of Democrats in it (which, of course, is true of most big New York law firms). Blaming Biden for Bragg’s charges is a conspiracy theory.

Second, Biden has clearly upheld the independence of the Justice Department. Biden’s DOJ has indicted two Democrats in Congress, is investigating a third, and is currently going to court to send the president’s last surviving son to prison.

The main reason Trump is not already on trial in federal court for his attempt to seize an unelected second term is that Attorney General Merrick Garland bent over backwards to avoid even a hint of singling out the president’s political enemy, causing a delay that Trump has shrewdly exploited.

Garland appointed a special counsel who is a Trump-appointed Republican to investigate Biden himself. That special counsel produced a report that pushed the boundaries of precedent by editorializing about Biden’s age, creating one of the worst moments of the campaign. As The Wall Street Journal reports today, Biden’s lawyers objected to the special counsel “pejoratively characterizing uncharged conduct.” Despite the validity of the complaint, Garland decided he “wasn’t going to step in to protect his boss.”

Third, and most obviously, Trump is openly threatening to weaponize the Justice Department. Trump more or less introduced the idea of using the presidency to jail your opponent by making “Lock her up” a signature catchphrase of his 2016 campaign. In office, he pursued this goal. “According to [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, the President asked him to reverse his recusal so that Sessions could direct the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton,” the Mueller Report found. Sessions dutifully appointed an attorney to probe Clinton but failed to come up with anything.

Frustrated by this, Trump fired Sessions, replaced him with a more pliable successor, alienated that successor with ceaseless demands to harass Trump’s enemies, eventually prevailed by appointing a special counsel to investigate Trump’s enemies, and brought criminal charges so flimsy they were laughed out of court.

Trump is responding to this failure by planning to find even more pliable figures to run his Justice Department. His own public account is that he held back from locking up Clinton but might have to do it next time because they did it to him. “They always said lock her up, and I felt — and I could have done it, but I felt it would have been a terrible thing,” he told Fox News recently. “And then this happened to me, and so I may feel differently about it.”

I am not here to tell you what moral positions to hold. If you want a president who will bring criminal charges against politicians that Trump hates, then a second Trump term will advance that goal. If you worry about politicizing the justice system, then voting for Trump is preposterous. It is the “injecting bleach” of Trump-voting rationales.

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