Not above the law

Donald Trump
AP Photo -
Donald Trump AP Photo -

DONALD TRUMP made a career of undermining the notion of law and order, both at home and abroad.

Mr Trump politicised a probe by US law enforcement authorities into Hillary Clinton’s use of e-mail by calling for her to be locked up. He withdrew America from international pacts relating to the climate crisis and global security, while trying to get foreign leaders to use their legal systems to target his opponents. He abused his power by rushing appointments to the US Supreme Court so that its rulings could align with his own views and those of his supporters. And he courted foreign interference in elections, then disrupted the peaceful transfer of power once he was voted out.

All this the 45th US president did openly, and with extreme disdain for the role meant to be played by independent officers. Two separate and historic impeachments (and then acquittals thanks to his fellow Republicans) did nothing to arrest him.

On Thursday, law and order struck back.

It emerged that Mr Trump will go down in history as the first US president to be indicted. Not even Richard Nixon was subject to a criminal charge. He resigned before he could be removed from office. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him.

The nature of the American constitution has been such that it has often entrenched a perception that US presidents are shielded from criminal sanction. The legal doctrine of absolute immunity applies to presidents (and a range of officials) for actions done within the proper parameters of their official duties.

Additionally, because the US is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, US presidents have also generally not been answerable abroad for actions that have been deemed to fall afoul of treaty law, heightening the sense of impunity.

The exact details of the allegations against Mr Trump which have now crystallised into charges by law enforcement authorities remain forthcoming, but his indictment nonetheless already takes his country and the world into uncharted territory.

Given all the serious misdeeds committed by this individual, it is somewhat ironic that it is a tawdry case involving hush-hush dealings with a porn star that may prove his undoing. There is, however, no shortage of allegations against him and further indictments could be forthcoming.

Yet, if the indictment presents a moment of danger for Mr Trump, it also creates a problem for his successor, Joe Biden, who has the same power of pardon available to Mr Ford.

Mr Biden’s party will face Republican voters who may wish to install a pro-Trump candidate in 2024 who could pardon their martyr should he be convicted.

If the latter occurs, that will prove a US president to be truly above the law.


"Not above the law"

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