As I write this, I’m watching live coverage of former US president Donald Trump’s pending arraignment on charges related to his payment of “hush money” to cover up a sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels.
Coverage of Trump’s legal troubles ranges from a focus on how “unprecedented” it is for a former president to be charged with a crime, to his other legal entanglements — a defamation lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges he sexually assaulted her and a Georgia grand jury investigation into his attempts to swing the 2020 presidential election results — to, among Republicans at least, cries of “witch hunt” and “banana republic.”
I find that last bit somewhat odd. While, technically speaking, “banana republic” mainly refers to dominance of a country’s politics by outside business interests, it also implies the exact opposite of what’s happening here.
In a “banana republic,” the political class generally considers itself immune to the laws binding mere serfs. Absent a coup and firing squad, no matter how criminal or corrupt a major political figure is, he or she need not fear prosecution.
While I’m skeptical of the details — district attorney Alvin Bragg seems to be reaching for a significant criminal offense to prosecute (keeping in mind that the indictment’s details haven’t been unsealed as of this writing) — I’d personally like to see the “unprecedented” become regular, and to be handled at the federal level.
Here’s my proposal:
On the day of each president’s inauguration, a grand jury will be sworn in to look into the year leading up to his or her election and any crimes he or she may have potentially committed during that time frame.
On each anniversary of that president’s inauguration, the existing grand jury will dissolve and a new one will be sworn in, again to examine his or her actions during the prior year.
The final grand jury will be sworn in on the day the president leaves office, and examine the outgoing president’s last year of office (even as a separate new grand jury greets his or her successor).
Each grand jury will be empowered to issue indictments where it believes a crime was committed by the president or anyone in the president’s administration.
In the case of subordinate administration figures, the indictments can be prosecuted immediately. Indictments of the president will remain sealed until he or she leaves office — but will be shown to the Speaker of the House so that he or she can, if warranted, initiate impeachment proceedings.
EVERY president should live in constant fear of future prosecution for crimes committed while in, or seeking, the office. Don’t want to do time in the Big House? Don’t do crime at the White House.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.