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A 'Fraught Moment for American Democracy'

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

There is a lot of chatter about Donald Trump’s indictment coming from the left telling us this is some kind of “victory” for the rule of law, but the truth is far more complicated.

It’s never happened before, of course — the administration of a sitting president indicting a former president who just happens to be his chief rival for re-election. This unprecedented situation demands thoughtful scrutiny. Instead, the left is doing an end-zone dance and spiking the ball.

It’s not that the indictment is shocking as far as what the prosecution is alleging Trump has done. What truly would have been shocking is if Trump had been accused of selling the classified documents. Instead, Trump took them from the White House and stashed several thousand pages of classified information at his home in Mar-a-Largo.

The question to be decided during his trial is whether taking those documents violated the seldom-enforced Espionage Act. The indictment mentions the “willful retention of national defense information.”

As the Wall Street Journal points out. the indictment never mentions the Presidential Records Act (PRA) that allows a president access to documents, both classified and unclassified, once he leaves office. But the indictment assumes Trump had no right to the documents.

Begging your pardon AG Garland and prosecutor Smith, if you’re going to indict the chief rival from the other party to the president of the United State’s re-election and a former president to boot, shouldn’t this be a slam-dunk case?

The other counts are related to failing to turn over the documents or obstructing the attempts by the Justice Department and FBI to obtain them. One allegation is that during a meeting with a writer and three others, none of whom held security clearances, Mr. Trump “showed and described a ‘plan of attack’” from the Defense Department. “As president I could have declassified it,” he said on audio tape. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

The feds also say Mr. Trump tried to cover up his classified stash by “suggesting that his attorney hide or destroy documents,” as well as by telling an aide to move boxes to conceal them from his lawyer and the FBI.

And we’re going to blow up the 2024 election and possibly American democracy over crap like this?

There are 37 counts in the indictment. Prosecutor Smith deliberately piled on the charges as any prosecutor out to get a high-profile defendant would do. Smith has to make sure that Trump goes to jail for something.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr put it succinctly; he told CBS recently, This would have gone nowhere had the President just returned the documents. But he jerked them around for a year and a half.”

In the end, it comes back to the Hillary Clinton case. And she wasn’t even president.

As for willful, how about the basement email server that Hillary Clinton used as Secretary of State? FBI director James Comey said in 2016 that she and her colleagues “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” According to him, 113 emails included information that was classified when it was sent or received. Eight were Top Secret. About 2,000 others were later “upclassified” to Confidential. This was the statement Mr. Comey ended by declaring Mrs. Clinton free and clear, since “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

Check that: “No reasonable Democratic prosecutor would bring such a case.” Ain’t it the truth?

Was the indictment really necessary? Normally — as in the case of Hillary Clinton’s emails — the Justice Department would fully investigate the matter and then release a report. At that point, a determination is made whether or not to indict. But Smith took exactly the opposite tack; he indicted Trump and will release the full report later.

Not enough is being made of the circumstances surrounding the indictment and most especially the person bringing the indictment. This is a “BFD” as Joe Biden might say. Because in addition to acknowledging who is being indicted, it is equally fraught to consider who is doing the indicting.

This is the inescapable political context of this week’s indictment. The special counsel could have finished his investigation with a report detailing the extent of Mr. Trump’s recklessness and explained what secrets it could have exposed. Instead the Justice Department has taken a perilous path.

The charges are a destructive intervention into the 2024 election, and the potential trial will hang over the race. They also make it more likely that the election will be a referendum on Mr. Trump, rather than on Mr. Biden’s economy and agenda or a GOP alternative. This may be exactly what Democrats intend with their charges.

Some on the right are already planning to reject the outcome of 2024 if it doesn’t go their way. That path would lead to the worst national tragedy since the civil war and a schism that would be equally hard to heal.

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