Calmes: As a Trump indictment looms, Republicans are throwing the rule of law under the bus

·5 min read
A close-up of Donald Trump frowning
Former President Trump has posted on social media that he expects to be arrested soon on charges related to a porn star pay-off. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

A normal political party would have thrown a loser like Donald Trump under the bus by now. The Republicans are choosing to chuck the rule of law instead.

Should the former president become the first to be indicted for a crime, many of us would prefer to see charges stemming from the ongoing investigations of his unprecedented efforts to reverse an election result and resist the peaceful transfer of power. We wouldn’t choose to make history from an old, tawdry and legally problematic allegation about pre-election hush money paid to a porn star to keep her mum about their tryst.

But it seems likely a grand jury in New York City may decide otherwise; the hush money charges could come this week. If Trump is indicted for the pay-off scheme, we should respect the decision. Learn the facts. Let the prosecution play out.

That should not need to be said, especially to our political leaders.

Yet such a response does not describe what Republicans are doing. Instead, in truly stunning Orwellian style, they’re purporting to stand for the rule of law as they doggedly undermine it — all to pander to the vengeful Trump and the MAGA voters in his thrall.

After Trump trumpeted — in all caps on social media on Saturday — that he was going to be arrested Tuesday, House Republicans immediately began flexing their power to interfere on his behalf. Ignoring the fact that any charge(s) against him would be a grand jury’s doing, Republicans, echoing the former president, attacked the Manhattan district attorney overseeing the case, Alvin L. Bragg, a Black Democrat, as a far-left rogue prosecutor.

At the direction of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, three House committee chairmen on Monday demanded Bragg turn over investigatory material and submit to questioning.

If Trump is indicted, the committee chairs told Bragg, “your actions will erode confidence in the evenhanded application of justice and unalterably interfere in the course of the 2024 presidential election.”

Trump must be proud of his protégés: That’s the sort of projection he’s mastered.

The Republicans are rallying behind the man who for years bellowed “lock ‘em up!” about his political enemies. They’re alleging he is the victim of a political weaponization of the law. And that Bragg is “racist.”

Some Republicans look beyond the Manhattan D.A. to blame President Biden: The chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, drew a parallel between Biden and Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan dictator who has arrested many political opponents. As if Biden were calling for Trump’s arrest and not, possibly, a grand jury of Trump’s fellow citizens.

This anti-democratic behavior is far from normal, dangerous even. It sends a chilling message beyond Manhattan, to other prosecutors with evidence against the politically connected.

Implausibly, McCarthy, a reliable Trump puppet, insisted the House Republicans’ trammeling of a criminal investigation “has nothing to do with whether [Trump] runs for president again or not.”

Right. Recall a boast last summer of McCarthy’s ally, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Judiciary Committee chair who spearheaded the letter to Bragg: Back then, anticipating the probes he’d open against Biden once Republicans won a House majority, Jordan told a reporter, That will help frame up the 2024 race, when I hope and I think President Trump is going to run again. And we need to make sure that he wins.”

The third-ranking House Republican leader, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, proudly told Punchbowl News on Monday that she’d briefed the master of Mar-a-Lago on the Republicans’ offensive. “I think you’re going to see President Trump continue to solidify his position in the Republican nomination,” Stefanik, the moderate-turned-MAGA militant, enthused.

The Republicans seem blinded not only to their potential subversion of the rule of law, but also to the possibility of civil unrest in joining forces with Trump.

In his Saturday morning post predicting his arrest, Trump urged his followers to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” How could Republicans not immediately flash back to Trump’s exhortations (“Be there, will be wild!”) ahead of Jan. 6, 2021? But instead of ignoring him — or, better yet, admonishing him — McCarthy endorsed Trump’s fury. “Here we go again — an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump,” the speaker tweeted.

It took reporters’ questions to get McCarthy to disavow Trump’s calls for protests. “I don’t think people should protest this, no,” he said. But, he added, neither does Trump — the former president’s own plain words to the contrary. For McCarthy, gaslighting seems to come easily.

Even former Vice President Mike Pence joined the pile-on. Only a week earlier, Pence had surprised attendees at an annual white-tie Washington roast by turning serious, saying Trump’s “reckless words” on Jan. 6 “endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”

But apparently Pence doesn’t want our justice system to hold Trump accountable: “I’m taken aback at the idea of indicting a former president of the United States.” He complained of “another politically charged prosecution” of Trump and said Americans have a “well-founded” frustration with what seems to be “a two-tier justice system.”

Yes, many of us are irked with our justice system. But it’s not, as Pence thinks, the frustration of the MAGA voter. It’s that in a nation founded on the principle that no one is above the law, one man so far has been — first because he was the sitting president and now, if Republicans have their way, because he’s their leading candidate for the office.


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.