By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
On Saturday, former president Trump held the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign in Waco, Texas. That is outrageous but not surprising.
Outrageous because it was the 30th anniversary of the deadly stand-off in Waco between the anti-government Branch Davidian religious cult and federal law enforcement. The choice of that venue—especially on this anniversary—speaks volumes about Trump’s intention to foment anti-government violence as he did at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
At the same time, it is not surprising that Trump—with his endless claims of victimhood and martyrdom—would conduct a self-pity party in Waco, with his cultists as his audience.
In his usual, calculated projection of his own actions and ambitions onto his opponents, Trump declared: “The abuses of power that we’re currently witnessing at all levels of government will go down as among the most shameful, corrupt and depraved chapters in all of American history.”
Trump whined that the justice system is being weaponized against him, and that the United States is turning into a “banana republic.” But worst of all, he referred to 2024 as “the final battle” and declared: “Either the Deep State destroys America or we destroy the Deep State."
As multiple possible indictments close in on him, Donald Trump behaves more and more like a panicked animal caught in a net, roaring loudly and twisting this way and that in a frustrated effort to break loose. And as he demonstrated at his rally, the more Trump is cornered, the more dangerous he becomes.
Currently, Trump is the subject of three major criminal investigations in which an indictment is likely. This seems like a good time to pause and review the sticky legal morass in which the former president is caught.
DOJ special counsel Jack Smith is speedily and tenaciously investigating Trump’s removal of classified documents from the White House after leaving the presidency, his refusal to return them to the National Archives, and the false claims delivered through Trump’s attorneys that he had returned them all.
Most recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that “the government had made a prima facie showing that the former president committed criminal violations” and that the showing was sufficient to require Trump’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, to answer questions about his interactions with his client. Trump appealed, of course, but the U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals disposed of the appeal with lightning speed, finding that Corcoran must provide testimony and documents.
Smith is also conducting the federal investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, and the January 6, 2021 insurrection.
Georgia Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating attempts to subvert the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, including Trump’s pressure on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” so that Trump could “win” Georgia.
Willis’ special grand jury completed its work in January, and during a hearing on whether to release the jury’s report, prosecutors told a judge that a decision on charges was imminent. No charges have as yet been made and the judge withheld most of the report from the public. However, based on statements made by various grand jurors, a number of indictments appear likely forthcoming.
Last—but in timing, definitely not least—New York Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has been investigating the hush money payoff made to porn actress Stormy Daniels by Trump’s then attorney-fixer Michael Cohen. Ostensibly, the payoff was to keep Daniels from going public about her affair with Trump, thus protecting his presidential campaign—an effort to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump. The investigation involves the accusation that Trump falsified business records to hide the campaign purpose of the payoff.
The New York hush-money case appears to be the one most ready to go forward. So, of course, that is the one Trump has been lashing out most stridently against during the last week.
Anticipating a Tuesday March 21 indictment (which has not yet materialized), Trump ranted in a Truth Social post that District attorney Bragg “is a Soros backed animal who just doesn’t care about right or wrong.”
George Soros, a liberal billionaire philanthropist, is Jewish; Alvin Bragg is Black. Their only apparent connection is that Soros had contributed to the Color of Change, the PAC of a racial justice group that backed Bragg when he ran for D.A.
As MSNBC host Joe Scarborough put it, “[Trump’s] going full Nazi. Doing the whole Jewish international banker thing. And dehumanizing [Bragg], calling him an animal.”
On Friday, Trump posted an even more virulent tirade on Truth Social, filled with the delusional lies that he “got more votes than any sitting President in history,” and that “all the world knows” that “NO crime has been committed.” Trump threatened “death and destruction” if he is charged and continued by labeling anyone who would charge him as “a degenerate psychopath.”
As the Atlantic submitted: “the intent is unmistakably to intimidate Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and anyone else who might try to charge Trump with crimes.”
Within hours after Trump’s “death and destruction” threat, Bragg received a threat of assassination in a letter containing white powder.
However,Trump’s threats are not only against a particular individual D.A. but against the entire American justice system. His inflammatory speech at Waco made that perfectly clear.
Trump’s Republican Cohorts Back Him Up
The Republican House leadership—no surprise—continues to join in Trump’s attacks on democracy and his undermining of our legal system.
Following Trump’s lead, the Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy—based on nothing but Trump’s rant—accused D.A. Bragg of “abusing his office to target President Trump.”
On Monday, March 20, the Republican chairs of the House Judiciary, Oversight and Administration committees, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Brian Steil, respectively, called the hush money probe an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority,” and asked Bragg to testify before them. They also demanded that he turn over all communications between his office and other local and federal law enforcement agencies.
In addition, Jordan sent letters to two former Manhattan prosecutors who had resigned in February 2022 after Bragg decided not to seek a Trump indictment related to his business practices. Jordan is demanding the two former prosecutors provide documents dating back to 2017 as well as any communications in their possession between their office and federal law enforcement agencies related to the Trump investigation.
Never mind that these committees’ actions are a congressional attempt to interfere with a state prosecution.
Brookings Institute’s Norman Eisen, Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer, and Josh Stanton, counsel at Perry Guha, writing together for MSNBC, argue that Congress can’t legally use its investigative power to conduct law enforcement. They maintain that “a congressional subpoena is valid only if it is ‘related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress.’” They further argue that if such a subpoena was sent to a federal prosecutor about a possible future indictment or pending case, DOJ would not comply. And that it should be the same for a local district attorney.
The Manhattan D.A.’s office appears to agree with them. General counsel Leslie B. Dubeck, writing on behalf of Bragg, responded to the House Committees, stating that their requests “are an unlawful incursion into New York’ sovereignty.” She wrote "it is clear that Congress cannot have any legitimate legislative task relating to the oversight of local prosecutors enforcing state law,” and that Bragg’s office won’t allow the congressional investigation to hinder “the exercise of New York’s sovereign police power.”
Jordan, Comer, and Steil are acting as Trump’s fifth column, ready to back his subversive play to the end. But where is the rest of the Republican party? The old, worn claims that they privately abhor his actions but are afraid to say so publicly will not do. Those who remain silent at this juncture are, through their silence, actively aiding and abetting Trump and his autocratic plans.
To Hold Trump Accountable—or Not?
The speculation by pundits of what should be done have run the gamut, much of it regurgitating Republican talking points. Some have argued that the New York hush money case is not strong enough to be the first of the three cases charged or that it is too old a matter for the public to care. Others argue that because the Feds had a chance to bring the case and did not, the state should not.
The New Yorker suggested that if Trump is acquitted, “Bragg’s decision to prosecute the former President will be seen as a major debacle that could help Trump politically.”
And then there is the most ludicrous argument repeatedly raised against indictment: that it is “unprecedented,” that it would be the first time a former president has been indicted.
To all of these arguments, the answer should be: so what? Whatever case is ready first is the case that should be brought first. Furthermore, the DOJ did not decide to forego prosecuting Trump for lack of merit but because Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, blocked DOJ from doing so. Finally, the law is the law and Trump should be treated like any other citizen. There should be no hesitation to prosecute merely because he was at one time a president.
According to the New York Times, Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School and a former prosecutor in Manhattan, said that if Bragg doesn’t bring a case even though there is clear evidence to prove it, he could violate the principle that no person is above the law. But if he indicts Trump, that choice could also be “incredibly destabilizing and harmful.”
Roiphe added, “I’m not envious of anyone who has to make a call.”
However, I do not believe there is a difficult call to be made. The country is already being destabilized by Trump’s threats of violence if our legal system dares to hold him accountable for his actions.
Even in civil cases like E. Jean Carroll’s ongoing lawsuit for battery and defamation, the judge has felt compelled to keep jurors’ personal information confidential and take other measures to protect them during the trial.
Deciding to forego prosecution for fear that Trump will do worse amounts to appeasement of a man using fascist tactics. It will not prevent violence but will only further embolden him and further destroy our legal system.
Trump’s speech at the Waco rally was not—as some pundits have dubbed it—merely “irresponsible.” It was a deliberate declaration of war.
The nation cannot allow itself to be held hostage by the threatened violence of this wanna-be despot and his mob. Donald J. Trump must be held accountable for his actions regardless of any feared consequences.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.