By Ambassador Curtis Ward
The Trump Indictment Watch is over but more to come.
The long-awaited, long-anticipated indictment of ex-president Donald Tramp finally arrived on 30th March 2023 compliments of a Manhattan, New York grand jury. The investigations led by the indomitable Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the evidence he presented to the Grand Jury, culminated in a 34-count criminal indictment charging Trump with repeatedly making false statements in his business records to cover up criminal conduct. Unveiled in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, this indictment highlights, at least for now, Trump’s criminal conduct over many years. There are clear winners and losers, both domestic and international.
Trump has pled ‘not guilty’ on all counts. And the justice system which Trump eschewed affords him the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
This first of a series of indictments yet to come, adds to the conclusion that Trump seems destined to continue his inglorious decent from the pinnacle of being the world’s most powerful man as the 45th president of the United States. His arrest and subsequent arraignment took place in a Manhattan criminal court, located less than two miles from the site of the World Trade Center buildings which were destroyed in the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and crashed to the ground.
The indictment alleging Trump’s criminal violations had their genesis in the hush-money payment to silence Stormy Daniels and others, and the conspiracy to cover up those payments to help secure his election in 2016. Prior to this indictment, the twice-impeached former U.S. president had faced several criminal investigations and accusations but had escaped indictment and accountability. The U.S. Justice Department’s (DoJ) standing policy not to indict a sitting president has puzzled many proponents of the sacrosanct belief that ‘no one is above the law’ in a democratic system of government,. Trump has a history of acting as if he is above the law, and he has benefited from the DoJ policy, as he appears to have violated criminal laws with impunity on a number of occasions.
As a prosecutor, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is not a neophyte. He has 24 years of criminal justice experience. He is a Harvard Law School graduate who has served as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. He also served as an assistant attorney general at the New York State Attorney General’s Office. He is a tough and very experienced prosecutor. Clearly, District Attorney Alvin Bragg cannot be intimidated.
Globally, the United States has been held up as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law. In recent years, this vaunted position among liberal democracies has been sharply questioned at home and abroad. This indictment changes the dynamic and restores some level of credibility to the claim.
The big loser is obviously Donald Trump, but he has several bedfellows. On the domestic stage, the big losers include the Republican Party and those who not only openly support, aid and abet Trump, but include members of Congress, and those who harshly criticize District Attorney Alvin Bragg for upholding the law. Those who mock and undermine the justice system are the big losers. Many government officials who find themselves defending Trump and castigating District Attorney Bragg, have forgotten the oaths they have taken to uphold the Constitution of the United States and that they have sworn to defend the country against all enemies foreign and domestic. That oath means defense of democracy and the rule of law against anyone who would seek to subvert the pillars which underpin and support the constitution’s foundation.
Internationally, the big losers are those autocrats who seek to destroy democracy everywhere and who eschew principles of the rule of law. Israel, regarded as the only democracy in the Middle East is currently undergoing severe trauma. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose trial on corruption charges was paused because of his re-election to the office of prime minister must now see action against Trump as a warning. His attempt to marginalize the judiciary has been met by hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens demonstrating in the streets to protect the Israeli justice system a major fundamental principle of the rule of law and a democratic system. The people of Israel are the big winners. Netanyahu is a big loser. Should Netanyahu eventually go to trial, convicted and jailed, he wouldn’t be the first. The Israelis have sent two former prime ministers to jail.
There is no impunity for wrongdoing in countries where the rule of law prevails. There are several examples. Heads of government and state have been charged, indicted , convicted and jailed in Japan, France, Italy, South Korea, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa, Taiwan, Israel, Malaysia, and Peru. In this group of democracies where holding high office does not grant impunity from criminal conduct, France has convicted two former presidents and so has South Korea and Israel, two former heads of government.
Rule of law
Though historic and unprecedented in the US for a former president to be indicted, I see this indictment of ex-President Donald Trump as confirmation that the rule of law, which is an important pillar of democracy, still prevails in America. While analysts and media broadcasters discuss the historic nature of this indictment, and while many celebrate, and while others condemn the District Attorney for pursuing this case leading to an indictment, I see this indictment as a celebration and confirmation of the rule of law and democracy in America. It confirms for me that though challenged and threatened, the rule of law and democracy have prevailed in America. The strength of U.S. democracy and the application of the rule of law is closely watched around the world.
While democratic systems face challenges, from time to time, there are enough good people who will ensure that democracy and rule of law will triumph over those who seek to undermine it. But we must always be vigilant, whether we are in the U.S. or Jamaica, or elsewhere in the Caribbean or in the Americas, or anywhere in the world where autocracy and authoritarianism emerge. I also see this indictment as a lesson to other would-be autocrats heading up governments in democratic systems, and the lesson is that no one is above the law.
Had justice been allowed to be carried out, ex-president Richard Nixon would have been the first former US president to be indicted. Had he not been pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford in September 1974, just a few weeks after Nixon had resigned, all indications pointed to him being indicted with a high degree of expectation he would be convicted.
The rule of law means everyone must follow the law, that is, obey the law. It means that the laws apply equally to leaders and to all citizens alike. It also means no one is above the law. There are no exceptions in a democratic society. And that includes ex-president Donald Trump.
According to District Attorney Bragg, “No one is above the law…. No matter the money, no matter the power.” Now we can believe it.
This article first appeared under a different title in The Ward Post and has been reproduced here with the kind permission of the author, Ambassador Curtis Ward.