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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Trump found guilty, but was justice done?

PUBLISHED: May 31, 2024 |

Former President Donald Trump departs after speaking at a news conference at Trump Tower, Friday, May 31, 2024, in New York. A day after a New York jury found Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee addressed the conviction and likely attempt to cast his campaign in a new light. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

On Thursday, a unanimous New York jury found former President Donald Trump guilty of 34 felonies after deliberating less than 48 hours and observing Mr. Trump’s refusal to testify in his own defense. The jury found that Trump created false business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels for her silence with the purpose of either influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election or defrauding the Internal Revenue Service.  (The payments were fraudulently represented as deductible legal expenses). Sentencing by Judge Juan Merchan is set for July.

Did the guilty verdicts reflect justice?  Did they prove that no one is above the law? These questions defy simple “yes” or “no” answers.

Justice incorporates values that are in tension. On the one hand, is the idea that everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law, irrespective of wealth, power, race, political opinion, religion or gender. It finds expression in the words enshrined above the main entrance to the United States Supreme Court Building, “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.”

In tension with the equal justice goal is the idea that a criminal should not escape punishment because others, equally or more culpable, have avoided punishment. Murderers were not set free because O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman notwithstanding overwhelming incriminating evidence. Imperfect justice is superior to no justice and the law of the jungle. There, life is poor, brutish, nasty and short.

Justice is invariably imperfect. It is never perfectly equal. Law enforcement resources are limited. Prosecutors are human. Their law enforcement priorities are not the same. Many are elected and skew their prosecution decisions to court voter popularity. Then United States Attorney General Robert Jackson worried as long ago as 1940 that legions of technical, ambiguous criminal prohibitions invited prosecutors to weaponize the law to harass or destroy their personal or political enemies:

“[I]t is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm — in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense — that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies.”

Unequal justice is especially pronounced in the political world, where law enforcement is controlled by partisan forces. Congress attempted to fix the problem with the Independent Counsel Act of 1978 to remove partisanship from the investigation of political muckamucks. But the cure proved worse than the disease.  Independent counsels spent limitless sums going down rabbit holes to forestall insinuations of cover-up. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr spent more than $95 million investigating President William Jefferson Clinton over sex with Monica Lewinsky, perjury and obstruction of justice. No criminal charges were ever filed. Independent counsels were abandoned in 1999.

President Richard M. Nixon complained that his Watergate wrongdoings were indistinguishable from President Lyndon Johnson’s multiple illegalities. The latter included warrantless spying on Martin Luther King Jr., lying to Congress to obtain the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution spawning the Vietnam War, massive vote buying in the 1948 U.S. Senate election, and the exercise of political influence with the Federal Communications Commission to make his wife Lady Bird a millionaire as meticulously documented in Robert Caro’s “Means of Ascent.”

Mr. Nixon’s double standard argument, however, was DOA. He was forced to resign under an impeachment cloud and accepted a pardon from President Gerald R. Ford to escape prosecution for obstruction of justice.

Everything about Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is sui generis. Comparisons are problematic. He chose to have sex with a pornography star shortly after his wife, Melania, had given birth. He chose to hire liar and thug Michael Cohen as his Roy Cohn-like attorney. He volunteered his vile, vulgar remarks about women, recorded on the “Access Hollywood” tape. He chose to demand that Vice President Mike Pence choose between him and the Constitution in counting state-certified electoral votes. Trump chose to berate and threaten Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger if he failed to invent 11,780 votes to make Trump victorious over Biden in Georgia.

But what about Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s wretched, depraved son? He has not been given a “get out of jail” free card.  He confronts twin prosecutions on charges of income tax evasion and an illegal gun purchase. A Trump-appointed United States Attorney is running the prosecutions.

As president, Mr. Trump repeatedly attempted to interfere with law enforcement to assist himself politically.  The memoir of Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, is conclusive. Mr. Bolton recounted that obstruction of justice was a “way of life” at Trump’s White House.

The powerful — like Trump, Hillary Clinton, Sam Bankman Fried, Jeffery Epstein, Puff Daddy and Joe Biden — and the powerless, the rich and the poor, indeed, everyone needs to read more of the Bible and squander less time on fawning social media. We should all start with Galatians 6: “A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”

Armstrong Williams (; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun.

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