Although it was expected, the indictment by a Fulton County, Ga., grand jury of Donald Trump and 18 others is still a wrenching moment — another one — for American democracy. As with the federal indictment that also grew out of Trump’s outrageous attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the former president is presumed innocent until proven guilty as are the other defendants.
But the audacious racketeering plot alleged in the Georgia indictment is a reminder of how a narcissistic defeated president engaged in a separate attempt to cling to power that continues to jeopardize American democracy. Whatever the outcome of this and the other prosecutions, Trump is a dangerous demagogue who should never return to the White House.
That, of course, is a decision that must be made by voters, including Republicans who need to get over their delusion — abetted by cowardly GOP politicians — that Trump won in 2020. But the fact that Trump is a candidate doesn’t mean that state and federal prosecutors should stand back and not pursue criminal charges they believe are supported by the evidence.
Nor is the indictment handed up in Georgia on Monday night redundant. While the federal government charged only the former president in the effort to overturn the election, the Georgia grand jury has accused a collection of Trump supporters and operatives of taking part in a criminal enterprise to reverse legitimate results in Georgia. The defendants include two prominent Trump allies: former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The indictment says that “Trump and the other defendants charged in this indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.” It alleges a constellation of actions in furtherance of that objective. They include false statements, solicitation of an election official to violate his oath, machinations aimed at appointing false electors, harassment of an election worker and breaches of voting equipment. The indictment is exquisitely detailed and sobering to read.
It isn’t piling on for authorities in Georgia to investigate and file charges in connection with an alleged attempt to overturn the will of that state’s voters. In our federal system, prosecuting crimes — including those involving elections — is not the province only of the U.S. Justice Department.
Equally important, a conviction of Trump in a Georgia state court could not be erased by a presidential pardon if Trump were to return to office. In that sense it could constitute an insurance policy against Trump’s abuse of the pardon power.
It’s understandable that Americans, including those who never supported Trump, might be bewildered and exhausted by the multiplicity of charges leveled against the former president. They include allegations that he unlawfully retained national defense information and state charges in New York related to payments allegedly made during the 2016 presidential campaign to cover up an affair with a porn actress.
They should consider the possibility that the array of investigations and allegations represents not a political plot against the former president but an overdue reckoning for his own conduct.
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