The Ides of March, in old Rome, was not the date on which Caesar was killed and the great Roman empire began to stumble. The Ides was for “settling debts.” In time, it got known for the year 44 BC, when a “debt was settled” with Caesar – for overreaching. Thankfully, we are past that. We have elections. However, indicting Trump is like the Ides of June – foreboding.
Whether this case against Trump is successful or fails, the issue is bigger. The case presents a danger to the Republic, a first in our history, political persecution as prosecution, abuse of law.
Time is inadequate to address each count, evidence, defenses, possible outcomes, but space is ample to reach one conclusion: This case did not need to be brought; it damages the Republic.
Why? A half dozen reasons jump off the page. First, no danger – on the face of the indictment – appears to national security. Despite being filed under the “Espionage Act,” there is no espionage alleged.
Second, the offenses which are alleged, with due respect for Bill Barr and Andy McCarthy, are not horrific felony violations. They are a glorified misperception of rights a former president has to handle or retain classified documents – which he has seen and already handled – under administrative law. To amplify that is political. The Espionage Act? Never intended for this.
Third, if a former president holding documents in secreted places for self-protection, future reference, to protect against false accusations, or for memoirs is held illegal, one wonders how that squares with all our history. It does not, pre- and post-presidential records act.
Moreover, if allegations turn on improper retention and non-production of what was improperly retained, how does Mr. Biden go Scot-free? If destruction is alleged, why did DOJ never address Hillary Clinton’s felonious obstruction of selling her office (what Biden also appears to have done) by destroying her hard drive – that is itself a crime. Good for goose? Good for the gander.
Notably, prior to 1980 all presidents took documents home. Jimmy Carter and predecessors did. They did so for varied reasons, nostalgia, proof of work, refreshing memory, historical vindication. After 1980, the Presidential Records Act kicked in, and national archives got them.
Fourth, far from a grisly “felony” – the level of crime alleged, usually violent – this at best is clandestine document or souvenir hording. If intent existed, it was to preserve what the former president thought he had a right to, and what many past presidents did regularly.
Fifth, in a world rife with trigger-happy accusers, mutual recriminations and demonization, where a president calls half the nation “enemies of the people,” something is badly wrong.
A real leader would de-escalate out of respect for constitutional norms, values, and institutions – not escalate for political advantage, indicting a former – and current – political opponent.
Historically, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton despised Thomas Jefferson, another populist. They feared his views. Ditto for John Quincy Adam’s on Andrew Jackson in 1824 and 1828. Hate filled the air, but to indict a political opponent was tantamount to a crime, never considered.
In 1860, the Douglas-Breckenridge ticket hated Lincoln-Johnson, with the south seceding after the election. We know what happened then. Post-civil war, hate waited. Johnson was impeached – but before secession, the notion of indicting, prosecuting, and punishing opponents was out.
1876 was perhaps the worst. Democrat Sam Tilden expected to win, but lost – after winning the popular vote. Losing by one electoral vote, he triggered national threats of a “second civil war.”
Congress tried to broker a resolution, but racist Democrats demanded removal of troops from the south, ending reconstruction – reversing gains for Black Americans. The nation seethed.
In 1912, the Republican populist Theodore Roosevelt was incensed at his party, said they had lost their way, unable to secure the nation or compromise on conservation, women voting. He favored strong national security, international engagement, conservation and women voting.
TR ran as a third-party “Bull Mooser” and lost – but he beat the Republican, William Howard Taft, who was about self-advancement. Woodrow Wilson won, and – half academic, half partisan, half in his head – wrung his hands, then entered WWI.
On reflection, 1948 (Truman v. Dewey) and 2000 (Bush v. Gore) were ugly – but never in a million years, not by inference or misinterpretation of law, let alone for rank politics, did the winner try to “take down” his opponent through indictment, nobble him for the future. Never.
Yet this is where we are today. In the end, the tragedy of this Trump indictment – even before Biden’s mishandling of classified material and sale of office – is that we do not do this in America. We do not politicize the justice for political gain – until now.
This is why the current turn of events is a real time horror and danger to the republic. No level of political venality, hatred, partisanship, obsession, or ideological difference has ever led to this.
Yet we are here. The Republic is at a crossroads. The Ides of March, punishment by death for political overreach is two thousand years gone – but almost as bad is killing of the Republic’s reputation, a brazen legal attack on a president’s political opponent to stop him from running.
In the end, the American people will be the judge, but of all the regrettable actions by both sides, this takes the cake. This is the lowest blow yet, an unnecessary attack on the presidency, our electoral process, and Constitution – sure to leave deep scarring. Beware the Ides…of June.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.
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