Well, maybe Donald Trump. But definitely not Ethics Alarms.
At the Washington Examiner, editor and columnist Quin Hillyer writes that…
Former President Donald Trump’s defenders in the matter of the Mar-a-Lago documents controversy are defending the indefensible. Forget the legalities: For the sake of (spurious) argument, let’s stipulate that somehow Trump can concoct some looking-glass version of a legal argument that justifies his “authority” to do with the documents as he did. The point is that even if it was technically legal, it was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Heck, I’ll go farther than that; this is the proverbial low-hanging fruit. Donald Trump doesn’t know what ethics is: never has, never will. He decides what is “right” according to some secret personal algorithm that changes daily so it can’t be stolen, or something. His lifting government documents and storing them at his home without authorization after he had left office is as indefensible as any time an ex-employee takes property from the workplace home. Funny, I didn’t think that was even worth writing about; I do try to avoid the obvious here as often as possible.
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“I don’t think a jury would convict him without proof of harm. I’m not sure I would…It has to be one-hundred-per-cent irresistible as a matter of law. There can be no fact, no event, no piece of evidence that could support any room for ambiguity.”
—NYU law professor and legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers, reflecting on the chances of conviction arising from an indictment of Donald Trump for violations of the Espionage Act and other statutes making the mishandling classified information a crime.
Gillers’ position is similar to that of Alan Dershowitz, who also said last week that while there appears to be sufficient evidence to charge Trump (based on the heavily redacted affidavit Trump was mocking in his meme above), it would be unwise to do so. It would also be unethical prosecutorial conduct unless there is a significant likelihood that Trump could be convicted. It is unethical to make “the process the punishment,” and Attorney General Garland knows it.
This is why the raid on Mar-a-Largo was suspicious as well as a terrible precedent in the first place. In the absence of any demonstrated urgency, the raid looked like an effort to “mess Trump up a little” by treating him like a drug kingpin or a Mafia crime boss rather than with the deference every other former POTUS has received. This made it political theater rather than legitimate law enforcement, executed by a struggling administration apparently terrified of the previous President and his passionate supporters. Continue reading →
The PDF of the unsealed search warrant and attachments is available here.
- The central ethical conflict in this mess is between the danger of criminalizing politics, a warning sign of, as conservative talk show host Mark Levin says, creeping Stalinism, and appropriate revulsion at allowing anyone, including Presidents, ex-Presidents and would-be Presidents, to be “above the law.”
- This inevitably leads to “whataboutism” arguments, and legitimate accusations of double standards. Hillary Clinton committed acts that other, lesser mortals have been prosecuted for, despite James Comey’s typically dishonest statements to the contrary. The Clinton Foundation, which operated–cleverly, creatively and mostly carefully—as a money laundering, pay-to-play and influence peddling operation for the benefit of Clinton family members in perpetual violation of basic non-profit practices and guidelines, mysteriously wound down to nothingness once Hillary had no influence left to peddle and no prospects for regaining any. An FBI raid of Clinton Foundation offices would have almost certainly turned up some fascinating documents, but the Trump Justice Department, which was, as we know, stuffed with Clinton loyalist holdovers, never went that far in its investigation, such as it was. There is a substantial distinction between crowds chanting “Lock her up!” and serious attempts to actually lock her up.
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