Dan Rodricks: Welcome to the docket: Trump joins long line of American criminal defendants

Donald Trump raises millions off the indictments against him by telling his MAGA peeps that he’s “the most persecuted person in American history.” It’s not true. Trump is being prosecuted for his behavior, not persecuted for his beliefs.

And yet, people send money to the billionaire former president. I guess it’s good they can afford to do so despite what Republicans keep calling the “disastrous” Biden economy.

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This render-unto-Trump business reminds me of a foreign film, “Bread and Chocolate.” It’s about a poor Italian guy, Nino, who goes to Switzerland to find work as a waiter or butler. He meets a wealthy Italian industrialist who moved to Switzerland for some undisclosed reason. The industrialist invests Nino’s savings for him, but things quickly go south. Nino ends up penniless, feeling like a fool. “What will I tell my family?” he says. ” That I gave my money to a millionaire?”

Well, yeah. He did.

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Trump has convinced many American Ninos that he needs cash to defend himself against a criminal justice system that has unfairly targeted him. He has Republican politicians repeating his claims that prosecutors are “politicized” and “weaponized.” He calls Jack Smith, the special counsel who brought federal charges against him, “deranged.” He impugns Fani Willis, the district attorney prosecuting Trump in Georgia, as a “rabid partisan.”

The Trump Whinery is his most robust enterprise.

Now that the fourth indictment against him has been handed down, allow me to roll out something I’ve been meaning to offer as a public service to his followers.

To many readers, this will seem obvious, a bit old school. But I no longer assume that everyone paid attention in civics class — or even had a civics class.

So here it goes:

American citizens get indicted, arrested, arraigned, tried, convicted or sentenced to prison every day all across the country, and for a wide variety of crimes, violent to white collar.

We have thousands of taxpayer-funded police, federal agents and prosecutors who work full-time at enforcing all kinds of state and federal laws in every corner of the nation.

Defendants range from drug dealers and killers to operators of shady businesses and corrupt politicians. No one is supposed to be above the law in the United States, and that’s a fundamental principle of justice here.

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Trump’s alleged crimes are obviously unique in the history of the presidency and the republic. But, in terms of how our system works, he’s being treated as thousands of other Americans have been treated: Suspected of having committed a crime, they get investigated. Frequently, but not always, those investigations lead to criminal charges.

Just a few recent examples:

On July 28, in Baltimore Circuit Court, a man named Shawn Sneed received a 10-year prison sentence for having a semi-automatic handgun. Sneed was prohibited from having the gun because of earlier convictions — a 2015 assault in Anne Arundel County and an illegal gun possession in Montgomery County in 2022. Michael Fiorenza, an assistant state’s attorney, prosecuted the case, and I have no idea what his political affiliation or ideology is. It’s irrelevant.

A couple of days later in Towson, Chris McCollum, former Baltimore County deputy economic development director, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $100,000 while campaign treasurer for Cathy Bevins, a Democrat who served on the County Council from 2010 to 2022. Charlton Howard, the Maryland state prosecutor, alleged that McCollum used the cash to pay off credit cards and to fund vacations in Florida, Puerto Rico and Iceland. McCollum got a light sentence — five years in prison with all but six months suspended — but he paid restitution and, far as I can tell, resisted publicly whining about being “persecuted.”

On Aug. 1, the day after McCollum’s sentencing, a judge in Baltimore sentenced convicted murderer Devon Sample to life in prison plus 70 years. Obviously, there’s no comparison with Trump, but I mention the Sample sentencing for context: Every day, and just about every working hour, someone is being held accountable for crimes against others, crimes against property, crimes against the government, crimes against taxpayers.

On Aug. 4, a federal jury convicted Ron Elfenbein, a doctor who owned urgent care centers in Anne Arundel County, on five counts of health care fraud for submitting more than $15 million in false claims to Medicare and other insurers for patients who received COVID-19 tests. He faces a penalty of 10 years in prison for each count and the ruination of a medical career.

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And just last week, here in Baltimore, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Reginald Davis, the former CEO of Strong City Baltimore, for wire fraud and money laundering related to COVID-19 CARES Act loan applications. “Davis allegedly stole well over one million taxpayer dollars intended to assist those suffering from the effects of the pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Erek Barron said. Escorted to his first appearance by federal marshals, Davis wore handcuffs. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. As in most criminal cases, neither the defendant nor his court-appointed lawyer offered comment to the news media, not even a quiet whine.

I could go on, but you get the idea: All kinds of Americans are brought to justice in all kinds of cases every day and everywhere — even CEOs, even doctors, even a former president, and no one stands above the law. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

I hope this has been helpful.

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