Opinion | In Trump vs. our justice system, the rule of law is winning. So far.

Donald Trump fought the law, and the law won. So far, at least.

No one knows whether the former president — arraigned yet again on Thursday, this time in U.S. District Court in D.C. — will be convicted on felony charges for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Personally, I wish jurors could return a verdict that goes beyond “guilty as charged.” Maybe something like “guilty as hell.”

I’m not going to be on that jury, though, or on the juries empaneled for Trump’s other coming trials. Citizens who have taken an oath to be open-minded and impartial will decide his fate. This fact, regardless of convictions or acquittals, is a victory for the rule of law.

Despite all his huffing and puffing, Trump could not bully the justice system into granting him impunity. Like every criminal defendant, he deserves and must be given the presumption of innocence. But like every other criminal defendant, he is being held accountable.

Trump will have to answer in the District of Columbia for the conduct that sparked the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection not far from the federal courthouse that was the site of Thursday’s arraignment. Trump entered “not guilty” pleas before a magistrate in a small courtroom where such initial hearings routinely take place. In other venues, he will have to answer for his conduct in allegedly hoarding top-secret classified documents in a gaudy ballroom and a kitschy bathroom at Mar-a-Lago; and for his conduct in allegedly falsifying business records in Manhattan to hide a hush money payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels.

I agree with the consensus that the D.C. case is by far the most consequential. For the first time in our nation’s history, an incumbent president who was defeated in his bid for reelection tried to overturn the will of the voters and cling to power.

Think about that. Think about the close and passionately contested presidential elections this country has lived through. Think about how all of them — except one — were resolved by an orderly transfer of power. Richard M. Nixon gracefully conceded to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Al Gore accepted the Supreme Court ruling that cemented George W. Bush’s victory in 2000. Hillary Clinton congratulated Trump on his upset win in 2016.

According to the grand jury indictment sought and obtained by special counsel Jack Smith, Trump led six unindicted fellow plotters in conspiring to illegally defraud the United States by obstructing the 2020 vote count; conspiring to “corruptly obstruct and impede” the official certification by Congress of Joe Biden’s victory; and conspiring to deprive U.S. citizens of “the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.”

Tracking Trump indictments and investigations — where they stand

Trump made a famous campaign promise in 2016 about all the “winning” he was going to do. Let me fix it for him, with my word substitutions in italics: “We’re gonna conspire so much, you may even get tired of conspiring. And you’ll say, ‘Please, please — it’s too much conspiring. We can’t take it anymore, Mr. President, it’s too much.’ And I’ll say, ‘No it isn’t. We have to keep conspiring. We have to conspire more. We’re going to conspire more. We’re going to conspire so much.”

One of Trump’s lawyers, John Lauro, has been previewing potential defense strategies. It should worry the former president that William Barr, his handpicked attorney general, is skeptical to the point of being dismissive.

“This is the first time that political speech has been criminalized in the history of the United States,” Lauro thundered on CBS. But the indictment notes, in its third paragraph, that Trump had every right to “claim, falsely” that massive fraud stole the election from him — but in the following paragraph asserts that he had no right to pursue “unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results.” Barr noted during a CNN interview that the First Amendment’s speech protections “doesn’t give you the right to engage in a fraudulent conspiracy.”

The third Trump indictment gets approval from former attorney general Bill Barr

Lauro told Fox News that he would like prosecutors “to try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump believed that these allegations [of voter fraud] were false.” But Barr said he believes Trump “knew well that he had lost the election,” and the indictment proffers convincing evidence of that.

Lauro said on NBC’s “Today” show that Trump was entitled to “trust [the] advice of counsel.” But Barr said that to plead an “advice of counsel” defense, Trump would almost surely have to waive attorney-client privilege and also testify under oath. I cannot imagine any competent defense lawyer letting him get anywhere near the witness stand.

Greg Sargent: Trump’s lawyer drops an unsettling hint about his defense strategy

What comes through on page after page of the latest indictment is how Trump tries to bully everyone — state legislators, election supervisors, Justice Department officials, his own vice president. Again and again, his intended patsies tell him no.

Will these charges make those who love Trump love him even more? I hope not, but that’s beside the point. History is kind to those who stand up to bullies — and brutal to those who knuckle under.


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