Interesting article about the Manhattan D.A.’s Trump investigation in The New Yorker. Onlookers can’t help noticing that things have picked up quite a bit in the office. They have Trump’s financial records, they have hired an experienced former federal prosecutor who knows fraud, and they have been repeatedly interviewing Michael Cohen (at least seven times so far!) — hopefully not as a star witness, exactly, but as someone who might be able to give them a behind the scenes look at how the manipulations happened.
I can’t give you much of a prediction of whether charges will be filed, and anyone who claims they can is blowing smoke. We learn in the article that Vance is not running for re-election, and will be out of office after December, so he’s not doing this to keep himself in power.
However, I would like to quote a couple of passages that illustrate what is at stake; namely, the very notion of applying the rule of law to everyone.
Vance’s investigation, which appears to be focussed largely on business practices that Trump engaged in before taking office, may seem picayune in comparison with the outrageous offenses to democratic norms that Trump committed as President. But the New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, whose recent book “Strongmen” examines the characteristics of antidemocratic rulers, told me, “If you don’t prosecute Trump, it sends the message that all that he did was acceptable.” She pointed out that strongmen typically “inhabit a gray zone between illegal and legal for years”; corrupt acts of political power are just an extension of their shady business practices. “Trumpism isn’t just about him,” Ben-Ghiat went on. “It’s a whole way of being in the world. It’s about secrecy, domination, trickery, and fraud.” She said, of Vance’s probe, “It’s symbolic for the public, and very important to give the public a sense of accountability.”
[T]he contest between Vance and Trump is about much more than a financial investigation. It’s a stress test of the American justice system. George Conway, a lawyer and a Trump critic, who is married to the former President’s adviser Kellyanne Conway, said, “Trump is a man who has gotten away with everything his entire life. He’s an affront to the rule of law, and to all law-abiding citizens.” In office, Trump often treated the law as a political weapon, using the Justice Department as a tool for targeting enemies. Now he is pitted against a D.A. who regards the law as the politically blind foundation of democracy. As Conway put it, “For Trump, the law is a cudgel. For Vance, it’s what holds us together as a civilization. And that’s why people who thumb their noses at it have to be prosecuted. If they aren’t, you’re taking a big step toward a world where that is acceptable.”
I hear all the time that prosecuting former political officials is banana republic stuff, and my response is always the same: it depends on whether they’re guilty. If they are, not prosecuting them is banana republic stuff. Whether it’s Israel, Italy, France, or other countries I could name, modern countries don’t fall apart simply because former (or current!) officials are indicted or jailed. Do you think Russia is a better example of the rule of law because we know it would never allow a prosecution of Putin or a high government official close to Putin? If that’s your position, you live in a different world from the rest of us.
So let’s see if Trump is guilty. If he’s not, let’s move on dot org. If he is, I hope Vance nails him to the wall.