Trump must be prosecuted, or we should just admit presidents are above the law

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President Donald Trump poses for a White House photograph to show him working during his stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
  • This isn't just about Trump. This is about the next president. And the one after that, and the one after that. 
  • Trump was caught red-handed, on tape, attempting to strong arm Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into inventing thousands of votes to tip the election in Trump's favor.
  • We cannot be so numbed by Trump's corruption and abuse of power to let this pass without consequence.
  • The alternative is to accept as fact Richard Nixon's infamous quip: "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Trump cannot go unpunished this time. 

He's always been able to skate by despite criminal behavior, never facing the consequences for a long history of corruption, and a term in the White House awash in abuses of presidential power

But this isn't just about Trump. This is about the next president. And the one after that, and the one after that. 

If a president can brazenly threaten a state election official unless he invents votes to tip an election - an election which has already been recounted twice, and to which every legal challenge has been found to be without merit - the president can do anything

If Trump is not impeached, censured or held criminally liable by a state or federal jurisdiction for his actions in Saturday's phone meeting with Georgia election officials, we might as well just do away with the generally-held principle that the president is not above the law. 

"Rule of law" was ostensibly why Clinton was impeached 

Rule of law was the ostensible reason for making the country endure nearly two years of drama leading up to Bill Clinton's impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. (Lewinsky, with her talent for incisive self-deprecation, tweeted about the leaked audio recording of Trump's call: "i'm generally opposed to someone being surreptitiously taped on a phone call...but not this one, folks!")

Any number of reasonable ethical critiques can be made of former independent counsel Ken Starr's investigation, including his aggressive exploration into tangential matters like Clinton's affair. But ensuring an adherence to the law -  that not even the president could dodge - was the primary argument for convicting Clinton and removing him from office. 

Clinton allegedly lied under oath and used the power of the presidency to make an inconvenient witness shut up. I personally think he was guilty, based on the evidence. But the "high crimes" he was accused of were lying in court about sexual encounters and then having one of his friends try to get Lewinsky a job in the private sector to keep her quiet. Unseemly, illegal stuff, but not a threat to our very democracy 

What Trump did - as documented in a 60-minute recording - is so much worse than anything of which Bill Clinton was accused, and with so much more clear-cut evidence, that it's mind-throttling to think he will face no discernible consequences for it. 

We can't be so numbed by Trump's criminality that he gets away with this 

Some legal experts have already argued that while what Trump did was objectively despicable, it might not be a prosecutable federal crime because he didn't explicitly threaten Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. 

In other words Trump could skate, again, because his semi-coherent rambling and his long record of believing the most outlandish internet fever swamp conspiracy theories would make it difficult to prove he knowingly was committing a crime. 

Trump said to Raffensperger: "It is more illegal for you than it is for [Georgia election officials] because, you know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's a criminal, that's a criminal offense. And you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and … your lawyer."

No reasonable person could listen to that and say it wasn't a blatant attempt at using the presidency to strong arm an elected official into committing a crime. It was a barely-veiled threat levied by an unconfident gangster. 

Worse, Trump was attempting election fraud on a massive scale. The sort of fraud that the president and his no-star team of lawyers have failed to convince a single court that he was the victim of in the 2020 election. 

It shouldn't come as a terrible shock that with barely more than two weeks in his presidency, Trump found a new bottom. 

His insistence on perpetuating  fake election fraud conspiracy theories and refusing to concede Joe Biden won the election legitimately is something he's telegraphed he would do for months. We're numb to his assaults on democracy. 

But we cannot be numb to the fact that he was caught red-handed abusing his power and attempting to commit election fraud.

If Trump is not held accountable in some way, by some authority, for this particular crime, we ought to just adopt Richard Nixon's infamous notion that "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

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