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Thu, Jun

Why Isn’t Trump in Jail?

VOICES

GUEST COMMENTARY - The day after Donald Trump was arraigned for his alleged effort to steal the 2020 election, he posted a naked threat: “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”

That followed his federal indictment. After he was indicted in Georgia, Trump openly warned a witness not to testify. “I am reading reports that failed former Lt. Governor of Georgia, Jeff Duncan, will be testifying before the Fulton County Grand Jury,” Trump posted. “He shouldn’t.”

As Trump well knows, when he inflames his MAGA disciples, violence commonly follows. 

Anyone else convicted of Trump’s crimes would plainly go to prison for years. And anyone else openly threatening witnesses would quickly see their bail revoked. 

Now a woman has been arrested for threatening to kill the judge overseeing Trump’s federal election interference case. And the Georgia grand jurors who voted to charge Trump have had their addresses published on an extremist website. Supporters labeled the jurors’ collected addresses a “hit list” and suggested “long range rifles” might be useful. 

Obviously, jurors in any of Trump’s trials risk retaliation should they decide the evidence proves him guilty.

Judges explicitly warned Trump not to intimidate witnesses or “prejudice potential jurors.” Which raises an uncomfortable question: Why isn’t he in jail already?

Federal judges take witness tampering seriously—they revoked bail for alleged cryptocurrency crook Sam Bankman-Fried for interfering with witness testimony. That’s simply the rule of law. If you violate the orders under which you’re released pending trial, you go to jail. 

Yet Trump remains at liberty, seemingly determined to move the question of his criminal liability from a court of law into the court of public opinion—and get a chance to pardon himself if elected.

This spring, before the first charges against Trump were filed in New York, the former president threatened “potential death and destruction” if he was charged. Judges might well be worried about widespread violence from Trump supporters if he’s actually jailed. Moreover, some conservative commentators seem to regard the notion of locking up a former president as unthinkable.

Yes, things have come to a sorry pass when a president is charged with brazenly violating the law and threatens anyone who’d prosecute him. But if a man entrusted with the power of the presidency commits crimes against the Constitution and our democracy, that’s more reason to insist he be subject to law, not less.

A former top federal prosecutor opined that sending Trump to prison if he were convicted posed “enormous and unprecedented logistical issues.” “Probation, fines, community service, and home confinement are all alternatives,” claimed the former prosecutor.

These alternatives aren’t serious. If convicted, Trump must suffer punishment like anyone else.

Probation is typically reserved for the repentant, and Trump expresses no repentance. For a billionaire who lives in a luxury golf resort, fines or home confinement are a slap on the wrist. (Letting Trump continue charging Secret Service members up to $1,185 per room per night to protect him at Mar-a-Lago would only punish taxpayers.)

And what would community service even consist of?

In truth, the Secret Service can protect Trump more cheaply if he resides in Leavenworth penitentiary with other nonviolent felons. A former Secret Service agent confirmed that protecting Trump in prison poses no great challenge: “If you want to go to prison, you want to go to [a] federal prison,” he said. “They already have their security set up… It’s already safe.” 

Anyone else convicted of Trump’s crimes would plainly go to prison for years. And anyone else openly threatening witnesses would quickly see their bail revoked. Applying a different standard to a powerful person reflects only contempt for the rule of law.

(Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller "Mississippi Reckoning" (2019). This article was published in Common Dreams.)