The Political Assassination of Donald Trump
The former president has proven more difficult to kill off than Rasputin—although not for want of effort from his enemies.
Democrats remain terrified of Donald Trump and will continue to do their worst to keep him from the ballot, where he has beaten them before. Political assassination attempts stretch from the near-comical to the deadly serious.
The most current attempt calls back to one of the earlier ones. A handful of lawyers discovered that the 14th Amendment, hidden away in plain sight inside the Constitution, was actually designed to drive Trump from the ballot. The Amendment, in Section 3, states that government officials who have supported insurrection against the United States are not eligible for future office. Despite the fact that this was written to address the question of what to do with Confederate officials following the Civil War, modern lawyers have decided that a) Trump made a speech on January 6 as part of an insurrection, so b) his name cannot appear on any state ballot.
Left undiscussed is who determines whether J6 was an actual insurrection, let alone one on the same scale with the Civil War, and not some naughty MAGA cosplay with absolutely zero chance of altering the election results—not to mention the fact that Section 1 of the same Amendment mentions due process, of which this line of legal thinking includes none.
This all brings to mind the early Trump-era citations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, basically saying a president could not accept gifts from foreign countries. (Full disclosure: One of the worst Emoluments violators was the eighth president, Martin Van Buren. No relation!) The thinking way back in 2016 was that the Founders had this scenario in mind: Trump owns some foreign hotels. Foreign people stay there. Some of the foreigners were government officials. Some tiny portion of each stay went into Donald’s pocket. Shazam! He was guilty of accepting official foreign gifts and violating the Emoluments Clause.
But that was all small change; the real money on getting rid of Trump before he was even sworn in, or handicapping his administration if he took office, was Russiagate. It was all the rage in 2016 and beyond—Trump colluded with the Russians because they had a tape of him with prostitutes engaging in activities whose description ill befits a family-oriented publication like The American Conservative. Or because he wanted to build a hotel in Moscow, one or the other.
There was supposedly proof everywhere; Robert Mueller’s corpse was shocked back to life to investigate it all ahead of an impeachment-cum-lynching party. In the end, the whole thing was made up. A multi-year effort involving many three letter agencies—the FBI and CIA, of course, not to mention CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS—was based on tall tales from anonymous sources sifted into the zeitgeist by a former MI6 operative named Chris Steele. Oh, right: Steele was paid entirely by the Clinton campaign.
The next swing at the piñata came from some little scab of a lieutenant colonel on the National Security Council and some punks at the State Department—this was Impeachment 1.0. Using a cutout “whistleblower,” the cabal alleged Trump temporarily withheld arms from Ukraine (before it became our 51st state under Joe Biden) until Kiev investigated and turned over the dirt on the Biden family.
It turned out that Trump did indeed temporarily withhold arms from Ukraine hoping Kiev would investigate and turn over the dirt on the Biden family. This is known as “foreign policy” or an “investigation.” Somehow the impeachment hinged on one transcripted phone call by Trump; the evidence was not even in question, just how stupid the interpretation could be. Nothing stuck, and the process failed to remove Trump from office.
After all that, there was Impeachment 2.0, which had something to do with January 6, wasn’t finished until Trump had already left office, and did not matter because—significantly for the 14th Amendment crowd—Trump was not convicted of incitement or insurrection.
The broader problem is that, short of simply shooting Trump in the head, the guy never seems to go down. Every effort, and there were many, failed to get him off the ballot in 2016, cripple his administration, or drive him from the White House. Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020, and that should have ended the matter. Trump should have taken his seat on The View, and all these efforts to depose him should have faded into political history. The specific problem is that Trump never stopped running for president, and now must finally be stopped. The plan this time is to use the judiciary to achieve what it looks like the ballot box cannot, literally locking Trump in jail in hopes that from behind bars he cannot become president. There are five current efforts.
First up is Stormy Daniels again. Somehow a partisan prosecutor in a fully Democratic district managed to squeeze thirty-four felony counts out of this, centered on falsifying business records, which Trump is accused of doing to cover up the hush money payments to Daniels. Now leaving aside there is nothing illegal per se about “hush money”—people receive payments all the time as part of nondisclosure agreements—this attempt to throw Trump in jail will rely on witnesses as pristine as Stormy herself, along with stand-up mooks like Michael Cohen. If the jury is at least close to fair, the case has little chance of jailing Trump.
Second in line is a civil defamation case financial judgment. Four months after a jury found that Donald Trump defamed Jean Carroll, a judge ruled still more of the ex-president’s comments about her were libelous. The decision means an upcoming second trial will concern only how much more he has to pay her. No possibility of jail time.
Next is the so-called Mar-a-Lago documents case. This centers on the former president endangering national security by mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Additionally, the case looks at how Trump obstructed FBI efforts to take back the documents. It will delve into the minutiae of the classification system, and is likely to invoke the Supreme Court to decide how much leeway a former president has in declassifying documents.
It is no small matter, legally, as it affects not only Trump but every president to come. (Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton also unlawfully had classified documents in their possession outside of the office, but we don’t seem to care much about these cases.) Classification cases that don’t involve major espionage or spillage are usually settled by fines or whitewashing, as may be this one, unless the government can make a big deal about the obstruction part. A lot depends on proving Trump knew that he was doing something wrong, mens rea, a tough ask with a fella like Trump who talks pretty. The matter is unlikely to result in jail time.
The Georgia election interference case, like Impeachment 1.0, seems to hinge on a single phone call, in this instance an ambiguous request by Trump to an election official to find him some more votes. Ambiguous in the sense that one reading is Trump requesting some sort of recount, while a more ambitious one is he is demanding the official create votes by some nefarious means.
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The new feature here is the prosecutor has come up with not only thirteen felony counts against Trump himself stemming from a single incident, but also charged eighteen associates, including Rudy Giuliani (once America’s mayor—how fast the looks fade) with various crimes. The implication is one of those people will turn evidence on Trump to save their own skin. The problem is that the Georgia case did not have any successful interference; Trump still lost the state. That means the whole thing is going to get bogged down in conspiracy accusations—boring—and fail to capture public attention. Trump’s lawyers are also actively seeking a change of venue to get the case to more neutral jury selection territory. If they succeed, the chances of success against Trump seem slim. An obligatory guilty conclusion with some sort of fine seems likely.
The prosecution that has the greatest potential of shaping the next part of the Trump story is also likely to be the first major case heard, in March 2024, regarding Trump’s role in the events of January 6. At stake is not only a good portion of Trump’s political future, but also very serious questions about the First Amendment. What can someone legally say and do after losing an election? Of all the charges, incitement is not on the list, though it looks in part as if Trump is being held responsible for the actions of the mob. The charges focus again on conspiracy, though this time the stakes are very high, conspiracy to defraud the United States and its voters, practically a hanging offense.
The J6 mob (and Trump) had no chance of overturning the 2020 election, so in some ways conspiracy is a thin thread to suspend the whole affair from. On the other hand, it may be easy to prove, especially if Mike Pence or another senior official turned evidence in their depositions and testified against Trump. The seriousness of the matter points towards jail time, as has been the case with all the other J6 defendants. It may not be the future of our democracy at stake, but it is certainly a good shot at the future of Donald Trump if the prosecution can wrap things up before the election.