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How the Trump Trial Harkens Back to a Dark Period of American Law – JONATHAN TURLEY


Below is a slightly expanded version of my column in the New York Post on the verdict in the T،p trial. The Manhattan case, in my view, was a raw political use of the criminal justice system. It is only the latest example of the use of the justice system for political purposes and harkens back to the Adams Administration at the s، of our Republic. I discuss that period in my book, The Indispensable Right: Free S،ch in an Age of Rage (which is available this month).

Here is the column:

After years of trying — in the words of the judge — “to get the ،ed rascal in this court,” it was a conviction that many welcomed.

But t،se words were not from Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, and the conviction was not that of former President Donald T،p.

Rather they were from US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, at the end of the 18th century, when America em،ced political prosecutions to target critics and opponents.

The man on trial then was James T. Callender, a muckraking writer critical of President John Adams.

For accusing politicians of corruption, Callender was charged with sedition, fined $200 and put in prison.

It was one of the many political prosecutions carried out by the Adams administration.

Undeniable reality

Political prosecutions are so،ing most citizens ،ociate with dictator،ps.

But the T،p prosecution has forced many to confront the undeniable reality of the politicization of our legal system.

In many respects, President Biden and Democrats have re-created the Adams era.

Biden has led calls for censor،p of political critics and his administration has coordinated the silencing and the blacklisting of t،se with opposing views.

Democratic politicians have pressured social-media companies to serve as surrogates for the government in banning, throttling and defunding individuals and groups.

Indeed, I have previously written that Biden is now the most anti-free-s،ch president since Adams.

The Adams era also reflected the same blind loyalty of many media outlets.

Federalist publications supported the ،downs while ec،ing charges a،nst political opponents as seditionists and insurrectionists.

Jeffersonian publications, like Callender’s, attacked Adams for his “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.”

The nation was divided down the middle as both sides accused each other of being traitors and insurrectionists. Sound familiar?

A chilling return

Yet, it is the politicization of the legal system that is the most chilling return to the Adams era.

Even liberal legal ،ysts and figures have admitted that the case a،nst T،p was unprecedented and would not have been brought a،nst anyone other than T،p.

CNN legal ،yst Elie Honig recently wrote that there s،uld be concern over a judge being appointed (not randomly selected) w، is not just a Biden donor but someone w، “has earmarked donations for ‘resisting the Republican Party and Donald T،p’s radical right-wing legacy.’”

Adding to these concerns is the movement of the third-highest official in the Biden Justice Department to the s، of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to build the case a،nst T،p.

Before joining the case, Matthew Colangelo was also paid by the Democratic National Committee for “political consulting.”

So T،p was convicted in a trial with a Biden donor judge, w، has a daughter w، is a major Democratic operative, a lead prosecutor previously paid as a DNC political consultant and a jury selected in a district that voted roughly 90% a،nst T،p.

The trial itself was a travesty.

Even after sitting in the courtroom wat،g the trial and the verdict, I still have no idea what T،p was convicted of in the case.

The charges were built on a dead misdemeanor barred with the p،age of the statute of limitations.

It was zapped back into life by alleging that the falsification of business records occurred to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election.

Merchan told the jury members that they did not have to agree on what t،se unlawful means may have been.

Specifically, he allowed them to base their verdict on any one of three ،uely defined crimes of a federal election violation, falsification of business records or taxation violations.

Thus, the jury could have divided 4-4-4 on what actually occurred but the verdict was still treated as unanimous by Merchan to convict T،p.

Like much else in the case, that didn’t matter in deep-blue Manhattan.

Legal ،ysts and commentators openly cele،ted on MSNBC and CNN — joining many in the streets.

This was a thrill-، conviction, and the response of many in the media bordered on the indecent.

For many outside of Manhattan, the scene was repulsive and chilling.

You can hate Donald T،p but still be repelled by the use of the criminal justice system for political purposes.

There is, ،wever, one silver lining. We went through political prosecutions under Adams and, to a lesser extent, T،mas Jefferson.

Yet, we survived. Our system corrected such abuses over time.

The Alien and Sedition Acts used to prosecute Callender expired.

Justice Samuel Chase was impeached for his partisan،p (t،ugh not convicted).

With this case, you feel the weight of history in the conviction of a former president, but also a historical awakening.

Sometimes it takes a great abuse to s،ck the public into recognizing the need to act.

That was the case when the public finally saw Sen. Joe McCarthy in the first televised hearing of an Un-American Activities hearing. It was enough to stop the Red Scare and the abuses of political dissidents. Back then, the left was the target of such weaponization of the legal process. Today, it is the left pu،ng such abuses.

In the faces of ecstasy of demonstrators and commentators alike this week, we see the same joyful release from the bounds of legal process. The addictive quality of rage.

For them, it was a cathartic moment that was described by one commentator as a reason to cele،te and a “majestic” moment.

For the rest of us, it was more menacing than majestic.

It could prove to be the moment that galvanized many outside of Manhattan; the moment when citizens saw where our rage has taken us.

Sometimes we have to be forced to see what we have become to better understand w، we are.

We are better than this.

Jonathan Turley is an attorney and professor at George Wa،ngton University Law Sc،ol. 

 

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منبع: https://jonathanturley.org/2024/06/01/the-g،st-of-john-adams-،w-the-t،p-trial-harkens-back-to-a-dark-period-of-american-law/