In an unprecedented development, a former President of the United States is indicted for criminal behavior related to his post-presidential activities. More interestingly, the indicted former president is the main opponent of the incumbent president as the new election cycle approaches. What’s a democracy to do?
The facts are stubborn, and the Justice Department seems to have amassed an astonishing collection of evidence against former President Donald Trump. When Trump refused to comply with a subpoena to turn over any documents in his possession that bore a “classified” mark, the DOJ served a search warrant for his home and office.
The warrant was issued after many boxes of possessions had already been turned over, but the National Archives and the Justice Department suspected (correctly) that Trump was still keeping many more items. These elements were discovered during subsequent research. As of this writing, there may be other undiscovered items that the former president possessed.
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Another piece of evidence known so far is the testimony of one of Trump’s lawyers which demonstrates the former president’s intention to keep the documents, if not hide them at his home in Mar-a-Lago. Home security video shows various people moving boxes of documents from place to place on the property, apparently in response to a planned visit by Justice Department personnel.
Trump apparently asked a trusted aide to help move boxes of equipment after the Justice Department was asked to inspect the premises and retrieve the items. Even his own attorney believed he was providing all of the requested documents that the National Archives claimed was in Trump’s possession. Trump’s attorney signed a notice saying all classified documents were included in the latest search.
As we now know, according to the indictment, many boxes of documents were intentionally moved to another location within the Mar-a-Lago complex. The personal assistant who moved them was also indicted, along with the former president, for mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice. If found guilty, he could face lengthy prison sentences, just like Trump.
Allegations of political persecution have arisen in the political world. The number of times “What about…?” has been written and said is beyond reckoning. The stubborn facts, again, make these other accusations pale in comparison to the misdeeds attributed to the former president and his fellow conspirator.
Let’s put aside, for a moment, the “what about” and focus on the dilemma of the country. Imagine if Trump couldn’t mount a reasonable defense and he was convicted. And after?
Around the world, this situation could indeed give the impression that the United States is becoming like so many petty dictatorships that punish political enemies with prison, excommunication or even death. Although we have never endured such a crisis, we must find a way to deal with it. The solution must maintain our image as a democratic country while punishing those guilty of potentially devastating crimes against the people of the United States.
Sending a former president to jail for anything other than murdering someone on Fifth Avenue is not the answer. Forgiving him along the way before any trial is also not the answer (he would simply claim victory and continue his destructive behavior). I say convict him if he is found guilty and assign him probation, as well as community service. A convicted felon is unlikely to be re-elected, but would retain their right to stand for election.
One more thing: ban him from entering any golf course in the country as a condition of his probation.
Jim Kavanagh, Jacksonville
This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Probation, community service if Trump convicted