Complicated situation: On Donald Trump’s indictment and American politics 

With Donald Trump’s indictment, the U.S. polity will see further polarisation 

Published - June 10, 2023 12:10 am IST

The indictment of former U.S. President Donald Trump by a federal grand jury in the investigation by the Department of Justice (DoJ) into his alleged mishandling of hundreds of classified documents creates an unprecedented political situation ahead of the 2024 American presidential election. This is the first time in U.S. history that a federal government is bringing charges against a former President. According to Mr. Trump’s lawyers, the Republican party leader faces seven counts of charges, including violation of the Espionage Act and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Prosecutors say Mr. Trump deliberately withheld sensitive documents even after they demanded the return of such papers, which were recovered through a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. For Mr. Trump, who assailed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election campaign over her use of a private server, this is an embarrassing situation. He already faces criminal charges in investigations by the Manhattan District Attorney over the payment of hush money to an adult film actor in 2016. A prosecutor in Georgia is probing alleged attempts by Mr. Trump and his allies to topple the results of the 2020 presidential elections, with charges expected in August. Fresh charges pursued by the federal government will further deepen his legal troubles just when the election campaign is heating up.

If in New York the hush money investigation was initiated by a Democrat attorney, the classified documents probe was by a special counsel appointed by the DoJ, whose head, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, is a Biden pick. Classified documents were found at the residences of Mr. Biden, former Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Trump last year. While a separate special counsel probe into Mr. Biden’s handling of the classified papers at the time when he was the Vice President is yet to conclude, the DoJ has decided not to seek criminal charges against Mr. Pence, who is challenging Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries. As of now, Mr. Trump is the leading contender for the Republican presidential ticket. So, what makes the indictment politically complicated is that Mr. Trump is not only a former President but also the key potential rival of Mr. Biden, the incumbent, in 2024. Mr. Trump has already seized the political angle, calling the cases a Democratic witch hunt and asking his supporters “not to surrender” the country “to the radical Left”. As he seems determined to use the cases for political mobilisation, America’s divided polity is set to see further polarisation. Amid this chaos, the DoJ cannot afford to be seen as partisan. It should ensure transparent investigations and build watertight cases based on legal merits.

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