Trump is already working to undermine the next election

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Donald Trump took a break from the campaign trail earlier this week to watch one of his flunky lawyers contend in court that any and all crimes he may have committed in office are hereby magically excused because he was acting in his role as monarch el supremo.

I listened to the entire audio of the federal appeals court hearing – no cameras, alas – and it was perversely breathtaking to hear this MAGA water boy plant his flag on the summit of Mount Stupid. Never mind the fact that J. Dean Sauer sounded like Don Corleone gargling gravel; more importantly (if you get my Better Call Saul reference), his arguments for blanket immunity made Slippin’ Jimmy McGill sound like Clarence Darrow.

As you undoubtedly know, Trump is trying to delay his March 4 criminal trial, the one where he’s being prosecuted for plotting to overturn the 2020 election and lead a violent insurrection, in the hope that he can win in November and can kill off the proceedings as the new (and last-ever) president. Hence his strategy to gum up the courts as long as possible with an immunity claim that’s found nowhere in the Constitution, in our laws, or in our history.

It’s a long straight line from screwing the small contractors in Atlantic City to screwing over the institutions of government.

The three appeals judges were not charmed in the least by Don’s desperate con. In the words of Republican appointee Karen Henderson, “I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ allows him to violate criminal law.” Which is precisely what Tanya Chutkin, the judge in the criminal trial, wrote last month when she tossed Trump’s immunity claim in the trash: “By definition, the president’s duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ does not grant special latitude to violate them.”

It was fun to hear Sauer get punked by tough questioning. When the MAGA lawyer insisted that a president is allowed to do virtually anything, Judge Florence Pan, a former federal prosecutor, asked him: “Could a president order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival?…You’re saying a president could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival.”

Sauer replied that a president would indeed be immune – unless the House impeached him and the Senate convicted him; only after a Senate conviction could he be charged with a crime. Pan then asked, “But if he weren’t (impeached), there would be no criminal prosecution? No criminal liability for that? So your answer is no.”

Three years ago, when Trump was impeached by the House for fomenting the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump lawyer Bruce Castor argued exactly the opposite. He told the Senate that there was no need to convict Trump because the criminal justice system was the proper place to prosecute and convict. In Castor’s words, “After he’s out of office, you go and arrest him…The Department of Justice does know what to do with such people…a former president is subject to criminal sanction after his presidency for any illegal acts he commits.”

Let’s play out that SEAL Team Six hypothetical. According to lawyer Sauer’s reasoning (such as it is), a president is free to order the assassination of rivals as long as he has 35 flunky senators in his pocket to shield him from an impeachment conviction. And there’s another loophole: A president could order some hits on domestic foes and simply resign on the eve of impeachment proceedings. Either way, there’d be no Senate conviction and a mobster president could not be criminally prosecuted.

And to think that Sauer went to Harvard.

Judge Pan tortured Sauer one more time. She asked him: So you’re saying that if Trump had been convicted by the Senate, he would’ve lost his blanket immunity and it would’ve been OK to prosecute him? Sauer refused to give a straight answer. Pan repeatedly said, “I’ll ask you one more time…Yes or no?” Sauer finally said, well, not this prosecution, because this prosecution – Jack Smith’s trial slated for March 4 – has “problems” and “issues.”

In all likelihood, Trump will lose the immunity ruling. One big question is whether our highest court will take up the issue, drag its heels, and thus postpone the trial.

This week, 19 former Republican congressmen signed an open letter: “The federal courts are confronted with Trump’s gambit to use the appellate process to delay the trial until after the November election… Permitting delay would therefore not only undermine the rule of law, it would undermine the integrity of the 2024 election.”

That’s precisely what the criminal defendant intends. He is now as he always has been. In 1968, he pleaded “bone spurs” to dodge the military. In 2024, he’s pleading “immunity” to dodge the slammer. The arc of the MAGA universe is long, but it bends toward nonsense.

Copyright 2024 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at [email protected]