Lock Him Up?

Dating back to its likely first use by the crowd at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and employed by Donald Trump and others at virtually every rally that followed to attack the conduct of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I’ve always been deeply unnerved by the assertion and chant to “lock her up.” Every time, it had the emotion-laden, overheated feeling of a mob hungry for a lynching, facts and real justice be damned.

So as often as Trump criminality has led me to wonder when or if it would lead to a real probe, prosecution and even incarceration, I never used the phrase. America is not heading in a productive direction if mob rule and the pursuit of vigilante justice—like we saw play out on Jan. 6, 2021—becomes a frequent pattern of America’s future. “Hang Mike Pence” is the more terrible cousin to “lock her up.”

But the expanding awareness of the depth of Trump’s theft of classified government property, the Department of Justice’s 19-month effort to retrieve the material and Friday’s revelations from the unsealed, redacted affidavit has made me question whether enough is finally enough. The reasons are manifold, including the illegal taking of the documents; the careless storing at Mar-a-Lago of this collection of highly sensitive, top secret materials that—if shared—can endanger the lives of intelligence operatives and others; and the refusal of Trump to return these national security documents despite repeated entreaties. Indeed, the redacted affidavit gives additional reason to wonder and worry whether these materials already have been shared and exploited for nefarious purposes by foreign adversaries or other bad actors.

I think it’s reasonable to ask how much longer Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ are going to treat the former White House occupant, now a private citizen without executive privilege, with kid gloves. How much danger are all Americans in the longer he’s free to exploit what he knows and what material he might still have? Shouldn’t violations of the Espionage Act and related obstructions of justice be treated with sufficient gravity?

So with this in mind, I ask this Saturday’s question: Is it time for the DOJ to take him into custody and lock him up? Do they not possess probable cause? Despite all the questions that may arise from taking such an unprecedented step and the probable violent response it would trigger, can you imagine any other person on the face of the earth who would still be walking free with what we already know? Would this move finally indicate that Justice recognizes that rule of law must be asserted—that no one is above the law, especially in a case involving the safety and security of every American? As much as DOJ is focused on building its case before taking further action, how much additional danger is it spurring by allowing him to remain free?

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*Photo: Outside the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach where the court decided to unseal the affidavit to justify the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images.