Reasserting Reality and the Rule of Law
From the special master, to the New York State Attorney General and the 11th Circuit Court, legal authorities did not hesitate in their attempts to right wrongs
What a week this was. My eyes needed to adjust to the unexpected light.
It’s hard to overstate how long and dark—how surreal—the tunnel of the last six years has been. I’m thinking mostly about the daily, methodical, pathological, aggressive effort to disconnect people from reality—with lie after lie and crime after crime—and the brutal effort to degrade people’s capacity to know what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Added to this is the enabling by elected Republicans and others to assist Donald Trump’s effort to consolidate and hold power, no matter how far he strayed from visible facts, how insistent he was on staying in the White House despite his loss, or how determined he was and continues to be to feed extremism and foment violence.
This dispiriting reality was heightened in recent weeks by the reckless rulings of Judge Aileen Cannon, who was more than willing to shamelessly serve Trump’s interests even if it meant making national security increasingly precarious—even if it meant revealing her partisan conviction that the rule of law and the principle that no one is above the law does not apply to the man who appointed her.
This is a judge more concerned about the “reputational harm” and imagined executive privilege of a private citizen who lives in a Florida beach club than serving justice and fulfilling her oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.” As Andrew Weissman noted in The Atlantic:
She does not explain how the former president has the power to assert executive privilege; how executive privilege could restrict documents from being shared with the executive branch (which DOJ is part of); how it could apply to any documents at Mar-a-Lago that emanated from agencies like the CIA, NSA, or FBI; or why it would not be outweighed by the fact that the documents are needed in a criminal investigation (an interest that the Supreme Court found would overcome a privilege assertion by former president Richard M. Nixon). And even if some of the documents are covered by executive privilege, the documents would, by law, still have to go to the National Archives and not be returned to the person who absconded with them.
But that’s all prologue to this unexpected week, when reason and the rule of law was clearly reasserted by special master Judge Raymond Dearie, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and three judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, two of whom were appointed by Trump. This was a week when it was possible to imagine the spinning globe has rediscovered its axis.
On Tuesday, Judge Dearie communicated that he was not going to take the usual Trump bait and allow delay, delay, delay. “We have little time to complete the tasks assigned to the court,” he told the lawyers. “We are going to proceed with what I call responsible dispatch.”
He let it be known he was going to do his best to keep Trump and his team from mucking around with the retrieved classified documents that are a key part of the DOJ’s criminal investigation. “If I can make recommendations to Judge Cannon, right or wrong, without exposing myself or you to that material, I’m going to do it,” Dearie said.
And he refused to let the Trump lawyers get away with not saying whether or not the 100 documents in question were somehow declassified. Otherwise, “As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it.”
Refreshingly, this is a serious judge uninterested in gaslighting and bloviating on TV and social media, where Trump has insisted documents were planted and the FBI lied about what they found and what they took. Yesterday, Dearie gave Trump’s lawyers until Sept. 30 to back up the claims—that is, to put up on record or shut up. “The submission shall be Plaintiff’s final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory,” Dearie ordered in writing.
This was the day after AG Letitia James filed a 220-page lawsuit against Donald and Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. involving over 200 instances of fraud. “Actions have consequences,” she said, uttering a sound that was music to my ears. As she noted, Trump with the help of his adult offspring “variously unlawfully inflated and deflated his net worth by billions to obtain and satisfy loans, get insurance benefits and pay lower taxes.”
And the plan to address the crimes, which she reminded are not victimless? Pay back at least $250 million. Ban the Trump family from ever again operating a business in New York. Ban Trump and his company from buying New York commercial real estate for five years. Make a criminal referral to the IRS and the Justice Department.
Would this be enough for one week after the years of abandon, when it seemed that no one would ever hold this man accountable? Maybe it would, but it wasn’t all. Three judges from the 11th Circuit sided with the DOJ that they can continue the criminal investigation of the 100 classified documents.
The judges’ response was blunt—and sweet for anyone sickened by Cannon’s previous orders. “For our part, we cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings,” the court wrote in a quickly delivered 29-page opinion. The judges added that the lower court (read: Cannon) “abused its discretion in exercising jurisdiction...as it concerns the classified documents.”
Decisions like these makes one reflect on how in the world we ended up in a place like this. For example:
But at the risk of raining on the week’s parade, a week that looks like the utter absence of accountability might be finally coming to an end, let’s not forget that we could still be months—or dare I say, even years—when these investigations may lead to criminal indictments and prosecutions.
James’ civil case could put an end to the Trump racket in New York, but we can never underestimate the particular skill of Trump to evade justice and avoid consequences. But for now, we can relish the reality of legal authorities determined to serve justice, reassert the rule of law—and give pause to the doubters that there will be no light at the end of this long, dark road.
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