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The Depth of Arrogance
The criminal defendants who still believe they are above the law
Earlier this week, former Trump Justice Department official and criminal defendant Jeffrey Clark had the audacity to give U.S. District Judge Steve Jones a deadline. Jones was given less than 24 hours to decide Clark’s emergency motion to avoid “the choice of making rushed travel arrangements to fly into Atlanta or instead risking being labeled a fugitive.” Make no mistake: Clark would have no trouble booking a ticket from his home in Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, one of the world’s busiest airports. Who exactly does Clark think he is?
Consider former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, who also filed an emergency motion to delay or avoid arrest, arguing he was immune to state prosecution because he was “providing the President of the United States with close, confidential advice and assistance, firmly entranced in federal law for nearly 100 years.” Does he really think attempting to find votes for Trump in Georgia represents the appropriate work of a federally employed chief of staff and that he deserves a different timetable?
Trump operative Rudy Giuliani disparaged the RICO case as well as his 13 felony charges as acts committed by “the real criminals.” After he was fingerprinted, his mugshot was taken and he was released on bail, Giuliani told reporters the case is “an attack on the American people” and he is “fighting for justice.”
And then there’s the kingpin Donald Trump, the racketeering boss of a criminally charged mob of 18 co-defendants, who has thumbed his nose at the whole proceeding. Trump posted that he would “proudly be arrested” and planned his arrest for 7:30 pm Thursday—right at primetime to garner maximum television coverage—as if this was just a game for ratings, as if the rule of law and our system of justice is just a target for personal mockery.
Predictably, after his booking, Fulton County inmate No. P01135809 emerged from his motorcade at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport with lights set up for his close-up. “What’s taken place is a travesty of justice,” he proclaimed. “I’ve done nothing wrong and everybody knows it…This is election interference.”
None of this comes as a surprise. All of these actions can be viewed as the behavior of men convinced of their innocence, all of whom are in fact entitled to the presumption of innocence, and each of whom is certain to pursue every possible means to avoid the finding of guilt and face punishment.
But the behavior of these public figures makes clear the depth of their arrogance. They act as if the rule of law does not apply to them, that they are above the law, that their treatment is an indignity, an unjust attack, a scandal. In so doing—in presuming they deserve to be treated differently than other criminal defendants—they give more fuel to the millions of Trump cultists convinced that this is all just political persecution of their beloved leader.
Let’s go back and revisit their assumptions, drawing on the responses of District Attorney Fani Willis and legal experts. “Defendant Clark boldly asks this court for expeditious action when he himself has shown no urgency,” Willis wrote. And: “The defendant seeks to avoid the inconvenience and unpleasantness of being arrested or subject to the mandatory state criminal process, but provides this court no legal basis to justify those ends.”
Note the wry summary of Clark’s entitled demand by legal pundit and attorney George Conway: “I must confess that in my thirty years as a litigator, not once did I have occasion to tell a federal judge that he had a deadline he had to meet so that I would not have to make ‘rushed travel arrangements.’”
As for Meadows’ request, DA Willis wrote, “The hardship facing the defendant is no different than any other criminal defendant charged with a crime, including his co-defendants who have either already surrendered to Fulton County Authorities or have agreed to so surrender in the time allotted by the district attorney.”
Underscoring her determination to reject the arrogant assumptions that they be treated different, she wrote to Meadows’ attorneys that “I gave 2 weeks for people to surrender themselves to the court. Your client is no different than any other criminal defendant in this jurisdiction. The two weeks was a tremendous courtesy.”
Let’s not underestimate the conditions that reinforce the arrogance. Note this snapshot from the first Republican debate held Wednesday night in Milwaukee and aired on Fox. It took nearly an hour for the moderators to bring up the leading candidate for the GOP nomination who has been charged with 91 felony counts.
Asked whether they would support Trump as the Republican nominee even if he’s found guilty of felony charges, six of the eight candidates on stage (with the exception of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson) raised their hands in the affirmative. When Christie criticized Trump’s attack on the constitution, the crowd booed him.
It makes no difference whether they are acting out of fear or belief. They are doing their part to further undermine justice, the rule of law and the most basic assumptions about leadership in a democracy. They are telling their voters and America that all that really matters is getting and keeping power, no matter how criminal or how degrading may be their nominee.
Is there any doubt that criminal defendants like Trump and Giuliani—let’s see about Meadows and Clark—will insist to the bitter end that they are being smeared by a corrupt and criminal Justice Department and that all this can be reduced to a political tactic by a Democratic president to beat his rival? Is there any doubt they will always contend not just that they are fighting for America, but that if this “persecution” can happen to them it can happen to “you”?
Of course, Trump’s sociopathic inability to acknowledge failure and singular capacity for self-delusion—qualities that continue to motivate his enablers and cult followers—ensure the coming months will remain wrought with danger, especially as the legal proceedings mount and he further exploits his public platform to systematically repeat lies, incite violence and pursue martyrdom.
Asked by Tucker Carlson about the possibility of civil war in a pre-taped interview released as counter-programming to the GOP debate, Trump focused on Jan. 6, 2021. “There was love in that crowd, there was love and unity,” Trump said. “I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love, and I've also never seen simultaneously and from the same people such hatred of what they've done to our country.”
Pushed by Carlson to say more about the potential for conflict, Trump said he didn’t know. But that didn’t stop him from suggesting the prospects for violence: “There's a level of passion that I've never seen, there's a level of hatred that I've never seen, and that's probably a bad combination.”
The lack of Trump backers at Thursday’s booking in Georgia—just like the lack of angry crowds in each of the indictments so far—is proving that he’s not getting the violent support he craves. But as long as he and his co-defendants and other enablers continue to arrogantly condemn the work of Justice and the rule of law—and that includes most of the GOP presidential candidates—they will sustain a climate that nurtures the most aggrieved and troubled among us.
Maybe Trump will eventually grasp that he must stop his attacks if he wants to avoid being taken into custody. Yet if past is prologue, it’s hard to imagine that he will. My hope is that Special Counsel Jack Smith and Fani Willis succeed in their desire for speedy trials to help accelerate the country through and beyond this troubled time.
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