John Trumbull, Wikimedia Commons

To judge or not to judge, that is your question

It is too early to speculate on the outcome of the Presidential race in 2020. If Trump does not get re-elected, however, there will be a chapter in American history and law for which there is no precedent. Michael Cohen, who was Trump’s personal lawyer, has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison for a conspiracy involving election fraud. His unindicted co-conspirator is “Individual Number One”. “Individual Number One’s” identity has not been publicly disclosed. This is proper because the subject of a grand jury indictment is confidential according to the law. Cohen, as a practicing lawyer with access to competent legal counsel to defend him, entered a plea of guilty. Some may believe that Cohen pleaded guilty to a crime that he did not commit. Anything is possible, although that seems like a fairly unlikely conclusion. Another equally unlikely conclusion would be that “Individual Number One” is not Donald Trump. It takes more than one person to create a conspiracy. Black’s Law Dictionary defines conspiracy as follows; “A combination or confederacy between two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing by their joint efforts, some unlawful or criminal act.”

If Trump is re-elected in 2020, he will not be charged and tried for the Cohen conspiracies. First of all, the statute of limitations will have run. With the exception of murder, the government must charge someone of a crime within a specific time frame. Conspiracy charges can’t and shouldn’t be left dangling indefinitely. The other out for Trump would be the Department of Justice’s long-held policy that sitting Presidents cannot be charged with a crime. That policy, thank God, has never been tested in the court system. It is common knowledge, however, within the legal profession that Justice Department policies are not case law or statute. Therefore, any such policy is subject to judicial review.

If Trump, however, is not re-elected, and not pardoned by the next President, as Ford did to Nixon, new legal and historical ground will be plowed. Trump, if charged of conspiracy, will deserve the Constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence just like the rest of us. That said, if Trump is convicted of conspiracy, who could argue that it would not be fair for him to receive the same sentence as Cohen? Congressional Democratic hot-heads who are clamoring for impeachment apparently are oblivious to the reality that the U.S. Senate will not vote to remove Trump if for no other reasons than party loyalty or fear of their extreme base. It is safe to assume that a better plan is to let the people decide. It is not a stretch to assume the public values its own judgment over that of Congress and the Senate. The American public will be the judge in 2020. After that, a jury may possibly judge Trump. The American system will have a solution with which not everyone will be pleased. That is the bad news. The good news is that it will be a non-violent solution. Our nation’s founders were pretty smart for a bunch of rich white guys.

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Jim Maxson

Mr. Maxson is a retired Minot attorney, former ND State Senator representing Minot's 3rd District from 1986-1994, and former ND Democratic National Committeeman from 2000-2008. He speaks two languages, English and Metaphor, and is cursed by a long memory.

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