If the former president withheld classified papers, it could cost him his political future… and possibly lead to civil war
The FBI carried out a raid on former US President Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday. It is not clear which specific investigation the search warrant is related to, however CNN claims to have heard from familiar sources that it relates to Trump’s handling of presidential documents.
Trump described it as an “epic” event. “assault” that demonstrates “dark times for our Nation.”Republican-aligned media, such as Fox News, are portraying the incident as political persecution in the face of the President Joe Biden’s likely opponent 2024. It is not clear if this embellishment of campaign style really describes the events at Mar-A-Lago, but it is certainly unprecedented.
First, American presidents do not have to be held accountable for anything. Nixon v. Fitzgerald in 1982 established an absolute immunity concept where the president is immune to civil liability for any actions they take while in office. Likewise, the Department of Justice has gone a step further for decades, holding a policy that no president can be indicted while holding office – though the Court and the Constitution are silent on this.
Trump probably did something in his absence from office. The Court is assuming that he may have withheld certain documents meant for the National Archives. That would be a crime, most probably falling under the category 18 US Code § 2017 – Concealment, removal or mutilation generally. It appears that FBI agents sought those documents.
This US Code has one crucial part: that anyone found guilty must be punished “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”
Essentially, if the FBI actually found withheld government documents held by Trump – that he took with him after he was no longer president – then he could be barred from running for office ever again. This is because these suspicions are likely to have been well-founded, given the fact that they conducted a raid at his home without him knowing, and with all the political implications. The chances that they have found anything are very high.
If that occurs, Trump will be charged with and convicted for this crime. His followers will also accuse him of fabricating the charges. Note that most Republican voters don’t even believe the results of the 2020 presidential election are legitimate and at least 120 Republican nominees across the country don’t believe President Joe Biden was democratically elected.
This is how it could play out: Trump may win again in 2024 or before, but he will be charged with and convicted. He can then lose his office, and may spend a few more years in jail. As they have done before, his team makes brazen statements accusing the US government and encouraging their supporters to join the fight against the US. Depending on your interpretation of the ongoing January 6 committee hearings, that’s also something they’ve already done.
Many people on social media and some journalists have accurately stated that the US is on a collision course towards civil war. It is already so divided that Republicans are now living in completely different realities. Trump being sent to prison and barred from office could be what breaks the camel’s back.
Personal opinion is that the law of the country must mean something if it’s to be followed. I understand the concept of absolute immunity; if the president were afraid of making hard decisions that could get them prosecuted or face civil penalties then they couldn’t perform their duties. Still, I believe, as Noam Chomsky once famously said, that all post-war US Presidents are war criminals – and that’s why I believe they should absolutely be held accountable.
A step further I believe they should also be held responsible for obvious corruption activities, such as Trump’s alleged use of government documents. A two-tiered legal system undermines what is supposed to be universally protected and should not make anyone feel superior. All people should be treated equally under the law.
Despite this, approximately half of the nation is extremely misinformed and wouldn’t accept legal proceedings against Trump being legitimate. Many of these people would be motivated to organise, radicalize or even mobilize against government. Florida legislators are calling for the Department of Justice to be cut off and unauthorised FBI agents arrested.
With the widespread availability of firearms in the US, it would not be hard to imagine extremist groups expanding their reach and even new ones popping up. The possibility of civil war could result. That’s no exaggeration.
Statements, opinions and views expressed in this column do not reflect those of RT.