While a gathering storm of civil lawsuits against Donald Trump gathers stormily, threatening to potentially pauperize him permanently, criminal charges are also looming. For Trump, it is an unenviable war on two fronts, one that Democrats are eager to see to fruition. But many Republicans also hope Trump will be finished off by his plethora of legal woes. Never mind what they say in public, a lot of Republicans hate Donald Trump. They only continue to support him because they are afraid not to.
Trump’s current criminal investigations and potential investigations could prove devastating to him, of course. They include the recently opened Georgia racketeering investigation into whether Trump attempted to overturn his election loss in that state, New York district attorney Cyrus Vance’s ongoing criminal investigations of Trump, and any federal prosecutions that may be brought by Merrick Garland after he is confirmed as Attorney General, including matters left uncharged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
These are just the ones we know about. Trump could also be charged criminally for mishandling the pandemic. Right now just about any district attorney in the country could file charges of criminal negligence against Trump on behalf of one or more of their constituents who died of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, it’s important that we manage our expectations. Even in the best of times justice may be sure but it is rarely swift. There are many unrealistic expectations about how Trump will be dealt with. It is important to remember that he’s not only protected by his right to due process, he’s also protected by the unfair trifecta umbrella covering all people like Trump: he is white, he is powerful and he is (apparently) rich.
Also, his status as a former president will give him many advantages the rest of us don’t enjoy. I asked author, lawyer and federal sentencing guidelines expert Mark Allenbaugh about all this. Allenbaugh puts it this way, “I want Trump to do time, but considering he will be one of the 2.3% of defendants who will insist on a trial, that naturally will extend the time to resolution considerably.” But what if he’s found guilty? “Even if convicted he can still get bond pending appeal, and then during any petition to the supreme court. He has procedure to keep him free.”
So I asked Mr. Allenbaugh if getting a bond pending an appeal is so easy, why don’t other rich defendants, like Bill Cosby, do that too? “Can doesn’t mean will,” Allenbaugh explained. “I just meant he has that available to him. Also, Cosby isn’t a former president of the United States. The optics would be incredible and perhaps compel even the most anti-Trump judge to grant him bail. I’m not saying a judge definitely would, or that an appellate court would, I just think it’s more likely out of some unconscious deference to his former office.”
Allenbaugh also notes that it’s important we remember that statutory guidelines are not predictors of outcome. Many of the statutory guidelines for some of the crimes Trump could be charged with include years and even decades in prison at maximum. But statutory maximums are seldom used as sentences.
Also, Trump could be sentenced without jail time. He can also be found not guilty. We know that as much as one third of the country would find him not guilty on any charge, no matter how compelling the evidence. Flushing a jury of such people who wish to keep their prejudices hidden may be difficult. And it only takes one juror to hang a jury.
So be prepared for a long battle with an outcome that is far from foregone. Prosecuting and convicting Trump could take many years and, given his appalling diet, drug use and visibly deteriorating condition, Trump may simply not have the lifespan remaining to put him in jail.
But one thing I can guarantee you, Trump is miserable right now. He is a raging narcissist who’s lost his favorite and most potent drug, the presidency, and he is in pure hell. His legal woes will extend that hell to excruciating limits. Whether or not it includes jail time, justice is being done right now. Whether or not we will have to be content with that amount of justice, and only that amount of justice, remains to be seen. Stay tuned and together we will find out. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.