Trump’s inevitable road to prison

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Late last month, judge Juan Merchan issued a warning to Donald Trump. Trump had been found in violation of his gag order for the tenth time, and Merchan told him, “Mr Trump, it’s important to understand the last thing I want to do is put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next one as well.”

Mechan’s words were greeted with relief by the MAGA crowd and disappointment by most of the rest of us. Once again the weary and dispirited lament went up: the rich and powerful get privileged treatment. I must admit I was at first among the lamenters. But that was then.

After taking a month to reflect, my understanding of those words has changed. I now see them as chillingly portentous. I think we all missed the boat on that one. Merchan told Trump, in effect, that jail time is very much on the table, and however much he doesn’t want to send Trump to jail, he will. Much of the decision rests with Trump. And Trump has blown it.

Trump’s post-conviction behaviour not only demonstrates he lacks remorse, he has spent the last month disparaging the judge, the prosecution, the jury and his conviction, calling it a “disgrace” and noisily proclaiming his innocence. Trump’s behaviour has sent a loud and clear message, and Merchan has heard that message, because he is not a stupid man.

But, you might reasonably ask, will Trump’s age play a mitigating role in the severity of the sentence Merchan will hand down? First, let’s not forget, this is the same judge who handed Allen Weisselberg a five month jail sentence on less than half the number of criminal counts. And that was a plea deal. Weisselberg was 77 at the time. Trump made no plea deal, and he’s 78.

But, you might also reasonably ask, will the fact that Trump has no prior convictions play a mediating role? It might, were it not for two things. First, as already mentioned, Trump has shown not the smallest hint of contrition. Second, Trump has also been indicted in three other jurisdictions on 54 additional counts for other very serious crimes. Judge Merchan is not only allowed to take that into consideration, he must. They are relevant.

Of course, sending Trump to jail or prison has enormous real world implications. But worrying about the implications is not judge Merchan’s job. He said as much with the largely misunderstood words, “You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next one as well.” On the surface those words sound almost absurdly biassed. But when you think a little about it, and you consider that Merchan has a justly-earned reputation for fairness, it sounds more like an admission of personal regret about a decision for which he has no choice.

But above all, as judge Merchan himself put it, Trump could be the next president. That gives him enormous power to do plenty of damage. It’s the judge’s job to see to it that the potential for damage is minimised. A long stretch in prison certainly can’t hurt.

I think Trump is going to prison, and just as he did with Weisselberg, I think the judge is going to send him there the same day he’s sentenced, on July 11th. That’s just seventeen days from now as I write this. And I think I have shown compelling evidence to support that conclusion. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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