Unprecedented Presidential Prosecutions: The Why
America, as every generation has come to know it, is at an unmistakable crossroads in presidential oversight. What was once an untouchable shield of extreme executive privilege held tightly in the palm of the nation’s most powerful office, is today being pierced by law enforcement at both the federal and state levels, for an ever-widening array of charges against the 45th President of the United States, Donald John Trump.
Throughout the country’s history, prosecutors and lawmakers have consistently chosen (not) to engage presidents for unlawful and unethical enterprise at nearly every turn, in fact largely aiding them openly with such efforts - from the Indian Removal Act of 1830 enacted by President Andrew Jackson, a law that forcibly removed Native Americans from their homes, relocating them up to a thousand miles away, clearing the path for white settlers to claim their former lands, to the infamous Trail of Tears that would follow, under President Martin Van Buren’s administration, resulting in the deaths of four-thousand Native Americans and over sixty-thousand displaced lives.
President Andrew Johnson’s backing of the post-civil war Black Codes, an Apartheid-esque forced labor campaign ensuring the south’s claim and return to pre-civil war labor expectations of black citizens, setting the stage along with President Rutherford B. Hayes in giving rise to the Ku Klux Klan, (after) federal amendments had already been established to protect said black lives, effectively rendered their support of the Black Codes impeachable on unethical grounds, and, firmly illegal by newly recognized federal criminal statutes.
Notably, slave-owning presidents and presidents openly supporting slavery include: Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Jackson, Taylor, Van Buren, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, and Hayes, with President Millard Fillmore signing the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), giving license to the federal government to spend tax dollars in locating and returning slaves to their owners, regardless if the condemned had fled to a “free” state or not.
President Chester A. Arthur’s Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, an initiative that led to indiscriminate murder and violence against America’s Chinese population, and the Daws Act of 1887, costing Native American Tribes the loss of an additional sixty-two percent of their lands under President Grover Cleveland, were yet additional unethical crimes against humanity that went unpunished.
Beyond the question of unethical impeachable offenses of former presidents, are the direct criminal offenses of (most notably) President Warren G. Harding, who, with the ill-famed Ohio Gang (his cabinet of advisors) were well-known for embezzlement, racketeering, theft, bribery, securities fraud, blackmail, witness tampering, smuggling, extortion, and perjury. Together they smuggled alcohol into the White House during the federal prohibition of alcohol, as federal agents routinely sent smugglers to prison for the same offense. The Ohio Gang accepted bribes from private oil companies to lease federal naval oil reserves in the west (Teapot Dome Scandal), going as far as to offer one million dollars in bribes to editors of the Denver Post to not run the story once it was uncovered.
Additionally, Harding paid Carrie Phillips over three-hundred thousand dollars (today’s equivalent) to keep quiet about their affair, while her husband was recovering from a severe depressive episode in a sanitorium. Harding paid hush money to Nan Britton, an (underage) visitor to the White House that he routinely had his way with in the Oval Office, to keep news of his impregnating her and the birth of their child, Elizabeth Ann Britton Harding Blaesing, a paid secret.
These are but a few of undoubtedly many more examples of presidents that could and should have been prosecuted and indicted by congressional committees and federal and state prosecutors, but weren’t. It is instead an unfortunate precedent to have (never) indicted our leaders equally under the law for the last hundreds of years, which has now glaringly gotten us to a place where prosecuting former president Trump seems gratuitous and unprecedented to many.
More recently, President Nixon’s resignation after the airtight (criminal) case against him that should have ended in indictment and sentencing, has left a segment in the nation today believing that any charges against former president Trump is unfairly unprecedented - a “witch hunt,” as it were, regardless of hundreds of republican state election officials testifying under oath that the election (wasn’t) rigged, his own White House staff and legal counsel testifying the same, including former Attorney General Bill Barr and Vice President Pence, and texts and voicemails revealed from Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, stating in private between themselves that the election was not rigged while pushing the opposite on-air for ratings. Many of whom above informed the former president of no election foul-play long before January 6th, 2021, thus opening clear paths of prosecutorial discernment in jurisdictions where prosecutors are tasked simply with doing their jobs in following information that breaches any and all laws in their jurisdiction(s).
The fact that prosecutors did not pursue criminal indictments of past American presidents should not preclude that we do not pursue indictments today and moving forward, regardless of party, and without fear or favor at any point in the future.
Information that former president Trump breached New York state law as stated under oath by his former lawyer Michael Cohen and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, left New York’s jurisdiction and its citizen grand jury with no choice but to follow the presented information wherever it may lead, as with the discovery that the organization took in a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to fight a “steal” that they knew did not exist, thereby keeping the donations which firmly breaks New York and federal campaign finance laws.
If any of us were to write checks to cover up fraud, we would rightfully be prosecuted, the same goes if we incite riots, intimidate judges, intimidate witnesses and juries, make threatening memes with baseball bats insinuating the bludgeoning of lawyers that are prosecuting us, or menacing, defaming, and slandering others. We should expect prosecution for such behavior now, as everyday citizens, and particularly, if we were held at the standard of a higher office.
If we are to truly move forward as a nation in a way that we factually never have, pertaining to leaders’ accountability, the time is now to put down our heated identity politics that has divided us so deeply, and recognize that while we’ve had systems in place to ideally keep leaders more honest in our nation’s history, these finer mechanisms of law have been one-hundred percent impotent and underutilized.
What is (unprecedented) to the nation now, is only the case because we have allowed malfeasant behavior to escalate unchecked for far longer than we care to admit, or for that matter, even acknowledge, when acknowledgement is unequivocally the very foundation of any monumental change…
Freelance travel writer, musician, journalist, photojournalist, author.