I can spend a complete column addressing the Republican presidential candidate (minus one - Trump) debate or the 19 defendants in the Georgia criminal case going to the jail to be processed. I will try to combine both with a common theme.
The key moment in the debate was when the candidates who were present were asked if they would support Trump as the Republican nominee if he was convicted. Ron DeSantis hesitated, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson said no, and the others said yes. There was no distinction as to what charges he was convicted of. Some have distinguished the New York State hush money charges from the document case where there was also obstruction of justice. Others have distinguished the documents case which occurred post-presidency to the federal and Georgia state charges, where Trump allegedly engaged in criminal conduct to overturn the results of the 2020 election which occurred while he was president.
Moreover, the documents case is in Florida before a judge who Trump nominated. The case is tried in a location where the jury pool, based on voting records, would be expected to be more favorable to Trump. This assumes that a person’s vote for president would have an effect on how they would judge the evidence. None of the trials have occurred. No witnesses have testified. No appeals have been decided. Yet they will support Trump no matter what.
The bottom line is that none of this matters for those who will still support him. For them the legal system doesn’t matter. Jurors don’t matter, judges don’t matter. Whether Trump ends up having a fair trial doesn’t matter. The rule of law doesn’t matter. What matters to them is that he is one of them and the leader of the party and they will follow along like sheep.
What is more tragic is that the question has to be asked. It wasn’t too long ago that a candidate for president being seen on a boat with a woman who was not his wife was enough to disqualify him as a candidate. Now we have sunk so low that a person charged with 91 criminal charges, including serious felonies in four jurisdictions, is not only the leading contender but has gotten stronger with each succeeding indictment. The same criticisms of those politicians who go along with Trump if he’s the nominee also applies to his supporters. The irony is that in this country, one of the problems for those with a criminal record is obtaining employment. New York has now made new laws to allow sealing of criminal records for even felonies after a few years. The crowd screaming the loudest against this new law and would not hire an ex-con if their life depended on it, are those who support Trump even if he is convicted by a jury of their peers. In other words, they would vote for a convicted felon for the most important position in the country even if he was convicted of 91 charges, including serious felonies, but would not hire a convicted felon.
Another moment during the debate was when Christie tried to make the alternative argument that even if Trump’s conduct was not criminal, it was not conduct that a person who wants to be president should engage in. I am not going to again go through the list of actions that Trump did. They are clearly spelled out in the three indictments and are public knowledge in the New York case. The crowd, which had many of his supporters, showed its displeasure. For this crowd, everything Trump did was “perfect.”
As an aside, that’s one reason why it is a bad idea to allow an audience in a debate. It has an influence on those participating and those listening which may or may not be a realistic view of how most Republicans feel.
Part of the procedure of being processed is that your fingerprints and photographs are taken. The photograph is usually attached to the defendant’s rap sheet. In New York, it’s forbidden to show a defendant’s mug shot to a jury because it is prejudicial. I have seen various pictures of clients whom I represented, mostly on appeal. Some of the defendants looked scary, and other defendants were smiling, which I thought was bizarre since being arrested and charged with a crime is serious business. Then came the photographs of the 19 Georgia defendants. Some of the defendants were expressionless, others looked like they were stressed and shocked at their predicament, and a couple, including Jenna Ellis (an attorney), were smiling broadly. Then came the photograph of inmate no P01135809, the first former president to ever have his booking photograph taken. To me, he looked arrogant like a head of a crime family, which is apropos in the Georgia case, since he is being charged with a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violation. For his supporters, it was a badge of courage. Trump, like with everything else, used it as a way to raise money.
The Lincoln Project showed a crowd cheering when they saw Trump’s mug shot flash across the screen. I was unable to tell if they were those who were happy to see Trump face charges or those who looked at the mug shot as a badge of honor. Either way, it’s a sad commentary. This is not the time to gloat or to make Trump into some martyr.
As a lawyer who practices criminal appeals, I am shocked at how ignorant even well-educated people are in the basic understanding of criminal law. The prosecutors, with the exception of New York’s, tried to educate the public in the indictment by going through facts in detail and then relating them to the charges. It did not seem to work. Georgia allows cameras in the courtroom. Maybe having cameras will help educate the problem as to how the legal process works and what the legal standards are. Of course, it can only work if people are willing to listen.