On Nov. 1 and then again on Nov. 5 in 2018, just ahead of that year’s Nov. 6 Election Day, Donald Trump visited Missouri to campaign for Josh Hawley, whose U.S. Senate race against the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill, was expected to be close.
In Cape Girardeau on Nov. 5, at Trump’s last campaign stop of the midterms, Hawley compared McCaskill to that monster Hillary Clinton, knowing that the crowd would in response erupt in the gleeful chant that Trump had successfully run on: “Lock her up!” When they complied, right on cue, Hawley beamed.
Now though, the senator seems to have changed his mind.
“If the people in power can jail their political opponents at will,” Hawley tweeted after hearing that Trump was going to be indicted over his handling of sensitive documents, then “we don’t have a republic.”
If Trump risked the safety of our U.S. intelligence agents and our military, among others, by stealing and stowing nuclear secrets in cardboard boxes in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, how could he not face charges?
He is not in jail yet, though he has been accused of going to extraordinary lengths to hide classified documents from investigators. And he cannot and will not be put behind bars “at will.”
Because for now, we still have due process in this country.
When Hawley basked in those cheers of “Lock her up!” five years ago, we’re sure that he was just Joshin’, or else not thinking about the republic at all.
Hillary’s transgression, you’ll recall, was using a private server for official emails, as her predecessors, too, had done. By the time she was serving as Barack Obama’s secretary of state, however, doing so was against policy and federal statute. Failing to adhere to that policy was careless, but as the investigation that helped tank her presidential campaign concluded, it was not criminal.
Hillary Clinton’s email server not criminal
When it was over, FBI Director James Comey wrote that “in looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.” (At least three of those four factors very well may apply to Trump, who allegedly showed off his top secret treasures to anyone who wandered through, and sometimes bragged that no, they hadn’t been declassified, telepathically or otherwise.)
When some in Hawley’s office as Missouri’s attorney general were likewise found to have used private emails for official business, they weren’t prosecuted, either. His staff had been suspected of circumventing the open records laws he was supposed to have been enforcing. But that wasn’t found to be criminal. And nobody ever yelled, “Lock him up!”
Classified documents from the Obama administration were found at President Joe Biden’s former office in Washington, D.C., and his home in Wilmington, Delaware. But as far as we know, he didn’t take anything willfully, and is fully cooperating with investigators, as did former Vice President Mike Pence, who was recently cleared in his handling of the classified documents found in his Indiana home.
None of the other cases can fairly be compared to allegations that Trump purposely mishandled highly sensitive information in ways that could have put Americans and our allies in real danger. At various times, he falsely said that he’d given all the documents back, that the documents had been planted by the FBI, and that as a former president, he could do with them as he liked.
Yet before knowing any specifics, Hawley and most others in his party declared that all allegations of national security breaches — Trump also stands accused of suggesting that one of his attorneys lie to the FBI and help hide or destroy documents — could only have been partisan.
The widely respected, politically independent longtime federal and former war crimes prosecutor and now special counsel Jack Smith is not that.
And of course, Hawley chooses to ignore the years that Trump spent thrilling audiences by musing about jailing his adversaries. We don’t know if that’s because the senator owes his career to Trump, or if he is just too afraid to be honest.
But we do know that anyone who claims complete confidence that Trump is simply too discreet and upright to have shared state secrets is either lying to us or himself.
Eric Schmitt, Roger Marshall blame Biden, FBI
We also know that no one who has written these criminal charges off as a witch hunt before even knowing the details can ever again claim to care about national security.
All that these former law-and-order Republicans can say for themselves now is that they do believe in the rule of law, but only if they don’t like the perp.
Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt tweeted: “Joe Biden has now indicted his top political opponent. Full on Banana Republic stuff.” Biden did not serve on the federal grand jury in south Florida that indicted the former president, and in fact has stayed far away from the case. And enforcing our laws, even when it would be easier not to, is the opposite of “banana republic stuff.”
Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall said the indictment was the result of a Justice Department and FBI plot: “Every American should be alarmed by tonight’s indictment,” he said.
We agree, though not in the way he meant it. No one, he implied, should entertain the possibility that Trump has been indicted because he’s committed serious crimes and betrayed the public trust.
This indictment of a former president is no cause for joy, though to have failed to hold Trump accountable would have been even worse.
And until Republicans like Hawley, Schmitt, Marshall and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, too, start acknowledging in public what so many GOP officeholders say in private about Donald Trump, our republic can’t even begin to recover from what he and those too afraid of their own voters to admit the truth about his lawlessness have done to this country.