Friday, February 23, 2024

Losing Ground

The former US president’s reputation has been dented severely after he found himself at the losing end of multiple events, including on the political and judicial fronts.

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By Kenneth Tiven in Washington

In just two weeks, former US President Donald Trump has found himself on the losing end of several events, some of his makings, others involving his company and his political future. The month has been a judicial disaster zone for the ex-president. All in all, the political equivalent of a cricket “duck”. Even the US Supreme Court added insult to injury when it indicated that its conservative ideology doesn’t guarantee partisan rulings.

His namesake real estate company was convicted Tuesday of tax crimes in a New York state courtroom, facing the possibility of a $1.6 million fine. Trump was not on trial, although the prosecution told the jurors that he knew what two executives were doing. The case involved a scheme to avoid taxes on income and benefits, conspiracy, and falsifying business records. Jury deliberations lasted little more than half a day. The prosecution made a deal with Trump’s chief financial officer, who negotiated a guilty plea in exchange for his cooperation. In return, the 73-year-old Allen Weisselberg most likely receives a five-month prison sentence instead of a possible 15 years.

The financial malfeasance had gone on for years ceasing when Trump unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016. This case resulted from a long-running effort by the New York City District Attorney. 

A second case, this in civil court, is led by State Attorney General Letitia James. She charged Trump and three of his children with financial misdeeds. She wants a court to force them out of the management of the Trump empire, which has shrunk since Trump emerged as a right-wing nationalist leader.

Another blow to Trump’s reputation came when his hand-picked candidate for the US Senate, Herschel Walker, lost a closely contested run-off election in Georgia. Despite his controversial behaviour and lack of political experience, Trump sought him as a candidate, seeking a Republican Black American well-known across Georgia to go against a popular Black American Baptist preacher. Warnock preaches at the Atlanta church where the late Dr Martin Luther King preached until his assassination in April 1968 during the civil rights struggle.

Upset that courts won’t back his allegations about cheating in the 2020 election, Trump took to social networking over a weekend to write that voting fraud meant “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution”. The presidential oath is to defend the Constitution. Yet, Trump wants it to go away. Was this a cry to be a dictator? Prominent Republicans were critical, but most Republican politicians remained mute. His hard-core supporters easily could interpret this as a scream for a revolution.

President Joe Biden’s spokesman said: “Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation and should be universally condemned. You cannot only love America when you win.” 

Trump lost severely in his defense of classified documents seized from his Florida home. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ unsigned 21-page opinion shredded a district court judge, all aspects of her decision, and Trump’s attorneys. The ruling said District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, never had legitimate jurisdiction to order the review or bar investigators from using the files. The three-judge panel wrote that there was no justification for treating Trump differently from any other target of a search warrant.

Trump’s lawyers were unsuccessful in asking the US Supreme Court to delay a lower court ruling that forced Trump to give six years of tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. As Democrats only control the House until January, we may understand little from what the Committee can learn from reviewing his Internal Revenue filings. More importantly, this decision makes clear that the law allows the Committee chairman to request anyone’s tax returns, even from the president, says former Committee staffer Jim Jaffe.

Trump also lost his bid to use executive privilege to block the grand jury testimony of his own White House lawyers regarding events before and during the insurrection of January 6, 2021. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the federal district court in Washington has decades of experience in national government. She ruled that the lawyers’ claim of executive privilege failed in this instance, and they will now have to tell a grand jury what Trump told them. The ruling will apply to many others in Trump’s inner circle. 

Congress awarded gold medals to the police officers who defended the Capitol against the insurrection. As they received the awards, most refused to shake hands with the two Republican leaders whose members had voted against the certification of election results.

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels

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