Only Donald Trump could have created this legal nightmare

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 23, 2024. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

It’s barely spring, but it may as well be the dog days of summer for people awaiting legal accountability for Donald Trump. Yes, the former president faces financial ruin from two civil judgments in New York state, but the ultimate manifestation of equality under the law would be the criminal conviction of a man who may not have shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but who definitely tried to steal an election and, after that failed, unlawfully absconded with sensitive government documents and refused to give them back.

This is where it helps to have someone such as Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, bolster the layman’s desire for justice with an expert’s legal reasoning. In separate L.A. Times op-ed columns, Litman explains that no, it isn’t partisan to suspect U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is running interference for Trump’s defense in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, and, yes, the Georgia election interference case may be irretrievably damaged after the dispute over Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis’ relationship with the special prosecutor she hired.

In both cases, there’s a shamelessness used by Trump’s protectors. As Litman shows, Cannon’s orders needlessly delaying her trial could get her kicked off the case, and in Georgia, the judge could have rejected the “meager” and “silly” allegation that Willis’ personal relationship affected her management of the prosecution before allowing the sideshow evidentiary hearing. The goal of Trump’s prosecutors is to win his conviction, but that serves the higher goal of equal justice before the law by holding someone as powerful as a former president accountable. For Trump’s protectors — Judge Cannon included — the goal is only to delay his trials because it serves him, not justice. That gives one side much greater moral leeway than the other.

In past newsletters, I’ve discussed the balancing act that comes from this. For example, Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland has been criticized for being too timid in pursuing charges against Trump — but, in my view, that comes from a desire to uphold due process, which can sometimes have the effect of delaying accountability. Trump and his defenders, on the other hand, play process-oriented people such as Garland for suckers. Generally, the process can grind on in the face of these challenges under such unflappable stewards as Willis and Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.

But here, the process should grind on only so long because the defendant is the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, and election day is on Nov. 5. As he has done so many times before, Trump has lulled us into a nightmare that had once seemed a far-fetched “what if” scenario — last time, it was a defeated president refusing to concede an election, and now it’s the possibility that someone could be elected right before being convicted. Increasingly, it seems that only voters, and not Willis or Smith or any other righteous prosecutor, can wake us up.

No, Trump didn’t literally threaten a “bloodbath.” Columnist Jonah Goldberg says needlessly panicking over everything the ex-president says only helps his campaign: “Every time the media exaggerates or misleads on a specific story, it provides an opportunity for Trump and his Praetorian Guard to claim that the media exaggerate or mislead on every story. This has been the go-to strategy for Trumpworld from the Russian-collusion story onward. And it has worked.”

Don’t trust Big Oil’s explanation for why gas prices are so high in California. The cost of gas is up, and the fossil fuel companies making record profits want you to think it’s because of California’s environmental policies. Don’t believe it, says The Times’ editorial board: “In February, California’s prices were $1.35 per gallon higher than the rest of the country, and between 30 to 40 cents of that is what UC Berkeley economist Severin Borenstein calls a ‘mystery gasoline surcharge’ that cannot be explained by higher taxes, fees or environmental standards.”

He recently lost his wife of 42 years and is living alone for the first time in decades. Here’s what Bruce Wexler says he’s learned: “I suspect I just have to avoid being lonely — a neat trick if you can pull it off. I’ve made the effort to keep busy, to exercise, continue working full-time and meet friends for lunch. People tell me that eventually I’ll be ready for a relationship with someone else — the ultimate cure for living alone. I can’t imagine it. Just as I wouldn’t want to be the quarterback who takes over from Tom Brady, I wouldn’t want to be the woman who takes over from Diane.”

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The anti-gender movement is bringing us closer to authoritarianism. “The fear of ‘gender’ allows existing powers — states, churches, political movements — to frighten people to come back into their ranks, to accept censorship and to externalize their fear and hatred onto vulnerable communities,” writes Judith Butler. “Those powers not only appeal to existing fears that many working people have about the future of their work or the sanctity of their family life but also incite those fears.”

And finally, an update: Starting next month, this newsletter will appear in your inbox twice a week. It’ll be the same format as you’ve been reading every Saturday morning, but we’ll send out a midweek Opinion newsletter as well. As always, thank you for reading.

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