Donald Trump has provided some clues about what he would do in a possible second White House term. He floated one recently that would test the country’s legal and political guardrails yet again.
The former president has focused his third bid for the presidency almost exclusively on the past, as well as on his mounting legal troubles and personal grievances. He has promised to revive a number of his “America first” policies, like a vow to slap 10 percent tariffs on foreign-made goods. He proposed a three-word energy policy — “drill baby, drill” — during a June 1 CNN town hall, promising to try opening more of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas extraction.
Doing so would be controversial, and is a prime example of substantive policy debates Trump says he is eager to have should he return to Washington.
As president, Trump sometimes noted he was the country’s chief law enforcement official — not the attorney general. In a Saturday night post on his social media platform, he floated an idea that suggests he is entertaining the notion of dissolving the wall of independence around law enforcement that the incumbent president, Joe Biden, has tried — though complicated by an ongoing probe of his son, Hunter Biden — rebuilding.
“Just think of it! They (Crooked Joe Biden and his Thugs!) Indict me, and their whole campaign is that ‘Trump is Indicted,’” the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination posted. “Does that sound fair to anyone?”
Trump then sent up what reads like a trial balloon: “Am I allowed to do such a horrible and unconstitutional thing if, and when, I win the Presidency? We are entering really dangerous territory!!!”
Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, said in an email that “of course the Biden campaign is not built on the premise ‘re-elect me, I indicted Trump.’ Actually, just the opposite. Trump’s only campaign message seems to be: ‘If they can indict me, they can/will do it to you. Re-elect me and I will protect you.’
“Indicting people who are alleged to have violated the law — in Trump’s case, 91 times — sounds absolutely fair,” Zeldin added. “What wouldn’t be fair in a country governed by the rule of law would be to not indict him. Juries will ultimately determine the fairness of the indictments. That’s how the system works.”
Trump’s presidency and post-presidency have been compared — by the House select panel that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and legal experts — to what federal and state prosecutors call a “RICO case.” That is short for cases brought against organized crime figures under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.
“I thought, at the end of our [Monday] hearing, when we had video of rioters on Jan. 6 essentially repeating the president’s ‘big lie’ was very compelling,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said last June, as the select panel was holding its public hearings. “Those individuals bought the lie that the president gave to them and responded. And many of them are now in prison or in jail. They paid a big price for the president’s misconduct here.”
Lofgren was referring to Jan. 6 rioters who already had been prosecuted. But an indictment of Trump brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Georgia goes even further than the since-dissolved House panel.
Like other states, Georgia has its own RICO statue, passed in 1980, making it a crime to participate in an “enterprise” via a “pattern of racketeering activity” — or to enter into a conspiracy to do so.
Willis has made clear she agrees with the Jan. 6 committee’s assessment that after the 2020 election, Trump operated like the head of a RICO operation. For anyone wondering whether Trump might order revenge-motivated prosecutions of Biden and his family members, spend some time with the Georgia indictment document.
Willis included the words “THE ENTERPRISE” atop the section alleging a RICO operation. Willis used the word “enterprise” 38 times in her indictment document, and described those working with Trump to overturn election results as a “criminal organization.” The word “criminal” shows up 15 times. “Illegally” was used 22 times, and “unlawfully” 101 times over the 98 pages.
“Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump,” the indictment document says. “That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states.”
Victory, then vendetta?
Trump’s term in the White House featured ample pressuring of Republicans officials and others via his Twitter account, rally remarks, television appearances and pool sprays with the White House press corps.
To carry out a vendetta during his second term such as he floated in the social media post, Trump would need a willing attorney general. The Georgia indictment, which forced Trump to turn himself in Thursday at an Atlanta jail, offers examples of why the scenario is not far-fetched. Recall that Jeffrey Clark, then a senior Justice Department official, was nearly named acting attorney general after the 2020 election by then-President Trump.
The indictment highlights 161 acts by Trump and his “enterprise” that combined are allegedly evidence the state’s racketeering law was broken. Several focus on Clark’s actions.
Clark put in writing that DOJ had uncovered “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.” Only Justice officials never did uncover such concerns, as former Attorney General William P. Barr has said he told Trump several times.
Willis also alleges Clark asked then-Justice Department leaders for “authorization to send said false writing and document” to top Georgia officials and lawmakers,” adding: “This was an act of racketeering activity … and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.”
Trump has, at times, shown a talent for finding individuals to do his bidding. Clark was more than willing — and now faces criminal charges in the Peach State of racketeering and making false statements and writings.
All he would need to carry out his trial balloon would be a few more Clarks.
“Were Trump to become president again, it would be unconstitutional for him to try and charge his political opponents for the ‘crime’ of being his political opponent,” said Zeldin, the former federal prosecutor. “If he is implying that he is contemplating seeking to criminally charge his political opponents, then he is correct that with a second Trump presidency we would be entering ‘really dangerous territory’ for anyone who values the well-being of our democracy.”