So, it seems everywhere I look, someone is talking about, arguing about, or thinking about the infamous Trump indictment.
I tend to avoid getting too caught up in all the media drama surrounding stories like this. In the end, I consider most things the media or politicians laser focus on to either be a distraction from something more important, or a way to manipulate the citizenry into behaving in a certain way. Scientific research and a basic understanding of human nature confirms that for most people in power, the game is always afoot. Each political party is trying to figure out a way to mobilize their “followers”, usually by stirring up some intense emotion–typically anger or fear–while the media is trying to figure out a way to attract the most viewers also by stirring up emotions. So, I don’t like to buy into the charade.
That being said, because there is such a laser focus right now on the entire Trump situation, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to discuss the story from a Constitutional and educational perspective, shedding some objective and historical light on the situation.
Now, one caveat. I am not here to give any thoughts on the validity or lack thereof of the indictment, of Trump, of the jury or anything having to do with the case. I’m simply going to give some Constitutional context to the indictment of a presidential candidate.
Long story short, a grand jury in New York voted to indict former President Trump. For clarification:
Indict means: “To charge with a crime, in due form of law, by the finding or presentment of a grand jury; to bring an indictment against. It is the peculiar province of a grand jury to indict, as it is of a house of representatives to impeach.”
The charges? We don’t know details yet, but based on my research, the following are the charges:
(Keep in mind, this is a New York court and New York jury operating under New York law. In other words, this situation circulates around state, rather than federal, law violations. So, Trump is being charged with violating New York state law.)
Trump is accused of paying hush money, $130,000, to adult-film start Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign season in order to keep her from making any public statements or criticisms of Trump at the time. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, supposedly funded this payment through a home equity line of credit and then Trump paid him back in large payments over the next few months citing the payments as a legal expense. While much of the accused behaviors sound immoral, the real question is: what laws have been broken and subsequently what crimes have been committed?
Here’s one of the best explanations I can find to answer that question:
"Under New York law, disguising such payments in corporate records is a crime, but typically only a misdemeanor. It becomes a felony if the false business records were intended to obscure a second crime. In this case, that second crime appears to be the use of the funds to advance Trump’s presidential campaign allegedly in violation of campaign finance laws." (politico.com)
Keep in mind, campaign finance laws tend to be federal laws. So, this is the general story as shown and depicted by the media. I give no credence to it one way or the other, but am simply giving the context needed for the next part of this article.
Constitutional Requirements and Our Requirements
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution says this:
"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."
This is the comprehensive list of qualifications an individual must meet in order to become president. Notice the language. It’s so broad that gendered pronouns are not even used. A person, any person, who was born in the United States, is at least thirty-five, and lived in the U.S. for fourteen years (the natural born citizen and length of living here having a lot to do with the hope that the individual will have a deeply held respect for the laws and Constitution of the country) can become president.
So, that’s it.
There are no gender requirements, race requirements, prior experience requirements, education requirements, wealth requirements, status or class requirements, military experience requirements, religious requirements, legal requirements, physical or health requirements, or any other requirements.
The position–and you’ll notice all government positions created by the Constitution if you read about the other branches–was meant to be able to be filled by any and every citizen, regardless of sex, race, education, and the like. The founders wanted to go in the polar opposite direction of what they’d experienced from England’s class society, noble blood and lack of access for most people. The framers also built the potential for grace into the process. Someone can have had a rough past, been to jail, or even prison and still run for political office. In other words, in this country, a convicted felon can become President of the United States (or a member of Congress or a Supreme Court Justice). Anyone can become president in this country.
That’s what makes this whole process of finding and electing people to positions of government in this country so unique–it’s supposed to be open to all.
I give you this context to say the following about the whole Trump situation. It’s incredibly unique that Trump can be indicted, potentially found guilty of a crime and still be eligible to become president of the United States.
The founders allowed for people to still be eligible for office even if they have had a questionable past. The framers left to the choice to the citizens. The citizens-not legal requirements- must be the judge of a candidate’s character. We possess the choice of whether or not to bestow grace.
Yes, we hold the ultimate gavel when it comes to who we choose to elect or not elect. If we deem an individual to be unworthy of a position because of a lack of education, or experience, or knowledge, or prior criminal behavior, or religion, or race, or gender, it’s we the citizens who are going to make that call–leaving the chance to become president in spite perceived weakness in any of those areas–to us.
We determine the eligibility requirements. The founders left that to us. So, if the citizens see Trump as a threat, or believe the stain of a criminal indictment to be to damaging to his eligibility to become president, then the citizens will decide to withhold grace. If however, the citizens believe otherwise, criminal charges don’t eliminate a candidate from contention, which is something I find utterly fascinating. The choice, the weight of responsibility and subsequent consequence, is ours. The founders decided not to limit the options through Constitutional requirements.
“BUT WHEN ONE EXAMINES THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES, THE BEST OF ALL KNOWN FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONS, IT IS FRIGHTENING TO SEE HOW MUCH DIVERSE KNOWLEDGE AND DISCERNMENT IT ASSUMES ON THE PART OF THE GOVERNED.” – De Tocqueville
The amount of knowledge and wisdom the Constitution assumes on behalf of the citizenry here is indeed staggering. The electoral college process for President tempers the power of the citizenry to a degree, but we still hold the bulk of the power here. Truly, for all positions in the federal government, the Constitutional qualifications are so few, that it truly is the citizenry who must decide who’s qualified to fill such positions. The amount of trust the framers put into the citizenry to know the Constitution, understand the government, its limitations, how it ought to work, and who is best equipped and best qualified to fill its chambers, is truly remarkable.
Are we truly worthy of such trust and responsibility or have we all but forfeited the right to be so entrusted?
The Liberty Belle
3 thoughts on “A Constitutional Perspective on the Trump Indictment”
I was hoping that we wouldn’t go here simply for the reasons you outlined in your first paragraph. But since we are here now let’s try to put some of that knowledge that Chris has been pounding in our heads about the Constitution to use and stay strictly on the immediate subject which is “The Constitutional Perspective on the Trump Indictment”
I can see four Constitutional Amendments that would be covered under that heading. There is the 5th Amendment which covers testifying against one-self, the 6th which covers a trial by one’s peers, the 8th which deals with cruel and unusual punishment and the one that seems to be the most appropriate, the 10th which covers states’ rights. The crimes that Trump is being accused of here is by the STATE of NEW YORK and therefore while he still is protected by his Constitutional rights it is the state that is bringing charges against him. Just as he cannot receive a federal pardon for crimes brought against him by a state the separation of state and federal governments powers are limited and defined by our Constitution. Period!
While watching the news, the past 24 hours it has dawned on me that when we talk about a “Constitutional Perspective” we must also take into consideration the State Constitutions aspect which while basically protecting the same rights as our national Constitution each also have their own way of conducting state business. I specifically refer to the fact that Fox News commentators’ hair seemed to be on fire because each charge wasn’t listed in detail during Trumps indictment. According to legal commentators on other stations there was no hidden ball trick or an attempt to deceive the defense this is how it is done in New York. Over the course of the next eight months each side will be given whatever information they need well before his trial date arrives.
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