The criminal indictment of former President Donald Trump is not only a targeted injustice, it’s an unprecedented miscarriage of justice that should strike fear into every American. It marks the dangerous next stage of the increasing politicization of prosecutors’ offices that has made justice malleable and elusive in too many instances. Over the last several years, weaponizing the justice system has become a destructive game playing out every day in courthouses across the nation, and it needs to stop.
For decades, legislators have been funneling power to prosecutors. At the same time, we’ve been whittling away accountability and transparency, counting on mere trust that increasingly political D.A.s will do the right thing. In this case, we see a prosecutor willing to outwardly do what many of us know is a growing trend of prosecutors advancing cases based on ideology rather than evidence. Nothing captures this better than a D.A. using his power to target a political opponent.
Trump was indicted as part of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s investigation into alleged hush-money payments, with charges likely creatively patchworked together to elevate a misdemeanor of falsifying business records to a felony of violating campaign finance laws. It’s a stretch of legal interpretation, compounded by the fact that multiple offices already refused to prosecute the underlying allegations.
The Southern District of New York tossed the case in 2019 and the Federal Election Commission decided their investigation yielded insufficient evidence in 2021. Miraculously, a politician who has publicly proclaimed he voted against Trump both times wields enough legal prowess to make the charges stick.
Prosecutors serve as the gatekeepers of the justice system, deciding who goes in and who walks away unscathed. As we’re seeing now, the one check on this incredible authority—the grand jury—is rarely much of a hurdle at all. The old saying that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich isn’t too far off the mark, making Trump’s indictment, on some level, actually fairly ordinary and sadly unremarkable. Few may face the somewhat obscure business charges that Trump does, but many have found themselves arraigned on the basis of questionable evidence.
In many cities, however, the real problem is not who is getting indicted, but who isn’t. Rogue prosecutors are ignoring the rule of law, violating their oath of office, and compromising prosecutorial ethics. It makes for an especially jarring contrast with the no doubt considerable time, energy, and resources that the Manhattan D.A. has poured into the case against Trump.
On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stated “The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.” Although he was referencing the Trump indictment, he could just as readily have been discussing those rogue prosecutors. Whether creating unnecessary defendants or unnecessary victims, the politicization of prosecutors’ offices must come to an end.
Consider the case in Georgia where prosecutors may objectively and appropriately be looking into Trump’s phone call to determine whether it constituted election interference. However, the blatant abuse is glaring as they weaponize and politicize their efforts by targeting lawyers representing their clients.
Unfortunately, prosecutorialabuse has proven an issue for both federal and state prosecutors. The Department of Justice under Biden, for example, massively ramped up prosecutions of pro-life activists under the FACE Act at the same time that it largely ignored vandalism at pregnancy centers as well as threats to the U.S. Supreme Court stemming from the Dobbs decision.
At the local level, Patricia and Mark McCloskey and Kyle Rittenhouse were tried in the court of liberal opinion well before their criminal cases were ever heard. Of course, the heavy-handed response to those protesting the murder of George Floyd shows that it’s not solely a progressive problem. No American is safe when politics infects prosecutorial discretion.
The one small silver lining in all of this is that after the charges are unsealed, the remainder of this case will have to play out in the public eye. Americans will get to see for themselves how a prosecutor can twist the justice system to their own ends, political or otherwise. Excessive deference by the courts to prosecutors—whose actions are effectively unreviewable—may insulate D.A. Bragg personally, but nothing stops Americans from demanding changes to the justice system itself to prevent future abuses.
Let this case be a clarion call to rein in the weaponization and politicization of the justice system not just against Trump but in defense of all Americans who, for one reason or another, have found themselves on the receiving end of prosecutorial animus.
Trump’s indictment will understandably shake many people’s trust in the justice system, and the resulting cost for us as a country will be immeasurable. Using prosecutions to take down a political rival undermines not only our criminal justice system but threatens the liberty and freedom of every American—while Trump’s case is unprecedented, the politicization of prosecutors’ offices is not. The work to stop this may begin with Trump, but it shouldn’t end there.