Trump’s Legal Jeopardy and America’s Political Crossroads
Donald Trump’s legal troubles are mounting. A Manhattan grand jury investigation into the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels could soon make Trump the first former American president ever to be criminally indicted.
But the Manhattan case isn’t the only source of legal risk for Trump. In Georgia, the Fulton County district attorney is considering criminal charges for Trump’s efforts to influence the 2020 election, and the Department of Justice is investigating his role in the Jan. 6 riots and the removal of classified documents from the White House.
This level of legal vulnerability surrounding a former president is unprecedented. It’s also unsurprising — Trump routinely flouts protocols and norms. But even more than his disregard for convention, Trump has a knack for forcing our legal and political systems into predicaments that don’t really have good solutions. How should a political system handle criminal charges against a current political candidate? Is it appropriate for prosecutors to consider the risk of mob violence in weighing charges? And what’s the risk of damage to our institutions of holding Trump accountable — and for failing to do so?
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David French, my colleague at The New York Times, is a lawyer and conservative commentator who has been trying to parse the legal merits of the Trump inquiries and the thorny political questions they raise. In this episode, we explore the investigations into Trump’s misconduct and the interconnected risks that he, his supporters and the Republican Party pose to our political system.
We discuss the details of the Stormy Daniels case and why it may not be a slam dunk; the inquiry into Trump’s efforts to overturn election results in Georgia; the appropriateness of weighing the “national interest” when prosecuting a political figure; whether Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon created a precedent that presidents are above the law; why French worries about giving a mob “veto power” over the rule of law; the Department of Justice’s Jan. 6 investigation and why the legal definition of incitement might be hard to clear; French’s belief that moral courage among Republican elites could stopped Trump’s rise to power; why he thinks the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News was a “tremendous public service”; whether Fox News is really showing “respect” for its viewers, and more.
“MAGA, Not Trump, Controls the Movement Now” by David French
“The Potential Trump Indictment Is Unwise” by David French
We the Fallen People by Robert Tracy McKenzie
The Napoleonic Wars by Alexander Mikaberidze
Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson
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You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.
This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Emefa Agawu, Jeff Geld, Roge Karma and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Rollin Hu, Kristin Lin, Kristina Samulewski and Kate Sinclair. Mixing by Jeff Geld and Sonia Herrero. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Pat McCusker and Kristina Samulewski.