The defendant looked uncomfortable as he stood to testify in the shabby courtroom. Dressed in a dark suit and somber tie, he seemed aged, dimmed, his posture noticeably stooped. The past year had been a massive comedown for the 76-year-old former world leader. For decades, the bombastic onetime showman had danced his way past scores of lawsuits and blustered through a sprawl of scandals. Then he left office and was indicted for tax fraud. As a packed courtroom looked on, he read from a curled sheaf of papers. It seemed as though the once inconceivable was on the verge of coming to pass: The country’s former leader would be convicted and sent to a concrete cell.
The date was October 19, 2012. The man was Silvio Berlusconi, the longtime prime minister of Italy.
Here in the United States, we have never yet witnessed such an event. No commander-in-chief has been charged with a criminal offense, let alone faced prison time. But if Donald Trump loses the election in November, he will forfeit not only a sitting president’s presumptive immunity from prosecution but also the levers of power he has aggressively co-opted for his own protection. Considering the number of crimes he has committed, the time span over which he has committed them, and the range of jurisdictions in which his crimes have taken place, his potential legal exposure is breathtaking. More than a dozen investigations are already under way against him and his associates. Even if only one or two of them result in criminal charges, the proceedings that follow will make the O. J. Simpson trial look like an afternoon in traffic court.
It may seem unlikely that Trump will ever wind up in a criminal court. His entire life, after all, is one long testament to the power of getting away with things, a master class in criminality without consequences, even before he added presidentiality and all its privileges to his arsenal of defenses. As he himself once said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” But for all his advantages and all his enablers, including loyalists in the Justice Department and the federal judiciary, Trump now faces a level of legal risk unlike anything in his notoriously checkered past — and well beyond anything faced by any previous president leaving office. Continue reading New York: The People v. Donald J. Trump