Opinion

'Lock them up!'

A year from now, prosecutors will be launching criminal investigations of the party that loses the election

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

Shortly before taking office, President-elect Barack Obama faced a crucial question: Should his administration prosecute Bush administration and CIA officials involved in the "enhanced interrogation" program? Many Democrats were calling for war crimes charges, but Obama believed prosecuting his predecessors would be so politically divisive that it would consume his presidency. "We should look forward, as opposed to backward," Obama said. If a Democrat is elected president in November — a big if — he or she will face even greater pressure to go after Donald Trump, his top aides, and his company. The litany of possible criminal charges includes obstruction of justice, perjury, tax fraud, money laundering, accepting payments from foreign governments, and violations of campaign finance law. A year from now, the next ­president-elect may find it impossible to say "Let's just move on."

Trump has set a precedent that he may come to regret. With the help of Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump has weaponized the Justice Department against his enemies, with investigations into Hillary Clinton (a dead end), Andrew McCabe, James Comey, and other FBI and CIA officials. When Trump loses his presidential immunity to indictment, "Lock her up" will not be forgotten. Prosecutors in multiple jurisdictions — city, state, and federal — will be salivating over the rich smorgasbord of potential crimes. Several Democratic presidential candidates have indicated the Trump team merits investigation, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren promising to create a special federal task force for that purpose. If Trump is re-elected, on the other hand, he'll escalate his demands for prosecutions of intelligence officials, Democrats on his long and growing enemies list, and former aides who've turned into "rats." Back in 2008, many legal scholars and politicians from both parties argued that prosecuting people from the previous administration is un-American — something that "banana republics" do. How quickly we've devolved.

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