Trump indictment: Legal experts weigh historic moment, voters share views

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALLand DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writers

Published: 06-13-2023 7:31 PM

Donald Trump’s appearance in a federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday marked another monumental occasion in his turbulent political career, an event that drew wide-ranging comments from residents and legal scholars in western Massachusetts.

The former president was indicted on 37 federal charges related to classified documents he had taken to his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida after leaving office and had refused to hand over to both the FBI and the National Archives. The indictment alleges Trump also knowingly showed top-secret documents to people who were not cleared to see them.

For a former president to be indicted on criminal charges — let alone one who is also seen as a candidate for a coming election — is unprecedented in U.S. legal history. Paul Collins, a professor of legal studies and political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said it was hard to tell what kind of precedent this case would set, given the unique circumstances behind the charges.

“I find it pretty hard to believe that another president would get themselves into this situation, where they’re repeatedly refusing to cooperate with the archives and they seem to be scheming with attorneys to commit a pretty serious offense,” Collins said. “I don’t really know how important this case will be.”

Although prosecutors, led by special counsel Jack Smith, have indicated they are hoping for a speedy trial, Trump’s legal team will try to delay the process by any possible means, legal experts said.

“As a defendant, Donald Trump has no obligation to present any evidence whatsoever,” said Jennifer Taub, a professor of law at Western New England University. “Given what’s laid out in the indictment, his lawyers will first seek to get the indictment dismissed, or at least some of its charges dismissed. Then, they will try to get as much of the evidence excluded from trial as possible.”

Collins agreed that Trump would try to delay the trial. He said that 70 days is seen as a typical timeline for a fast trial, and Trump could try to challenge information from the indictment that originated from one of his own attorneys, through what is known as a “crime-fraud exception” which prosecutors can use to skirt attorney-client privilege to get information.

“So far, it looks like those notes were obtained within the full letter of the law, but this is certainly going to be a major challenge that Trump’s defense team will mount,” Collins said.

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Another key issue in the case is the judge appointed to oversee the trial, Aileen Cannon. Cannon was appointed by Trump in 2018 when he was president of the United States.

“There are reasons to be concerned about that,” said Lawrence Douglas, a professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College. “She [Cannon] had delayed the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago affair for three months, and then she was really slapped down by a very conservative three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

Democratic voter Genevieve Fraser of Orange said she has concerns about Cannon “because she’s part of the Trump fanbase.”

“And she should not be allowed anywhere near this case,” Fraser opined. “This is one of the most profoundly egregious indictments of any American citizen, for a man to have reached the height of office as Trump did, and to spend his (time) monetizing the presidency in every conceivable way.”

Taub said the indictment shows that no person in the United States is above the law, but pointed to what she said were missed opportunities to charge Trump with criminal offenses before he became president.

“It’s a shame that law enforcement let him skirt criminal charges, and regulators instead just brought civil cases against him or his businesses previously for offenses including fraud, money laundering, and RICO (racketeering),” Taub said. “If he had been held criminally accountable many years ago, he would’ve spent time in prison and not the Oval Office.”

Opinions follow party

Opinions across the country tend to toe party lines and that appears to be primarily true in this region as well, where leftist voters are eager to go after a man they have for years claimed to be a criminal, while those who strike a more conservative chord are more skeptical of the legitimacy of the charges levied against Trump as part of his classified documents case.

Western Massachusetts GOP Patriots, a pro-Trump political action committee, declined to comment to the Gazette, saying they “don’t grant interviews to the fake news liberal media.”

Fraser, however, said she feels these charges are “just the tip of the iceberg” and called Trump a traitor.

“I cannot imagine a more heinous act of treason,” she said. “And, dear God, when will his fans, the people who are in his cult, ever wake up?”

But David Lewis, chair of the Greenfield Republican Town Committee, said he wants to know if the grand jurors who indicted Trump were allowed to see or review any of the classified documents, as they likely do not have clearance to do so. He said he plans to follow the case in the media but it is difficult right now to say if the charges are legitimate.

“Most of us are kind of upset about it and I think (the case has) gotten overblown and I’m just going to wait and see,” he said, adding that he acknowledges the charges are serious and that he will accept the results of a fair trial.

He said he wonders, however, why so few people are investigating the Biden family’s alleged crimes.

“They’re zeroing in on (Trump) because they don’t like him,” Lewis said.

Electability

Trump, meanwhile, has used the indictment to rile up his base of support, claiming it’s an act of political prosecution against his presidential campaign.

Douglas said that Trump’s arguments might make for good fundraising, but expressed skepticism that they would help his electability.

“One of the things that obviously has been incredibly disappointing is the way in which his own opponents, people who are seeking to gain the Republican nomination like Ron DeSantis, come out and echo Trump’s claim,” he said. “He [Trump] would be much weaker if the other members of the Republican leadership didn’t echo his attacks on the FBI, the federal judiciary and on the entire constitutional state.”

Collins said it wasn’t just Trump being put on trial, but the integrity of the U.S. legal system.

“We’ve already seen Trump attack the prosecution, and the legal system,” he said. “It’s really a stress test of how the legal system can handle a situation where you have a very prominent defendant who’s going to attack anything he sees as possibly being against him.”

In the end, some yearn for a return to a point where people could be on opposite sides of an issue, but remove personalities when debating different points and show respect to one another.

Mitchell Grosky, a former member of the Athol School Committee and Select Board and a Democrat, stressed the need to avoid the negative, such as resorting to name-calling to those that express a different point of view. He said a central creed of the United States is that everyone is created equal, and that there are enough problems facing the country that require people to work together.

“It’s totally inappropriate,” Grosky said. “It’s not what our country is about and it’s not what makes our country great.”

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