Saturday, June 10, 2023


Peter Baker of The New York Times believes that the federal indictment of Donald Trump could lead to a national crisis in which believers in the rule of law could be helpless to defend themselves.
History’s first federal indictment against a former president poses one of the gravest challenges to democracy the country has ever faced. It represents either a validation of the rule-of-law principle that even the most powerful face accountability for their actions or the moment when a vast swath of the public becomes convinced that the system has been irredeemably corrupted by partisanship.

Mr. Trump, his allies and even some of his Republican rivals have embarked on a strategy to encourage the latter view, arguing that law enforcement has been hijacked by President Biden and the Democrats to take out his strongest opponent for re-election next year.
Baker acknowledges that special counsel Jack Smith took a "by-the-book approach" and "laid out a damning series of facts" in the Trump indictment. He also acknowledges that "Few if any of" Trump's defenders "bothered to wait to read the indictment before backing Mr. Trump’s all-caps assertion that it was merely part of the 'GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME.'" But, he laments, the facts of the case might not matter:
In the public arena ... it may be a one-sided fight. Mr. Trump and his allies can scream as loudly as they can that the system is unfair, but prosecutors are bound by rules limiting how much they can say in response. To the extent that Democrats defend prosecutors, it may only buttress the point Mr. Trump is trying to make to the audience he is trying to reach.
But what about the media, Peter? Doesn't the media have a role to play in all of this?

During Trump's presidency, the media was chastised for an unwillingness to take the side of the truth when dealing with a president who was a habitual liar. Eventually, some parts of the media abandoned their reluctance to call a presidential lie a lie. But Trump had considerable success in selling his lies to the public because others in the media treated the lies with the respect they thought was due to uttterances of a president.

If the media won't debunk the arguments of ex-president Trump now, then the media is making this mistake again.

We all enjoy criticizing CNN, but give the recently deposed Chris Licht credit for this: he never fired fact-checker Daniel Dale. Yesterday morning, Dale debunked "Seven of Trump’s False or Unsupported Claims on the Documents Investigation," among them:
Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law, says he was supposed to hold negotiations with the National Archives and Records Administration about the return of official documents after his presidency.

... Trump’s claim is false. The Presidential Records Act says that, the moment a president leaves office, NARA gets custody and control of all presidential records from his administration. Nothing in the law says there should be a negotiation between a former president and NARA over a former president’s return of presidential documents – much less that there should have been a monthslong battle after NARA first contacted Trump’s team in 2021 to try to get some of the records that had not been handed over at the end of his presidency.

The key sentence from the Presidential Records Act is unequivocal: “Upon the conclusion of a President’s term of office, or if a President serves consecutive terms upon the conclusion of the last term, the Archivist of the United States shall assume responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of, and access to, the Presidential records of that President.”
It's not just Trump. A Wall Street Journal editorial lies about the Presidential Records Act:
... it’s striking, and legally notable, that the indictment never mentions the Presidential Records Act (PRA) that allows a President access to documents, both classified and unclassified, once he leaves office. It allows for good-faith negotiation with the National Archives. Yet the indictment assumes that Mr. Trump had no right to take any classified documents.
Every honest news organization needs to rebut these lies and other dishonest statements by Trump and his enablers. These debunkings need to be given a place of prominence in the news organizations' coverage. Partisan Republican voters won't listen, but people in the middle might.

Dale also debunks claims that previous presidents retained millions of documents; that the federal government could have had Trump's documents back just for the asking; that Trump had already declassified the documwnts; and so on. In a separate fact-check, Dale makes clear that Joe Biden didn't unlawfully move "1850 boxes" of documents to the University of Delaware, as Trump repeatedly insists. (The documents in question were senatorial papers, which aren't subject to the same restrictions as presidential and vice presidential papers, and are deemed by law to be the property of the former senators.)

In order to keep the base angry, Trump and his defenders will just keep lying. The media needs to debunk these lies vigorously and tirelessly, and make the rebuttals as visible as possible. Otherwise, the press is failing to do its job.

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