The FBI inspection is not new
If you were a follower of the right-wing media in the United States, you would think that the apocalypse had occurred. Fox News host Mark Levin says the FBI’s Monday night search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida was “the worst attack on this republic in history.” the talk This short-sighted statement was followed by a series of US lawmakers who emphasized that if Trump is not immune from an investigation, what about ordinary Americans.
The FBI carried out the search last Monday under a search warrant signed by a federal judge, apparently as part of an investigation – rare among former US presidents but relatively common in much of the world – into the possible abuse of documents. some with a top secret ring. Trump may have taken it to his private residence at the golf club, rather than sending it to the National Archives, as the Presidential Records Act says. Although Trump compared the inspection to the “Watergate” scandal in a statement, he and his lawyers have not yet disclosed the details of the memo they received.
There is no evidence that Trump’s political opponents, let alone President Biden, demanded the search. As my colleagues have reported, Trump, who has been impeached twice and has a long history of legal troubles, has been the subject of a long series of investigations into his political and personal conduct. And he has at times shown utter contempt for the rule of law while in office — once expressing anger at US generals for not starting to shoot protesters on the streets of Washington, according to a book in print by journalists Peter Baker and Susan Glaser.
However, the “Republicans” rallied around the former president and supported him. Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, denounced the “weaponization of federal agencies” and “the system’s” deceitful methods, referring to the specter of the “deep state” that Trump often invoked when he was in the White House. That’s what’s happening in one of the “banana republics,” said DeSantis, whose critics also accuse him of using state institutions to wage an illiberal culture war.
“Republican” lawmakers seem unmoved by the cynicism — not to say hypocrisy — of representing a faction that only recently openly called for the impeachment of key opponents of its presidential campaign. It is only now that Trump is beginning to feel the pressure that they have reason to be outraged. “Using government power to try political opponents is something we’ve seen many times before in Third World dictatorships,” Senator Marco Rubio, a “Republican” from Florida, wrote on Twitter, adding: “But never before before in America.”
Indeed, the history of the executive branch in the United States is replete with conspiracy schemes, fraud, and corruption. It’s true that very few US presidents have been held accountable for alleged criminal acts – former President Richard Nixon, for example, received a full pardon a few weeks after leaving office. But the “Republican” response ignores the obvious counterexamples, including that it is normal and natural for healthy “democracies” to investigate, convict, and sometimes imprison former leaders. Therefore, the principle that no one is above the law is a cornerstone of all democracies.
A decade ago, shortly after his presidential immunity expired, the home of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was raided by local authorities. Sarkozy’s lawyers condemned the move as “futile” at the time. But it was part of a long investigation that wound its way through the French justice system and ended with Sarkozy’s conviction last year on corruption and abuse of power charges. There was a close precedent. In 2011, a French court found Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, guilty of embezzlement of public funds and imposed a suspended prison sentence.
As my colleague Rick Nock explained a few years ago, democratic governments around the world have various safeguards in place to prevent politically motivated investigations into their elected leaders. This includes protections afforded US presidents, such as “absolute immunity” to which Trump has referred amid his many legal battles.
Most European democracies offer more specific immunity to their heads of government or state. But this does not mean that their societies are subject to the abuses of self-interested political elites. For example, former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, businessman turned prime minister, went through years of court hearings and was found guilty of tax fraud and sex payments, in two separate cases. But he received light sentences, and he still dominates a powerful “center-right” political party, and could be a major player in a future right-wing government.
All too often, investigations into alleged abuses by former presidents test democracies. In South Africa, the trial of former president Jacob Zuma on charges of corruption was seen as a necessary step to strengthen the rule of law in the country. But on the other hand, the investigation and conviction of former president Luis Ignacio da Silva in Brazil became tainted with political bias. Lula, now out of prison, may find rehabilitation this year in a presidential election in which opinion polls show him ahead.
In Asia, countries that have looked to the United States for inspiration and support in building their democracies are prosecuting and imprisoning former presidents. In 2009, a Taiwanese court sentenced former president Chen Shui-bian to life in prison after he and his wife were found guilty of embezzlement and taking bribes laundered through overseas banks. The sentence was later commuted to 20 years, and then Chen benefited from a conditional medical release in 2015 on the condition that he not participate in political life again.
South Korea may be one of the most stable democracies in Asia, but it is arguably in a class of its own in terms of its record of jailing past presidents. In 2018, half of all living former South Korean presidents were in prison, one commentator noted. But that is no longer the case, with last year’s pardon for Park Geun-hye and the provisional release earlier this summer of Lee Myang-bak.
Both presidents have been indicted on various corruption charges, but their involvement is not indicative of the extent of corruption in Korean society – it appears to be a habit often found in the upper echelons of the political class – and also not of the weaknesses of the country’s entrenched democracy, which only really came to light in 2002.
On the contrary, despite embracing a bitterly divided and polarized political arena similar to the United States, South Korea has weathered the storms due to the corruption of past presidents and maintained a peaceful democratic system in ‘ a time when power shifted from right to left and vice versa.. Americans should pay attention.
“An excellent example of accountability will indeed strengthen, not weaken, American democracy and the rule of law,” Arturo Sarucan, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States, wrote in a tweet, adding that such accountability ” guarantee (including the United States). must not have a double and contradictory rhetoric when it seeks to realize these values abroad.”
Published by special arrangement with the Washington Post and Bloomberg News Service.