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US politics

Why Trump cannot be above the law

Richard Nixon: wrongly pardoned? Bettmann/Corbis/Bettmann Archive/Getty

President Gerald Ford had good reasons to pardon Richard Nixon for Watergate, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. Shielding his predecessor from prosecution meant that America could move on from the scandal and avoid the shame of a president going to jail. Similar arguments are made against prosecuting Donald Trump for his conduct around January 6: it will fire up Republicans who baselessly believe the election was stolen from him; some of his supporters might turn violent; a trend could develop of both parties “prosecuting each other each time they take office”. But Ford was wrong. “Nixon broke the law and should have faced the consequences.” The same is true of Trump.

The central advantage of democracy is that it allows for the peaceful transfer of power – “undermine that and the whole basis of law-making by consent is undermined”. There’s plenty to suggest that Trump may have committed “illegal electoral interference”. If he did, then making sure he faces the proper consequences is worth “almost any political risk”. Because if Trump learns that the “violent intensity” of his supporters insures him from prosecution, he’ll only encourage that dangerous trait. “It is quite possible that in 100 years no one will remember anything the Biden administration did apart from what it decided to do about this.”