Take a look at the batch of legal cases making headlines Thursday: The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ proceedings concerning massive fraud in the state’s 9th Congressional District (deciding a new election is in order); Jussie Smollett’s arrest for allegedly faking a hate crime and filing a false police report; Roger Stone’s hearing in federal court over whether he violated a partial gag order regarding his case and the special counsel’s investigation (the judge found Stone in violation of the court order and subject to a complete gag order); and a federal judge’s finding that, as CNBC reported, “prosecutors including now-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta” violated the rights of sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein’s victims during their investigation of the once-influential financier a decade ago. “U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra slammed the government for failing to notify Epstein’s victims that it had reached a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein while leading those victims to believe that federal charges were still a possibility,” CNBC reported.
One is tempted to ask, What is wrong with these people? What in the world would motivate Acosta to cut a deal with a sexual predator and conceal it from victims? How could Stone be so stupid as to violate a court order, post a picture of the judge next to crosshairs and then take the stand with predictable, disastrous results? Well, arrogance, dishonesty and bad behavior are mainstays of the human condition, sadly.
What is noteworthy in all these is not the brazenness and stupidity of the alleged wrongdoers but the precision of our legal system. If prosecutors such as Acosta misbehave, the law catches up with them. If you try to con the police, as Smollett is alleged to have done, police and prosecutors amass a mound of evidence revealing the actual course of events. If you hire someone to steal an election, there will be a public proceeding, testimony under oath and a reasoned judgment.
This is not to say that the justice system is perfect; it’s certainly not colorblind. However, the system is set up with enough backstops to lead more often than not to punishing wrongdoers while preserving civil liberties for all involved. We have rules both to protect the accused and to let victims be heard, public determinations that press and public can view and — here’s the kicker — judges, police, prosecutors and lawyers who actually are committed to the rule of law. Yes, facts do matter; the letter of the law does count.
And yes, this brings us back to President Trump and cronies such as Stone and Paul Manafort. For them, life’s a show, a con. People, to them, are suckers, ready to have their pockets picked. Trump is convinced that voters are rubes who’ll believe just about anything he tells them. (And why not, after he won the election?) The Sean Hannitys and Tucker Carlsons perpetuate falsehoods, conspiracy theories and divisiveness because they can — and they get paid handsomely. However, lest you despair, even with this administration, the law vindicates facts and criminals get their just deserts. The show, the con that makes these characters rich doesn’t work when conscientious prosecutors, investigators and lawyers follow the facts and use the process as it was designed to be.
Our frustration may be that our system doesn’t have a legal remedy in all cases; some matters are left to Congress and the political realm. That’s not the fault of the judicial system; it’s an indictment of the sorry state of our nonjudicial branches. Still, we are going to have an accounting from Robert S. Mueller III, the Southern District of New York and elsewhere. (We already have over 30 indictments.) Mueller hasn’t been fired or persecuted. He’ll produce his findings.
Trump’s notion that he can decapitate an investigator and save himself only proves his utter ignorance of the apparatus of the legal system. What we’ve seen Thursday and what you can see in courtrooms all over the country is a system far from infallible but still remarkable in its effectiveness, precisely because it does not depend on the wisdom or judgment of one individual. It’s for that reason that Trump’s effort to smear prosecutors, the FBI and the legal system itself has failed miserably. The system is working as it should, which dooms characters like Stone, Trump and Acosta.