The Atlantic, op-ed: Of Course America Prosecutes Its Executive-Branch Leaders
This article originally appears in The Atlantic. It references Protect Democracy’s report, Towards Non-Recurrence: Accountability Options for Trump-era Transgressions.
On December 29, 1992, a grand jury delivered a 13-count felony indictment of Alabama Governor Guy Hunt. Four months later, the governor was convicted of money laundering—of looting his inaugural fund to cover a variety of personal expenses, including a marble shower—and removed from office.
At the time of Hunt’s conviction, the former West Virginia Governor Arch Moore Jr. was rounding out a prison sentence for a litany of felonies, including tax fraud and obstruction of justice. Mail fraud and racketeering landed Maryland’s legendary progressive governor, Marvin Mandel, in prison, and election fraud did the same for Connecticut’s Governor John Rowland. Rhode Island Governor Edward DiPrete and Illinois Governor George Ryan served time for bribery, Tennessee’s Ray Blanton for extortion, and Louisiana’s Edwin Edwards for nearly all the above. And of course, Illinois’s Rod Blagojevich secured a 14-year prison sentence for his attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat, among other crimes.
Against the recent spectacle of an American president and his allies inciting an insurrection, such criminal misconduct by other chief executives appears almost quotidian. Illegally lining one’s own pockets is never good, but extorting public officials to manipulate election results is more than a difference of degree. One might assume, then, at this stage of things, that accountability for lawbreaking would be uncontroversial. And yet debate over the appropriateness of prosecutions for possible wide-ranging criminal behavior at the most senior levels of government is in full swing.
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