Home » Trump used to scold felons who wanted to vote. Now he could be in the same spot | Sidney Blumenthal

Trump used to scold felons who wanted to vote. Now he could be in the same spot | Sidney Blumenthal

by John Jefferson
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The People of the State of New York v Donald J Trump will conclude, according to long-established court procedure. The former US president’s defense attorney will make a closing argument. He will assert that his client is not guilty of the charges of bribery and business fraud to manipulate the 2016 election. Judge Juan Merchan will issue his instructions to the jurors. They will deliberate. When they emerge, the foreperson will read the verdict in open court. If Trump is found guilty, Merchan will adjourn to a later date for sentencing.

If Trump is found guilty on all 34 felony counts, he could theoretically face a maximum of 136 years in prison. Post-conviction, the major question would be whether his sentencing involves actual imprisonment, probation, a fine, or some combination, along with various parole arrangements. To be sure, Trump would then almost certainly file an appeal, but this would not forestall his immediately incurring certain civil disabilities. Above all, he would instantly lose his right to vote.

The first former president ever to be convicted of a crime would also be the first disenfranchised felon to be nominated by a major party. In this current electoral cycle, Trump has managed to pass himself off as a normal candidate despite separate juries finding him to be a rapist and a fraudster. But those were civil cases. A criminal verdict may crack Trump’s aura of magical legal invincibility intrinsic to his image as a strongman.

In the grand ritual of election day 2024, surrounded by the clicking cameras of the press corps, assuming he is still out on appeal, Trump could tag along with his wife Melania, a naturalized citizen, to the polls in Palm Beach, but he could not enter a voting booth. He could not vote for himself, or anyone else, for any office.

“There are a wide range of punishments because the statute doesn’t have any mandatory ones,” Joshua Dratel, the past president of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told me.

“He could go to jail. Probation is a possibility. He could get fined. The judge could sentence him to a fine, then put him on supervision – probably not likely. He could get one to three years. He could get four months in jail and a fine. If he got four months, then he’d have a work release application ready to go, then supervised for a few months. There’s no minimum time he’d have to serve. Then he might do a couple of days, a week or two, depending on the application. But that would be after appeal. If he would testify and lie on the stand that would generate a jail term. If he appeals, the judge stays the sentence.”

Trump’s appeal of a conviction would likely postpone the imposition of a sentence into 2025. “The likelihood is that he’ll stay out pending appeal,” says Dratel. “In the state system it takes months and months even before a brief is filed – probably 2025. The trial should end by the middle of May. His brief wouldn’t be filed until the election. He might file it just for political purposes. But the action still wouldn’t be before the election. Then he has a second level of appeal to the court of appeals.”

At no point, of course, would Trump, if re-elected, have the authority to pardon himself over a conviction in state court.

If Trump were ever to serve time at New York’s Rikers Island jail, where the former treasurer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, is currently serving a five-month sentence, there would be a further restriction on his liberty. It would be a bad hair day. The New York state department of corrections states: “No skin tanning or coloring or hair coloring products.” Hairspray (non-aerosol) is permitted only for female inmates.

In January, Trump declared that New York state did not “have a case” against him in his civil financial fraud case, in which he was found guilty and fined $454bn, plus interest, and has posted a $175m bond. That bond, apparently from a dubious source, may be disqualified, and is under review by New York attorney general Letitia James. She has scheduled a hearing for 22 April, a week after the New York trial is to start.

Trump’s bond may be a flimsy cover for a house of cards. If the bond is rejected, and Trump does not file a new acceptable bond, the attorney general will immediately commence judgment enforcement, including the attachment of all identified Trump brokerage accounts and bank accounts, and issue writs of attachment seizing sums owed to Trump by third parties (his pension as president, for instance, rents owed under rental agreements, sums owed in connection with the Saudi LIV golf tournament, etc).

Judgment enforcement actions against one or more Trump properties are also possible, though it is unlikely that these steps would go all the way to foreclosure. The attorney general would also likely begin discovery in support of judgment enforcement, deposing Trump and other senior personnel about the whereabouts of his assets and any encumbrances. Assets taken by the attorney general would be escrowed pending final disposition of any Trump appeal.

James may also depose the man who posted the suspicious Trump bond. It was ponied up by Don Hankey, a car loan shark who runs the Knight Specialty Insurance Company, the largest shareholder of the Axos Bank, which has lent Trump more than $500m since he has left the presidency. Now, Hankey has told Reuters that he has no idea of the source for the bond’s collateral. “I don’t know if it came from Donald Trump or from Donald Trump and supporters,” he said. Then who?

This further unraveling of Trump’s fraud may go on at the same time as the jury hears the evidence and witnesses in his election interference trial.

The only precedent for a convicted felon running for president is a figure who was nothing like Trump. Eugene V Debs, leader of the Socialist party, was jailed for delivering an anti-war speech in 1918 against US involvement in the first world war. He received 1m votes in the 1920 election and was pardoned by its winner, the Republicanpresident Warren G Harding, who greeted the released Debs at the White House the day after Christmas in 1921.

Harding extended commutations to 23 other anti-war dissidents who had been jailed. But he also issued a statement drawing a line: “The Department of Justice has given no recommendation in behalf of the advocates of sabotage or the destruction of the government by force, and the President let it be known he would not consider such cases.” Harding’s policy stands as a marker against Trump’s pledge if he has a second term to pardon violent January 6 convicts.

Trump, like Debs, would be stripped of his right to vote. After conviction in a New York court, his disenfranchisement would instantly apply under law in Florida, where he is registered, having moved his residence there in September 2019. In Florida, Trump would be considered “convicted” regardless of an appeal, according to the Florida court of appeals in the 1988 case of Burkett v State.

According to data from the Sentencing Project, Trump would join the approximately 1.15 million Floridians who cannot vote because of a felony conviction. Under draconian Florida law, 935,000 Floridians have completed their sentences but are still denied the vote because they are unable to afford the court fines and other fees the state requires felons to pay before reinstating their voting rights. In 2020, when Michael Bloomberg contributed to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to help pay their fines, Trump railed: “It’s a total criminal act. It’s a felony.”

In the early days of ramping up his misbegotten presidential primary campaign, Florida governor Ron DeSantis tried in 2023 to manufacture the bogus issue of disenfranchised felons illegally voting. He sent a specially designated task force of “election police” to arrest 20 people, some of whom had been previously informed by the state that their right to vote had already been restored.

Fortunately for Trump, unlike the seemingly permanently disenfranchised class of Florida, he would be subject to New York law that would restore his voting rights after he finishes his sentence. He would not have to depend on the kindness of the Florida state board of executive clemency, headed by the man he has mercilessly derided as “Ron DeSanctimonious”.

As a felon, Trump could run only for federal office. He would be disqualified to be a candidate for state office in every state but e and Vermont. Forty-eight states have laws that prevent a felon from holding elective office until they have been pardoned or receive clemency. Louisiana has a felony disqualification in its state constitution.

Criminally convicted, Trump would lose more than his right to vote. In fact, he already has no right to possess a gun. Even before the New York trial, his right to have a firearm had been prohibited for more than a year. No person under felony indictment is permitted to receive a gun transported by interstate or foreign commerce.

In September 2023, Trump visited a gun store in South Carolina, where the owner handed him a Glock pistol with his likeness and the words “Trump 45th” embossed on it. Trump admired the gun and said: “I want to buy one.” “President Trump buys a @GLOCKInc in South Carolina!” his spokesperson posted. Two hours later, he put out a new post: “President Trump did not purchase or take possession of the firearm. He simply indicated that he wanted one.”

Trump promised the convention of the National Rifle Association in February of this year: “No one will lay a finger on your firearms.” He certainly will not touch one without a severe penalty. The average sentence for someone convicted of buying a firearm while under indictment is five years and four months. If Trump’s posturing as a wise-guy requires legal access to weapons, he has been emasculated since his indictment in March 2023.

Criminal Trump, like the indicted Trump, would continue to be forbidden from owning or purchasing a firearm in the state of New York. If he is found guilty of only one felony, he could, after completing his sentence, apply for a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities issued by a court or the New York state department of corrections and community supervision. But if he is found guilty of more than one felony, he would have to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct. But that certificate usually does not cover restoration of gun rights. In the rare cases where it is granted, the waiting period is five years.

That restoration would only apply in New York. As a Florida resident, Trump would have to show his New York certificate to Florida authorities, who would have to determine through their own process whether to recognize New York’s judgment.

Criminal Trump’s travel would also be under supervision. How tight it would be would depend on the judge. His schedule could be monitored by a probation officer. “In his instance, his travel would likely not be circumscribed very much,” says Dratel. “The judge could put him on probation. He wouldn’t necessarily have more of a certain set of conditions than he has now. His bail would be continued. He would be released on his own recognizance. That would probably be tained until his appeal is final.”

Criminal Trump’s passport, however, could theoretically be revoked under state department regulations. Per 22 CFR § 51.60, if the state department receives a reference from law enforcement – say, a notice of his conviction by the New York court – that would trigger the process. Trump fits several categories that would almost certainly cause the denial of a passport for almost any other individual.

As a convicted felon, he would be forbidden to depart the United States under penalty of a federal warrant of arrest, including a warrant issued under the federal Fugitive Felon Act. In two other outstanding cases – the January 6 insurrection case in Washington DC and the Espionage Act charges in Florida – he is the “subject of a subpoena received from the United States pursuant to 28 USC 1783, in a matter involving Federal prosecution for, or grand jury investigation of, a felony”. In the Georgia racketeering case, he is “the subject of an outstanding state or local warrant of arrest for a felony”.

There would be yet another potential legal ground for denying Trump a passport: “The Secretary [of State] determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”

Whether Trump’s passport would be revoked or not, his status as a felon who has not completed his sentence would exclude him from entry into most countries. Among them, in a lengthy list, criminal Trump would not be permitted into Britain, Canada, Japan, Israel, China or any European Union nation.

If and when Trump eventually were to complete his sentence and have a passport, he could still face difficulty entering many places. As the Canadian government notes: “Even with a valid USA passport, an American with a felony record will often be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada and may be at substantial risk of a border denial.”

Beset by indictments, in an April 2023 deposition in his financial fraud case, Trump called his “brand” the “most valuable asset I have”. “I became president because of the brand, OK,” Trump said. “I became president. I think it’s the hottest brand in the world.” Among the branded products he is now selling to meet his astronomical legal expenses are his mug shot from his Georgia case, sneakers, perfume, and his “USA Bible” for $60.

Trump’s sycophants in the House Freedom Caucus have sought to distract from the inexorable approach of his New York trial with frantic gestures to burnish the brand. While, under Trump’s thumb, they have bottled up the Senate-passed omnibus bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel and solutions for the border, and stalled funding for the rebuilding of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, they have assiduously advanced a new bill: “To designate the Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia as the ‘Donald J Trump International Airport’”.

The Dulles airport is named after John Foster Dulles, President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of state, and as such is a monument to Ike as well. Replacing Dulles’ name with Trump’s can be seen as part of the Maga campaign to erase the Rino infamy – to usurp and replace the remnants of that older Republican party while retaining its name. The sponsors of the airport rebranding scheme, however, have failed to notice the unironic implication that Trump might be a flight risk.

The House Democrats have responded to the “Donald J Trump International Airport” bill with a proposal of their own, a bill to rename a different and more appropriate institution: “To designate the Miami Federal Correctional Institution in Florida as the Donald J Trump Federal Correctional Institution.” It is a low-security facility located 90 miles from Mar-a-Lago.

Being branded a felon is not branding as Trump explains it. It is not about selling memberships to Mar-a-Lago’s golf club or hawking Bibles. In the criminal justice system, Trump is the offender.

Read the full article here

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