Editorial Roundup: United States
Aug 15, 2023, 1:04 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on Hunter Biden
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday his appointment of U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware as special counsel in the ongoing investigation into Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son. This was the right move. It should encourage Americans that the process will be independent and transparent and, therefore, that it is more likely to be fair.
Such assurances might not have been necessary at the beginning of the Justice Department’s Hunter Biden probe, but they became important after a plea agreement between Mr. Weiss and Mr. Biden’s attorneys fell apart under judicial scrutiny. Initially appearing reasonable, the deal turned out to include peculiar details suggesting critics might have been justified to suspect that Mr. Biden was being given special treatment.
For example, the plea deal would have required the presiding judge to decide whether Mr. Biden was complying with the terms of a diversion agreement that would have allowed him to avoid some formal charges. Diversion agreements aren’t unusual for nonviolent first-time offenders with substance-abuse problems. But asking a member of the judiciary to help enforce one of them may be unprecedented, and the judge expressed concern that the agreement could be ruled unenforceable down the road.
Also, strangely, Mr. Biden’s attorneys and prosecutors appeared to have differing views about whether the president’s son could face further charges under the deal, spurring questions about whether the two sides came to any private understandings not spelled out in the written agreement.
Meanwhile, two IRS whistleblowers claim they weren’t allowed to pursue their investigation into Mr. Biden because of political sensitivities, another reason Mr. Weiss may have asked Mr. Garland to grant him the formal independence that comes with being a special counsel.
Special counsels should not be appointed lightly. They have tended to overspend and overreach. One temptation in the Hunter Biden case might be to investigate the president himself, as many of his critics wish. So far, the record suggests President Biden’s behavior was not spotless — but also not criminal.
Nevertheless, Mr. Garland’s move was justified. Under the special counsel regulations, Mr. Weiss will not only be clearly authorized but also required to produce a report, almost certain to be made public, on his investigation. The report will allow Mr. Weiss to explain the prosecutorial choices he has and will make. The fact that he has to write one will also give him a greater incentive to proceed by the book.
The imperative in this case remains what it has always been: to treat Hunter Biden, as far as possible, like any other defendant. Mr. Weiss has all the independence and resources he needs.
The New York Times on whether Republicans will vote for Trump
After three other criminal indictments were filed against him, Donald Trump was accused on Monday of racketeering. In a new indictment, Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., charged him with leading what was effectively a criminal gang to overturn the 2020 presidential election in that state.
The grand jury indictment says Mr. Trump and 18 others violated the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO law, established by the federal government and more than 30 states and used to crack down on Mafia protection rackets, biker gangs and insider trading schemes. The Georgia indictment alleges that Mr. Trump often behaved like a mob boss, pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to decertify the Georgia election and holding a White House meeting to discuss seizing voting equipment.
Mr. Trump, along with a group of associates that included his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and one of his lawyers at the time, the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, were also accused of a series of crimes that go beyond even the sweeping federal indictment filed this month by the special counsel Jack Smith. The former president, for example, was charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree forgery, for arranging to have a false set of Georgia electors sent to Washington to replace the legitimate ones for Joe Biden. That same act also resulted in a charge against Mr. Trump of conspiracy to impersonate a public officer and a series of charges relating to filing false statements and trying to get state officials to violate their oath of office.
Taken together, these four indictments — which include more than 90 federal and state criminal charges implicating his official conduct during his term and acts afterward, as well as in his personal and business life — offer a road map of the trauma and drama Mr. Trump has put this nation through. They raise questions about his fitness for office that go beyond ideology or temperament, focusing instead on his disdain for American democracy.
And yet these questions will ultimately be resolved not by the courts but by the electorate. Republican primary voters, in particular, are being presented with an opportunity to pause and consider the costs of his leadership thus far, to the health of the nation and of their party, and the further damage he could do if rewarded with another four years in power.
Put aside, for the moment, everything that has happened in the eight years since Mr. Trump first announced his candidacy for president. Consider only what is now on reams of legal paper before the American people: evidence of extraordinarily serious crimes, so overwhelming that many other defendants would have already negotiated a plea bargain rather than go to trial. This is what he faces as he asks, once again, for the votes of millions of Americans.
“I’m being indicted for you,” the former president has been telling his supporters. “They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you.” But time and again, Mr. Trump has put his ego and ambition over the interests of the public and of his own supporters. He has aggressively worked to undermine public faith in the democratic process and to warp the foundations of the electoral system. He repeatedly betrayed his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the nation’s laws. His supporters may be just as angered and disappointed by his loss as he is. But his actions, as detailed in these indictments, show that he is concerned with no one’s interests but his own. Among the accusations against him:
He took dozens of highly classified documents, some involving nuclear secrets and attack plans, out of the White House and stored them at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, where guests of all kinds visit each year. Then, despite being asked multiple times, he refused to return many of these documents, instead working with his aides and confidants to move and hide the boxes containing them and to destroy video surveillance records of those acts, even after a subpoena from the Justice Department.
He attempted to overturn the 2020 election by using what he knew to be false claims of voter fraud to pressure numerous state and federal officials, including his own vice president and top officials of the Justice Department, to reverse voting results and declare him the winner.
He sought to disenfranchise millions of American voters by trying to nullify their legally cast ballots in order to keep himself in office. In doing so, he colluded with dozens of campaign staff members and other associates to pressure state officials to throw out certified vote counts and to organize slates of fake electors to cast ballots for him.
In one example of the personal damage he caused, Mr. Trump led a scheme to harass and intimidate a Fulton County election worker, Ruby Freeman, falsely accusing her of committing election crimes. The Georgia indictment — accusing him of the crime of false statements and writings in official matters — says he falsely called her a “professional vote scammer” who stuffed a ballot box with fraudulent votes for Mr. Biden.
After having extramarital sex with an adult film actress, he falsified business records to hide $130,000 in hush-money payments to her before the 2016 election.
That list does not include the verdict, by a New York State court in May, that Mr. Trump was civilly liable for sexual assault against E. Jean Carroll. Nor does it include the ongoing asset and tax fraud prosecution of the Trump Organization by the New York attorney general, Letitia James.
Time and again, Mr. Trump has demanded that Republicans choose him over the party, and he has exposed and exploited some genuine rifts in the G.O.P., refashioning the party to suit his own agenda. The party will have to deal with those fault lines and may have to reconfigure itself and its platform. But if Republicans surrender to his demands, they may find themselves led by a candidate whose second term in office would be even more damaging to America and to the party than his first.
A president facing multiple criminal trials, some prosecuted by his own Justice Department, could not hope to be effective in enforcing the nation’s laws — one of the primary duties of a chief executive. (If re-elected, Mr. Trump could order the federal prosecutions to be dropped, though that would hardly enhance his credibility.) A man accused of compromising national security would have little credibility in his negotiations with foreign allies or adversaries. No document could be assumed to remain secret, no communication secure. The nation’s image as a beacon of democracy, already badly tarnished by the Jan. 6 attack, may not survive the election of someone formally accused of systematically dismantling his own country’s democratic process through deceit.
The charges in the Georgia case are part of the larger plot described in the federal indictment of Mr. Trump this month. But Ms. Willis used tools that weren’t available to Mr. Smith. Georgia’s RICO statute allows for many more predicate crimes than the federal version does, including false statements, which she used to bring the charge against several of the defendants in the fake-elector part of the scheme.
Altogether, the Fulton grand jury cited 161 separate acts in the larger conspiracy, from small statements like false tweets to major violations like trying to get the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to decertify the state’s election by “unlawfully altering” the official vote count, which was in Mr. Biden’s favor. Though some of the individual acts might not be crimes themselves, they added up to what Ms. Willis called a scheme by “a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities,” all for the benefit of the former president of the United States.
Those legal tools are part of a broad American justice ecosystem that is, at its core, a mechanism for seeking the truth. It is not designed to care about politics or partisanship; it is supposed to establish facts. To do so, it tests every claim rigorously, with a set of processes and rules that ensure both sides can be heard on every issue, and then it puts the final decision to convict in the hands of a jury of the defendant’s peers, who will make the weighty decision of guilt or innocence.
And that is what makes this moment different from all the chaos of the past eight years. Mr. Trump is now a criminal defendant four times over. While he is innocent until proven guilty, he will have to answer for his actions.
But almost certainly before then, he will have to answer to Republican voters. His grip on the party has proved enduring but not universal; while he is far ahead of the other candidates, a recent New York Times/Siena College poll showed that he is the choice of only 54% of likely primary voters. And about half of Republican voters told pollsters for Reuters/Ipsos that they would not vote for him if he was convicted of a felony.
The indictments — two brought by elected prosecutors who are Democrats, all of them arriving before the start of Republican presidential primaries — have been read by many as political, and Republicans havesaid without evidence they are all organized for the benefit of Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump has amplified that message and used it to drive fund-raising for his campaign. Although the outcome of these indictments may have a political impact, that alone does not make them political. To assume that any prosecution of a political figure is political would, in effect, “ immunize all high-ranking powerful political people from ever being held accountable for the wrongful things they do,” said Kristy Parker, a lawyer with the advocacy group Protect Democracy. “And if you do that, you subvert the idea that this is a rule-of-law society where everybody is subject to equal justice.”
Mr. Trump has repeatedly offered Republicans a false choice: Stick by me, or the enemy wins. But a healthy political party does not belong to or depend on one man, particularly one who has repeatedly put himself over his party and his country. A healthy democracy needs at least two functioning parties to challenge each other’s honesty and direction. Republican voters are key to restoring that health and balance.
The Wall Street Journal on COVID shutdowns and cancer
The damage from Covid lockdowns continues to appear, and another example is an increase in more lethal cancers. A new study in the Lancet finds that patients were more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2020 following delays and disruptions in non-Covid healthcare.
Researchers from the American Cancer Society compared the change in the stage of new cancer diagnoses in the U.S. in 2019 versus 2020. Early in the pandemic, routine healthcare was disrupted as hospitals prepared for a surge of Covid patients that didn’t materialize in most places. States also suspended “elective” care, including cancer screenings
While most physician offices reopened in summer 2020, many faced a backlog of patients, which delayed screenings, exams and treatment. Some patients also delayed doctors’ visits for symptoms that may have been caused by undiagnosed cancers because they were afraid of catching Covid.
As a result, patients were 5.4% less likely to be diagnosed with a stage 1 cancer and 7.4% more likely to be diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer in 2020 than in 2019, according to the Lancet study. The biggest relative increase for stage 4 disease occurred for liver (13%), stomach (13%), prostate (14%) and thyroid (19%) cancers.
The study also notes that “due to safety concerns, guidelines often recommended postponing elective outpatient procedures for patients deemed to have less aggressive disease, and most endoscopy centres mandated patients to have COVID-19 tests before procedures after their re-opening,” which “might have created additional obstacles for patients.”
Survival rates are much higher when cancers are caught early, and they can often be treated without chemotherapy and radiation. The five-year survival rate for stage 1 prostate cancer is nearly 100% compared with 32% if the disease has spread to other areas of the body.
The impact of late diagnoses is evident in more cancer deaths. Age-adjusted cancer mortality increased 1.7% in 2021 after falling 17% between 2009 and 2020. Cancer deaths were 2.8% higher during the first six months of this year than in the same period in 2021.
This is more evidence that the lockdown enthusiasts Americans mistakenly trusted during Covid lost sight of the costs in lost livelihoods, learning and lives.
The Los Angeles Times on the police raid of a Kansas newspaper
It was the sort of conduct one usually associates with totalitarian governments: Law enforcement officers swarm a newspaper office and confiscate computers, servers and cellphones of reporters and editors. Yet this raid took place not in a faraway autocracy, but in a small town in Kansas, despite a federal law prohibiting such searches in most cases.
On Friday, police acting on a warrant searched the offices of the Marion County Record, a weekly newspaper with seven employees and a circulation of about 4,000. Simultaneously, officers searched the home of Eric Meyer, the publisher and co-owner, seizing computers, his cellphone and the home’s internet router, according to Meyer. Meyer’s 98-year-old mother — a co-owner of the newspaper who lived with him — collapsed and died Saturday. Meyer blamed her death on the stress of the raid on their home.
Drastic as they were, the searches originated in what might appear to be a trivial dispute between the Record and a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell, who has accused the newspaper of invading her privacy and illegally accessing information about her and her driving record. (The newspaper says it obtained information about her driving record unsolicited and verified it through online public records; and it didn’t print a story referencing the information.) The search warrant alleged identity theft and unlawful use of a computer.
The searches left the small news operation in such a dire state that it was not clear whether it would be able to publish the next scheduled edition Tuesday evening; Meyer memorably described the police action as “an atomic flyswatter.”
It may also have been illegal. The federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980 requires that in most situations, law enforcement seek to obtain material from journalists through a subpoena — which gives the target the opportunity to make a legal challenge — rather than through a surprise search conducted with a warrant.
The 1980 law was passed after the Supreme Court upheld a search by sheriff’s deputies of Stanford University’s student newspaper seeking photographs from a protest. It serves as a necessary recognition that a free and inquisitive press serves the public interest, and that raids and searches of newsrooms can intimidate reporters and stop their vital work. The law broadly defines who is protected: those “reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.”
The law does contain an exception for situations in which “there is probable cause to believe that the person possessing such materials has committed or is committing the criminal offense to which the materials relate.” In a statement to NPR, Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody pointed to this exception to justify his department’s search of the Record.
That claim is unpersuasive. In a letter to Cody signed by the Los Angeles Times and more than 30 other news organizations, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press noted that the suspect exception cited by the chief “is inapplicable when the relevant conduct consists of the receipt, possession, communication, or withholding of the material, with only limited exceptions for certain federal statutes that are not at issue here.”
These searches took place in a small town, but the temptation of law enforcement to overreach in dealing with journalists exists in communities of all sizes. In 2019, police in San Francisco searched the home and office of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody in an apparent bid to identify a confidential source. The city later agreed to pay Carmody $369,000 in a settlement.
Congress decided that journalists needed protection against searches. Local police and judges need to honor that judgment.
The Guardian on the latest charges against Donald Trump
Even close followers of the news could be forgiven for losing track of the criminal proceedings against Donald Trump. His indictment in Georgia is his second in a fortnight, and his fourth in total. The 13 new counts added to the scorecard bring the total — so far — to 91. What was once the precedent-shattering prospect of a former president facing trial on serious charges now seems oddly commonplace. That’s without mentioning the two impeachments he survived in office, or the multiple civil cases against him.
Like the federal charges brought by the special counsel Jack Smith earlier this month, these are vastly graver matters than those relating to the payment of hush money to a pornography star, or even to the retention of classified national security documents. The federal case also addresses his attempts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. But Mr. Trump would have less ability to interfere with a state-level case if re-elected, and would not be able to pardon himself. The use of Georgia’s racketeering legislation, broader than the federal equivalent, is also striking, and not only because it is usually associated with the pursuit of mobsters. It does not require prosecutors to prove that defendants directly broke the law, but that they knowingly coordinated with others who did so. The charging of 18 alleged co-conspirators may increase the likelihood of former associates flipping and assisting the prosecution.
Nonetheless, the pattern is well established. Prosecutors present detailed evidence against Mr. Trump, enlarging on what was already in the public domain. He dismisses the charges as a “witch-hunt”. Republicans who briefly shunned him after the storming of the Capitol now rally to his cause once more. The danger of overestimating the difference that these cases could make on next year’s election is similarly well rehearsed. Most voters made up their minds on Mr. Trump long ago. He claims each charge as further evidence of the grand conspiracy he falsely claims denied him victory in 2020 and, therefore, as mandating more support, including financial. The former president himself told voters recently that “we need one more indictment to close out the election”. Previous charges appeared to boost his lead over his Republican rival Ron DeSantis, who is trailing far behind him.
His favorability ratings fell among Republicans following his June indictment over illegally holding classified documents, and last year’s midterms were a reminder of the differences between primary and general election voters. In purely practical terms, the need to fight — and even testify in — criminal cases will be a time-consuming distraction while trying to campaign for the presidency.
Still, the next election is more likely to be swayed by Joe Biden’s ability to convince voters that the economy is thriving — something they are unwilling to believe as yet — and by campaigning on issues such as abortion. This month, citizens in Ohio overwhelmingly rejected the constitutional amendment that Republicans were trying to rush through to fend off abortion rights protections, demonstrating the continued commitment of voters to safeguarding access — and their growing awareness of Republican efforts to tilt elections. Many grow more determined as they see more such efforts.
In contrast, the impact of each set of criminal charges, even if they are more serious than the last, is inevitably reduced somewhat as they accumulate. Democracy is not only about contests of popularity: it cannot survive without procedures of accountability.