Trump indictment

Let’s start with a riddle. What is the connection between Sophia Loren, the iconic Italian actress, and Donald Trump? No, it’s not some long-ago adulterous affair.

The answer: They both have unique schemes to evade the law.

Let me explain.

In the classic Italian movie comedy “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Sophia Loren plays a poor Neapolitan housewife who gets into trouble with the police for selling black-market cigarettes. Facing a jail term, she comes up with an interesting way to keep her freedom. Italian law, at least according to the movie, prohibits imprisoning a woman while she is pregnant or for six months after she gives birth. So Loren’s character makes sure she stays pregnant year after year.

Donald Trump also may be facing criminal prosecution, having been shown to be a key player in the criminal conspiracy that caused his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty to two felonies. Of course, there are numerous other ongoing investigations of criminal activity for which Trump might also be guilty. However, unlike Loren’s character, pregnancy is not an option for Trump (although I think he just might be narcissistic enough to want to impregnate himself if it were a biological possibility). Current Department of Justice policy is thought to preclude indicting a sitting president. Therefore, instead of getting pregnant, getting re-elected might be Trump’s way to continue to evade the legal consequences of his actions.

In the movie, Loren gets pregnant eight times. Under our Constitution, Trump, if re-elected, will have eight years in office. That would probably be long enough to allow him to run out the statute of limitations and escape legal responsibility for any criminal wrongdoing.

The number and scope of legal difficulties embroiling Trump is breathtaking. Wired magazine recently ran an article listing 17 known investigations by law enforcement at the state and federal levels of Donald Trump personally, his campaign, his businesses, his inaugural committee and his so-called “charity” that was recently forced to close by law enforcement in New York state. Those are only the known investigations — there are likely others being conducted “under seal” and will only be publicly known in the future. It also doesn’t include the investigations of wrongdoing by his Cabinet and other appointees. For example, his scandal-ridden and recently fired Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, faces 14 investigations into misconduct.

Not all of the investigations listed by Wired will lead to criminal liability for Trump himself. Some are civil, not criminal, and others involve his associates. However, there are several investigations of Trump’s conduct, including his conspiracy with convicted felon Michael Cohen, that could place him in substantial criminal jeopardy. Trump’s businesses have long been suspected of having unsavory association with Russian crime figures and that could lead to criminal charges as well.

We now know that the Russian role in the presidential election was far-reaching and far more comprehensive than originally suspected and that leaders in Trump’s campaign had frequent contact with the Russians. We’ll have to wait for Robert Mueller’s findings (assuming Trump doesn’t manage to fire him or suppress his report) to know whether Trump himself had knowledge or participation in these dealings. We do know that foreign involvement in an American election and use of stolen material (such as the DNC emails) are serious crimes, as is obstruction of justice.

The president's attorney Rudy Giuliani claims that a sitting president cannot be indicted. If true, when Trump runs for re-election, there may be a new slogan to put on those red hats his supporters wear: “Don’t Lock Him Up.”

Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.

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