U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, discusses the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump during a U.S. Coast Guard ceremony in Juneau on Friday, June 9. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, discusses the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump during a U.S. Coast Guard ceremony in Juneau on Friday, June 9. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Sen. Sullivan’s non-defense of Trump

  • By Rich Moniak
  • Friday, June 16, 2023 1:30am
  • Opinion

Referring the unsealed indictment of former President Donald Trump, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said “the charges in this case are quite serious and cannot be casually dismissed.” Sen. Dan Sullivan, however, attacked the Department of Justice without even reading the indictment.

That’s partly because he can’t honestly defend Trump.

Like Sullivan, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) initially downplayed news of the indictment. But the Freedom Caucus member’s perspective changed after it was unsealed. He called the allegations “very serious” and argued “the prosecutor really went into a lot of detail to explain to the American public why it was necessary to indict a former president.”

But he also worried that Trump’s legal troubles could distract voters and hurt “Republican chances of winning the presidency next year.”

That’s Sullivan’s biggest concern.

Two years ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly told his colleagues that Democrats would take Trump down for them. He was referring to the House of Representatives’ vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection. But he was acquitted by the Senate after only seven Republicans, including Murkowski, voted with Democrats to convict him. McConnell and Sullivan weren’t among them.

McConnell hasn’t commented on the indictment. But it’s a good bet he agrees with Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) who said “it’s obvious” what Trump did was wrong and added “the emperor has no clothes.” The part of Bacon’s statement that makes McConnell and Sullivan cringe, though, is “we need to have Republicans stand up and say that.”

William Barr is standing. Trump’s former Attorney General said it’s a “very detailed indictment and it’s very, very damning,” and called it “ridiculous” that Trump is crying he’s the victim of a witch hunt.

Nikki Haley didn’t stand quite as tall as Bacon and Barr. But the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump (who’s also running against him for the party’s presidential nomination) acknowledged “if this indictment is true, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security.”

She also said she’d be inclined to pardon Trump if she’s elected president: “When you look at a pardon, the issue is less about guilt and more about what’s good for the country. And I think it would be terrible for the country to have a former president in prison for years because of a documents case.”

She’s right, but only with a few caveats. Trump must allow the trial to proceed without constantly denigrating the Department of Justice. It then depends on his behavior if he’s convicted. And on the outcome of possible charges stemming from his illegal efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Of course, a pardon isn’t necessary if Trump is acquitted of all charges. But that still means there must be a trial, which must be preceded by an indictment based on a thorough investigation.

Which brings me to Sullivan’s complaint that the Department of Justice under President Joe Biden “seems to be far more interested in pursuing” Trump rather than Biden or Hillary Clinton.

First of all, he conveniently left out some facts.

Robert Hur, a former U.S. attorney in Maryland who had been nominated for that post by Trump, was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Biden’s mishandling of classified documents. That investigation isn’t complete.

The Biden administration cleared former Vice President Mike Pence of wrongdoing for mishandling classified documents.

Clinton’s case was investigated under President Obama. Whether she should have been prosecuted is debatable. But whereas Clinton, Biden and Pence all cooperated with investigators, the evidence in the indictment strongly supports the obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice charges against Trump.

Any American who acted as Trump allegedly did would certainly have been indicted. But Sullivan seems to think it would be best if the damning evidence DOJ collected during their investigation of Trump was concealed from the American people. Which essentially means there’s no point in investigating a former president or current presidential candidate. May as well have let Trump keep the documents that he had no legal right to possess.

Sullivan isn’t using that circular logic just because he can’t defend Trump. He’s too afraid to say he doesn’t want him to be the party’s nominee for president. So in hopes of seeing Democrats take the fall for making that happen, he’s dishonoring the oath he took as a lawyer by unjustly undermining public trust in America’s system of justice.

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