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The Trump Indictment and America’s Political Order

Although the US founders conferred on Congress the power – and the duty – to hold presidents accountable for unlawful behavior, structural changes have effectively shifted that function to federal law enforcement. With the indictment of a former president, we will now see whether this arrangement can prevent a constitutional crisis.

CHICAGO – The indictment of a former president is unprecedented in the United States. But Americans – and the world – should get used to it. It was only a matter of time before a US president or former president found himself in legal jeopardy.

After all, in 1999, President Bill Clinton was held in contempt of court for what was essentially obstruction of justice, including lying under oath (he barely avoided being indicted for perjury). Similarly, Clinton’s two predecessors, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, were implicated in an illegal scheme to trade arms for hostages with Iran, though neither was prosecuted.

Richard Nixon almost certainly would have been prosecuted for Watergate-related crimes and bribery after he resigned from office, had he not been pardoned by Gerald Ford. And some people believe that George W. Bush or his subordinates should have been prosecuted for crimes related to their execution of the “War on Terror.”

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