Neal Katyal: Trial would be the “biggest legal case in our lifetimes, perhaps almost ever”
The indictment of former President Donald Trump, by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on August 1, has added more uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential race. Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, faces four federal felony charges for allegedly conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.
The Washington Post reported, quoting three sources, said Trump is expected to appear in person for his arraignment in federal court on Thursday.
The indictments revolve around accusations of attempting to discredit legitimate votes in the 2020 presidential election and undermine the integrity of the election itself.
The investigation is led by special counsel Jack Smith, who simultaneously oversees a separate inquiry into Trump’s possession of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort residence after leaving the White House in January 2021.
These charges represent an unparalleled situation, marking the third criminal indictment against a former president since he announced his candidacy for the 2024 Republican nomination. No other U.S. president, past or present, has encountered criminal charges before.
Supreme Court lawyer and legal analyst Neal Katyal described the potential Trump trail as “the biggest legal case in our lifetimes, perhaps almost ever.” Speaking to MSNBC just before the indictment was unsealed, he said, “It’s up there with cases like Dred Scott, or Brown v. Board of Education, monumental, life-changing cases that go to the fabric of our society.”
Katyal, a former acting solicitor general of the United States during the Obama administration, continued, “Sure, Donald Trump has been indicted multiple times before, and those are very serious charges going on in Florida and New York, but this is really different. I mean, Trump’s actions here literally imperiled American democracy. It’s like he may finally have to answer for that. I know some people out there are celebrating this news, and in a way, it’s a celebration of the rule of law, but in another way, it is a profoundly sad day that we had a former president acting as president doing this stuff.”
Currently, Trump leads his nearest opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by more than 30 points. However, with the former president set to face trial in two federal jurisdictions, as well as state charges in New York and potentially another one in Fulton County, Georgia, there is a chance that he might be running for the highest office of the land from prison—if he is convicted.
Previously, Trump had pledged to persist with his campaign even in the event of an indictment. However, the situation of a candidate, who is a former president, confronting the electorate from prison, is entirely uncharted territory for the United States.
So far, the support for Trump from his primary rivals has been rather lukewarm, unlike when he was indicted in New York earlier this spring. “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States,” tweeted Mike Pence, the man who served as Trump’s vice president for four years. “Our country is more important than one man. Our constitution is more important than any one man’s career. On January 6th, Former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”
DeSantis, who had heavily criticized the New York indictment, offered a general criticism of the “weaponization of government,” a term Republicans have been using to describe investigations into Trump.
“As President, I will end the weaponization of government, replace the FBI Director, and ensure a single standard of justice for all Americans,” the Florida governor tweeted. “While I’ve seen reports, I have not read the indictment. I do, though, believe we need to enact reforms so that Americans have the right to remove cases from Washington, DC, to their home districts.”
Among his GOP rivals, Indian American Vivek Ramaswamy was the candidate to defend Trump most staunchly. Ramaswamy said in a video message, “The allegations in the indictment fall flat. It is wrong, incorrect, and inaccurate to place blame for what happened on January 6th at the feet of Donald Trump. I said this at the time; I have said it ever since then; I continue to say it today. I would not have made the same judgments that Donald Trump did in how he handled that day. But that’s different from saying that he committed a crime. He did not. He specifically told the protestors that day to behave peacefully. The First Amendment in this country gives political protesters the ability to express themselves and their opinions freely. Donald Trump was not responsible for what happened on January 6th.”
In the meantime, conservative opponents of Trump cite the indictment as yet another reason for the GOP primary voters to reject him. Writing in The National Review, just hours before the indictment was announced, Andrew C. McCarthy wrote, “If Trump is the nominee, it will look like an onslaught that we are not adequately envisioning now—though that is much more worth the effort than drawing conclusions from current polling. I simply don’t see how Trump gets to 42 percent of the electorate. The country has already made up its mind about him. From here, there’s no up, only down. If we nominate him, he’s going to get drubbed.”