Peter King

With Trump’s indictment, we cross a dangerous line


I have ridden through New York City in presidential motorcades with Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Looking out the window of the presidential limousine, I would wonder what was going through the minds of the onlookers lining the sidewalks, or the drivers and passengers in the cars and buses frozen in place as our endless stream of official vehicles made its way through the city streets.
A week and a half ago — on Monday, April 3, shortly before 4 p.m. — I found out. I was driving down Second Avenue in Manhattan, approaching 55th Street, when a New York Police Department officer climbed off his motorcycle, which had been traveling west, its lights flashing red, and halted all traffic just as I was about to cross 55th Street.
My first reaction was the thought, wrong place, wrong time. I was already running late for a WABC radio pre-show meeting at Third Avenue and 49th Street. But as I saw the long line of vehicles passing in front of me — the black SUVs, the marked NYPD cars, the unmarked heavy-weapons Secret Service truck and the New York City Fire Department emergency vehicle — escorting former President Trump from LaGuardia Airport to Trump Tower, at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, I realized that I was witnessing a moment in history. A sad moment, with lasting consequences not just for New York, but also for the United States and the world. Minutes later, as I walked from the parking garage on 48th Street and looked up at the NYPD helicopters whirring in the sky above the city’s giant skyscrapers, my sadness and concern heightened.
The first criminal indictment of a former president of the United States crosses a line our nation has never before crossed — indeed, it is a 21st-century crossing of the Rubicon. I say this not as a supporter of Trump. Though I worked closely with him when he was president and saw firsthand his accomplishment in crushing the MS-13 gang here on Long Island, I am not supporting his current presidential run. This is not, and should not be, a partisan political issue. It should be of concern to all, especially to those who otherwise proclaim their fear that democracy is at risk, but are now supporting or silently enabling this indictment.
Politicizing criminal justice and criminalizing political opponents cannot be tolerated in a democratic society. Because I believe this so strongly, I was one of only two Republicans who voted against President Bill Clinton’s impeachment when I was in Congress. The false argument being used by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is that no one is above the law. That is a truism not bearing on this case or this indictment.

If Trump were to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, he should be indicted and prosecuted. But to indict him on a state misdemeanor charge whose statute of limitations has expired, and elevating it to a felony by attaching it to a federal election law on grounds that the Federal Election Commission has ruled do not constitute a crime, proves my good friend Judge Sol Wachtler’s dictum that a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich.
This is setting a harmful precedent for our republic. Do we want local district attorneys in red states going through convoluted contortions to indict and prosecute members of President Biden’s family? Donald Trump may not be the most sympathetic victim, but this indictment extends beyond him. It is the American justice system that is being put at risk — and that threatens us all.

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.