Trump indictment no 'witch hunt,' UConn professor says

Mar. 31—It's important to remember that Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges by a grand jury of his peers, not his political enemies, a University of Connecticut history professor said Friday as she sought to provide perspective on the stunning news involving the former president.

Manisha Sinha, who spoke from Los Angeles, where she was attending an Organization of American Historians' conference, dismissed Trump supporters' claims that his indictment Thursday was the result of a politically motivated "witch hunt."

"That couldn't be further from the truth," Sinha said. "He was not indicted by the Democratic Party, not even by (Manhattan District Attorney) Alvin Bragg but by fellow citizens serving on a grand jury. ... As everyone is saying, it's an unprecedented situation to have a former president indicted. But Trump's presidency itself was pretty unprecedented ― riddled with scandal and wrongdoing."

Reportedly, Trump will be arraigned Tuesday in Manhattan, where authorities are expected to unseal 34 counts against him stemming from hush-money payments made to a porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair.

Sinha said that while Trump was in office, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen for "doing Trump's bidding," arranging payments to the porn star, Stormy Daniels, in exchange for Daniels' silence prior to the 2016 election.

"If Cohen, Trump's lackey at the time, can be indicted by Trump's Justice Department, what absolves Trump from suffering the same fate?" Sinha said. "The argument that it's a partisan attack doesn't hold water."

Sinha said that although the hush-money matter is less serious than other legal entanglements facing Trump, including allegations that he tried to tamper with 2020 election results in Georgia, incited the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and mishandled classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort, it is important for law enforcement to pursue it.

"Let's not forget this, too, involves criminal wrongdoing," she said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also weighed in Friday on Trump's indictment, saying in a statement the former president is not above the law.

"At a moment like this, all Americans ― particularly political leaders ― should adhere to the admonition of our second president, John Adams, who said we are 'a government of laws, not men,'" Courtney said. "According to principle, no citizen is above the law and an indictment by a duly constituted state grand jury is not inherently voided merely by the title of the person named in that indictment.

"As a former public defender who successfully overturned criminal charges on behalf of indigent clients in Connecticut courtrooms, I deeply believe in the safeguards of our system of justice to provide a fair trial. Lastly, members of Congress are free to express opinions of a criminal case but have absolutely no business trying to interfere with the prosecution of a case, as some of my colleagues have sought to do."

Sinha, an authority on the history of the Civil War, said the twice-impeached Trump reminds her a lot of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, who assumed office following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson also was impeached, though, unlike Trump, he was not indicted on criminal charges.

Richard Nixon, the 37th president, resigned in 1974 rather than be impeached and was never held to account. Sinha said his Watergate scandal involved an attack on the electoral system, as did the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"Nixon was smarter (than Trump) and resigned before he was impeached," Sinha said. "He saw the writing on the wall. At that time, there were enough people in the Republican Party willing to look at the facts of the case and say, 'We're not going to stand behind criminal action.' That's not the case today."

Perhaps if Nixon had suffered consequences, Trump wouldn't have done some of things of which he's been accused, Sinha said.

"Maybe if confederates were indicted and punished, we wouldn't have had Jim Crow violence for another 100 years (after the Civil War)," she said.

Her worry is not just that one party seems intent on absolving Trump of his transgressions but that "we have a media ecosystem in which lies and misinformation are disseminated," she said. "That's very dangerous."