Discover more from Evening Post and Mail
If you would prosecute a Speaker
On mathematical sentences, Chief Justices, and the prosecution of ex-Presidents
In mathematics and logic, one of the possible conditional statements is written "iff" -- the regular word "if", but with a second "f" tacked on the end. "Iff" is a shorthand method of writing "if and only if". An iff statement is meant to foreclose on any possible alternatives within the realm of imagination: There is one way in to an iff statement, and one way out.
■ As a matter of prudential judgment, a former chief of any branch of the Federal government -- a Chief Justice, a Speaker of the House, or a President -- ought to be prosecuted by the criminal justice system iff the prosecutor is convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that their guilt is indisputable in light of the available evidence. For the good of the country, now and in the future, the first Federal indictment of a former President had better meet such a standard.
■ America has withstood bad, incompetent, and even evil people in high offices before. James Buchanan, for instance, ought to face the perpetual condemnation of history for dithering instead of quashing the brewing Civil War. But criminal prosecution wouldn't have been justified.
■ But on the other hand, Dennis Hastert, once Speaker of the House, went to Federal prison for financial crimes related to sexual abuse against minors that occurred long before he led the Article I branch of government. The crimes were provable, and Hastert confessed.
■ Criminal prosecution plainly cannot be used as a tool to settle scores or exact retribution against political foes. That would be an abuse of power. But leaving plainly evident crimes unpunished is also a road straight to disaster, since it would be the excuse of abuse of power.
■ It is a symptom of corrupted perceptions for anyone to view it differently for an ex-President to be prosecuted than for an ex-Speaker or an ex-Chief Justice. We don't seem to have had much malfeasance among the justices, but there is nothing Constitutionally sound about treating anyone more gently for having led the executive branch than for having led the legislature instead. They are components of the same whole.
■ Prosecutions of such a magnitude must not be executed for light and transient causes. But if the evidence really is incontrovertible, then the consequences for withholding a justified prosecution could be disastrous.