Two verdicts and two very different pictures of America’s future

By Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Boston Globe, June 13, 2024.

The convictions of former president Donald Trump and Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, have many things in common. But differences in how the former and current presidents reacted to the verdicts cut to the heart of our body politic and speak volumes about the choice we face in November’s election.

First, the similarities. Both Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal his violation of campaign finance laws and Hunter Biden’s conviction on three counts of making a false statement to purchase a firearm put on full display the array of guardrails in place to prevent politicized prosecutions.

Allegations that either verdict is the result of the weaponization of the justice system by Democrats are belied by the fact that both cases went before grand juries — made up of Americans just like you and me — who decided whether there was sufficient evidence to bring an indictment.

In both cases, prosecutors had to deal with the political interference of congressional Republicans, led by Trump-aligned Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, bent on portraying the Justice Department and the Manhattan district attorney’s office as anti-Trump attack machines.

In both cases, the defendants were able to, if they chose, seek plea deals — and in the case of the president’s son, his attorneys and federal prosecutors reached a deal that would have ultimately led to the gun charges being dismissed. But because of poor lawyering — namely the inability of either Biden’s attorneys or the prosecution to ferret out a potential constitutional problem with one of the terms of the agreement — the case went to trial instead.

Hunter Biden and Donald Trump were represented by well-known, highly experienced lawyers. Their cases were tried by juries — more Americans just like you and me. And in both cases the juries rendered guilty verdicts.

Importantly, both cases were clear examples of a criminal justice system that grants prominent, wealthy, and powerful defendants far more privileges than most other people would enjoy. Both men now have the opportunity to seek appeals of their convictions — appeals that, again due to their privilege, have a higher chance of being heard and adjudicated than those of most other defendants.

Here’s where the differences between these two cases matter in terms of the upcoming election: President Biden reacted as a father, an American, and as a president.

“I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal,’’ President Biden said in a statement shortly after his son’s conviction Tuesday. “Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.’’

Trump, conversely, acted like an autocratic baby after his own conviction. But it wasn’t just the anger and resentment that he expressed during his 30-minute rant outside a Manhattan courtroom that were problematic; it was the baseless attacks on prosecutors, judges, and the system itself as fraudulent and corrupt.

“Our witnesses were literally crucified by this man who looks like an angel, but he is really a devil,’’ Trump said of Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial. And despite a court order preventing Trump from verbally attacking or otherwise intimidating witnesses, Trump called key prosecution witness and his former attorney Michael Cohen “a sleazebag.’’

But the biggest difference between the current and former president is what each vowed would come next.

President Biden said he would not pardon his son.

Trump, by contrast, promised his reelection would mean political payback.

“Look, when this election is over, based on what they’ve done, I would have every right to go after them, and it’s easy,’’ Trump said of Democrats in a Fox News interview earlier this month.

In an interview with Dr. Phil, Trump said “revenge does take time, I will say that. … And sometimes revenge can be justified, Phil, I have to be honest. Sometimes it can.’’

If Hunter Biden’s federal conviction wasn’t enough to quell Trump’s claim of one-sided politicized prosecution, nothing will be. But we already knew that — Trump’s outspoken plans to weaponize the Justice Department for his own political purposes predate even his own conviction.

“If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them,’ ’’ Trump said in a CBS interview last year. “Mostly what that would be, you know, they would be out of business. They’d be out, they’d be out of the election.’’

Don’t miss the implication that Trump believes that, if he wins in November, he could be elected a third time, Constitution be damned. But that is Trump’s brand: Destroying anything he believes stands in his way, even our democratic and justice systems. But don’t just take my word. Take his.

Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a columnist for the Globe. She may be reached at Follow her @KimberlyEAtkins.


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