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Ralph Nader: Trump Arrest Was “Massively Overdue” After Turning White House into a “Daily Crime Scene”

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Image Credit: USA Today Network

As we cover the historic arraignment of former President Donald Trump, we look at the crimes for which he has not been charged. We speak with Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. Nader says that though “all presidents violate laws,” Trump has “taken it to a new and diverse height.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! As we cover this historic arraignment of former President Donald Trump, we look at what he has not been charged with — well, at least yet. We’re joined on the phone by Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate many times.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ralph. Your response to what took place yesterday? It was historic, first-ever ex- or sitting president charged, criminally charged. He’s charged with 34 felonies. And he also has been impeached twice. But talk about what he did get charged with and what he didn’t.

RALPH NADER: Well, it was historic in the sense it was massively overdue. Let’s start with Donald Trump’s notorious statement in 2019, which lays the basis for his lawlessness day after day as president. He said, quote, “With Article II, I can do whatever I want as president,” end-quote. Really? But he went on to prove it, before 2019, when he made the statement, and after. And so, the broader frame of reference here is that he turned the White House into a daily crime scene. John Bolton, who was his special assistant, in his memoir, said, “Obstruction of justice in the White House was a way of life.” That’s a serious crime. In the Mueller report, they outlined 10 major obstruction of justice against law enforcement in a very crude manner. There wasn’t any subtlety about it.

But what Trump has done, openly, brazenly — there’s nothing furtive, like Nixon, about Trump — is that in the White House, he set a historic record for defying over 150 congressional subpoenas. That’s criminal contempt. He got away with it.

He shoveled around billions of dollars from one program to another, most notoriously from military housing projects to extend the wall on the Mexican border. That is a violation of a criminal law called the Antideficiency Act. He got away with it.

He used the White House as a political reelection base, had events there, openly, right on the White House lawn, and forced the Treasury Department to put his name on millions of checks going out during the pandemic to millions of Americans. That is a crime. It violates the criminal prohibition in the Hatch Act from using the power of the federal government against your electoral opponents. He got away with it.

It’s important to say also that all presidents violate laws. He’s just taken it to a new and diverse height. But he’s doing it so brazenly that if he gets away with it, he will continue to contribute to the institutionalization of lawlessness by presidents of the United States. Let’s face it, both Bush, Obama and Trump have violated all kinds of laws in extending the empire. Obama, for example, decreed, informally, that he could pick out anybody in the world and, as prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner, and in secret, wipe that person out. And he did it. Of course, Bush was the big war criminal, with Cheney, invading Iraq. But then Obama took out the regime in Libya without a congressional debate, without a congressional authorization, appropriation of funds or declaration of war. And that’s, to this day, producing chaos and violence, goaded by Secretary of State Clinton, who pushed Obama to do this, and he later admitted it was the biggest mistake of his administration.

So, we have all kinds of other tax violations, obstruction of voting, campaign finance violations, never mind his assault and battery of women, which he seemed to be proud of. So, this event yesterday represents the first turnaround. Why did the Democrats wait so long? They had 12 impeachable offenses in 2019. We got them in the Congressional Record, December 19th; Congressman John Larson put them in. Nancy Pelosi just went with the Ukraine matter — not exactly a kitchen table issue, affecting millions of Americans. They had much better issues. So you had one party letting the other party get away with it, in part because the Democrats also violated laws at the presidential level.

So I think the American people have got to see this as an opportunity, a gateway, to reverse the process where presidents are above the law. They have been above the law. People around the world have suffered and died because these presidents have been above the law. So, we have to —


RALPH NADER: — broaden it out, because what the GOP is going to try to do is focus on yesterday and Alvin Bragg’s prosecution, when the criminal lawlessness —


RALPH NADER: — of Trump is massive.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, I wanted to ask you about Trump’s — Ralph, I wanted to ask you about Trump’s attacks on the IRS, and especially since probably his most consistent historical violations have been in evading his own — the taxes, his personal taxes and those of his companies. Could you talk about that?

RALPH NADER: Well, yes. David Cay Johnson has written about this. He was on your program yesterday. He’s been under regular audit, year after year, by the IRS. There never seems to be any resolution. It turned out that the IRS was so strapped in its budget, it just had one auditor on this massive commercial sprawling empire of Trump, using every possible tax evasion, tax avoidance system imaginable. So he really has gotten away with that.

But worse, apropos your question, is he worked with the Republicans year after year in starving the IRS budget so that it couldn’t have the skilled auditors to go after the tax evasion of the super rich and the multinational corporations. In fact, one study, out of Berkeley, pointed out that over 20% of the top super-rich Americans in the United States were evading billions and billions of dollars of taxes, and the IRS was handcuffed. And to this day, the IRS is under pressure by the Republicans, going after their budget — fortunately, they don’t control the Senate, so they can’t get it through. But, clearly, Trump and the Republican Party were actively and purposefully engaged in aiding and abetting tax evasion by the super rich and corporations, all kinds of money that could have gone to good works in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute to go, Ralph, but if you can talk about how Congress, how the president can hold not only President Trump accountable, but other Republicans and — as you say, this is often bipartisan — Democrats, as well, on the critical issues that you care about? And this whole issue that isn’t being talked about as much, especially as the Republicans try to frame what’s happening here in New York as the DA saying he won’t go after misdemeanor crimes, as not going after serious crime, but instead using this political target of Trump — in other words, but instead going after corporate crime. If you can talk about how novel this is for people to see issues of corporate crime front and center?

RALPH NADER: Well, I wish they would use the phrase “corporate crime” more instead of the antiquated “white-collar crime.” We’re in a corporate crime wave in this country. All you got to do is read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, listen to Democracy Now! And the amount of enforcement budget is minuscule. It’s like having 20 police in Manhattan during a crime wave. And so, you’re right to point out.

Congress is the focal point here, whether we like it or not. It is the most accessible branch of government. There are 535 men and women. People know their names back home, and they’ve got to get mobilized, because what Congress can do is redress the imbalance of power, rein in empire, rein in the military budget, redirect public budgets to public necessities in this country, and, above all, initiate its criminal contempt power. This idea that congressional subpoenas of the White House can be defied with impunity because it takes too long for Congress to work through the federal courts up to the Supreme Court is a false idea, because the Congress has a generic criminal contempt power. They can arrest. They could have arrested Trump when he defied the January 6th subpoena. They could have detained him. That actually occurred in the 1930s. But a lot of members of Congress don’t even know that they have the criminal contempt power and do not have to go through four years of judicial appeals, etc.

So, Congress is the hope for the American people. It’s the hope to redress this. It’s the hope to reorder our priorities. It’s the hope to really make sure that nobody is above the law at high political and corporate crime levels. The corporation CEOs are clearly, in many ways, completely above the law. Look at the Boeing criminality. There’s been no action against Muilenburg and the other CEO, the present CEO now of Boeing. They got away with it. And people all over the country know that the big boys get away with it. There’s a double standard of justice. So, people out there, get on top of your senators and representatives. Show them you’ve got a pulse. You know their numbers. You know their emails. You know how to reach them. Without you, Congress can’t act. Without Congress, we don’t have a republic. We have an emerging fascist movement in this country, and Trump proved it by his words yesterday at Mar-a-Lago.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we want to thank you for being with us, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. He’s the founder of the Capitol Hill Citizen, which is coming out in a few weeks, a newspaper, and also the granduncle of Samya Stumo, who lost her life in the Boeing crash in Ethiopia.

Coming up, we look at major progressive victories, from Chicago to Wisconsin. Stay with us.

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