With the indictment of former President Donald Trump, the U.S. has entered the “era of police-state politics,” as The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland put it Friday morning. The prosecution and expected arrest of a former president — and likely presidential challenger — is a serious thing, made all the more outrageous by the nakedly political nature of New York D.A. Alvin Bragg’s mission. Bragg appears to be ginning up a criminal probe out of a possible campaign finance issue that federal prosecutors had already declined to pursue.
While the alliance of media and Democrat operatives who have been on a mission to bring Trump down since before the 2016 election rejoice over the unprecedented move, it’s worth revisiting the myriad times that their ilk decried Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to have his attorney general “get a special prosecutor to look into” Hillary Clinton’s malfeasance, and subsequent chants of “Lock her up!” at campaign rallies.
Here are just 20 examples.
“Not a healthy sign in a democracy when the case against your opponent is that she should be imprisoned,” worried Ryan Lizza, then of The New Yorker, in 2016.
In a tweet about the “lock her up” chant, then-Politico writer Julia Ioffe asked, “Since when do Americans advocate jailing political opponents?”
“In a democracy, you can’t threaten to jail your opponents,” said former President Barack Obama in 2016. “We have fought against those kinds of things.”
“Trump threatened to jail Clinton if elected. These countries might do the same,” headlined a CNN piece comparing Trump’s comment to “authoritarian regimes.” The article further quoted CNN’s Dana Bash saying “what makes this country different from countries with dictators in Africa or Stalin or Hitler or any of those countries with dictators and totalitarian leaders is when they took over, they put their opponents in jail.”
“A line was crossed that I don’t know has been crossed in my lifetime, maybe ever, he threatened to jail his opponent!” CNN’s Van Jones said, calling Trump’s comments a “new low in American democracy.”
“Do you realize what would happen though if another country’s election — we would criticize, our State Department would say ‘that’s not a democratic election,’” argued MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.
“Trump’s threat to imprison his political opponent is a threat to imprison ALL his opponents -and lethal to democracy,” warned GQ’s Keith Olbermann, comparing Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
MSNBC’s Joy Reid called the “Lock her up” chant “peak authoritarianism,” opining that “countries that lock up whoever dared to run against the autocrat are the kinds we used to send election monitors to.”
The New York Times ran a piece quoting a top Democrat lawyer saying it would “be mimicking the tin-pot dictators of historical disgrace” for the Trump administration to prosecute Clinton.
“Threat to Jail Clinton Smacks of ‘Tin-Pot Dictators,’ Experts Say,” ran another New York Times headline, quoting another “expert” who threw around the “tin-pot dictator” phrase.
“In America, we don’t send our political opponents to jail,” tweeted an official Democratic National Committee Twitter account.
Former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted, “Dictatorships lock up the opposition, not democracies.”
“The zeal to not only beat but imprison one’s opponents has never been the basis for a presidential campaign,” posted now-Washington Post writer Jen Rubin.
“In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents,” former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder wrote. (Yes, the same Eric Holder who spied on a Fox News journalist, told another journalist to “shut the h-ll up,” and was eventually held in contempt of Congress, was worried about the “abuse” of “the power of the office.)
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told former FBI Director James Comey that “lock her up” was “dangerous potentially, that it could’ve created violence, that it’s kind of hate speech.”
“Trump said America has turned into a 3rd world country. Threatening to jail political opponents would qualify,” tweeted James Pethokoukis, now a CNBC contributor.
Former Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer remarked, “Putin and dictators jail their opponents.”
“When Donald Trump threatened to put Hillary Clinton in jail, he provided the American public with an insight into how the world’s autocrats get rid of their opponents,” wrote Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.
“[I]n America, we defeat election opponents, we don’t jail them!” tweeted The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof. (Yesterday, Kristof published a piece in the Times titled “I Worry About a Failed Prosecution of Trump, but I Worry More About No Prosecution,” in case you’re wondering whether he still feels that way.)
It’s worth noting, of course, that Trump never did throw Hillary in jail, quite likely because he understood what the optics would do to the country. Clinton lies to this day about those top secret emails sent from her private server, and the Justice Department let her team get away with destroying evidence with BleachBit and hammers — Comey euphemistically told Congress that they “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” The Federal Election Commission slapped her wrist with a puny fine for personally approving the destructive Trump-Russia hoax, in which the Clinton campaign’s law firm hired an investigative firm that, in turn, commissioned the Steele dossier, which wreaked havoc on American politics for years and rightly destroyed many Americans’ trust in the media and intelligence agencies. Next to that, the alleged campaign finance violations for which Trump has presumably been indicted pale.
My colleague Mollie Hemingway’s comments in 2016 about the “Lock her up!” chants remain equally prescient today. “It is true that mobs shouldn’t cry out for imprisonment, particularly before a trial,” she wrote. “But it’s also true that mobs shouldn’t be forced to cry out for justice because their institutions are doing such a horrible job of applying law fairly.”
The institutions have only gotten more horrible at that job. The two-tiered justice system reaches from the disparate treatment of presidential candidates to the Justice Department’s decision to normalize surprise raids on the homes of pro-life pastors while downplaying acts of domestic terrorism against pregnancy clinics.
In that 2016 piece, Hemingway lamented the country’s descent “into one ruled by men, instead of one ruled by laws that apply to everyone, from the most powerful and wealthy to most poverty-stricken and oppressed.” Her words could have been written today and are just as sobering. If you don’t believe them, go see how many of the people who decried Trump’s words as the “death of democracy” are similarly disturbed about the exploitation of the justice system against the former president.