Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The United States does not have much of a history of holding its high office-holders to account. No former president or vice president has been convicted of crimes committed while in office.
It is not true, however, as some commentators are now implying, that it is unprecedented for a former member of the executive to be arrested and tried. Thomas Jefferson’s first vice president, Aaron Burr, got into similar legal hot water. As the History Channel points out, “On February 19, 1807, Burr was arrested in Alabama for alleged treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, to be tried in a U.S. circuit court.”
Trump has just joined Aaron Burr in being arrested once out of the White House (I’m using “White House” symbolically; until Lyndon Johnson VP’s had their offices in the Senate Building). The scandal of Burr’s duel with Hamilton, in which he killed Hamilton, caused him to be dropped from the ticket by Jefferson in the 1804 campaign, and he resigned on March 2, 1805.
Aaron Bur, painting by John Vanderlyn, public domain.
Once out west, having left Washington, D.C., Burr was full of big talk, which the British ambassador dutifully recorded. He spoke of getting the Western territories to secede from the union. Worldhistory.us explains that the ambassador, “Anthony Merry, wrote to London that Burr asked for funding ‘to effect the separation of the Western part of the United States.’ He said Burr even requested that the Royal Navy seize New Orleans during the takeover.
Via Wikipedia. Sources: Natural Earth and Portland State University (https://gist.github.com/wboykinm/05756ac2e625bae9ed81). This file was derived from: Louisiana Purchase.png
Author, William Morris, (Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
In fact, Burr seems to have been trying to leverage some money out of the British to buy up land from Mexico in what is now Texas. Burr’s loud scheming created a widespread impression in the East that he was trying to lead a secession of territories in the Louisiana purchase, He was put on trial three times, but the trials ended with a not guilty verdict. However, his attorney, Henry Clay, eventually became convinced that his client was indeed guilty and had lied to him.
Like Burr, Trump will be arraigned before a judge. That will come next Tuesday. Whether he will actually be convicted, as Burr was not, remains to be seen. Maybe in that regard Trump really be the first figure from the executive to end up spending time in jail.