Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Donald John Trump’s indictment in federal court for sedition and in state court for racketeering are both legal means of sanctioning him for trying illegally to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Although he is the first president to be criminally charged for such a crime (or at all), he is not the first world leader to be taken to court for trying to overthrow the government.
We can leave aside those presidents tried for crimes against humanity and massacres, such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq (executed in 2006) or Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Trump rode roughshod over people’s civil rights, including in Portland, Or. and Lafayette Park, but those are not among the charges against him. He stands accused of sedition and conspiracy to overturn an election. There also isn’t a good parallel to South Korea, which has routinely tried and imprisoned former presidents on embezzlement and corruption charges. Although there are questions about whether the Trumps illicitly used the White House to enrich themselves further, DJT is not being tried on those grounds.
The closes parallel is former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who faces as many as 16 trials, one of which began in June. He is charged with spreading misinformation about the election in the months leading up to it. If found guilty he could be barred from politics for 8 years.
In 2019, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was convicted of treason because he had suspended the country’s constitution in 2007. Musharraf made a military coup against elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and held a phony referendum, whereby he because president. This is not so hard since in a referendum you have no opponent and the only candidate people can vote for is you. Musharraf was not the first military dictator to make himself president of Pakistan, in fact he was the fourth, after Generals Ayyub Khan, Yahya Khan, and Zia ul-Haq.
Musharraf, however, went further than ruling according to provisions in the constitution for a national emergency. In 2007 he dismissed the Supreme Court and replaced it with one to his liking, and in November of that year he actually set aside the constitution, restoring it a month later, in December.
Pakistan was in so much turmoil that Musharraf couldn’t control the situation, so he agreed to the holding of new elections in 2008, won by Asaf Ali Zardari after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated. Musharraf went into exile. The legal establishment, however, still minded his attempt to tinker with it and in 2013 they began proceedings against him for treason in connection with his suspension of the constitution. In 2019 the trial in absentia wrapped up with Musharraf being sentenced to death. The pawerful Pakistani officer corps had lobbied against one of their own being treated like this, but to no avail. Musharraf was sentenced to death in absentia, given that he lived in Dubai then. He died on Feb. 5, 2023.
Since US prosecutors have not considered Trump’s crimes to constitute a form of treason, he does not face the death penalty, though he is 77, so he could easily die in jail if he is convicted and imprisoned. In Georgia, he can’t get less than five years if he is convicted of the racketeering and other charges, because of mandatory sentencing guidelines. He also cannot be paroled or pardoned before spending 5 years in prison.