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To the Point: Former President Donald Trump Charged With 37 Felony Counts: What’s Next?

Distinguished Professor of History Allan J. Lichtman answers our question of the week

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To the PointTo the Point provides insights from AU faculty experts on timely questions covering current events, politics, business, culture, science, health, sports, and more. Each week we ask one professor just one critical question about what’s on our minds.

On June 13, 2023, former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 felony counts related to his handling of classified documents that are allegedly related to top secret White House intelligence briefings, nuclear strategies, and US military capabilities. He faces charges ranging from obstructing justice to making false statements, and more. Some of the top charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

We turned to Allan J. Lichtman to explain the significance of these events and what might happen next. Lichtman is an American University Distinguished Professor of History and the author of 11 books including The Case for Impeachment (Dey Street Books, 2017).

Former President Donald Trump Has Pled Not Guilty to 37 Felony Counts: What Are the Implications and What’s Next?

The indictment is significant for several reasons, the least of which is that this is the only time prosecutors have indicted a former president for federal crimes. More important are the following. 

First, this is not a misnamed documents case but a national security case. If Trump had shown national security documents to unauthorized Americans or agents of a foreign power, it would be one of the gravest national security violations in US history. Yet, keeping these documents in unsecured locations – including a Mar-a-Lago bathroom and its ballroom where tens of thousands of persons pass through -- breaches American security. Officials must prudently presume that the documents have been compromised, with profoundly dangerous consequences for America’s security. The indictment charges, “The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources.” 

Second, the indictment is a vindication of the rule of law; no one, regardless of their position should be above the law, which Republicans proclaimed during debates over the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Following Richard Nixon’s playbook during Watergate, Trump has taken no responsibility for his actions but, with support from his Republican allies, has blamed the so-called liberal press and over-zealous bureaucrats – the deep state. He has even called the prosecutors “fascists.” 

Third, the indictment has implications for the 2024 presidential election. The evidence so far made public is powerful enough to make a conviction likely. A Trump conviction might not deny him the Republican nomination, but it would make him a sitting duck in a general election. A recent Yahoo-YouGov poll found that 62% of Americans agreed that Trump shouldn’t be allowed to serve as president if he’s convicted of a “serious crime.”

About Professor Allan J. Lichtman

Professor Lichtman received his PhD from Harvard University in 1973 with a specialty in modern American history and quantitative methods. He became an Assistant Professor of History at American University in 1973 and a Full Professor in 1980, and a Distinguished Professor in 2011. He received the Scholar/Teacher of the year award for 1992-93. He has published 11 books and several hundred popular and scholarly articles. He has lectured in the US and internationally and provided commentary for major US and foreign networks and leading newspapers and magazines across the world. He has been an expert witness in some 100 civil and voting rights cases. His book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. His co-authored book with Richard Breitman, FDR and the Jews, won the National Jewish Book Award Prize in American Jewish History and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book prize in history. His book, The Case for Impeachment was a national independent bookstore bestseller. Lichtman's prediction system, the Keys to the White House, has correctly predicted the outcomes of all US presidential elections since 1984. He was listed as # 85 among 100 most influential geopolitical experts in the world and received the lifetime achievement award from Who's Who.