Folks, the wait was worth it: Donald Trump is going to prison

Trump can't come back from this: He will never be president again, and may well die in prison. The future awaits

By Brian Karem


Published August 17, 2023 9:33AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

Finally. Donald Trump's depravities are laid bare for all to see in a court of law.

With the latest felony indictments handed down by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury, former president Donald John Trump is accused of leading the "Fulton 19" — a loose assemblage of accused criminals also known as "The Enterprise" who face charges of trying to rig the 2020 election in Georgia.

Specifically, the "Enterprise" is accused of forgery, conspiracy to commit forgery, conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, filing false documents, influencing witnesses, conspiracy to commit election fraud, conspiracy to defraud the state, impersonating a public officer and a host of other charges.

Buried deep in the 96-page indictment are some of the most disturbing accusations ever leveled at a president. Indeed they rival those levied against the New York mafia figures Rudy Giuliani once prosecuted while with the Department of Justice.

How low did Don the Con go? Pay attention, all you Christians: Trump is accused of using a pastor to intimidate witnesses.

Stephen Cliffgard Lee is accused of knocking on Ruby Freeman's door, frightening her and causing her to call 911 three times. Lee appeared at the election worker's door roughly two weeks after Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, were falsely accused by Trump of pulling fake ballots from suitcases in Georgia, with Trump suggesting they committed election fraud. Lee is on videotape (from a police officer body cam) saying that he wanted to speak with Freeman because he had some "pro-bono" services to offer her and he was "also working with some folks who are trying to help Ruby out — and also get to the truth of what's going on."

Lee is a former police chaplain and pastor from Chicago within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod denomination. He is specifically charged with "attempting to influence witnesses and conspiring to solicit false statements and writings." He is also accused of traveling from outside of the state to "intimidate [Freeman], and solicit her to falsely confess to election crimes that she did not commit."

While you try to wrap your head around a pastor bearing false witness against his neighbor (a violation of the Ninth Commandment, remember?) here's a question: What do you call a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A good start? Trump's latest legal team? What?

The shocking thing about Trump's latest indictment is not how depraved he is, but how easily he manipulated others into helping him — those who had little or nothing to gain and everything to lose.

His debauchery can be summed up in a statement Trump made himself, referenced on Page 18, section five of the Fulton County grand jury indictment: "In one instance, Donald Trump stated to the Acting United States Attorney General, 'Just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.'"

It's not just Republican congressmen who are accused of helping him out, or your stray pastor. According to the indictment, Trump corrupted quite a few attorneys. Lawyers are usually bound by ethics, but about half a dozen of them who served Trump will probably be bound over for trial.

"Trump is setting up all of the co-indicted individuals for the bigly fall, including Rudy," said Michael Cohen.

One person who knows well what can happen to lawyers serving Trump is his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He says every single one of the "Fulton 19" should beware of the Donald. "Trump is setting up all of the co-indicted individuals for the bigly fall, including Rudy," Cohen said. "Donald will not help out any of them financially, claiming that it might be considered improper for him or his PAC to pay their legal fees, as he too is a named defendant."

Jenna Ellis is apparently the first to fall. She has said nice things about Ron DeSantis, which earned her a quick trip under the bus. She appeared with Rudy Giuliani at a Dec. 3, 2020, hearing hosted by state Republican lawmakers at the Georgia Capitol, during which false allegations of election fraud were made. She also wrote at least two legal memos to Trump and his attorneys advising that Pence should "disregard certified electoral college votes from Georgia and other purportedly 'contested' states" when Congress met to certify the election results on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors have said.

And what does she get for that effort? No loyalty from Trump. Ellis' attorney, Mike Melito, has apparently set up an online donations account to pay her legal expenses.

Rudy Giuliani is in trouble. Not only will he likely never practice law again, but he's facing ever-increasing legal expenses that could ultimately cleave him from the Trump fold. How long will it be until he flips on his "good friend" Donald Trump?

Another ethically challenged attorney wrapped up in this is John Eastman, literally the former dean of Chapman University law school in Southern California. Eastman retired from the Chapman faculty after he created worldwide controversy by speaking at the Trump rally that directly preceded the violent Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Sidney Powell, also named in the indictment, is not just an ethically challenged attorney, but someone who even members of Trump's administration thought was a "nut" untethered to reality.

Then there's attorney Kenneth Chesebro. He apparently worked on the coordination and execution of a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won and declaring themselves the state's "duly elected and qualified" electors.

We have the former dean of a law school and a bunch of highly qualified attorneys, several with decades of experience. They all face prison time, and will likely never practice law again.

And let's not forget Jeffrey Clark, the man pulled from his house in his underwear. A Justice Department official who championed Trump's false claims of election fraud, Clark tried to get Trump to appoint him as acting attorney general, and presented colleagues with a draft letter pushing Georgia officials to convene a special legislative session that could flip the state's electors to Trump.

Pulling up the rear is Ray Smith, a Georgia-based lawyer involved in multiple lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 election. He's right there with Robert Cheeley, also a Georgia lawyer, who presented video clips to legislators that falsely alleged election workers at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta had counted votes two or three times. 

So we have the former dean of a law school and a bunch of highly qualified attorneys, some of them high-ranking officials with decades of experience. Now they all face prison time, in addition to never being able to practice law again. What happened to ethics in that profession?

Finally, there's the already disgraced former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Elected to Congress as a Tea Partier, Meadows was  a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and was one of Trump's closest allies. On Dec. 14, 2021, he was held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 select committee. He is the first White House chief of staff since the Watergate scandal, and the first former member of Congress, to be found in contempt of Congress.

Remember, Donnie only hires "the best" people. 

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Trump also told us in a tweet (remember those?) back on Nov. 8, 2013: "Leadership: whatever happens, you're responsible. If it doesn't happen, you're responsible." Of course, in answering one of my questions in the Rose Garden as president, Trump  infamously said, "I take no responsibility." He's about to be forced to accept responsibility for his actions as president — living up to his own words, and likely eating them. 

The indictment in Georgia is a sledgehammer blow to Donald Trump's solipsistic and fictional reality, where he's the good guy and the rest of the political world is out to get him by conducting a mythical witch hunt complete with ogres, monsters from the underworld, vampires and lycanthropes. Turns out the only beast in the woods is Donald — and he corrupted at least 18 named co-conspirators.

The Fulton County case brought by Fani Willis also fits hand in glove with the recent Jan. 6 case brought by special counsel Jack "Coach Beard" Smith. That case is streamlined and ready to go to trial quickly, and will probably be the first of Trump's four criminal cases to do so. But remember, that one will be in a courtroom without cameras. The Georgia case, if it really goes to trial next March (as Willis has proposed), is far more comprehensive and complex — and will be seen in living color on television screens across the globe. 

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, put it this way:

Finally — and again, this is both atmospheric and also very important — Fani Willis has not just formally named Trump as a mobbed-up crime boss, but also placed him squarely behind the wheel of a national criminal clown car. For Trump, stripped away from the sober officials who once lent him intellectual heft and political credibility, his final public act may well be honking sadly on the oversize horn, surrounded by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Jeff Clark.

For everyone who complained the investigation was taking too long — and for the record, I wasn't one of them — I can only say the wait was worth it. Donald Trump has now been charged in four different jurisdictions and faces 91 felony counts, with more to come.

"I hope it is a weight around his neck like an albatross, with the density of a black hole," his niece Mary Trump said on her podcast this week.

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Trump and his minions are desperately trying to pivot, but it's much like toilet paper pivoting after it's already been flushed. The goal of the MAGA movement (which, attorney Mark Zaid quips, stands for "Make Attorneys Get Attorneys") is to call out the Justice Department as "weaponized," while accusing President Biden of being the head of a crime family and his son Hunter of being a bigger criminal than Trump. In other words, what Trump is facing in 91 felony charges, his supporters hope to deflect onto Biden.

Norm Ornstein, a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, noted on Mary Trump's podcast that Republicans who are trying to switch attention to Hunter Biden should beware lest the scrutiny  boomerang. "Well, I hope Jared and Ivanka get special prosecutors too, as they should be investigated," he said.

A century from now, Donald Trump and the Fulton 19 will be a historical afterthought — a minor flatulence laughed at by school children.

A century from now, if justice is served, Donald Trump and the Fulton 19 will be a historical afterthought; a minor flatulence laughed at by school children, dismissed by adults and ignored by the rest of the world. Trump's hotels will become homeless shelters. Perhaps Alcatraz will be reopened,and doing business as the Trump presidential library — and forever noted in history as the last home of Donald Trump before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

His business acumen will be taught as cautionary tales of grift; his statesmanship dismissed as quackery and his promises remembered as broken dreams that only enhanced the rich and trampled on the downtrodden during the COVID pandemic he helped to exacerbate. 

That is his future. 

According to Trump, without him we're all going to hell. Marjorie Taylor Greene calls us a "banana republic" for holding Trump accountable for his crimes. The mean-girl clique in Congress, which features the likes of Jim Jordan, Josh Hawley and Lauren Boebert, paint us as a nation in decline — heading toward hellfire without the trusty Trump to guide us to safety. The Don himself talks endlessly about how sick we are, how stupid we are, how corrupt we are, how hopeless we've become.

The United States, according to current president Joe Biden, is a bit rosier. His stump speeches all close the same way as this one did recently in Milwaukee:

It isn't about the past; it's about the future. It's about each of us writing the next chapter in American history. I can honestly say I've never been more optimistic about America's future, both domestic and foreign. We just have to remember who in the hell we are. We're the United States of America. There is nothing beyond our capacity when we do it together. So let's do it together, God love you. May God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.

Biden has his problems. His communications team stinks. His outreach is questionable, he commits gaffes as he always has. Still, he has restored a sense of normalcy to the presidency even as his enemies try to sacrifice his son at the altar of Trump, flinging endless accusations, nearly all of them (so far) provably false or evidence-free. When all else fails, they go back to wanting to prosecute Hillary Clinton. If you have evidence, present it — or shut up.

But Donald Trump is the one who faces 91 felony charges. Donald Trump is the one now facing trial for violating Georgia's racketeering laws, hoarding classified documents, leading an insurrection and making questionable business deals. 

The future is clear for those who can see.

Donald Trump will never be president again. He will likely be in prison this time next year — and the future after that is wide open. 

The stage is set. Let the dance commence. 

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Donald Trump Fani Willis Georgia Indictment Jack Smith Trump Crimes