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A middle-of-Fifth-Avenue moment for Trump

The former president’s indictment on Thursday was the first, but may not be the last, effort to finally hold him accountable.

A secret service agent stood guard on the wall surrounding former president Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., a day after he was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury.Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

Thursday was a sad but necessary day for America. A grand jury in New York voted to indict Donald Trump on criminal charges, meaning that for the first time in US history, a former president may go on trial and face the possibility of prison time. The exact charges were not announced but are related to a scheme to funnel hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump allegedly had an affair, before the 2016 presidential election.

Of all the outrages of Trump’s business and political careers, it’s almost amusing that it’s the sordid Daniels payments — hardly the worst of his manifold sins — that have caught up with him first. But other charges may follow in other jurisdictions. And by pursuing the indictment of Trump, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has put life into the principle that no one is above the law. Any law.


That is true whether it involves the willful retention of classified materials, interfering in an election and attempting to bully state officials to do the same, or, as may have occurred in the Daniels case, illegally cooking corporate books in an effort to conceal a hush money payment in violation of campaign finance laws. There must be accountability regardless of who the defendant is, even if it is a former president. His prosecution is not a political act. Quite the contrary: Failing to prosecute him because of his former position would be a dangerous affront to the rule of law, regardless of the spin he or those in his corner put on it.

It is particularly important, given Trump’s oft-stated belief that laws don’t apply to him, for the legal system to demonstrate otherwise. Whether bragging he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue or sexually assaulting women and getting away with it, Trump has made it clear he thinks he can use money, celebrity, and political pressure to defeat the rule of law. And for decades, long before he ever entered politics, that’s just what Trump has done. To many Americans, the former president’s seeming immunity has made a mockery of the idea of equality before the law; for millions of Americans, finally making Trump face justice should help restore at least a modicum of faith in our system.


Trump is expecting to turn himself in on Tuesday. In the days, weeks, and perhaps months ahead, Trump, his supporters, Republican lawmakers, and even some of Trump’s likely presidential primary opponents will continue to paint Trump as a victim of some sort of politically motivated witch hunt; Bragg is a Democrat.

Trump and those giving him cover will continue to claim that the prosecution of a former president based on alleged payments he made to cover up an alleged affair is, somehow, unimportant or trivial. It is neither.

But we know the motives of those who claim otherwise. They fear the political fallout if they don’t fall in line with the candidate who, despite his penchant for authoritarianism, spreading disinformation, and calling for public unrest, still garnered upward of 74 million votes in 2020.

Even former vice president Mike Pence, whose very life was put in peril Jan. 6, 2021, when Donald Trump directed a mob, including some who he knew to be armed, to go to the Capitol where Pence was presiding over the count of electoral votes, came to Trump’s defense.


“The fact that the Manhattan DA thinks that indicting President Trump is his top priority, I think is, just tells you everything you need to know about the radical left in this country,” Pence said in an ABC interview a few weeks ago after rumors of an imminent arrest began circulating.

But there is every reason for Americans to put greater trust in the legal system than political punditry.

Let Bragg’s office; the office of Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis; and Special Counsel Jack Smith do their work. Let Trump’s lawyers defend him. And let a jury of his peers have the final say when all the facts and evidence are in.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.