Three months after the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, former Vice President Mike Pence is still bothered — not by his former boss’s willingness to store national security secrets at his unsecured glorified country club, but by the Justice Department retrieving the materials. Here was Pence’s pitch to NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press”:
“It was a divisive message in this country. But I think worse still, it was the wrong message to the wider world that looks to America as the gold standard.”
It’s important to realize the extent to which the Republican has this backward.
Stable democracies that take the rule of law seriously hold criminal suspects accountable — even if they’re wealthy, even if they’re politically powerful. In fact, on the international stage, this has happened in recent years with some regularity: Italy prosecuted a former prime minister without incident. France, South Africa and South Korea have all prosecuted former presidents without incident.
Their actions signaled to the wider world that their systems of justice apply equally to all citizens, including former leaders. In the United States — ostensibly the world’s pre-eminent superpower — there’s no reason for our system to be any weaker.
If Pence were to argue that Donald Trump’s alleged misdeed sent “the wrong message to the wider world that looks to America as the gold standard,” that would make sense. The American presidency is supposed to be a special and respected institution, and the former vice president could certainly make a compelling case that Trump sent “the wrong message” with his apparent indifference to legal limits.
But the Hoosier is instead making a far more pernicious claim: The problem isn’t with a former president’s alleged crimes, Pence says, but rather with law enforcement’s willingness to take a former president’s alleged crimes seriously.
To hear Pence tell it, if only we collectively agreed to look the other way, there’d be less attention on Trump’s scandals, and the United States would look better. That’s not a position to be taken seriously.
In the same interview, the former vice president told Todd, “It’s much more commonplace in the Third World that, when one leader comes in, then they prosecute and jail their previous leader. America should never be associated with that image at all.”
But this brings us back to a core question that Republicans seem reluctant to answer: What would Pence have prosecutors do at this point?
The Justice Department, among other offices, believes there’s possible evidence of criminal misconduct from a former president. Is Pence of the opinion that the United States would look less like a developing nation if prosecutors just let Trump get away with alleged crimes?