Much is being made, rightly, of the current historical moment: a former US president has been indicted in federal court. Trump and his supporters are trying to position this investigation and indictment as political revenge. Sadly for them, Special Counsel Jack Smith appears to understand the best lessons to come out of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leadership after World War II.
The US legal delegation at Nuremberg was led by US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. In his opening statement at the first trial, he acknowledged that the victors in the war were in charge of the trial.
Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgment must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The worldwide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the first World War, we learned the futility of the latter course.
But how does a prosecution by the victors avoid being accused of running a kangaroo court? Again, from Justice Jackson:
We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.
[UPDATE: I just found video of Jackson’s opening remarks. The “Unfortunately . . .” quote above is at the 10:15 mark, and “We will not ask you . . .” quote is at 12:55.]
As I read the indictment in the matter of the United States v. Donald J. Trump, Jackson’s words kept echoing in my head.
Books and records . . .
Vanity and photographs . . .
“You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices . . .”
What Marcy labeled (properly!) as “Hillary’s Revenge” is a collection of Trump’s own words, and Trump can be seen and heard saying them in numerous video clips all over the internet. The same is true of “Brennan’s Revenge”.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the Trump indictment echoes Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg. Before he was named as the Special Counsel in this matter, Jack Smith had spent several years working at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. From his wiki:
From 2008 to 2010, Smith worked as Investigation Coordinator for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In that position, he oversaw cases against government officials and militia members accused of war crimes and genocide.
On May 7, 2018, Smith was named to a four-year term as chief prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, investigating war crimes committed in the Kosovo War, including the case of Salih Mustafa. He took up the post on September 11, 2018, and was appointed to a second term on May 8, 2022.
You don’t hold positions like these without studying the Nuremberg Trials and learning their lessons.
In Jackson’s opening speech to the Nuremberg Tribunal, at the end of his introductory remarks and before he pivots into the specific discussion of the case at hand, he offered these words to the Tribunal:
The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority back of all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and wracked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.
“Men of station and rank . . .”
“men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools . . .”
“reach the planners and designers, inciters and leaders . . .”
Marcy called the Trump indictment a “tactical nuke” and she explored how it ramps up pressure on Walt Nauta to come clean. But more than that, I see it as Jack Smith channeling his inner Justice Jackson.
Yes, this is the DOJ of a political victor charging a political loser with serious crimes, but Smith learned from Jackson how that can be done with integrity. Yes, this is the first time a former US president has been charged with serious crimes, but Smith learned from Jackson that this must be done when circumstances warrant, or the nation and the world will pay a price for failing to seek justice.
Jack Smith knows his Justice Robert Jackson. Now he’s begun teaching Team Trump what’s he learned, and something tells me they aren’t going to like it at all.