Will Donald Trump intervene in what appears to be a nascent prosecution of a Missouri couple who attempted to defend their home against a mob? In an exclusive interview with Townhall’s Katie Pavlich, Trump called any potential prosecution an “outrage.” Trump said the video made it look like the couple were at risk of a beating “if they were lucky,” and their house in danger of being torched.
Trump stopped short of pledging any particular action, but Missouri’s governor later said both of them would begin considering their options:
“When you look at St. Louis, the two people that came out they were going to beat up badly if they were lucky. If they were lucky. They were going be beat up badly and the house was going to be totally ransacked and probably burned down like they tried to burn down churches. And these people were standing there, never used it and they were legal, the weapons, and now I understand somebody local, they want to prosecute these people. It’s a disgrace,” Trump said.
What can Trump do about it, however? Gov. Mike Parson told reporters yesterday that they plan to find out:
Parson, who said the couple had “every right to protect their property,” said he spoke with Trump just before the governor’s coronavirus news briefing. He said Trump made clear that he “doesn’t like what he sees and the way these people are being treated,” referencing the McCloskeys.
He said Attorney General William P. Barr “was represented on the call,” and that he thinks the president and the attorney general “are going to take a look” at the McCloskeys’ case.
“The president said that he would do everything he could within his powers to help with this situation and he would be taking action to do that,” Parson said.
Parson has a wider range of action than Trump would. He could order the state Attorney General to take over the investigation of the McCloskeys, for instance, although he couldn’t direct the outcome — not without crossing some ethical lines himself. Parsons could also issue a full pardon before St. Louis County DA Kim Gardner goes any further with the case, which would put a complete end to any investigation. The McCloskeys might not care for any hint of guilt that a pardon carries, but at least they’d be in no more danger of prosecution — and they’d get their firearms back.
Parson wants to make it easier to remove officials like Gardner from office. He urged the state legislature to set up such a mechanism, but that’s a reach, too. Gardner is elected by county voters to her position, not appointed to it. It would take an impeachment process for a removal to have any legitimacy, given how it would reverse the results of a legitimate election. That should only happen when malfeasance is clear and provable, not when there is a disagreement regarding prosecutorial discretion.
The options for Trump are much more limited. He can’t issue a pardon on state-level charges; presidents can only issue clemency related to federal investigations and prosecutions. He has no authority at all over Gardner, and even Parsons has only very limited authority, so Trump can’t order her to stop an investigation either. Barr’s participation hints that the Department of Justice might open a civil-rights investigation of Gardner on the basis that she is interfering with their Second Amendment right of self-defense, but … that’s a bit of a reach, especially while no charges have been filed. Typically the DoJ doesn’t get involved in individual cases anyway when it comes to civil-rights actions on local prosecutors, but only act when a pattern of abuse is alleged.
On the other hand, Gardner is demagoguing the case and the criticism just as much as Parson, or perhaps even more:
Gardner, who is black, suggested that Trump and Parson were launching racially motivated attacks against her.
“It is also incredible that at a time when our nation is dealing with a rapidly spreading deadly virus and our State reported a record number of new infections, they are launching these dog-whistle attacks against me,” she said. “They should be focused on their jobs, & I’ll focus on mine.”
That’s utter nonsense. There’s plenty to criticize about this push for prosecution regardless of Gardner’s ethnicity. I was not aware she’s African-American, and I doubt that many of the people who have opined on this know or care. They are focused on the fact that a mob of people trespassed on the McCloskey’s property and did damage to it in the kind of protests in the same time frame where riots have broken out and buildings got burned. Would a reasonable person believe their lives and their property were in grave danger, given that context, which is the predicate for the legal use of lethal force in self-defense? Show me a jury in the summer of 2020 where twelve people would unanimously say no, and I’ll eat my hat. And since neither of the McCloskeys ever fired those weapons, I’d bet the vote would likely be unanimous in the other direction.
Gardner’s play of a race card speaks more about her motives in pursuing this case than it does about either Trump or Parsons. It’s a shameful “dog whistle” of its own, which basically sets up a claim that Gardner is above the law and above any criticism as a public official. That’s not democracy; it’s tyranny.