Iowa GOP reaction to verdict misses key point

by Ed Tibbetts, Iowa Capital Dispatch
May 31, 2024

Iowa’s top Republicans were unanimous in reacting to the guilty verdict against Donald Trump on Thursday.

Not a one declared he was innocent.

Did you notice?

Sure, they all complained the trial was a sham. They criticized the judge and the prosecutor. They said the case was politically motivated. But none of them declared in their statements that Trump was innocent.

Trump claimed he did nothing wrong. But his top supporters in Iowa didn’t back up his claim.

This silence shouldn’t be lost on anyone. It speaks volumes about how our state’s top Republicans see the American legal system, at least insofar as it pertains to Donald Trump.

The question of guilt or innocence doesn’t matter, only the political implications.

It’s true, many Democrats and even much of the media reacted to the news mostly in the context of its political effect.

Will a verdict affect support for Trump this fall?

How will President Biden factor it into the campaign?

I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising. Trump is the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party, and he may yet be elected to the White House. And, yes, the importance of this fall’s presidential election cannot be overstated. But, at least insofar as the reaction among Iowa’s top politicians, I was most impressed with a statement from State Auditor Rob Sand.

Sand simply said:

“In 7 years as an Assistant Attorney General, I found juries in both liberal and conservative counties took the work seriously and tried to do right. Jurors deserve our thanks and respect.”

No bombast. No shrillness. Just a focus on the centrality of the American jury to the workings of our country’s justice system and an apparent trust in the 12 citizens who, under immense pressure, were charged with determining the guilt or innocence of a man who used to be — and may yet again— become the world’s most powerful.

This idea is remarkably American. It is centered on the belief that our government is run by, and for, all of us. And that even a person who could one day be elected president of the United States still must abide by the judgment of 12 ordinary men and women if charged with a crime.

It is that fact, more than the political implications, that is most important about Thursday’s verdict.

It is that fact the American people, of all political persuasions, should recognize.

Most Americans already trust this system, as I noted in a recent column. Especially those who have participated in it. They do so because they have seen, up close, its seriousness.

Trump and his acolytes in Iowa are trying to shake our faith in this system. Not for our benefit, but for theirs.

We cannot let this happen.

Even if you believe the prosecution was politically motivated in this case, it is inescapable that 12 men and women, who upon hearing all the evidence and considering the circumstances of the case, decided that the allegations in all 34 counts were proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is that high standard, that level of seriousness, a jury will also apply to the case of Hunter Biden, the son of the current president, as he faces his own criminal trial, in federal court. That is as it should be.

Even if you disagree with the Trump verdict — or even if you agree with it — we also must recognize there is an appellate process, too, that will act as a check on the judge and jury.

This is our system at work.

In her reaction Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds dismissed the idea that the jury’s verdict should count at all. “The only verdict that matters is the one at the ballot box in November where the American people will elect President Trump again,” Reynolds said.

It’s extraordinary that our governor, the person charged with faithfully executing the laws of our state, can get this so utterly wrong.

Yes, the election this fall matters. A lot. But the verdict of 12 American jurors also matters. A lot.

That Iowa’s top Republicans dismissed their work — and failed to even consider the question of Trump’s guilt or innocence — is a sad testament to how they see the American system of justice. It is clear evidence how far the political leadership in this state has fallen.

This column was originally published by Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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