Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Twice-impeached former President Donald Trump is now under federal indictment — the result not of some politicized witch hunt but a seven-month investigation by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith.
If found guilty, Trump has no one to blame but himself for the criminal indictment that includes dozens of felony counts related to mishandling of classified documents and obstructing government efforts to reclaim them.
And these weren't just any documents, and they were not just personal mementos, as Trump once claimed. Prosecutors allege that Trump illegally took documents concerning "United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack." Trump was given many opportunities since losing the election and vacating the White House to cooperate.
Instead, it's come to this. The Justice Department made the indictment public on Friday. It also named a personal aide, Walt Nauta, as a co-conspirator who assisted in the obstruction of the investigation. According to a New York Times story, the evidence presented by prosecutors included Trump showing visitors at his New Jersey golf club a highly sensitive "plan of attack" against Iran and, in a taped recording, describing the items as "highly confidential" and "secret" and admitting the documents had not been declassified.
The sight of a former president appearing in the courtroom next week, charged with serious crimes that could, if proven, result in a federal prison sentence, will be a shameful spectacle for the nation and Trump.
But it also is a needed affirmation that in this country, no one — including a former president — stands above the law, which must remain impartial to be effective. As Smith said upon releasing the indictment, "We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone."
What must follow now is a diligent, sober, meticulous presentation of the facts and evidence in hand by prosecutors, even as they make their case amid the spectacle of what will surely be the most chaotic presidential election in history. Trump, despite his impeachments, the indictment in a New York state case and a finding of his liability in a civil case involving an allegation of sexual abuse, remains, improbably, the acknowledged GOP front-runner in an increasingly crowded field.
The Justice Department has exercised an admirable level of restraint throughout this matter. True to form, it was Trump himself who apparently couldn't wait to let loose news of the indictment Thursday on his Truth Social site, followed immediately by a fundraising pitch.
For his part, Smith appears to be proceeding in the same methodical way that has marked the entire investigation. A seasoned prosecutor, Smith has served at International Criminal Court, oversaw corruption cases for the Justice Department's public integrity unit, and has prosecuted cases against Democrats and Republicans alike.
Smith was careful to avoid a venue fight by filing in Florida since the alleged mishandling of documents occurred at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. He did so even though it means Trump's court appearance will be before the federal judge Trump appointed, Aileen Cannon, who delayed the investigation for months after appointing a special master.
A higher court tossed out that decision and admonished Cannon, saying there was no justification for treating Trump differently. Smith and his team also are staying quiet despite Trump's obvious baiting, apparently preferring to let the evidence do the talking.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a former presidential nominee, had it right when he credited the Justice Department and Smith for employing "due care" and giving Trump ample opportunity to avoid charges.
"Mr. Trump brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so," Romney said in a statement. "These allegations are serious and if proven, would be consistent with his other actions offensive to the national interest, such as withholding defensive weapons from Ukraine for political reasons and failing to defend the Capitol from violent attack and insurrection."
Compare that statement to the reaction of Minnesota's own Rep. Tom Emmer, who also serves as House majority whip and who, according to a Minnesota Reformer story, went on a conservative talk show Friday to say that Trump's indictment "stinks to high heaven," adding that "we've got to get back to agreeing to disagree and not using the government against our political adversaries, which is exactly what it appears Joe Biden is doing."
There is no evidence that Biden has done anything of the sort — the indictment was returned by a grand jury of citizens — and Emmer's insistence on toeing the Trump line does a disservice to those who expect better, more reflective leadership from our representatives.
It would be wise for all of us — on the right, left and in the middle — to wait for the legal process to fully unfold before jumping to further conclusions.