Did Donald Trump Commit a Crime By Suggesting to His Gun-Loving Audience That It Might Be a Good Idea If Hillary Was Killed?
Donald Trump has created a furor by suggesting in a speech this past weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina, that if "Hillary gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks…Although Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know." This offhand comment has ignited calls for The Donald to withdraw from the Presidential campaign for using such loose, careless rhetoric.
This comment merits careful scrutiny, which I, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Navy, will attempt to do.
I first looked at a full transcript of his speech, which appears to be a fairly routine Trump stump speech. He starts by mentioning Justice Scalia, and says "the next four years is where you will pick more Supreme Court Justices than anybody has ever had the opportunity to do." Then he talked about Iran, Mexico, America first, voter ID, etc., but soon gets darker: "Unstable Hillary lacks the judgment…she's a dangerous person"…"if she gets elected, she will cause the destruction of this country from within…she will allow people into our country that will do damage…"
Near the end of his speech, he says the following:
"Hillary wants to abolish—essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick…(CROWD BOOING)…if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know. But—but I'll tell you what. that would be a horrible day. If—Hillary gets to put her judges—right now, we're tied. You see what's going on….you see what's going on? We're tied because Scalia---this was not suppose to happen, Justice Scalia was going to be around for ten more years at least and this is what happens. That was a horrible thing. So look at it. So Hillary essentially wants to abolish the Second Amendment."
Those are his exact words. Let's take them apart. In many of his speeches, Trump has keywords or subjects written on a sheet of paper, and then launches into his canned stump speech for each topic, supported by some "By the way" asides or off-the-cuff ad libs. That is what he did here—talking about his claim that Hillary wants to abolish the Second Amendment, and for you folks in Wilmington, North Carolina, there is nothing you can do about it. Then he ad libs further that for Second Amendment folks - that is, NRA supporters and open carry gun nuts—"maybe there is". Did he mean that they can shoot Hillary Clinton and eliminate their Second Amendment problem by taking her out of the Presidential race and electing him? Or did he mean that they can use the NRA's formidable lobbying powers to keep the Second Amendment intact?
Trump says, immediately after that comment, the following: "But…that would be a horrible day". Did he mean, thinking that he may have crossed the line and now backtracking, that killing Hillary would be "a horrible day", or did he mean that if Hillary gets to pick judges who would gut the Second Amendment, as he interprets it, this result would be "a horrible day"? Unclear, but Hillary's picking of gun control-favoring judges would not take place all at once, in a "day", but over an extended period of time (if at all, given the Senate's archaic filibuster rules).
Since I was born in 1940, we have had seven attempts on the lives of American Presidents or Presidential candidates: Truman (by Puerto Rico separatists, unsuccessful); John F. Kennedy (Oswald, successful); Robert F. Kennedy (Sirhan, successful); George Wallace (Bremer, unsuccessful); Gerald Ford (Fromme, unsuccessful); Reagan (Hinckley, unsuccessful); and George H.W. Bush (apparent plot by Saddam Hussain, unsuccessful). This list does not count the unknown number of plots against our Presidents uncovered before they occurred and thwarted, and the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq aimed at George W. Bush's head. Undoubtedly, there have been almost weekly plots against President Obama during his nearly eight years in office.
This is no laughing matter: to date, four American Presidents have been assassinated in office since 1790: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and JFK (and possibly five, if Harding was in fact poisoned in 1923). In some cases, these events have changed dramatically the course of American history thereafter. And in 1932, an attempt was made on the life of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt which killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.
I also checked the video version of Trump's speech, and found that the transcript accurately reflects what was said, in emphasis and intonation: his "By the way" comment was indeed an ad lib afterthought, and may reflect his true beliefs, and not what was written on the piece of paper in front of him. He did not seem to be reading from a teleprompter during this speech, as he has done recently.
18 U.S. C. Section 879 provides in part that:
"(a) whoever knowingly and willfully threatens to kill. kidnap, or inflict bodily harm upon---
(1) a former President or a member of the immediate family of a former President;
(2) a member of the immediate family of the President, the President-elect, the Vice President, or the Vice President-elect;
(3) a major candidate for the office of President or Vice President, or a member of the immediate family of such candidate; …
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."
It appears that Donald Trump has violated this statute by suggesting to his followers, many of who are gun-toting right wing fanatics, that they might take the law into their own hands and try to kill Hillary Clinton to prevent her from nominating Supreme Court Justices and federal judges who might water down what he sees as our Second Amendment rights to own guns.
I understand that the Secret Service has already talked to Trump and warned him to cease making such inflammatory comments. What happens if his gun crazy followers succeed in assassinating Hillary Clinton before the November 8 election and Trump is thereafter elected President? My ancestor, Lt. Pelatiah Everett, may have fired the first shot in the Revolutionary War at Lexington on April 19, 1775, and I might just fire the first shot of the Second Revolutionary War, by urging that California and the other West Coast states secede from the Trump-controlled fascist Untied States of America.