Donald Trump used to have the most powerful job in the country, if not the world, and yet his four years in office didn’t exactly educate him about how American law works. The former president is currently in lots of trouble. His most recent problem is the Justice Department, which on Friday announced a special counsel to handle two separate cases of alleged wrongdoing. But Trump thinks he can weasel out of it thanks to a loophole popularized by a movie — a very stupid movie that actually got the loophole wrong.
On Friday, Trump spoke at an America First Policy Institute gala held at the resort in which he now lives. Clad in a tuxedo, he treated the crowd to one of his endless, self-pitying, fact-challenged rants. At one point he touched on the Justice Department stepping up their investigations into him, throwing out a bonkers theory about how he could evade legal woes: He can’t be indicted because he’s already been impeached. Twice!
Trump: Isn’t this sort of like double jeopardy? pic.twitter.com/5nU7N1ya6g
— Acyn (@Acyn) November 19, 2022
“They tried it, and we went through the whole process, and we won,” he told the crowd. “We went through the whole process. So wouldn’t this sort of be, a – then you take a look at the other. We went through two of them. Isn’t this sort of like double jeopardy? In the old days we used to call it ‘double jeopardy.’”
Did Trump have a case? Nope, as Intelligencer’s Jonathan Chait pointed out, calling him “comically mistaken”:
There is some popular misunderstanding of the double jeopardy principle. The 1999 movie “Double Jeopardy” starred Ashley Judd as a woman whose husband faked his own death and framed her for the murder. In prison, a fellow inmate advises her that once she gets out, she can find and kill her husband and avoid prosecution because she can’t be charged for the same crime twice. (Hence the title of the film.) This advice is wrong — killing her husband years later would be a different crime, for which she could absolutely be charged — and in general you should not commit felonies on the basis of free legal advice you heard from a fellow inmate.
It’s even actually worse than that. In Double Jeopardy, Judd’s character thinks she can’t be prosecuted for murder twice. (She can.) But Trump seems to think that, having been twice impeached for the same crime, he is now free to commit any crime without prosecution. As Chait point out, were that true, it would be a “gigantic loophole in the legal system.”
Where did Trump get such an idea? As The Daily Beast pointed out, perhaps from Geraldo Rivera. On Fox News earlier that day, the sometimes quisling conservative argued that Trump had “already been impeached for exactly these charges concerning the insurrection of January 6th, that is what impeachment is for.” He then speculated, “To now have a special prosecutor go over the same ground, to me, I submit, is double jeopardy.”
Rivera wasn’t right and neither is Trump. The same goes for the movie Double Jeopardy.
Citing dubious, half-remembered legal advice from Geraldo wasn’t Trump’s only boneheaded legal take on Friday. After Garland announced the latest investigations, Trump told Fox News, “I am not going to partake in it. I’m not going to partake in this.” But that’s like a suspected murderer saying they weren’t going to collaborate with police. Maybe if Trump indeed becomes president a second time, he’ll have another four years to learn about how the law really works.