Trump allies say FBI raids are “third world,” but other democracies are prosecuting former leaders

  • Trump and his allies denounce the FBI raid on his Florida home as a sign that the United States is now a “Third World” country.
  • The United States has never charged a former president with a crime.
  • But other democracies around the world have indicted, convicted and even imprisoned former leaders.

Former President Donald Trump and his allies have condemned the FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago home as the kind of thing that only happens in “Third World countries” or “banana republics.”

The FBI raid was reportedly linked to an investigation into 15 boxes of documents – including classified material – that Trump took from the White House to Florida when he left Washington. Trump, the only president in US history to be impeached twice, dismissed the FBI search as “an attack” that “could only take place in broken third world countries”.

Republican lawmakers and right-wing commentators echoed the former president in their reactions to the raid, which was authorized by Trump-appointed FBI director Christopher Wray.

GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, for example, on Monday tweeted“In third world countries and banana republics they are persecuting former presidents/leaders and their staff. Right now we are looking beneath them. We are in a race to the bottom.”

And Fox News host Dan Bongino said Tuesday that the raid was “Third World bullshit.”

The United States has never charged a former president with a crime. But other democracies around the world – including close US allies like South Korea, France and Israel – have indicted, convicted and even jailed former leaders.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains a member of Israel’s parliament, is embroiled in an ongoing corruption trial.

Two of France’s recent presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, were found guilty of corruption. Sarkozy was sentenced to prison last year; he appealed the ruling.

South Korea has tried, convicted and imprisoned more than one ex-president. The latest example is that of South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye, who was convicted of abuse of power and coercion in 2018 after being impeached. Park was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was later reduced to 20. She was pardoned last year by then-President Moon Jae-in.

While it is true that countries with autocratic leaders and weak democratic institutions have a habit of imprisoning prominent opposition figures, including former leaders, it is also the case that countries with strong democracies do their best to adhere to the principle that no one is above the law — whether they are former world leaders or not.

Recent research by political scientists at the University of Washington found that “both blanket immunity and overzealous prosecutions can undermine democracy” when it comes to prosecuting former leaders.

“But such prosecutions pose another risk to mature democracies,” the researchers continued, adding, “Strong democracies are usually competent enough — and the justice system independent enough — to go after politicians who misbehave, including top leaders.”

The researchers said that in “mature democracies, prosecutors can hold leaders accountable and strengthen the rule of law.”

That said, the researchers also stressed that prosecuting ex-leaders can be a mixed bag for democracies. “There are consequences to pursuing these officials – not just for them, but for their country. Presidents and prime ministers are not just anyone. They are elected by a nation’s citizens or their parties to lead. They are often popular, sometimes revered So legal proceedings against them are inevitably perceived as political and become divisive,” the researchers said.

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