Prosecuting a president: What can US learn from other nations?

The United States might be the world’s oldest democracy, but there is one thing it has never done: It has never held a former leader accountable for criminal wrongdoing.

That inexperience sets it apart from other democracies. Countries from France to Argentina to South Korea have held that former presidents were not above the law. In the process, both the countries and the individual leaders had to face the consequences. These trials invariably strain countries – sowing mistrust of other democratic institutions, like the courts, and dividing the public itself – with varied final outcomes.

America may be inching toward its own such moment.

Why We Wrote This

The U.S. has never prosecuted a leader for criminal wrongdoing. But other countries have. Their experiences show it is a serious test of a democracy, but it’s a test that many democracies have passed.

The legal jeopardy surrounding former President Donald Trump looms over the country. The 2024 presidential candidate is individually the subject of investigations into efforts to overturn the 2020 election, improper handling of classified documents, and questions of fraud. And that’s not including the House referral to the Justice Department for prosecution on grounds that he incited the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. A grand jury in Georgia has completed its election-tampering investigation. A special counsel is just beginning his work for the Justice Department.

Mr. Trump has consistently and categorically denied any wrongdoing, criticizing the investigations as political witch hunts.

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