Are people really listening? Have they read the 47-page indictment?

Those are silly questions. In politics, as in war, the first casualty often is truth, and truth becomes whatever a majority of people believe.

Some are comparing the 37-count indictment against former president Donald Trump and one of his aides to the politically motivated retaliatory acts found typically in a banana republic. But the truth is far more ennobling. 

In a banana republic, political opponents disappear or are arrested on vague charges and removed from society. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Viktor Yushchenko, who found himself poisoned in 2004 when he opposed Russia’s favorite candidate for the presidency of Ukraine. Lucky for him, he survived and won. 

Compare that to the indictment against Trump, which is not secret or hidden. It is filled with evidence and detailed information. Mr. Trump is considered innocent until proven otherwise. He pleaded not guilty to each of the charges on Tuesday. And the former president, if he chooses, will have the benefit of a vigorous defense as the charges are tried in an open courtroom where rules of evidence and procedure are strictly adhered to.

He’s still free to run for president, and new polls show these legal problems will likely improve his chances.

Yes, it is awkward and unprecedented to bring such a case against the leading candidate to defeat the current president, but it would be worse to send the message that the alleged crimes described in the indictment should be ignored.

No one, not even a former president who is a current candidate for that office, is above the law. But, as a Deseret News editorial said the last time Trump was indicted, no one is beneath the law, either. No one should be subject to unjust scrutiny or punishment simply because of who they are, their politics or their unpopular opinions. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

The scope of the classified documents special counsel Jack Smith charges Trump with illegally withholding and haphazardly storing “in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room” at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., is stunning. 

Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, told Fox News he was “shocked by the degree of sensitivity at these documents and how many there were.” Indeed, it is shocking.

Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney have different reactions to news of Trump indictment

Those classified documents “included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; 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,” the indictment says. 

It further states that Trump showed these documents on two occasions to people without security clearance. 

“The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods,” the indictment says.

With these kinds of things lying around in Florida, I can imagine U.S. allies would be reluctant to share information or cooperate on top secret security measures in the future.

Trump is not accused of selling or showing classified material to any foreign government, but the boxes were apparently easily accessible as the club “hosted more than 150 social events, including weddings, movie premieres and fundraisers that together drew tens of thousands of guests,” the indictment says.

Trump also is accused of conspiring to keep from giving the bulk of these documents back to the government. That was an effort that ultimately led the FBI to obtain a search warrant allowing it to recover 102 documents with classified markings last Aug. 8. It’s also most likely a key reason why the former president finds himself in legal trouble.

Critics of the special counsel’s actions note President Biden had kept classified material from his time both as vice president and a member of the Senate. But the president cooperated with the FBI in returning those documents. Even so, that investigation is still ongoing.

Critics also say these indictments open the door to future legal action against other political candidates. I certainly hope so, if those candidates are storing reams of sensitive and top secret materials in accessible areas and are refusing to hand them over. Otherwise, frivolous actions undertaken for purely political reasons would be exposed in court and dismissed.

As the indictment notes, candidate Trump said in 2016, “In my administration, I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.”

Indeed, no one should be above the law.

Politics has a way of muddling things and labeling people as allies and enemies. This case will be tried by a jury in Trump-friendly Florida, and apparently by a judge he appointed, and who has ruled in his favor repeatedly. 

You don’t see that in a banana republic, either.

The indictments against Trump are easily accessible on the internet, where members of the public may read and consider for themselves. The grand jury that handed down the indictments consisted of ordinary citizens. The former president will be afforded all the protections guaranteed by the Constitution. 

No, this is not the end of the republic. It is, rather, a necessary part of preserving it.