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Donald Trump, Samuel Bankman-Fried, and the rule of law
Federal judges have had it
A prominent billionaire is arrested on criminal charges. At his arraignment, the presiding judge releases him pending trial on condition he not try to influence potential witnesses and orders him not to speak with the media about the pending trial. He repeatedly violates the order. Eventually, the judge has had enough. He revokes bail and orders him jailed pending trial.
I’m not referring to Donald J. Trump — although on Thursday, Judge Tanya Chutkan designated witness interviews and recordings as covered by a protective order and warned Trump once again against trying to influence or intimidate potential witnesses. Trump had spent much of the past week blasting former Vice President Mike Pence — likely to be a key witness — and others.
No, the person I’m referring to is Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Bankman-Fried — whose wealth had soared to $28 billion before the collapse — had been under house arrest at his parents’ home in Palo Alto, California, since his arrest in December on fraud charges stemming from FTX’s implosion.
At a hearing yesterday, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan revoked Bankman-Fried’s bail and ordered him to await his October trial in jail. Prosecutors showed that Bankman-Fried had twice tried to interfere with witnesses, including by giving documents to reporters and engaging in numerous conversations with others in the media despite the judge’s order not to do so.
“He has gone up to the line over and over again, and I am going to revoke bail,” Judge Kaplan said from the bench. Bankman-Fried was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
There is a lesson here for Donald J. Trump, as there is for other ultra-wealthy people who for too long have assumed that the law doesn’t really apply to them because they can buy their way out of whatever fix they’re in.
Federal prosecutors and the federal courts are not buying it.
Over the last two decades, most of America has observed the titans of Wall Street avoid jail for egregious fraud, CEOs plea bargain their way out of criminal liability, and billionaires fail to pay taxes they owe without consequence.
Indeed, we have become so inured to the specter of the rich getting away with behaviors often worse than what average working people and the poor are routinely jailed for — including the 400,000 people now in jail awaiting trial — that it seems almost shocking that Bankman-Fried is today in jail.
He is not the only prominent wealthy business person recently incarcerated. On May 30, Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the blood-testing lab Theranos, reported to a federal prison in Bryan, Texas, to begin serving an 11-year, three-month sentence for her role in wire fraud at the now-defunct company.
Will Donald Trump be next?
The rule of law is not just an abstract, ethereal concept. It is supposed to have sharp, practical meaning: No one is exempt because of their title, money, power, or privilege. All those who violate the law are to be treated equally.
We are still a long way from that ideal, of course, but recent events suggest we’re back on the right track.
What do you think?