Two elected officials have recently been tried, Pierre Maudet in Geneva and Donald Trump in Washington D.C. Maudet, a Council of State and former mayor of Geneva, was tried for “accepting unauthorised financial perks” tied to a visit to Abu Dhabi in 2015. Trump was tried for “incitement of insurrection” for the events of January 6. While the charges against the two were as different as the settings and world media coverage, the fact that one was a trial before the Geneva Police Court with one judge deciding and the other before the U.S. Senate raises a pertinent question: What is the difference between a criminal trial and a political trial?
The U.S. trial of Donald Trump was political. The 100 Senators sitting in judgment were not asked to decide on criminal charges. (Those will have to wait for future trials.) The article of impeachment against Donald Trump was for a dereliction of his duty with no punishment envisaged except removal from office or eventual inability to stand for future office. Even if found guilty by 2/3 of the 100 senators, Trump would not go to jail.
And, indeed, the votes in the Trump trial were fundamentally along political party lines. Only seven out of 50 Republican senators voted guilty. (In the history of the four American impeachment trials, this is the most who have voted against a member of their party.) All Democrats of the House voted to impeach; all Democrats in the Senate voted guilty. A political trial was decided politically.
The trial of Pierre Maudet is different in that: 1) He appeared before a Court of law; 2) There was one judge deciding; 3) Found guilty, he could have gone to jail although the prosecution asked for 14 months with a suspended sentence. Another words, the trial of Trump was totally political while the trial of Pierre Maudet was totally legal.
Was the trial of Pierre Maudet totally legal?
The difference between the law and politics is not black and white. In the Maudet case, it is even more difficult to distinguish since he is still a member of the Geneva executive and in the process of running for office in an election to be held March 7. One of his lawyers did argue that the charges against Maudet were politically motivated by his opponents.
The trial has become a platform for Maudet to remind the voters of all he has done for Geneva in his long career, of his devotion to public service as well as the limitations of his fellow executives who significantly reduced his official activities. Found guilty on one charge, there is no assurance that he will lose the upcoming election.
Maudet was the only member of the Geneva Executive elected on the first round of voting in 2018 and he was a serious candidate to be a Federal Counselor in 2017. Even though he was found guilty, his loyal followers will stand by their man.
Sound familiar? As much as the lead managers from the House of Representatives presented an impressive case against President Trump, as much as he was criticized in the media, leaders of the Republican Party continue to view him as their chief and hope for his endorsement before the 2022 election. His followers – remember 75 million people voted for him in 2020 – stand by their man.
The followers of Trump and Maudet will not change their opinions. Yes, Pierre Maudet could have gone to jail. And, yes, Donald Trump could still go to jail if found guilty in subsequent criminal trials. But, to their followers, the judgments will not change their loyalty.
The difference between politics and law is not black and white. There is no total objectivity in a court of law. Pierre Maudet is an extremely popular public figure, once the bright shining light of Swiss politics. Although he has admitted fudging the truth, although he has expressed regrets for what he did, although he has been excluded from his political party, he remains a powerful political player in Geneva.
And Trump? As long as Republican leaders continue to make pilgrimages to Florida, as long as those who voted against him during the trial are being censured by the Republican Party, he remains a powerful political player in the United States.
Will Trump remain a force within the Republican Party? Will Maudet win on March 7? Time will tell if Tammy Wynette was right when she implored women to stand by their man:
“But if you love him you'll forgive him
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him, oh be proud of him
'Cause after all he's just a man”