MANSFIELD — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Tuesday he wants to wait and see how the justice system works with regards to former President Donald Trump.
“All any of us know about (the federal case) is the indictment,” the 66-year-old Yost said during a visit to Idea Works in downtown Mansfield at about the same time Trump became the first former president to appear in a U.S. Court on federal criminal charges.
“We’ll see what can be proved in a court of law. If the indictment is true, if they can prove those facts, they’re troubling.”
Trump was indicted on 37 federal felony counts related to his alleged refusal to hand over classified documents from his presidency at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
The 45th president pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday in Miami.
Yost said, however, the U.S. Justice Department and Special Counsel Jack Smith are not considering the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which affords former presidents some protections in terms of records.
“It gives presidents, as opposed to Secretaries of State or other citizens, rights to classified information even after they leave office. That’s gonna be a huge legal battle, I think. So we’ll have to see where that comes out,” said Yost, elected to a second term as the state AG in 2022.
Yost, who served two terms as Ohio’s auditor from 2011 to 2019, said he was concerned about the precedent of a sitting president’s administration prosecuting a political rival during an election.
Trump, who lost to Democratic President Joe Biden in 2020, has announced he is a candidate for the 2024 election and is the leading Republican in the race, according to national polls.
“There’s a reason that that’s never happened before, and it’s not because we haven’t had presidents that could have used some prosecution.
“Certainly (Richard) Nixon could have been treated that way. Warren Harding, not to speak ill of a child of Ohio, but clearly there were problems during the Harding administration. We’ve never done this before because there’s a danger in politicizing the criminal justice system.”
Many Republican national leaders have criticized the prosecution of Trump, claiming similar classified record allegations against Biden and former Secretary of State (and presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton have not led to charges.
How would Yost assuage of the fears of those who believe the justice system has become politicized?
“I don’t know that I can persuade Americans that we don’t have a problem. I am worried about it,” he said.
“I think we probably do have the problem. But … a prosecution is one thing. There are all kinds of checks and balances because we’ve always had politically ambitious prosecutors. We’ve always had politicians that wanted to abuse their power and punish their enemies,” Yost said.
“The system is set up to (provide) checks and balances. We have judges, we have juries, we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s supposed to be a break on those worst impulses,” Yost said.
“So I guess the thing I would say is, let’s see if the system works. Let’s see how those other players in the justice system react to this. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Yost said.
A former journalist at the Columbus Citizen-Journal, Yost touched on a few other topics during his visit at Richland Source:
— His office continues in its efforts to stop robocalls coming to Ohio residents.
“We are leading a nationwide coalition of attorneys general. There are 48 that filed a big lawsuit last year. We just filed another one against a voice-over internet provider that had billions of calls over its equipment into the United States, millions into Ohio.
“So we’re suing to shut them down and hold them accountable for multiple calls in violations of the do-not-call registry. We are pushing hard to try to clean that up,” Yost said.
— He provided his rationale for filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decision to remove a local prosecutor who declined to enforce the state’s laws regarding abortion.
“There has always been prosecutorial discretion in individual cases,” he said.
“The bigger problem with the case down in Florida was about prosecutors who want to exercise a veto over state law because they don’t like that for their jurisdiction.
“When you take an entire class of crimes and say, ‘We’re not going to prosecute these in my jurisdiction,’ you’re no longer exercising discretion. You’re canceling the actions of the dually elected legislature and setting yourself up an as an unaccountable court of no appeal,” Yost said.
— He explained the thinking behind his recent legal opinion that government-owned public facilities, under Ohio law, have the right to limit bathroom accommodations for transgender people based on the sex assigned at birth.
“The most important thing, and this is really important to me personally, is that every human being is entitled to dignity (and) equal treatment under the law. That stems from my faith. I believe that we’re all created in the image of God and we should not degrade and demean each other,” Yost said.
“Ohio law does not prohibit segregation by sex. That’s a statement of the law as it is. That’s a law that could be changed by a legislature. I personally don’t think it should be. I’m happy to have that separate policy debate. The legal opinion is simply focused on what the law is in Ohio today,” Yost said.
— He said it’s too early to consider his political future. Yost is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term as attorney general when his current time in office ends in 2026.
“I’m not running for the United States Senate (in 2024). I don’t think my talents run in that direction.
“Everybody on the statewide ticket is term limited at the same time. But I’ve had a lot of people around the state asking me to consider running for governor.
“That’s very flattering. It’s too early to do that. But when the time comes, that’ll be an option that we look at strongly,” Yost said.