Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe explains how Trump can be charged for endangering people’s lives and health
President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Tulsa (screengrab)

Writing for the Washington Post on Tuesday, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin explained that she thinks President Donald Trump should be held accountable for violating the law and endangering the lives of others. She also cited a constitutional law professor who walked through the legal charges possible.


While one doctor labeled it "negligent homicide" and "criminal endangerment," Rubin wondered why charges couldn't be filed against Trump's campaign for clearly violating the law. She related it to the revelations in the Pentagon Papers that revealed leaders sent Americans to die in Vietnam knowing the war was unwinnable.

While Trump will dodge civil and criminal charges personally, Rubin called it a "moral failing" and asked if the same was true for campaign events.

“He didn’t care about the other thousands of people that were in there and the 3 million residents I have in the state of Nevada that are at potential of having disease transmitted because of what he did," said Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-NV) after Trump held a rally just outside of Las Vegas. “He only cares about himself.… He chose to show callous disregard in a reckless, selfish, irresponsible way. There is no other way to put it.”

While Xtreme Manufacturing, the company hosting the event in Henderson, Nev., was fined $3,000 for violating the law, Trump's campaign is getting away without any accountability.

Owner Don Ahern told Fox News it was his "patriotic duty to do what is right for our country, and what is right is supporting President Donald J. Trump.” The $3,000 fine somehow isn't considered a campaign donation, however.

According to the Associated Press, Ahern is also facing a separate lawsuit after one of his hotels was fined for more than $10,000 for hosting an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally and a beauty pageant in August.

"Should a repeat offender who knowingly violates health laws designed to prevent infection and death be held legally responsible for illnesses or deaths attributable to their functions?" asked Rubin. "This would essentially be the same thing as a restaurant knowingly violating state food safety laws, resulting in the illness or death of its patrons. The only difference would be the challenge of proving causality (that the disease was contracted at campaign event)."

She said that it raises questions about what accountability Trump's campaign should face for knowingly violating health requirements.

"Remember: Trump is explicitly not acting in his official capacity at these events — these are campaign events paid for by his campaign," she explained. "There is no shield of immunity that would prevent legal action after he leaves office and no federal pardon available for violations of state criminal law or for civil penalties."

Criminal liability goes to the issue of intent, Rubin went on, "or reckless disregard for human life, the standard in homicides other than intentional murder." Where civil liability "raises other questions, including whether individuals assumed the risk of attending."

The law does prohibit the reckless endangerment of lives, so where are the charges?

“I think Donald Trump’s deliberate exposure of people attending his rallies without masks and without social distancing, given all he has admitted on tape that he knows about how COVID is transmitted and how deadly a virus it is, would qualify for state criminal prosecution," said Harvard Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe.

Tribe said that the "First Amendment" rule doesn't necessarily apply because the events are the same as “tossing firebombs into a crowded theater than merely shouting ‘Fire!’ when there is none and causing a deadly panic.”

“Trump is literally creating a situation in which his audience of thousands ought to be running for the exits to minimize the risk that they will at least become spreaders of a deadly virus but will instead remain in place while Trump holds their attention long enough to make many of them sick," said Tribe. "That’s civilly and criminally actionable as reckless endangerment, in my view.”

Rubin told "responsible governors" to put Trump on notice that they will seek all penalties available under the law if he continues to violate it.

"That we are even discussing the liability of the president for willfully exposing people to a deadly disease is shocking," she closed. "But remember, this is a small part of his decision to withhold information that could have saved tens of thousands of lives. In essence, he has been exposing Americans since February to the risk of infection and death for his own personal benefit. The families of nearly 200,000 dead Americans will not forget, and neither should the rest of us."

Read the full piece at the Washington Post.