In August of 1974, on the day that Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency, the Republican National Committee wrote a check to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to settle a million dollar lawsuit.
The lawsuit had been filed in June of 1972, just three days after five burglars were arrested at 2 a.m. for breaking into the DNC headquarters in the Watergate Towers in Washington. The DNC was claiming that the Nixon campaign committee was illegally interfering in the 1972 presidential election.
Yesterday the DNC filed another civil lawsuit for a similar reason, claiming that the Trump presidential campaign committee (as well as numerous other defendants) had illegally interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Republicans and the news media scoffed at the DNC lawsuit in 1972, but the Democrats eventually won the suit and collected damages. Yesterday many people were also ridiculing the DNC move, but it may turn out to be another big victory for the Democrats.
There is a big difference between criminal cases and civil cases, as we found out in O.J.’s case. Whoever brings a lawsuit has to meet what the legal system terms the “burden of proof” in order to prevail in court. And there is a very different burden of proof in a civil case than in a criminal case.
As almost everyone knows, O.J. was acquitted of murder at trial and set free. The criminal trial was a failure for the prosecutor who had failed to meet the very high burden of proof which is “beyond all reasonable doubt.”
The prosecutors lost because the high-powered defense team had succeed in planting seeds of “reasonable doubt” into the minds of the jury. So O.J. walked away a free man.
Not as many people remember what happened next: the family of O.J.’s late wife Nicole sued Simpson in a civil case and won.
They won because the burden of proof was much lower for them. In a civil case the plaintiff must convince the jury that the defendant is guilty based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” (This generally means that at least 51% of the evidence supports the plaintiff’s civil claim for damages.)
Compared to “beyond a reasonable doubt” meeting the “preponderance of the evidence” standard is a cakewalk. And Nicole’s family did that and won monetary damages in the amount of $25 million from the man they knew had murdered their daughter.
The point of this is that even if Mueller is fired and the special counsel goes away and the FBI never charges the Trumps, et.al, with a crime, (or if the FBI loses at trial) the named defendants in the DNC lawsuit are not off the hook. They could be acquitted of all crimes but still lose the civil lawsuit.
The O.J. case taught us that a civil case is a very dangerous thing for these defendants and the threat should not be minimized. Not only could there be significant damages owed (and massive legal fees paid) but the lawsuit could drag out for months (or years) and be reported on endlessly in the media. Their reputations will be tarnished and their political futures destroyed.
This lawsuit will not be going away any time soon. For Democrats, it will be a gift that keeps on giving for a long, long time. The defendants named would be wise not to scoff at this lawsuit. It may prove to be their undoing.