Same basic crime. Why such different reactions? Skip to content

Same basic crime. Why such different reactions?

Well-known Dem Jerry Lundergan was found guilty of basically the same campaign finance crime as Donald Trump. So why is the reaction of the two parties so different?

3 min read

Donald Trump was an extraordinary politician even before becoming the only former U.S. president to be convicted of a crime.

Trump’s crime, however, is not extraordinary. It’s basically the same thing that landed former Kentucky Democratic Party chair Jerry Lundergan in prison.

Both Lundergan and Trump concealed political spending that by law should have been disclosed in campaign finance reports.

Lundergan falsified documents to hide that his company had bankrolled services, including a bus, for his daughter’s 2014 campaign. Alison Lundergan Grimes, then Kentucky’s secretary of state, was challenging Republican Mitch McConnell for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Trump falsified documents to conceal that his company bankrolled payments to keep his tawdry trysts hidden from voters. If Stormy Daniels had gone public, his campaign likely would have tanked and the United States would have elected a woman president before Mexico did.

Here’s where the similarities end: You did not hear Lundergan or other Democrats protest that the justice system had been “weaponized” or “rigged” against the family of a McConnell challenger, or that anyone was “conflicted,” even though the prosecutor and judge had connections to McConnell.

Nor did Democrats complain that the prosecution was “partisan,” a “witch hunt” or “election interference” — in sharp contrast to the outpourings of outrage from Republicans after Trump’s conviction.

The U.S. attorney who won the guilty verdict against Lundergan, Robert M. “Rob” Duncan Jr., is the son of a prominent Republican fundraiser, Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, who has served on the Republican National Committee, including as its chairman. The elder Duncan is close to McConnell and has served as a director of McConnell’s super PAC. Rob Duncan is now deputy to Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, who sentenced Lundergan to 21 months in prison and two years of supervised release, is a former McConnell staffer. While Lundergan was awaiting sentencing, it was reported that Van Tatenhove’s wife had given $250,000 to the McConnell Center, cofounded by McConnell, at the University of Louisville.

At the time of the sentencing, Rob Duncan said, “This case should underscore the fundamental principle that breaking the law has consequences.”

Also, “These are important laws that regulate the integrity of our elections.”

The judge received 89 letters on behalf of Lundergan, including one from former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Van Tatenhove said he was convinced that Lundergan had done good in his life, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported, but said a loss of liberty was required to hold Lundergan accountable under the jury’s verdict.

Lundergan appealed, as Trump will, but his appeals failed, and he served time in federal prison and a halfway house.

We don’t know what sentence awaits Trump, but his conviction won’t shake his MAGA supporters’ loyalty; they’ve excused a mountain of sleaze to stand by their Trump.

Still, the zeal with which elected Republicans rushed to his defense, marching in rhetorical goose-step – er, I mean, lockstep, is dismaying. They could have just remained silent like Kentucky Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams. It seemed as if they felt they had to make a display of loyalty to Trump. (And some are auditioning to be his running mate.)

Especially rich are the cries of “election interference” from people — like Appalachian imposter and U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio — who defend the Trump followers who interfered big time in an election by violently attacking the U.S. Capitol and Congress.

Even Kentucky’s top law enforcement official, Rob Duncan’s boss, Attorney General Coleman, tweeted: “It’s politics — not the law — behind New York’s prosecution of President Trump. The American people want to focus on the issues that matter and will render their own verdict on November 5th.”

I’m not a lawyer, but Coleman’s statement strikes me as odd coming from someone who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution.

I do have a feeling Coleman is correct when it comes to Nov. 5. The American people will have to be the ones who, in the words of Jerry Lundergan’s prosecutor, “underscore the fundamental principle that breaking the law has consequences” and uphold “the integrity of our elections.”

The “party of law and order” sure isn’t doing it.


Written by Jamie Lucke. Cross-posted from the Northern Kentucky Tribune.

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The NKyTribune is a publication of the KY Center for Public Service Journalism. We are a nonpartisan, independent news organization that produces journalism in the public interest for a place we love.