Column: Garland doesn’t lie — the Justice Department is targeting Trump

Tuesday’s Washington Post report that the Justice Department’s riot investigation is focusing on former President Trump’s behavior was important and reassuring, but not particularly surprising.

atty General Merrick Garland had repeatedly indicated that Trump would not get a passport. He repeated the principle with a hint of desperation only last Wednesday at his press conference. A reporter asked, “No one is above the law in this country — not even a former president?” Garland replied: Maybe I’ll say that again, nobody is above the law in this country – I can’t say it any clearer.”

Garland isn’t immune to bureaucratic language or even platitudes, but he doesn’t lie. And there was no doubting the importance of his words, despite the lingering concern of those who are desperate that he is not acting quickly enough.

Beyond that, Garland just made clear what senior staff at the department, including myself, have been saying for more than a year: It’s inconceivable that the department would be plowing through investigations and indictments into hundreds of criminals at the local level on the Jan. 6 riot — it has charges so far raised against around 840 rioters – and leave the possible ringleaders untouched. Justice’s creed is to work its way, perhaps slowly, it is true, to the top of the ladder of responsibility.

And for a very long time, arguably since January 6 itself, it had been clear that an investigation into the former President’s possible criminal liability would be required. From the start, Trump seemed knee-deep in efforts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power; Now, 19 months later, he appears to be on his feet to the eyebrows and the tide continues to rise.

So why were the Washington Post crack reporters only now able to confirm a focus on Trump?

The main reason is that the investigation has only recently resumed with testimonies from the grand jury of Trump’s political circle, particularly Vice President Mike Pence’s former chief of staff and adviser. Information about the grand jury questioning most likely came from witnesses, not prosecutors, who are subject to severe disciplinary action if they disclose grand jury information.

The grand jury’s focus on Pence aides, as well as other subpoenas issued by the department, suggests that the department is methodically focusing on first of the interlocking schemes for derailing the election identified by the Jan. 6 committee to use alternative voters . The other area of ​​current activity appears to be the coup attempt, led within the department itself by middle official Jeffrey Clark.

What happens next? Unsurprisingly, the Post report raises as many questions as it answers. Garland has stressed the intricate aspects of the department’s work regarding indictments against the executive branch, beginning with the possibility that potential indictments against Trump could bog down in allegations of protected First Amendment political activity.

But to get to the point, I think once the evidence is in – including the vast body of revelations by the January 6 committee – the standard threshold for bringing serious charges against Trump will be more than met. That means the department will be able to conclude with certainty that Trump’s behavior does in fact constitute a federal crime or crimes and that a conviction is likely.

What federal crimes? That’s a different column altogether, but the publicly available evidence is enough to show that Trump committed both obstruction and fraud against the United States in his plans to delay the certification vote. The important open question is whether the department will be able to indict Trump on seditious conspiracy charges, an overly serious charge against a former president but the one I believe best captures his heinous behavior.

And then the ultimate question: Will the Justice Department take the historic step of indicting a former president?

As Lester Holt put it in Tuesday’s interview with Garland, “Impeaching a former president and perhaps a presidential candidate would tear the country apart. …. Do you have to think about something like that?”

Garland’s response suggested that the department could put aside such considerations and treat Trump like any other defendant, but it’s hard to imagine how the government as a whole could, or even should, do so. It may fall to President Biden, in consultation with Garland, to consider whether law enforcement is in the country’s best interests.

The only leading precedent we have – the pardon of Richard Nixon for his Watergate actions – suggests that in these extraordinary circumstances, the judiciary cannot be blind to the general public good.

I think two things are certain. First, Garland hasn’t made up his mind and won’t do so until all the evidence is in and his team weighs it — and that will take time, far beyond the immediate charges his critics are clamoring for. And secondly, his decision is determined solely by his idea of ​​what is right.

That may be insufficient reassurance for the thousands of observers, including myself, who have concluded that the rule of law requires a federal indictment of the former president. But it’s the assurance we were thrilled to receive when Garland took office, and it’s a great start toward a just outcome for the nation.

@HarryLitman

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-07-27/merrick-garland-donald-trump-justice-department-grand-jury Column: Garland doesn’t lie — the Justice Department is targeting Trump

Alley Einstein

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