For months in Washington – whether over breakfast at the Four Seasons, lunch at The Palm, or dinner at Café Milano – the only topic of conversation has been: What’s Merrick Garland up to? Is the Justice Department conducting its own investigation of possible criminal activity related to Jan. 6? And, if so, how high would it go? All the way to Trump? Why hasn’t he already filed charges? Or is Garland, afraid of making the department look political, just holding back and leaving it up to Congress?
Nobody knew. And Garland only deepened the mystery with his sphinx-like pronouncement that “no person,” not even a former president, is “above the law.”
This week, we finally got some answers. Washington’s sleepy, summertime media exploded with first, the rumor, then confirmation, that none other than Marc Short, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, and Greg Jacob, Pence’s former chief counsel, had met with a federal grand jury looking into possible criminal charges related to the failed insurrection of Jan. 6.
Now we know for sure: The Justice Department, having already filed charges against more than 855 people who took part in the violent assault on the Capitol, is moving up the chain of command – is already inside the White House – investigating who in the top tier of the Trump administration is responsible for summoning and inciting the mob. And we know that the DOJ was, in fact, conducting its own investigation even before receiving any request to do so from the January 6 Select Committee. That’s big news.
But that news has also re-ignited another old debate in Washington: No matter how outrageous his conduct before, during, and after Jan. 6, should Merrick Garland even file charges against Donald Trump? Many leading attorneys, including CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, with whom I usually agree on everything, have urged Garland not to act. Their arguments are wide-ranging: that such a case is complicated and might not succeed; that prosecuting a former president’s never been done before in this country; that that’s how autocracies work, not democracies; and that charging Trump with a crime will only give him another opportunity to paint himself as a political victim in a trial that could drag on for years.
And so the question of the day has become: To charge or not to charge? Frankly, I can’t even believe we’re having this debate. It’s a no-brainer. Of course, Donald Trump should be charged with crimes he committed as president. There’s no good argument for not doing so.
Granted, this would be the first time a former president faced criminal charges. But why? Because we’ve never had a president like Donald Trump before. No other American president tried to bribe the president of another country; refused to accept, and then tried to overturn, the outcome of an election; asked a state official to “discover” 11,000 more votes; encouraged his lawyers to create slates of fake electors; summoned a mob of supporters to Washington and, knowing they were armed, directed them to storm the Capitol and prevent Congress and his vice president from carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.
Plus, the evidence is clear. Trump is guilty as sin. The January 6 Committee has made the case. Trump’s guilty of violating the law against rebellion and insurrection. S2383 strictly prohibits anyone who “incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto.” That’s exactly what Trump did leading up to Jan. 6.
And, among other possible charges, Trump’s guilty of obstructing justice, according to which it’s a crime “to corruptly obstruct, influence or impede any official proceeding or attempt to do so.” Which is exactly what Trump did on Jan. 6.
There’s also the matter of fairness. There were two different sets of players on Jan. 6: those who carried out the attack, and those who planned and organized it. It would be a gross miscarriage of justice for the DOJ to prosecute only the members of the mob, and not the man who sent them.
Finally, it’s important to hold Trump responsible in order to send a message: In this great country, anybody has the right to complain about the outcome of an election. But nobody has the right to overturn the government and destroy our democracy in order to stay in office. That’s an attack on the United States of America.
For those reasons, Merrick Garland must file criminal charges against Donald Trump. The sooner, the better.
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of 10 books, including: “From the Left: My Life in the Crossfire.” His email address is: email@example.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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