On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department is investigating the actions of former President Donald Trump as part of its broader investigation Criminal investigation of January 6th. Earlier in the day, in an exclusive interview with Lester Holt on NBC News, Attorney General Merrick Garland hinted that the federal Justice Department investigation has gone far beyond the rioters who attacked the Capitol.
But he probably isn’t.
Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Trump may not be concerned about the Post report or Garland’s interview. But should he be?
It seems like Trump never worried about anything. He didn’t seem concerned when the Justice Department’s power was turned against him in the form of the Mueller investigation. He mocked the probe with sarcastic tweets. He certainly doesn’t seem overly concerned about what he calls the January 6 “Un-Select” committee. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Trump may not be concerned about the Post report or Garland’s interview. but should he is?
To be honest I’m not so sure.
Holt asked the right questions. Garland provided answers that were likely edited, printed and memorized in his office long before he arrived on the set of NBC News. The Attorney General’s responses didn’t really tell us much about whether Trump is a criminal target. They weren’t bombs or revelations. They were more like memes. “Nobody is above the law“? President Theodore Roosevelt said so too. in 1903. Justice pursued “without fear or favor”? That sounds like the same noble language found in the Department of Justice Principles of the Attorney General.
Garland told the Justice Department “int[ds] to hold accountable everyone … who was criminally responsible … for any attempt to disrupt the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another.” Garland just confirmed his investigation extends beyond the actual Capitol foot soldiers to include those who at of contesting the election results have crossed the line? It seems he did. But did anyone really believe that the Justice Department would limit its prosecution to Capitol rioters and their immediate organizers?
Meanwhile, the Post report provided much more detail about the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump. But what exactly was revealing? There was never any serious doubt that somehow the Justice Department was already investigating all the galactically stupid things Trump and his inner circle were doing to challenge the election results. There are too many to count: The pressure on the Justice Department to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest for me and the Republican congressmen”; the alleged threats against Georgia’s foreign minister; the wrong voters; the pressure on Vice President Mike Pence; and of course saying to a bunch of armed, angry supporters: “stroll“to the Capitol” with “Trump” and probably a dozen more.
We all learned a lot about this bad behavior at Trump’s second impeachment trial shortly after January 6, 2021. We heard more about this during the committee hearings on January 6th.
We all learned a lot about this bad behavior at Trump’s second impeachment trial shortly after January 6, 2021. We heard more about it during the committee hearings on January 6 this summer. What’s new according to The Post? The Justice Department appears to have obtained phone records of key Trump officials and aides, including those of his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. But that was back in April. Three months ago. Could this finally be the “smoking gun” the “connects the dots“, that leads to “walls close‘ on Trump? Maybe. Or it could make many of us throw metaphors around while we’re guessing. The Justice Department won’t tell us one way or another until they’re willing to tell us. Or accuse.
To be fair to Garland, he did exactly what was expected of him in an interview. In theory, this secrecy is what makes the Justice Department so devastatingly effective. It keeps things so secret that there’s no knowing whether the evidence is mounting behind the closed doors of the grand jury room or whether the investigation is stagnating. Law enforcement officials do not issue status reports. People often first learn they are the target of a grand jury investigation when they are indicted. This system works: hence the Justice Department Convicted more than 90% of the accused it pursues.
That’s not to say the Justice Department isn’t investigating Trump, or that it may not have damning evidence against him. The January 6th committee appears to have this evidence. And whatever the committee has, the Justice Department should have ten times over. Its resources and methods are simply far superior. The Justice Department simply does not conduct presentations and hearings in the course of its investigations. It’s too busy building airtight envelopes against targets.
And that’s key to understanding Garland’s law enforcement analysis process. It’s one thing believe Trump’s actions fit the essential elements of a federal crime, such as obstructing an official process. This is only the first step. Garland must also believe that the Justice Department can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt. He must believe that prosecutors can overcome executive privilege, immunity, the First Amendment, and other defenses. He has to believe he can find a jury that won’t sympathize with the former president. He needs all the time he can get to make this difficult decision. No wonder he was noncommittal in his interview answers.
Trump should be concerned, because everyone should be concerned when their names are mentioned in connection with federal investigations. But he’s probably just as carefree today as he was last week. Tuesday’s news probably didn’t move the needle much.
https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-finally-going-charged-doj-january-6-rcna40549 Will Trump (finally) be indicted by the DOJ for Jan. 6?