Public pressure on Merrick Garland to prosecute Donald Trump may be approaching a breaking point
The House of Representatives' Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is holdings its fourth public hearing on Tuesday afternoon. The bipartisan panel's focus will be former President Donald Trump's alleged scheme to pressure elections officials in multiple states to overturn the results of the 2020 contest.
The most infamous instance was when Trump called Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to pressure him to "find 11,780 votes." Trump lost the Peach State and its 16 Electoral College votes to President Joe Biden by 11,779. Raffensperger refused, informing Trump that there was no evidence of fraud and that Biden had legitimately won.
In other swing states that were carried by Biden, such as Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Team Trump recruited and convened fake groups of electors tasked with preventing – or at least disrupting – the congressional certification of Biden's victory in their respective states. There were also outreach efforts to state legislators to overrule the will of the voters. This plot culminated on January 6th, 2021, when then-Vice President Mike Pence refused to comply with Trump's demand to reject Biden's victory in the Electoral College and send the ballots that Trump was baselessly contesting back to the states. While that was occurring, the violent mob revved up by Trump at his Stop the Steal rally stormed the Capitol, chanting "hang Mike Pence" and hunting down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) for assassination. Five people including four police officers were killed.
The evidence presented by lawmakers so far has been undeniably devastating for Trump and his associates.
On Tuesday morning, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote in a Washington Post editorial that "the question is no longer about Donald Trump’s role in the attempted coup (there is no doubt his fingerprints are all over it); instead, the country is avidly debating whether there is sufficient evidence of Trump’s corrupt intent to prosecute him for it."
Rubin cited recent surveys that show how public opinion toward Trump has negatively shifted and that pressure is thusly mounting on Attorney General Merrick Garland to make the unprecedented choice to indict and prosecute him:
One poll from Democratic firm Navigator Research found that 'the House investigation is garnering attention from the public, with 63 percent of respondents saying they have heard ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ about the hearings.' Even more telling: 'An increasing number of Americans believe that it is important to uncover the truth behind the attempted coup; respondents said that the hearings were important by a 15-point margin, up five points from April.' That increase is largely driven by independents, 45 percent of whom now say the investigation is important, compared with 26 percent who say the opposite.
Other polls confirm these findings. A new ABC News-Ipsos poll released on Sunday found that 58 percent of Americans think Trump should be charged criminally, up about six points from a similar poll in April.
Rubin noted that Select Committee members have foreshadowed that more proof of Trump's involvement will be presented as the hearings proceed, and she laid out three key factors that are likely to further swing the political tides against Trump.
First, she predicted that Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis will be paying very close attention to Tuesday's hearing as she builds her criminal case versus Trump for his attempt to tamper with the election results in Georgia. Willis convened a grand jury last month.
Second, Rubin believes that Trump's fundraising off of the Big Lie – which Committee member Zoe Lofgren (D-California) has called a "grift" –could lead to "criminal or civil liability" and "will no doubt be the subject of vigorous investigation among state prosecutors, state attorneys general and class-action lawyers. Without the hearings, it’s doubtful that ever would have occurred."
Third, and perhaps most critically, Rubin stressed that while Garland "has vowed to ignore all politics" and that "his decision will inevitably involve whether he thinks a jury can find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," the attorney general may indeed face fierce backlash if he opts to not charge Trump with a crime.
"If anything, public expectations might be shifting such that a refusal to prosecute would seem shocking to most Americans," Rubin said.
Read Rubin's full column here (subscription required).
\u201cif he doesn't prosecute, Garland will be under tremendous pressure to justify why the mound of evidence is not enough. If anything, public expectations might be shifting such that a refusal to prosecute would seem shocking to most Americans.\nhttps://t.co/uXqHEscW9u\u201d— Jennifer 'I stand with Ukraine' Rubin \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Jennifer 'I stand with Ukraine' Rubin \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1655823370
Rubin's opinion is far from unique.
On Monday, she tweeted that what some have referred to as Trump's questionable "intent" was actually his motive.
\u201cSurprised he would make this obvious error: Many have noted that Mr. Trump can plausibly defend these charges by arguing that he lacked criminal intent because he truly believed that massive voter fraud had taken place. No. That\u2019s motive. https://t.co/euUBMMPGyi\u201d— Jennifer 'I stand with Ukraine' Rubin \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Jennifer 'I stand with Ukraine' Rubin \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1655729854
Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance said that "Trump should not get a pass just because he was POTUS."
\u201cProsecutors make difficult decisions in every case. & they should because people's futures are at stake. But Trump should not get a pass just because her was POTUS or because he sticks so insistently to his lies. Otherwise as he'd be above the law. https://t.co/PxYgKZbgs1\u201d— Joyce Alene (@Joyce Alene) 1655734435
Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe, who had Garland as a student, wrote that not holding Trump accountable would be "ridiculous."
\u201cApart from the other flaws in this piece, it\u2019s ridiculous to call \u201clegally powerful\u201d the wild claim that all Trump is charged with doing after losing the 11/20 election constituted \u201cexercises of his constitutional prerogatives as chief executive.\u201d\u00a0What?!?\n\nhttps://t.co/ADdLOfkFbm\u201d— Laurence Tribe (@Laurence Tribe) 1655745013
The American Civil Liberties Union put it bluntly.
"Choosing not to prosecute a former president who committed crimes is in itself a political position," it said. "We’re asking Merrick Garland to keep this in mind."
Other legal minds offered similar thoughts.
\u201cDonald Trump is now panicking as you can see with his claims there really was proof of election fraud despite his own AG, DOJ and cyber expert saying there was none. Why? He's simply trying to make Merrick Garland think it will be tough to prosecute Trump. It won't be. Charge him\u201d— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@(((DeanObeidallah)))) 1655729157
\u201cNearly 60% of Americans believe Trump should be charged for his role in the January 6th Capitol attack.\n\nIt's time for Attorney General Merrick Garland to act.\u201d— Robert Reich (@Robert Reich) 1655740751
\u201c.@tribelaw et al.: "[@judgeluttig\u2019s] verdict should be understood as a plea for Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland to proceed toward charging Trump with federal crimes that the public record now amply establishes."\nhttps://t.co/oJWWQk3RFg\u201d— George Conway\ud83c\udf3b (@George Conway\ud83c\udf3b) 1655722440
\u201c.@jacklgoldsmith\u2019s piece underscores my point.The questions and challenges are largely political ones. What is missing from the calculation is respect for the rule of law, which is enforced w/ferocity & w/o hesitation against those w/less power. https://t.co/AA6PjjxKuK\u201d— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sherrilyn Ifill) 1655732150
\u201c\u201cMr. Garland, if you allow Trump to walk, then you have to ask yourself this \u2014 because this is something that I and many Americans are already asking ourselves \u2014 what is the point of the Constitution if criminals walk free?\u201d\n\n\u2018Nuff Said. #TrumpsTreason\u201d— \u00a7 Jason CranfordTeague (@\u00a7 Jason CranfordTeague) 1655737505
\u201c@DeanObeidallah The danger of a fascist takeover of our government has never been greater. Garland must prosecute Trump & conspirators NOW or be replaced! Nothing else will stop this insurrection, which is being legitimized, by shameful DOJ inaction !\u201d— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@(((DeanObeidallah)))) 1655810004
\u201cA failure to indict Mr. Trump in these circumstances would imply that a president\u2026.is literally above the law, in defiance of the very notion of constitutional government. It would encourage lawlessness by future presidents\u2026 https://t.co/7DPCHuKhRC\u201d— Barbara Comstock (@Barbara Comstock) 1655727614
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