Public pressure on Merrick Garland to prosecute Donald Trump may be approaching a breaking point

Public pressure on Merrick Garland to prosecute Donald Trump may be approaching a breaking point
Former President Donald Trump (screengrab/@RBReich/Twitter).

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.

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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).

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.

Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance said that "Trump should not get a pass just because he was POTUS."

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe, who had Garland as a student, wrote that not holding Trump accountable would be "ridiculous."

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.

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