Merrick Garland is damned if he prosecutes Trump — but more damned if he doesn’t: columnist

Merrick Garland is damned if he prosecutes Trump — but more damned if he doesn’t: columnist

It remains to be seen whether or not U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will bring about a federal prosecution of former President Donald Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bipartisan January 6 select committee has certainly presented a mountain of damning evidence against Trump and his allies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Garland and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will go forward with a prosecution of Trump — or that there will be a conviction if Trump is indicted.

Liberal Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson, in his June 23 column, argues that there are no easy decisions for Garland when it comes to the post-election treachery of Trump and his allies. As Robinson sees it, Garland is damned if he does but more damned if he doesn’t.

“It will set a disturbing precedent if Attorney General Merrick Garland prosecutes former president Donald Trump for alleged crimes,” Robinson warns. “But I believe it will set a worse precedent if Garland doesn’t.”

Drawing on events in Latin America, Robinson goes on to cite some examples of how painful the prosecution of a president or ex-president can be in a democracy.

“All we need to do is look to South America, where former presidents Carlos Menem of Argentina, Alberto Fujimori of Peru and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil all were sentenced to prison terms for various crimes including, in Fujimori’s case, the creation of a murderous right-wing death squad,” Robinson notes. “In each case, diehard supporters believed their hero had been railroaded for political purposes. Those prosecutions may have served justice, but their sentences did nothing, at least in the short term, for unity or stability. And the prosecutions created an incentive for revenge.”

Robinson continues, “If Lula defeats President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October election, will the Trump-like Bolsonaro be put in the dock? Closer to home, would the next Republican administration invent some reason to bring charges against President Biden or his son Hunter? We should not rush to become that kind of country.”

Robinson stresses, however, that it “might be even more dangerous to live in the sort of nation where a president can violate the law with absolute impunity.”

“The January 6 House select committee, in its riveting public hearings, has made what strikes this non-lawyer as a compelling case that Trump orchestrated a fraudulent and ultimately violent attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 election,” Robinson observes. “Trump’s involvement in what amounted to a failed coup went far beyond the incendiary speech on the Ellipse that launched the mob toward the Capitol. And he persisted even though, as we now know, Trump was repeatedly told that his claims of a ‘stolen election’ were nonsense.”

Robinson continues, “Bill Stepien, Trump’s former campaign manager, told him beforehand that a ‘red mirage’ on election night would make it look as if Trump was winning — but only temporarily. Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, said Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud were ‘completely bogus and silly’ — and told Trump to his face that the allegations were worthless. Despite this, Trump went ahead not just with incendiary tweets, but with phone calls to election officials in hotly contested states pressuring them to ‘find’ nonexistent Trump votes or decertify the election results or name ‘alternate’ slates of electors. He called supporters to D.C. for a climactic confrontation on the day when Congress and the vice president would formally certify Biden’s election.”

Robinson laments that although the select committee has made a “powerful case for prosecution,” Garland will be “pilloried” whether he decides for against a prosecution of Trump.

“But he needs to understand that deciding not to prosecute would send a clear message to future presidents: Do whatever you like, and there will be no accountability,” Robinson warns. “No consequences.”

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