It has been suggested that the US justice system should curb its investigations into Donald Trump, or drop them altogether. American social peace, they say, is more valuable than the blind pursuit of justice. If the price of stability is abstention, so be it. Fortunately, Merrick Garland, the United States Attorney General, was sworn to the US Constitution, not the political risk forecasting roulette wheel. It is entirely plausible that the US Justice Department’s investigations, which intensified last week with the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida residence, could lead to his indictment.
The same goes for other criminal investigations into the former president by attorneys in New York, Atlanta and Washington DC. It is also conceivable that one of them, or the methods of the investigators themselves, could trigger violent revenge from Trump supporters. Trump is already using the trope of his persecution to shore up his 2024 electoral fortunes. These are the perhaps unavoidable side effects of pursuing justice. It would send a terrible signal if the American legal system gave in to intimidation or fear of unintended consequences.
One of the most outlandish slanders against Garland is that he is spearheading a US Deep State revenge operation on behalf of President Joe Biden. There is not a shred of evidence for this conspiracy theory. Garland has done everything possible to restore the independence of the DoJ from political interference – a principle on which Biden has campaigned.
There is no reason not to believe the White House’s statement that it was not informed in advance of the FBI raid. Garland only broke the DoJ’s traditional silence on the investigation last week because Trump went public with the FBI’s research and misinterpreted it. There is no evidence that material was planted at Mar-a-Lago.
Additionally, staunchly pro-Trump media figures had endangered the lives of federal agents by likening them to the Gestapo. Garland had no choice but to present the DoJ’s version and call on Trump to allow the release of the warrant that enabled the raid.
It turns out that Trump had indeed kept hoards of highly classified and top secret material at Mar-a-Lago, which posed a national security risk and was a potential violation of US espionage law. We know little about Trump’s motives for taking the material and what he intended to do with it. It would be irresponsible to speculate. It also turns out that Trump had not complied with a grand jury subpoena issued several weeks ago to turn over the documents. This could have been solved without advertising. Last week’s raid was a last resort.
So where does the Trump investigation drama go from here? There are two possibilities. The first is that this particular investigation is running out of steam. That now seems less likely than the second, that there will be enough evidence to charge Trump with violating federal laws. Of course, the DoJ could always decide not to make this unprecedented move. But it’s hard to believe that a character as cautious as Garland would have approved such a momentous measure unless he suspected the underlying crimes were serious.
Either way, the United States is about to have a very bumpy ride. Pressure on the attorney general to call off the hunt or step down at the last minute is likely to intensify. Biden will feel it too. The Justice Department’s ultimate decision should be based solely on the weight of evidence and the rule of law. The strength of a liberal democracy is measured by the independence of its institutions. The world is watching how America resists.