Will Donald Trump Escape Justice?

Alex Ziperovich

As rioters go to prison, the mastermind remains safe and sound.

An op-ed in the New York Times today summed up the grim mood among Democrats regarding the DOJ’s apparent inaction in pursuing federal investigations into former President Donald Trump, and his coterie of criminals in and outside of government for their various roles in the sustained and ultimately lethal attack on American democracy last year. As federal indictments and prison sentences pile up for rioters, the author of the attack remains untouched. It reeks of politics.

Remarkably, the op-ed calls out Attorney General Merrick Garland by name, in a sign of the bitter frustration with this Department of Justice.

The AG happens to be a former law student of the principal author, the Harvard constitutional scholar Lawrence H. Tribe. The fact that Mr. Tribe is calling out his former student so publicly and forcefully betrays a small measure of the shimmering anger many Americans are feeling right now with the DOJ’s political paralysis. This op-ed seems to suggest that Merrick Garland’s seemingly indifferent attitude to the worst attack ever perpetrated against American democracy is untenable, at best.

Surely, he must care? History will judge him based on how he responds.

Yet there’s a creeping sense that Donald Trump is getting away with his crimes, accompanied by the growing fear that he will seize that impunity and use it to once again regain power. He’s made no secret of his intentions.

Thus, the op-ed pleads with the Attorney General to act decisively, a sentiment every American who loves democracy can surely appreciate.

Yet one year after the insurrection, Donald Trump remains effectively immune from any meaningful federal inquiry into his vicious coordinated attack against our government, and the public remains unaware of any such investigation if one exists. It seems there’s nothing happening behind the scenes to hold this rampaging former president accountable for his efforts to overthrow our government.

Doing nothing is unacceptable if our democracy hopes to survive this attack.

The op-ed makes clear there is no longer any room for error or delay. These are felony crimes, and there are relevant federal statutes that have been grotesquely violated. There must be legal accountability for Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Mark Meadows, and most critically, former President Donald Trump.

The DOJ should apply the law. That isn’t too much to ask.

It’s unclear why prosecuting mere rioters from January 6 is seen as sufficient, when the actual leaders and organizers of the conspiracy remain free to continue undermining our government, untouched even by investigations.

Indeed, over 700 of the vicious foot soldiers who carried out the attack on the U.S. Capitol have been charged thus far. Many are facing lengthy prison sentences, and have pleaded guilty to various felony charges, including Obstruction of an Official Proceeding. The DOJ created a website to showcase its efforts.

Yet these are merely the puppets, the absolute lowest strata of the insurrectionist cohort. The masterminds are relaxing in sunny South Florida, lounging poolside at Mar-a-Lago while continuing to spread their poisonous lies about the 2020 election. They believe they’ve skated, that they will suffer no real consequences as a result of their wrongdoing. They must feel relieved.

They’re also clearly emboldened by their sense that they’ve escaped justice, as Donald Trump prepares to mount what will be a catastrophic third bid for the presidency. The United States won’t survive it.

The political trap

There seems to be a fatal misunderstanding regarding the political situation over at Main Justice, one that’s hampering our nation’s ability to confront the gravest internal threat it’s faced since the Civil War.

The mistaken assumption is that the DOJ has the luxury of staying out of partisan politics in this current climate. There’s simply no way to do that and to render justice for this attack because it originated at the very center of political power inside the White House. The lack of a federal investigation is itself the political act, and the wrong one.

The only thing that matters is that the DOJ prosecutes criminal wrongdoing, wherever it finds it, against whoever is responsible for it.

In other words, the Department of Justice must pursue justice. This notion seems immediately self-evident, though apparently not to everyone.

Of course, elected Republicans can be expected to attack and obstruct these efforts, just as they’ve attacked the House Committee investigating January 6 at every turn. This is par for the course. A radicalized Republican Party has been co-opted by a criminal for his own purposes, with the exception of a very few leaders, like Liz Cheney.

Only accountability can be expected to stem the tide of criminality festering within the GOP. It is the only possible cure.

The DOJ must act

It has been almost one year since the worst attack ever perpetrated on American democracy, and from a former president while he was in office, no less. It’s a unique situation, but less delicate than the AG’s paralysis seems to suggest. There is no good alternative to letting Trump escape justice.

You are simply encouraging another coup, from the same exact actors, if you let those who led the insurrection escape accountability. The only thing Donald Trump understands is power dynamics.

He won’t stop until he’s stopped. Democracy requires accountability for leaders who commit crimes while in office.

Right now, he’s watching the Attorney General carefully. Trump believes he’s going to skate on his crimes because the Biden administration craves a clean break with his divisive politics so badly it won’t risk a messy political confrontation. The DOJ must prove him wrong.

Donald Trump is nothing if not persistent, and the United States must confront this cancer metastasizing within its body politic, sooner rather than later.

The longer it takes, the more it looks like it’s a political attack, rather than the application of equitable justice. Merrick Garland is digging his own investigation’s grave before it’s even begun, by endlessly hemming and hawing. Crucial witnesses and criminal subjects are getting their stories straight, as the conspiracy eats away at the fabric of our system.

There’s no way to avoid what’s coming. We can’t just go back to the way things were. Political niceties are gone, business-as-usual is over.

The Department of Justice must act. These criminals aren’t going to put themselves in prison. Let’s hope Joe Biden agrees.

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I'm a political analyst and opinion columnist. I write about politics, foreign affairs, justice, and culture.

Seattle, WA
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