The evidence gathered by the Jan. 6 committee and in some of the federal cases against those involved in the Capitol attack pose for Attorney General Merrick Garland one of the most consequential questions that any attorney general has ever faced: Should the United States indict former President Donald Trump?
The basic allegations against Mr. Trump are well known. In disregard of advice by many of his closest aides, including Attorney General William Barr, he falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and stolen; he pressured Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count certified electoral votes for Joe Biden during the electoral count in Congress on Jan. 6; and he riled up a mob, directed it to the Capitol and refused for a time to take steps to stop the ensuing violence.
To indict Mr. Trump for these and other acts, Mr. Garland must make three decisions, each more difficult than the previous, and none of which has an obvious answer.
First, he must determine whether the decision to indict Mr. Trump is his to make. If Mr. Garland decides that a criminal investigation of Mr. Trump is warranted, Justice Department regulations require him to appoint a special counsel if the investigation presents a conflict of interest for the department and if Mr. Garland believes such an appointment would be in the public interest.
The department arguably faces a conflict of interest. Mr. Trump is a political adversary of Mr. Garland’s boss, President Biden. Mr. Trump is also Mr. Biden’s likeliest political opponent in the 2024 presidential election. Mr. Garland’s judgments impact the political fate of Mr. Biden and his own possible tenure in office. The appearance of a conflict sharpened when Mr. Biden reportedly told his inner circle that Mr. Trump was a threat to democracy and should be prosecuted, and complained about Mr. Garland’s dawdling on the matter. [Continue reading…]