By: Shardul Krishnakumar
January 6th, 2021. On that day, millions of Americans watched as a mob of supporters stormed the U.S Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. This event was no unexpected outburst; this was an insurrection. And one man was at the center of everything. Former President Donald J. Trump, who had lost the election to Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 6 months after the attack, the House passed a resolution to form a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol. So far, over the last month, the January 6th Committee has conducted multiple public hearings to expose the individuals who conspired to stop a fair and free election. They featured multiple individuals within the former president’s circle that were present in the days prior to Jan 6th and after, bringing to light the malicious intent of the former president. These hearings will not last forever, so what is next? The next correct step is for Merrick Garland, the Attorney General of the United States, to pursue a prosecution against the former president for the multiple crimes he committed in relation to the January 6th attack. Despite the various political concerns aired in regards to prosecuting a former president, an indictment makes it clear that no one is above the law, that no one can trample on America’s democratic values and institutions without consequences.
While President Trump was not the only one involved in the conspiracy to stop a peaceful transfer of power, he was very much at the forefront of the heinous effort. The first of the multiple crimes the former president committed was the obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress. The Justice Department charged hundreds of Jan 6. attackers with this crime, for they directly interfered with the tally of electoral votes. On that day, the former president never told his supporters to exit the Capitol’s premises for over 3 hours, despite numerous individuals around him urging him to do so. While inaction is not a crime, refusing to direct rioters away while they attempt to violently storm Capitol Hill and overthrow the electoral counting process is. Trump and his allies exhibited clear intentions to disrupt a congressional proceeding: that is a clear violation of federal law.
In addition, the former president should be charged for conspiracy to defraud the United States. For this crime, one must prove that “at least two people entered into an agreement to obstruct a lawful function of the government, by deceitful or dishonest means.” Through the testimony from a conservative legal scholar, Vice President Pence’s former counsel Greg Jacob, other West Wing aides, and Pence’s own words, the committee outlined how Trump and his lawyer, John Eastman, inflicted immense pressure upon Pence to try and overturn the election on Jan. 6. In a meeting prior to Jan. 6, Eastman proposed for Pence to either reject the electors on Jan. 6 and declare Trump as president, or declare a 10-day recess and send the votes back to the “disputed” states. However, he then went on to acknowledge such a plan would lose 9-0 in the Supreme Court and was in direct violation of the Electoral Count Act. In the end, Trump and Eastman chose to push ahead with this plan, despite knowing that it was illegitimate and had no legal or historical precedent whatsoever. Trump was so determined to stay in power that he unfairly demanded his own vice president to break the law. Luckily, Pence chose to remain within the bounds of his legal duty. Trump did not.
The recent testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows was by far the most impactful out of all testimonies during the course of the hearings. According to legal analysts, her testimony could provide the legal arguments to charge Trump with seditious conspiracy, an effort to overthrow the government by force. In her testimony, Hutchinson directly linked the former president to mob violence at the Capitol. She even quoted the president as stating, “ ‘They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-in’ mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.’” Trump knew that the individual gathering at the Capitol held weapons, yet he still told officials to allow them into the rally. Is that not a clear indicative of seditious conspiracy? When the president tweeted that there would be a large protest in D.C. on Jan 6, his right-wing extremist supporters answered the call. The far-right militia groups Oath Keeper and Proud Boys have in fact been charged with seditious conspiracy. These groups simply served as Trump’s army. They worshiped the former president, and blindly followed every word of his. Trump knew that. Trump clearly violated the law numerous times; now, the law must punish him for his crimes.
However, it is not up to the Jan. 6 Committee to prosecute Trump, that decision lies in the hands of Merrick Garland. Such a decision is not easy, and it has prompted a debate over whether the attorney general should pursue this course of action. There are those who believe the attorney general should not pursue criminal charges against Trump for a variety of reasons, such as the prospect of indicting a likely presidential candidate against Joe Biden in 2024 and the reaction it would arouse out of half of the country. In addition, an indictment would seem as if Garland succumbed to political pressure: his decision to prosecute Trump is a plan by the Democrats to get vengeance. Rightfully so, they explain that prosecuting Trump would cause the other side to retaliate, for American democracy to fall into chaos. Finally, if Garland chose to appoint a special counsel to avoid any conflict of interest, the country may have to deal with the indictment of Trump after he has declared his intention to run for president. Nevertheless, these reasons do not truly justify why Merrick Garland should avoid indicting Trump. First off, Garland does not hold a conflict of interest and is not facing immense political pressure from the White House or Democrats to prosecute Trump. He has been a federal judge for decades, never once involved in a political campaign. If he decides to prosecute Trump, it is because he believes Trump violated federal law, based on all of the evidence gathered by his Justice Department, as well as what has been gathered by the Jan. 6 committee. His decision should be made purely based on the law, not because of politics. This debate brings the question over how to deal with immensely powerful individuals suspected of criminal actions. No individual, however influential they may be, should be permitted to openly disobey the law. It is essential that Garland does not back down to fear, the fear of political backlash, the fear of hostility. This country continues to lose faith in its government and institutions; how would it look if an attorney general chose not to prosecute a president because of politics? Such a decision would bring shame upon the entire Justice Department, the federal government, and the entire country.
Just recently, the Jan. 6 committee accused the former president of possible witness tampering after Trump attempted to call one of the upcoming witnesses. Is that not the sign of a guilty man? To this day, Trump’s name is still mentioned across all media platforms as a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. However, in 2023, this country should be hearing not about his election campaign, but about his criminal trial. All of the crimes Trump committed— from obstruction to conspiracy— reveal how much of a threat he is to American democracy. Trump is a dangerous, manipulative man who should not be allowed to be president again, much less even be in the running. This is a man blinded by his desperation to maintain power; he is an endangerment to this country. It is not about going after a Republican, it is about going after a criminal. Merrick Garland swore to uphold the law. Now, it is time for him to do just that.