There has been some suggestion that the US judicial system should slow its investigations into Donald Trump or abandon them altogether. American social peace, they argue, is more precious than the blind pursuit of justice. If the price of stability is tolerance, so be it. Fortunately, Merrick Garland, the US Attorney General, swore an oath to the US constitution, not to the roulette wheel of political risk prediction. It is entirely plausible that the US Department of Justice’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 of the former president by attorneys in New York, Atlanta and Washington DC. It is also conceivable that any of these, or the methods of the investigators themselves, could lead to retaliatory violence by Trump supporters. Trump is already using the trope of his persecution to shore up his electoral fortunes in 2024. These are the possibly inevitable side effects of the pursuit of justice. It would send a terrible signal if the American legal system caved in to intimidation or fear of unintended consequences.
One of the strangest smears against Garland is that she is the spearhead of a deep-state revenge operation in the United States on behalf of President Joe Biden. There is no evidence for this conspiracy theory. Garland has gone out of his way to restore the DoJ’s independence from political interference, a principle on which Biden campaigned.
There is no reason to disbelieve 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 had made the FBI search public and misinterpreted it. There is no evidence that the material was planted at Mar-a-Lago.
The Justice Department’s final determination must be based solely on the weight of the evidence and the rule of law.
In addition, reliable figures in the pro-Trump media had threatened the lives of federal agents by comparing them to the Gestapo. Garland had no choice but to present the DoJ’s side of the story and ask Trump to allow the release of the order that allowed the raid.
It turns out that Trump had indeed kept funds of highly classified and top secret material at Mar-a-Lago, which posed a national security risk and was a potential violation of the US Espionage Act. 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 failed to comply with a grand jury subpoena issued several weeks ago to hand over the documents. This could have been solved without advertising. Last week’s raid was a last resort.
So where is the Trump investigation drama going? There are two possibilities. The first is that this particular research is exhausted. That now seems less likely than the second, which is that there will be enough evidence to indict Trump for breaking federal laws. Of course, the DoJ could still decide not to make this unprecedented move. But it is hard to believe that a figure as cautious as Garland would have approved such a momentous step unless he suspected that the alleged crimes were serious.
Either way, America is in for a very bumpy ride. Pressure is likely to mount on the attorney general to call off the hunt or pull out at the last minute. Biden will feel it too. The Justice Department’s final determination must be based solely on the weight of the 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 holds up.