Before jumping to conclusions or blaming political gamesmanship or framing the issue in partisan terms, pause for a moment and consider that Donald J. Trump might, indeed, be guilty.
On Monday, the House select committee examining the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol referred criminal charges against Trump to the Department of Justice. The recommendation is not binding; the Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation into the Jan. 6 riot, might or might not charge Trump with crimes. Yet the mere recommendation of potential charges for a sitting or former president is unprecedented in the history of Congress.
For Americans who like to claim we are a nation of laws, it is important for the process to play out under the jurisprudence system that forms the backbone of this nation, beginning with the presumption of innocence.
Predictably, those who habitually defend the most egregious of Trump’s behaviors are pointing fingers rather than soberly examining his actions as president. They are preemptively claiming that the Biden administration has “weaponized” the Department of Justice and the FBI, as suggested following the serving of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. And they are claiming that threats to lock up a political rival are the purview of a banana republic.
But through months of hearings and hundreds of witnesses, the Jan. 6 committee has painstakingly laid out an unconstitutional pattern of behavior by the then-president. Now, they have referred possible charges for obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the United States, inciting or assisting an insurrection, and conspiracy to make a false statement.
Whether the evidence might rise to the level of criminal activity will be up to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and his Department of Justice. In keeping with long-held practices in place before Trump tried to use the department to do his bidding and punish his rivals, Garland’s department acts independently of President Joe Biden.
That is how it should be; the Justice Department’s role is to serve the people of the United States, not the whims of a single office-holder.
Trump supporters have difficulty understanding this fact, believing that because he attempted to use the justice department as a cudgel (remember the chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!,” regardless of no criminal allegations against Hillary Clinton), then that must be the norm. In fact, it is not the norm.
Whether or not Trump’s actions have been criminal (leaving aside the various investigations he is facing for his private company’s financial dealings or his post-presidency possession of classified materials), the Jan. 6 committee has done important work in repairing faith in our system of government.
The committee has detailed how Trump and his acolytes attempted to influence the testimony of witnesses; how they took part in a cockamamie scheme to install false voters in the Electoral College; and how Trump inspired supporters to storm the Capitol and then resisted suggestions that he attempt to quell the riot.
As Rep. Liz Cheney, co-chair of the Jan. 6 committee, said Monday: “No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office.”
We agree with that assertion, but that does not equal criminality. We will allow the process to play out before reaching any conclusions on that issue.