DoJ dragged feet over including Trump in Jan 6 probe over fears of appearing biased, report says

Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision virtually ensured that probe would take place largely during 2024 election

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 20 June 2023 10:59 BST
Why has Donald Trump been indicted again?

Long have American political observers and analysts wondered why the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump for the attack on the Capitol by his supporters began to heat up only in 2022 as the January 6 committee would begin publicly pressuring the agency to take action.

Now, there’s a possible answer: The Washington Post reports that the DoJ and FBI both were involved in a baffling level of foot-dragging over the issue, and only began committing serious resources to the investigation into Mr Trump himself after it was clear to many that the former president would be a candidate for office once again.

According to the Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland and others throughout the agencies were extremely concerned with the institutions’ public credibility and reputation, fearing accusations of partisanship and political weaponisation should they go forward with a prosecution of Mr Trump for the riot that led to members of Congress as well as his own vice president hiding from (in many cases, armed) attackers intent on committing violence and stopping lawmakers from certifying the election.

For that reason, the investigation into Mr Trump himself “consisted of just four prosecutors working with agents with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the National Archives and Records Administration” for at least the first 12 months immediately following the attack.

Mr Garland and the DoJ have routinely refused to comment on the status of the investigation or its scope, appearing only rarely to deliver short updates to the press. In 2022, his rhetoric notably sharpened, as the AG vowed that his agency would prosecute absolutely anyone who could be proven guilty of criminal activity related to the attack.

But according to the Post, which cited multiple sources familiar with discussions within the FBI’s Washington DC field office, the law enforcement agency was still stonewalling efforts by prosecutors to expand the probe into Mr Trump’s campaign to produce slates of “alternate electors” and illegally change the results of the election into the fall of 2021.

The agency was even reportedly hesitant to bring charges of seditious conspiracy against members of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia which participated in the attack, fearing that those charges may be overturned on appeal in a politically-embarassing development for their overall prosecution of Jan 6. But those charges were eventually brought against Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. His attorneys, of course, have vowed to appeal.

The decision by Mr Garland and his team illustrates one thing: the very real decay in Americans’ trust in institutions, especially at the federal level, and the concern for that decay in trust which US leaders now must consider. The episode also reveals a potential inability or failing of the Justice Department to effectively respond, however, given that the DoJ’s investigations now face the same accusations Mr Garland reportedly feared thanks in no small part due to the fact that Mr Trump launched his campaign for the presidency before he was formally indicted in any of the multitude of criminal investigations, including the January 6 case, for which he remains uncharged.

By contrast, the January 6 committee had called on the Justice Department to charge Mr Trump with giving comfort to an insurrection in December of 2022, even after that panel too was delayed by months of court battles over congressional subpoenas and the near-total resistance of the GOP to the investigation itself.

DoJ special counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the investigation into the Trump team’s efforts to overturn the election, facilitated Mr Trump’s indictment on charges related to the illegal retention of classified documents and other records from the White House earlier this month. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is also set to announce sometime this summer whether Mr Trump or members of his legal team will face charges for attempting to pressure local leaders to change the election results in Georgia.

It remains unclear when the DoJ will announce whether Mr Trump or members of his White House team will face criminal action related to the attack on the Capitol.

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