Why Merrick Garland Is Unlikely to Indict Donald Trump

Former U.S. President Donald Trump may still escape prosecution over his role in the January 6 attack even after the House Select Committee has presented all its evidence, experts have warned.

Even before the panel started laying out its findings in live televised hearings, there were calls for the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to indict the former president over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and the subsequent January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.

Among the key moments from the first two televised hearings are the panel laying out how Trump continued to spread his false claims the 2020 election was rigged despite frequently being told this was not the case.

The panel alleged several GOP congressmen, including Scott Perry, sought pardons from the former president before he left office for their roles in attempting to overturn the election results.

The panel also said the far-right Proud Boys group, whose leading members have since been charged with sedition over January 6, were inspired to attack the Capitol by Trump's tweets.

trump charged jan 6
Video of former President Donald Trump is played during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

With several more hearings still to take place, with the next one now set to be heard on Thursday, Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, said the January 6 panel appears to be "methodically building the case" for an indictment against Trump.

However, Gift said he is still not convinced that Garland will ultimately take the unprecedented step of charging a former president with a crime due to the potentially significant, or even dangerous, backlash.

"Any moves by the Justice Department to prosecute the former president will be met with howls from the right alleging a partisan vendetta aimed at eliminating Biden's most likely opponent in 2024," Gift told Newsweek.

"Against that backdrop, there's every reason to expect Attorney General Merrick Garland to exercise extreme caution before pursuing a case—to the point where it seems like an unlikely scenario at this point.

"If he did, the surge of right-wing backlash that it would evoke across the MAGA-verse would be both enormous and with consequences that are impossible to predict," Gift added.

The panel has attempted to highlight just how prepared Trump was willing to ignore the truth being told to him about the election results.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat and panel member, accused the "Big Lie" of also being a "big-rip off," and alleged that Trump kept on pushing the false election fraud claims in order to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from his supporters under false pretenses.

Neama Rahmani, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Newsweek that the evidence presented so far is important with regards to showing Trump's state of mind in the days and weeks after the election—but "knowledge and intent are just one part" of a criminal prosecution.

"The Department of Justice needs more, and these hearings may be for political ends. The House is focused on the 2022 midterms and even the 2024 presidential race," Rahmani said. "The Attorney General would also have to prove a causal connection between Trump's actions and the ensuing violence of January 6."

Rahmani also suggested that Garland is not the sort of "aggressive" prosecutor who is "willing to take on a difficult and highly political prosecution" and charge a former president.

Instead, Rahmani suggests the prosecutor more likely to bring charges against Trump is Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is leading the criminal investigation in Georgia where Trump is accused of trying to persuade Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" 11,780 votes to help him win the state.

A special grand jury has been hearing evidence from subpoenaed witnesses since June 1 as part of the investigation into whether Trump committed solicitation of election fraud with his phone call to Raffensperger. Trump has frequently denied any wrongdoing, describing the call as "perfect" and the investigation into him a "witch hunt."

Garland has given no real indication of whether the DOJ intends on charging Trump over January 6 or his attempts to overturn the election. On Monday, Garland assured that he and the other prosecutors are keeping up to date with the House committee's presentations.

"I am watching, and I will be watching all the hearings, although I may not be able to watch all of it live," he said. "And I can assure you that the January 6 prosecutors are watching all the hearings."