Trump Did the Crime, Biden May Do the Time | Opinion

The indisputable and inescapable conclusion of the Jan. 6 committee hearings is that former President Donald Trump planned, incited, and led the attack on the Capitol. It was not the rogue action of a few bad actors. It was not a protest that simply got out of control. It was a deadly coup attempt. A criminal conspiracy planned in the Oval Office by the former president.

While the Jan. 6 committee has done a masterful job in laying out the numerous federal crimes Trump committed in his desperate attempt to hold on to power — from conspiracy to defraud the government to obstructing an official proceeding to inciting a rebellion to witness tampering — the committee is virtually powerless to hold Trump accountable for his actions.

That responsibility falls to one man and one man alone: Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But Trump may not be the only president whose fate is in Garland's hands.

Despite President Biden's proper and well-intentioned desire to restore and protect the Department of Justice's independence as an institution, Garland is a Biden political appointee, and ultimately Biden, not Garland, will pay the political price if the attorney general does not hold Trump accountable.

Back in January of 2021, word that President-elect Biden had chosen Garland for attorney general leaked to the media in the early morning hours of Jan. 6, just hours before the attack on the Capitol would begin, and Biden made the nomination official a day later, while Washington was still reeling from the attack. The deadly coup attempt that happened between the leak and the official announcement dramatically changed the scope and charge of the job Garland would soon be taking over and the political consequences of his actions on his new boss.

Merrick Garland
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Whether it was to move the pieces on the chess board to create the pathway for now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to get to the Supreme Court or it was because he wanted an institutionalist with an independent streak to oversee a department that had an active investigation into his son, Biden picked a conversative and overly cautious Garland over other choices who would have been more likely to take the bold action this moment — and the unique threat from Trump — demands from an attorney general.

It is a decision Biden may soon regret, if he doesn't already.

While Garland has promised to follow the investigation wherever and to whomever it leads, all available evidence shows that 18 months after the unprecedented attack on our democracy, the nearly powerless congressional committee, despite having significantly fewer resources, tools, and ways to act, is far outpacing Garland's Department of Justice investigation.

The anemic pace of the department's investigation — especially when contrasted with the committee's work over the past few weeks — is dangerous, because while Garland may pride himself on his slow and deliberate prosecutorial style, time is not on his — or the nation's — side.

Because while Garland and the Department of Justice must determine Trump's fate based on the law, not politics, voters have no such obligation.

And given the pace of the department's investigation and their lack of action over the last year and a half, it is likely that voters, not a federal jury, will reach their verdict first.

A poll taken last month, before Cassidy Hutchinson's explosive testimony that placed the criminal plot even more directly inside the Oval Office, found that 58 percent of all voters believed that Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in Jan. 6. The number was even higher among independent voters, with 60 percent of them saying Trump should be charged.

And it's not just national polling that shows this. Recent focus groups in two battleground states that will likely determine which party wins the Senate this year, and the White House in 2024, Wisconsin and Arizona, found that independent voters — many of whom voted for Trump once before — by large margins want to see Trump criminally prosecuted.

While Garland operates in a political vacuum, his boss, Joe Biden, does not. And if Garland fails to hold Trump accountable, voters — who overwhelmingly want to see Trump charged — are likely to hold Biden accountable for Garland's lack of action.

The public wants accountability. And a verdict. If Garland fails to deliver one, voters may issue their own. And while Trump did the crime, in an ironic and tragic twist, Biden may do the time.

Doug Gordon is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of UpShift Strategies who has worked on numerous federal, state, and local campaigns and on Capitol Hill. He is on Twitter at @dgordon52.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.