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Why Is Merrick Garland Throttling the Trump Investigation?

The January 6 committee has piled evidence outside Garland’s door. Why is he moving so slowly?

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on April 1, 2022.

Between plague, disruptive invasions, economic consternation and the ceaseless bilge tide of right-wing social warfare, it’s been hard of late for an attempted coup by the former president of the United States against the government of the United States to make a dent in the 24-hour news cycle. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it may have something to do with the fact that the last major investigation into presidential malfeasance that actually changed anything was first gaveled to order when I was 3 years old.

The Watergate hearings are the gold standard by which all since have been judged, and have been judged almost universally to be lacking. The Church Committee hearings? The CIA, NSA and FBI are stronger and more ubiquitous now than William Colby could have imagined in his wildest dreams.

Iran/Contra? The most significant figures were pardoned, Oliver North got a TV show on Fox News, and Ronald Reagan remains a living saint in the minds of most Republicans.

The September 11 Commission? Don’t make me laugh. George W. Bush tried to name Henry Kissinger as chair, and that’s all you need to know about the chance that non-event stood of accomplishing anything of merit.

Mueller? Mueller? Mueller? Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! I rest my case.

Five decades worth of whitewash has been splashed over the doings of the worst people in government, said washings coming by way of “committees” which always seem to declare in the end that everyone is guilty, so no one is to blame. Either that, or they’ve been overturned tubs for blowhards to stand on and crow about the onerous burdens borne by white Christian capitalists in this strange and shabby place.

My faith in the investigative powers of government, when faced off against various centralized money powers that would just as soon stay out of the spotlight, thank you very much, is dialed down to pretty much nil. So you will forgive me if I am not salivating over the labors being put forth by the January 6 select congressional committee, the New York attorney general or the Manhattan district attorney. Only one of the three — New York Attorney General Letitia James — appears to be making palpable progress, likely because she does not have Merrick Garland flopped across her path like a heat-stroking bison.

Ah yes, U.S. Attorney General Garland, that perfectly named inert decorative object. Once, his name was a conjuring word encapsulating the serial misdeeds of Mitch McConnell. Now, denied a seat on the high court, Garland has become perhaps the most frustrating person in the District of Columbia.

The January 6 committee has been stacking damning evidence outside his door for months now with little to show for it. Aside from catching COVID, the only newsworthy act Garland has done to date is to prevent an entirely different congressional committee from fully investigating the boxes of classified material that somehow waddled from the White House to Mar-a-Lago when Donald Trump finally left office:

House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is alleging that the Department of Justice is “obstructing” the panel’s investigation into former President Donald Trump by blocking the National Archives from handing over relevant documents.

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland Thursday, Maloney said the DOJ is “preventing” the National Archives from cooperating with the committee’s request for documents and information, “including an inventory of 15 boxes of documents recovered from the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence.”

The committee is conducting the investigation, Maloney said, because it has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act and is trying to determine the full scope of Trump’s potential violations of that law.

It was announced late yesterday that the Department of Justice would (finally) open its own investigation into those missing boxes of classified materials. “The investigation into the handling of the presidential documents,” reports Truthout’s Chris Walker, “is still in its early stages.” Of course it is.

Speaking of the virus, the number of people growing entirely fed up with AG Nope Lump is exploding exponentially, and now includes United States District Judge David O. Carter. Trump attorney John Eastman — he of the now-infamous how-to-overthrow-the-election memo — has been laboring mightily to keep a cache of emails exchanged from January 4 to January 7, 2021, between the core planners of the Capitol assault out of the 1/6 committee’s hands. Upon granting that committee access to the documents, Judge Carter went on at length to underscore how there are obvious crimes here. Between the lines of his decision: What the Almighty hell is taking so long up at Main Justice?

“This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action,” wrote Carter in his decision. “In another email thread, Dr. Eastman’s colleagues discuss whether to publish a piece supporting his plan, and they touch on state lawsuits only to criticize how they are being handled by the Trump campaign. In a different email thread, Dr. Eastman and a colleague consider how to use a state court ruling to justify Vice President Pence enacting the plan. In another email, a colleague focuses on the ‘plan of action’ after the January 6 attacks.”

See Marjorie Cohn’s detailed breakdown of the Carter ruling for a fulsome understanding of how rare and significant it is for a judge to swing the lumber like this.

Such a lugubrious case of the slows on the part of Garland’s office is apparently having a trickle-down effect on the Manhattan district attorney. District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. made some ink a few weeks back when two of his top prosecutors investigating potential illegal activities by Trump and his organization abruptly resigned. Attorneys Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz walked after Bragg allegedly informed them he was not prepared to move forward with criminal charges.

The Pomerantz resignation letter pulls no punches in this regard: “I believe that Donald Trump is guilty of numerous felony violations of the Penal Law in connection with the preparation and use of his annual Statements of Financial Condition. His financial statements were false, and he has a long history of fabricating information relating to his personal finances and lying about his assets to banks, the national media, counterparties, and many others, including the American people. The team that has been investigating Mr. Trump harbors no doubt about whether he committed crimes — he did.”

Bragg has promised he is not downplaying the Trump investigation, and now says he intends to continue his inquiry until all avenues have been covered. Pomerantz and his cohort of prosecutors are not so sanguine. “I and others believe that your decision not to authorize prosecution now will doom any future prospects that Mr. Trump will be prosecuted for the criminal conduct we have been investigating,” he wrote in his resignation letter. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of future endeavors, never mind present ones.

In the ever-expanding cosmos of Trump investigations, only Attorney General James appears to remain on track toward something worthy of the effort. This is probably due to the fact that her focus is civil law and not criminal — nowhere near Garland’s sphere of influence — but hitting Trump in the wallet is no small thing, especially to Trump.

“New York’s attorney general asked a state judge Thursday to issue an order of contempt against former President Donald Trump,” reports CBS News, “claiming he has failed to comply with a previous ruling requiring him to turn over documents by March 31 as part of an investigation into his company’s financial practices. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James also requested that Trump be fined $10,000 a day until he complies with the ruling.”

With each passing day, another brick of screaming evidence gets dropped at the doorstep of Merrick Garland. The latest — a true doozy of a Watergate flashback — deals with a nearly eight-hour hole in Trump’s official call log on the day of the insurrection. He was seen on the phone constantly during this period, because he was apparently grabbing phones from aides and friends to keep his conversations off the public record.

“Trump did not grab phones at random,” contends David Frum of The Atlantic. “He thought tactically about which phone to use.” Why? Maybe the attorney general can help someone actually ask Trump et al. on the record.

Even now, more than a year after the attack, Trump and his people are unable to conjure even a half-believable explanation for what went down that day. “I thought it was a shame,” Trump told The Washington Post on Wednesday, “and I kept asking why isn’t she doing something about it? Why isn’t Nancy Pelosi doing something about it? And the mayor of D.C. also. The mayor of D.C. and Nancy Pelosi are in charge.”

Yes, the dreaded “Nancy’s Fault” explanation, bane of justice-seekers everywhere. There’s no way a prosecutor armed with the full might of the Justice Department can overcome such an all-encompassing defense.

Please.

There is a great, big ticking clock here. Except for Attorney General James’s investigation, most of this goes up in smoke next January if the Democrats lose control of the House.

Then again, that may be the point of the exercise, as it seems to have been for all those committee “investigations” of yore. This is Washington, remember? Everyone is guilty, so no one is to blame. Turn out the lights when you leave.

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