Merrick Garland’s moment is here. Question is, will he rise to it?
The J6 Committee is handing the DOJ a case that many prosecutors would love to bring to trial. The testimony that has been on display in the public hearings seems, if not conclusive, at least persuasive enough to bring charges against the Trump conspirators. Merrick Garland has the opportunity to be a historic figure-not unlike John Sirica or Archibald Cox- one that leaves behind a legacy that will include the words “ helped savior of the democracy.” He can’t blow this. The timidity that has so far marked Garland’s approach to the most egregious threat to the nation since its founding is being called out by the yeoman-like work of Rep. Bennie Thompson’s committee. The “committee of the willing”, an intrepid collection of dogged Democrats and two rather brave Republicans, is outlining the prima facie case for indictment of the former president and his motley crew whose criminal activity was dedicated to installing a dictator and overthrowing our constitutionally elected government.
So, where is the DOJ? It would appear that Garland’s prosecutors are stuck in a loop best described by the 1980-era Wendy’s advertisement asking “where’s the beef” while being served a well-marbled tenderloin. The moment cries out for heroes, and yet, we are awash in cowardice. On January 6, after months of planning and laying the groundwork for their “quiet coup”, Donald Trump and his crew put into play their last-ditch effort. In lieu of taking over the government by illicit persuasion and threats, they unleashed a violent insurrection. Garland’s apologists suggest that the gears of justice grind slowly and that the case against the planners of the coup is being compiled and will be brought when it is airtight. They suggest that to proceed otherwise could risk a damning loss in courts — -could risk damage to the department’s reputation.
Il meglio è l’inimico del bene
Okay, so I threw in a little Voltaire to dress up my point, but is Garland sacrificing a historic imperative at the altar of his own exacting standards? This could very well be a case of the perfect being enemy to the good-a principle that describes many of history’s failures and more than a few personal regrets. Instead, Garland might consider joining British physicist Robert Alexander Watson-Watt’s determination that perfectionism is generally unattainable, therefore, go with your best option.
Watson-Watt justified his choice of a nonoptimal frequency for his radar with his often-quoted “cult of the imperfect,” which he stated as “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.”
— Brittanica, Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt
Watson-Watt proposed a “cult of the imperfect.” He was a pioneer prior to World War II in the development of radar technology that was credited with helping the British survive Nazi bombing raids. Charged by the Brits to come up with a counter to a “death ray” developed by the Nazis, Watson-Watt was unable to come up with a British alternative “death ray” but settled for radio detection of oncoming planes that could identify aircraft before they were seen — -radar.
Jack Goldschmidt suggests in his recent NYTimes opinion piece, that Garland faces an almost insurmountable task of the appearance of his investigation’s seeming retributive, of being politically motivated, of fanning the flames of our national acrimony, of (and this one is precious) “ jeopardize Mr. Garland’s cherished aim to restore norms of Justice Department “ independence and integrity”! Goldsmith concludes his defense of DOJ inaction with this observation:
Mr. Garland’s decisions will be deeply controversial and have consequences beyond his lifetime. It is easy to understand, contrary to his many critics, why he is gathering as much information as possible — including what has emerged from the Jan. 6 committee and the prosecution of the higher-ups involved in the Capitol breach — before making these momentous judgments. — NYTimes, June 20, 2022
Each of the opinion writer’s objections is an argument and accusation that would be offered by defense counsel at trial. The attempted takeover of the national government by subterfuge and violence demands swift and retributive justice. The posturing that suggests greater caution denies the clarity of the cause and peril of the moment. The call for meticulousness is in fact a tactic that will invite the very outcomes Goldsmith cautions against.
The certainty of a failure to indict
An indictment naming Trump and his inner circle of conspirators is essential to ending the lie that has fueled the coup which is ongoing. Caution for the sake of appearance and to stave off criticisms that are sure to be leveled by the guilty only leads to paralysis, and, in the end, complicity.
Rather than falling prey to the appealing security of certainty, Garland and the prosecutors he leads should be moved by the uncertainty of inaction. Time is not an ally and indifference to criminality is motivation for more. Garland should listen to the words of a founder who when called on, chose to act boldly:
“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.
— Thomas Jefferson
Charge them. Try them. Convict them. Stop them!
Originally published at https://www.dailykos.com on June 22, 2022.