Yesterday Donald Trump lost five million dollars and got branded a sexual assaulter by a civil trial jury. It was an ugly blow for him, and a very important verdict for the nation. But barely an hour later, news dropped that in the scheme of things was probably even worse for Trump.
Out of nowhere yesterday evening, the news broke that the Department of Justice had criminally indicted House Republican George Santos. It was a remarkable turn of events in a criminal case that had been so quiet in the months since it was first reported, one couldn’t have been faulted for forgetting that it even existed.
When you go months without hearing any updates about a federal criminal investigation, you tend to end up presuming that it’s either stalled out or been dropped. But in reality it usually just means that no one involved in the process felt compelled to give anything to the media. The DOJ will sometimes put certain things in the media for strategic reasons, such as scaring one witness into flipping before another can flip. And unhappy subpoenaed witnesses will sometimes go running to the media in a fleeting effort to throw off the DOJ’s strategy. But when a criminal case doesn’t involve any of those components, the public tends to hear nothing at all until the day the charges are filed – and that’s what happened with the Santos case.
What does this have to do with Donald Trump? Everything. The Santos indictment is a reminder that, yes, the Garland DOJ does criminally indict politicians once it feels it’s built a winning case against them. No one at the DOJ “cowered” to the Republican Party. No one at the DOJ decided that “the voters should ultimately decide whether to punish Santos” or whatever other nonsense the defeatists out there just love assigning to this DOJ. Instead what happened was the DOJ built a criminal case against Santos, decided it was a winning one, and indicted him without caring that he’s a sitting member of Congress who has already launched his 2024 campaign.
The Santos indictment is a really strong reminder that, for all the ludicrously defeatist rhetoric we keep hearing about the Garland DOJ, none of it matches up with reality. If the trial jury ends up agreeing that the criminal case is a solid one and delivers a conviction, then the Garland DOJ will have put George Santos in prison during the middle of his congressional term. The DOJ does not care about the political fallout one way or the other; that’s not its job.
The kicker is that while we heard basically nothing about the DOJ’s criminal case against George Santos while it was being built, we’ve heard plenty about the DOJ’s criminal case against Donald Trump. That’s because it’s the kind of case where unhappy subpoena recipients have repeatedly gone running to the media, even as the media has devoted resources to staking out the courthouse. The DOJ’s Jack Smith also appears to have given the media at least a few details about the case for strategic reasons. Even though we probably only know a fraction of what all has gone into the DOJ’s case against Trump, we’ve watched it being built. The only reason to suggest that Trump won’t be indicted is the tired old trope that “if he hasn’t been indicted by now, it’ll never happen.” But 24 hours ago, one could have claimed the same thing about the DOJ’s George Santos case, and look how that turned out.
In other words, Donald Trump is very clearly getting criminally indicted by the DOJ. We don’t know when it’ll happen. But we do know that Jack Smith knows how to read a calendar, and he knows how long it takes to get a criminal case through the federal court system, and how much time Trump can buy himself with nonsense filings, and how soon the indictment needs to be filed in order to safely get a conviction well before the 2024 election.
And now, the only rationale that Donald Trump still had left – the faint hope that the Garland DOJ might somehow indeed be “too afraid” to indict political figures – just went out the window. Every defeatist argument out there, for why Trump will magically get away with it all, has now been wiped out. The DOJ just indicted a notorious House Republican without even any fanfare. It’s clearly not afraid of Donald Trump, who doesn’t even hold political office, either.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report