Vice-chairwoman Liz Cheney of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol said she is not ruling out a criminal referral against Donald Trump. This contradicts committee chairman Bennie Thompson’s initial position, who said he did not expect the panel to indicate one way or the other on criminal referrals against Trump.
Clearly the panel is trying to cultivate the perception that it was empanelled first and foremost to get at the truth behind January 6th, and not as vengeance for Trump’s disastrous turn as president. But members of the Committee are subject to the same overwhelming forces as viewers, and the perception created by testimony from Republican Trump loyalists is inescapable: Donald Trump tried to do everything in his power, including the unlawful use of force, to steal the election from Joe Biden. “A man as dangerous as Donald Trump,” Cheney said, “can absolutely never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again.”
Of course, the Department of Justice doesn’t need a congressional committee to tell it what to do about Trump. Merrick Garland can choose to indict Trump with or without the Committee’s recommendation. That choice may in fact already have been made. The Committee’s recommendation to indict would simply lend that decision a greater official imprimatur.
No president of the United States has ever been criminally indicted before. (Contrary to popular myth there are no warrants out for the arrest of George W. Bush or his former Vice President Dick Cheney in Europe.) These are new waters for everyone in government and the elements and actors responsible for bringing Trump to justice are breaking unprecedented grounds.
It isn’t even known for certain if Richard Nixon would have been indicted after he left office. We will never know for sure because he was given a presidential pardon by Gerald Ford a month after resigning.
So far the hit rate for the Committee is fifty percent. The panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans made criminal referrals against Steve Bannon, Peter Navarro, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino, who refused to cooperate with the committee. The justice department filed charges against Bannon and Navarro, but so far not against Scavino or Meadows.
A surprisingly large number of Republicans in Congress are privately hoping Trump will be indicted. With Trump gone from the scene they will no longer have to pay sycophantish homage to the boorish and disloyal clown. So a delay in announcing one way or the other keeps everyone nervous, including Trump. Have a happy Fourth of July, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, and above all, think about what this day means and why it’s worth preserving.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.