The Department of Justice is doing “nothing.” Attorney General Merrick Garland is a “coward” who’s hiding under his desk. Garland and the DOJ have decided to let Donald Trump and other corrupt Republicans “get away with it all.” And we know this because if any given Republican were going to be indicted, “it would have happened by now.”
These phrases, as simplistic and empty and frankly stupid as they are, have become so commonplace among commentators on cable news and social media, one might almost be tempted to accept them as a valid point of view. But now and then something happens in the real world which reminds us that none of the above phrases ever apply to anything that’s ever happening.
Last night we had one of those moments when the news broke that the DOJ had brought criminal charges against sitting House Republican George Santos. There was no buildup. No hype. No forewarning that anything was coming. In fact, in the several months since it was first reported that the DOJ had opened a criminal investigation into Santos, nothing publicly surfaced at all to suggest that the case had taken a single step forward.
Yet while nothing was coming out publicly, a whole lot was clearly going on behind the scenes. The DOJ investigated George Santos’ acts of potential financial fraud, subpoenaed whatever was necessary, convened a grand jury, put whatever witnesses on the stand who were necessary to the case, and had the grand jury bring a criminal indictment against Santos, all without any of it becoming public along the way.
This is the kind of thing that the DOJ is actually doing behind the scenes, with minimal leaks and no fanfare, while the most clueless and/or opportunistic pundits on TV and Twitter have yelled around about how the DOJ is doing “nothing.”
It is true that, by giving the media and the public so little to work with while a criminal probe is playing out, the DOJ is doing a very poor job of putting on a reality show. But once you remember that none of this is for anyone’s entertainment, and that this is instead about deciding who belongs in prison and then building the kind of overwhelming criminal case that will convince a trial jury to indeed put that person in prison, it becomes obvious why the DOJ refuses to treat these things as if they were for the public’s entertainment.
It’s also a timely reminder that we, the public and the media, usually have no idea who is or isn’t under DOJ criminal investigation. We knew George Santos was because there had been one initial headline about it months ago, but if not for that, we’d have spent all this time thinking that Santos wasn’t under DOJ investigation. How many or few other Republican office holders are under DOJ criminal investigation as we speak? How many of them have been for a long time, and are near indictment? How many are being targeted as part of Jack Smith’s probe? We honestly don’t know. But that’s the point. We don’t know, and neither do they.
It’s not easy for the media and pundit class to just admit that they have no idea what’s going on. No one wants to go in front of the camera and say that there’s no way to know which House or Senate Republicans might be under active DOJ criminal investigation. That doesn’t make anyone sound smart or authoritative. But it is the truth. And the next time folks in this industry start taking advantage of a vacuum by yelling “DOJ is doing nothing,” we should all keep in mind that there’s no way they could possibly know that. If you’d polled these types of pundits a day ago, every one of them would have baselessly claimed that the DOJ had already let George Santos off the hook. Let’s stop taking these types of pundits seriously going forward.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report