Biden’s DOJ is Making a Tragic Mistake Letting Trump Off the Hook

What do former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and recently ousted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have in common?

They are examples of corrupt former leaders being held legally accountable for the crimes they committed while in office.

When President Joe Biden nominated  Merrick Garland for Attorney General, aside from it being an affront to the republicans–particularly former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–for blocking Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 2016, many predicted it was a signal Biden was serious about cleaning up the Trump-tainted Dept. of Justice (DOJ).

While that assumption is mostly accurate, Merrick Garland seems to be committing a mistake common among new administrations–letting criminal predecessors off the hook.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon for all offenses against the United States.

Despite Ronald Reagan funding right-wing Nicaraguan paramilitary insurgents with arms sales to Iran and his successor George H.W. Bush pardoning the administration officials involved, President Bill Clinton refused to investigate them, choosing instead to put the past behind us and focus on the challenges and possibilities that laid ahead.

President Barack Obama made a similar decision regarding George W. Bush’s deceit about the supposed “weapons of mass destruction” Bush insisted Saddam Hussein had that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Obama also let Bush skate on domestic eavesdropping programs and treatment of suspected terrorists under the “belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” like Clinton.

Crimes seemed to escalate from administration to administration, yet each leader rode off into the post-presidency sunset.

Then we got Donald Trump, holding the record for the most corrupt presidency in modern American history.

Shortly after the election in November, Biden privately informed advisers he doesn’t want investigations of Trump to consume his presidency lest he alienate the over 73 million Americans who voted for him.

One Biden adviser said the president-elect “just wants to move on.

Another said, “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”

Biden repeatedly asserted he would leave any decision to prosecute Trump up to his attorney general, explaining:

“If that was the judgment that he violated the law and he should be, in fact, criminally prosecuted, then so be it. But I would not direct it.”

Well, it appears Attorney General Garland is deciding to eschew the path less traveled.

Garland’s Justice Dept. has now sided with Trump in several serious cases.

The first pertains to the decision to allow the DOJ to continue defending Trump against writer E. Jean Carroll‘s defamation lawsuit.

Justice Correspondent for The Nation, Elie Mystal, stated on Joy Reid’s MSNBC program “The Reid Out”:

“Garland is choosing, he is choosing to defend Trump here. He is choosing to say that actually defaming alleged rape victims is part and parcel of being the president, and we are, therefore, allowed to ask him why he’s making that choice. Garland is trying to gaslight the nation into saying, ‘Oh, my hands are tied! I had no choice!’ No! No! He HAD a choice. He’s choosing poorly. This is the problem.”

He added:

“If Merrick Garland does not think that U.S. policy should be that the president of the United States can defame women who accuse him of rape, then all he’s got to do is take that horrible argument that was left to him from Bill Barr and drop it down. The fact he’s not is a problem with him. Not the law.”

The second case pertains to Trump’s subpoenaing Apple for metadata on House Democrats and commandeering journalists’ phone records in classified information leak probes.

Last week, Merrick Garland explained the DOJ  inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced plans to review reports about the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee has since launched a probe into the subpoenas and demanded the DOJ submit several documents related to the  seized records.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)  criticized Garland over “apparent reluctance to correct the weaponization and politicization” of Trump’s Justice Dept.

In a letter to Garland, they state:

“The Trump Administration undermined the Constitution as President Trump consistently abused his power by seeking to use the DOJ to protect his political allies, undermine career officials, and subvert congressional authority.”

The third case is arguably the most flagrant assault on the Constitution Trump never had any intention of defending when he took an oath to defend it.

Last June, as the roiling summer of protests over the police murder of George Floyd were ramping up, Donald Trump ordered the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square across from the White House so he could pose for a picture with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Candidate Biden stated the day after the attack constitutes “violence that’s being done by the incumbent president to our democracy and to the pursuit of justice.”

He then called on Trump to “open the US Constitution” where “he’d find the First Amendment.”

Yet President Biden’s Attorney General last week convinced Trump appointee U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich to dismiss Lafayette Square protesters’ lawsuit against Trump, former Attorney General William Barr, and other officials for First Amendment-rights violations.

Scott Michelman of the DC ACLU warned:

“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government a green light to use violence, including lethal force, against demonstrators as long as federal officials claim to be protecting national security.”

He added:

“Under today’s decision, Lafayette Square is now a Constitution-free zone when it comes to the actions of federal officials. Not only is this decision a stunning rejection of our constitutional values and protesters’ First Amendment rights, but it effectively places federal officials above the law.”

Is it time for Biden to show Merrick Garland the door so we can break the cycle of giving former criminal presidents licenses to ride off into the sunset of a history that is always kinder in hindsight?

Why is Merrick Garland continuing the dangerous practice of behaving like Trump’s personal attorney, as former AG Bill Barr did?

Progressive talk-show host and author Thom Hartmann commented in his piece “Time to Say ‘You’re Fired’ to Merrick Garland?“:

“It would be easy to dismiss this behavior by the Garland DOJ as something that just slipped through the cracks, a theory that was offered by Garland’s defenders early on, given that the DOJ has tens of thousands of employees and is still well-stocked with Trump appointees and far-right Republicans. Maybe this just slipped past him when he wasn’t looking? That theory was blown to bits when Garland went before Congress on June 9th and, to the obvious astonishment of former US Attorney and current Senator Patrick Leahy, defended just these types of positions.”

He concludes with:

“The majority of Americans want Trump held accountable for his multiple crimes against our democracy, from working with foreign oligarchs to get elected to crimes against women to trying to overthrow our government when he lost. It’s time for the Biden administration to put someone in Merrick Garland’s position who will fight for our republic and the rule of law.”

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.