It’s now or never, America

The appointment of a special counsel plays into Trump’s hands, but there is still hope the former US president can be indicted.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former US President Donald Trump announces that he will run for president in 2024 at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on November 15, 2022 [Reuters/Jonathan Ernst]

Merrick Garland is a wimp.

When history and the rule of law demanded that he act, the US attorney general flinched. Worse, Garland has betrayed the solemn oath of office he took when he was appointed America’s chief law enforcement officer early last year.

Garland lifted his right hand and swore to “support and defend” the US constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. He agreed, as well, to “take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion”.

Garland did not keep his word. Instead, he has evaded his “obligation” to defend the constitution even in the face of blatant law-breaking by a former president turned “enemy” of the founding document he had also sworn to uphold.

Rather than fulfil his duty, Garland made an unforgivable – some say “cowardly” – choice. He told someone else to do the job for him since, apparently, Garland has more pressing matters to attend to, aside from potentially prosecuting the 45th president, Donald Trump.

In naming Jack Smith – the ex-head of the Justice Department’s public integrity section and a veteran war crimes prosecutor – special counsel to lead the Trump investigations, Garland has reneged on a commitment pledged on his first day as attorney general to thousands of Justice Department employees and, by extension, millions of enlightened Americans.

There cannot be, he said, “one rule for friends and another for foes, one rule for the powerful, and another for the powerless, one rule for the rich, and an­other for the poor… [T]ogether, we will show the American people by word and deed that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.”

Turns out, unsurprisingly, that by his deeds Garland has proven, yet again, that there is one rule for the rich and powerful and another for the poor and powerless. And he has confirmed that “equal justice” is a silly anachronism hauled out, on cue, in flowery speeches by an attorney general more interested in the appearance of propriety than applying the rule of law without fear or favour.

You and I know that if a poor and powerless American citizen had been party to fomenting and encouraging a coup d’état or had been discovered hoarding a cache of classified documents at home, the Justice Department’s formidable hammer would have fallen fast and hard.

Garland conceded this stubborn double standard when he argued in his statement announcing Smith’s appointment that “in certain extraordinary cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution”.

Incredibly, Garland said, in effect, that, as President Joe Biden’s attorney general, he could not be considered an “independent” arbiter of the rule of law – rendering himself and all the pretty talk about “equal justice” not only irrelevant but fraudulent.

If Garland’s intent was to blunt criticism that the probes into the “former guy’s” actions are politically motivated, he has either been in a comfortable coma since, say, 2016, or he is delusional.

If he believes that by setting up a “special counsel”, Trump and his legion of supporters inside and outside of Congress will refrain from howling about the sinister excesses of an insidious “deep state”, this suggests that Garland’s judgement is so cockeyed that perhaps then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did the country a favour by thwarting his nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016.

Meanwhile, when Smith leaves The Hague for Washington, he better have his body armour packed. Trump, his congressional allies and rageaholic Fox News personalities will now train their talons on the special counsel in a sustained, coordinated effort to discredit him and his work.

We and he should pay no mind and let them wail away in their agreeable, alternative-reality echo chamber.

Garland ended his sorry, meandering statement by assuring Americans that “given the work to date and Mr Smith’s prosecutorial experience, I am confident that this appointment will not slow the completion of these investigations.”

I have seen able-bodied pedestrians trying to navigate ice-caked sidewalks move faster than Garland and his ever-hesitant Justice Department.

Reportedly, the president has privately expressed his frustration with Garland’s plodding pursuit of Trump, whose abetting of a deadly insurrection on January 6, 2021, constitutes, Biden insists, “a dagger at the throat of Americans and American democracy”.

In April, The New York Times revealed that Biden “wanted Garland to act less like a ponderous judge and more like a prosecutor who is willing to take decisive action”.

Now, by recusing himself, the attorney general has, in a tangible way, rewarded Trump and his self-serving gambit to announce his candidacy for president early by providing him with what all grifters covet and require: time.

Trump will use the extra months Garland has afforded him to promote the absurd, but politically persuasive, notion that he is the victim of vindictive elected and unelected forces who remain, as always, determined to prevent him from “making America great again”, part two.

Smith’s investigation is likely to continue well into the new year and bleed into a presidential contest that will be gathering momentum – with or without a Biden at the head of the Democratic ticket.

Still, Smith is being described in media reports as a dogged, experienced prosecutor who wins convictions. That should, I suppose, be reassuring to those of us eager to see Trump in the dock. While the Teflon appears, at last, to be flaking away from Teflon Don, he has shown a remarkable ability to skirt the comeuppance he has deserved many times over.

Despite my nagging cautiousness and ingrained pessimism, I am convinced that the needle has shifted and Trump will be indicted – with Garland’s perfunctory approval.

But, if and when that glorious day arrives, it will be in spite of the attorney general’s infuriating dithering and indecision. He should not be rewarded with praise or celebrated for having done what he calls “the right thing”. Garland has not earned it.

Biden is right. Trump is unfit to become commander-in-chief again and he represents a danger to the already tattered fabric of America’s tenuous democracy.

It is time for President Trump to be reduced to prisoner Trump. It’s now or never, America.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.