From a legal perspective, this has not been a good week for failed, one-term former President Donald Trump, and a decision made by the Justice Department could prove to be especially troubling for the ex-president.
The Washington Post editorial board notes that Attorney General Merrick Garland is making it clear the current DOJ won’t allow itself to be used as a shield for the actions of federal officials who took part in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol:
“The Justice Department this week threw its weight behind a simple principle: Inciting an insurrection doesn’t fall within a member of Congress’s duties. Obvious as the declaration may seem, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s support for it is essential to a functioning democracy.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol riot, had argued that the DOJ should have to defend him in court because he had been performing his official duties when he gave his speech.
The Justice Department, however, said Brooks was mistaken and is not going to be his attorney against pending civil suits that have been filed against him and others for their role in the events of Jan.6:
“The administration’s primary contention is somewhat technical, homing in on the distinction between a representative’s professional and political activities, including campaigning or electioneering. It argues that Mr. Brooks’s words at the Jan. 6 rally fall into the latter category, which is not protected within the scope of a lawmaker’s employment.”
Brooks (and others who gave raucous speeches that same day, including ex-President Trump) were involved in a political activity, according to the DOJ, not their official duties as officeholders. As such, they have to foot the bill for their defense, not the taxpayers.
All of this op-ed concludes, is a warning to Trump:
“Mr. Garland has spent his tenure so far picking through a political and institutional thicket: tasked on the one hand with holding the previous administration accountable for any legal wrongs and on the other with ensuring that prosecutorial decisions aren’t based on partisan considerations. Too much concern about this second point, his critics on the left have warned, could result in his department overcorrecting by not pursuing prosecutable cases, or by defending indefensible ones, in an effort to avoid any appearance of bias.
“The attorney general has signaled he doesn’t plan to fall into that trap. Mr. Trump, who insists he has ‘complete immunity’ for his role in the winter’s riot, may want to worry about his own footing.”
Bill Barr is no longer attorney general and cannot protect Trump. Merrick Garland, on the other hand, just made it crystal clear that Donald is all on his own, and the wolves are at the door.