At 69, US Justice Minister Merrick Garland must make a decision that could have serious consequences. It’s about whether or not former President Donald Trump is charged.
A man considered “strong” in the United States. Merrick Garland, the US Attorney General, would sit on the Supreme Court today if Republican senators had not stopped him.
But he is faced with a decision just as heavy as those he would have taken in the high court: to prosecute a former president of the United States.
The 69-year-old former judge personally approved the FBI’s August 8 spectacular search of Donald Trump’s Florida home, and it’s up to him to decide whether he should be charged.
This would be unprecedented for a former tenant of the White House: Richard Nixon had been pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford before an indictment was decided in the Watergate scandal.
And if Richard Nixon no longer had any influence – he had resigned to avoid an almost certain dismissal – this is not the case of Donald Trump, whose hold on the Republican Party is such that he plans to run for a new term in 2024.
“The very idea of charging a former president with anything is quite extraordinary,” notes Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. “But what Trump has done is quite extraordinary.”
While the search of his Mar-a-Lago residence appears to be linked to the presence of confidential documents, Donald Trump is also the target of investigations into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and his role in the assault. of his supporters against the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The American billionaire has so far not been prosecuted in any of these cases, but the congressional commission of inquiry into the attack on Capitol Hill has given leads that Merrick Garland could follow.
Whether he will do it remains to be seen.
The Mar-a-Lago raid alone caused a political storm. In a country so deeply divided, an indictment could add fuel to the fire.
Merrick Garland has enough political acumen to weigh the risks, adds Steven Schwinn, but he also has other “difficult factors to consider”.
“On the one hand, Merrick Garland must necessarily think about his mission, which is to enforce the law,” he explains. “On the other hand, he knows well that any criminal prosecution against Donald Trump will embolden his supporters, and that there has been violence against federal agents before.”
A high profile case judge
Donald Trump and his Republican allies have previously accused Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Democratic President Joe Biden, of “instrumentalizing” the Justice Department for political purposes.
“Never anything comparable has happened to a former president of the United States”, protested the ex-real estate mogul, saying he was the victim of a “witch hunt”.
In the Democratic ranks, on the contrary, some have criticized Merrick Garland for delaying indicting a former president who, according to them, should be behind bars for having fomented an insurrection.
A graduate of Harvard, the discreet Minister of Justice is familiar with high-profile cases.
Merrick Garland led the investigation into the right-wing bombing of Oklahoma City FBI offices that killed 168 people in 1995.
He also brought to justice Ted Kaczynski, an environmental activist nicknamed “Unabomber”, who sent parcel bombs to academics and airlines.
In March 2016, Barack Obama chose him to sit on the Supreme Court but the Republicans, who then controlled the Senate, refused to vote on his nomination until the end of the Democratic president’s term. Donald Trump was thus able to appoint conservative judge Neil Gorsuch.
Very concerned about compliance with the rules, Merrick Garland tries not to comment on the ongoing investigations of the Ministry of Justice. But he was forced out of his reserve after the fury sparked by the search of Mar-a-Lago.
Recognizing an “important public interest”, three months before the mid-term legislative elections, he underlined that this decision had not been taken “lightly” and that “the law applies to all fairly, without fear nor complacency”.