Reviews | We need a criminal investigation into Donald Trump

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After another week of compelling testimony before the House committee on January 6, it’s natural to ask: how many laws have been broken, by whom, and will there be prosecutions? Some argue that former President Donald Trump is undoubtedly guilty of serious crimes and should be tried. Others insist the criminal case against Mr Trump is still not watertight and that prosecuting a former president would tear the country apart. What is beyond doubt is that an intensive criminal investigation must continue.

The committee heard on June 28 from Cassidy Hutchinson, who was one of Trump’s top White House aides. Ms Hutchinson said Mr Trump asked his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to speak to conservative provocateur Roger Stone the day before the attack on the Capitol. Mr Stone was photographed on January 6 with members of the far-right organization Oath Keepers, several of whose members were allegedly involved in the attack. She said she heard about the Oath Keepers and fringe group Proud Boys in the run-up to Jan. 6, when Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was around.

Ms. Hutchinson also testified that Mr. Meadows sought to attend a “war room” on Jan. 5 that included Mr. Giuliani, former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon and other extremists. She said Mr Meadows relented after protesting that the White House chief of staff should not be involved, but said he would tune in to meetings.

This testimony raises questions about what precisely Mr. Trump and his senior staff knew about what would unfold the next day.

Ms. Hutchinson testified that, on January 6 itself, Mr. Trump was told that the crowd he had gathered was armed. He nevertheless urged the crowd to march on the Capitol, fight back and show strength – and, according to Ms. Hutchinson and by her own admission, Mr. Trump wanted to go along with them.

The public needs more information. This forces the committee to hear from more witnesses, forcing the Justice Department to prosecute those, like Mr. Meadows, who defied the committee’s subpoenas. It also means that the department should seriously consider concerns that Trump allies are trying to influence the January 6 committee witnesses.

And, yes, the department should conduct a criminal investigation of Mr. Trump himself. Attorney General Merrick Garland seems to be handling this prospect very carefully, and appropriately. A new administration pursuing a former president of the opposing party would set a perilous precedent; one need only look to the long history of failing democracies abroad, in which new rulers judged those they deposed, to see the danger. Prosecuting Mr. Trump also risks helping him politically.

On the other hand, if Mr. Trump is clearly, indisputably guilty of committing a serious crime — and not just without doubt — the department might have little choice. At the heart of our justice system is the principle that no one is above the law.

The Department of Justice has investigative powers that the January 6 committee does not have, and there are critical questions that remain unanswered. Mr. Garland should have no higher priority than using those powers to investigate everyone involved in one of the darkest days in American history.

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