As he guides an unprecedented investigation that could result in criminal charges for former President Donald Trump, Attorney General Merrick Garland has simultaneously provoked hope, dread, frustration, and general befuddlement from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

This week, Garland added a new emotion to that mix: joy.

On Tuesday night, Garland sat for a rare televised interview, with NBC’s Lester Holt. The attorney general was cautious in discussing the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into the 2020 election’s aftermath—but, notably, he did not rule out prosecuting Trump.

“No one,” Garland said, “is above the law.”

That line was music to Rep. Jerry Nadler’s ears. “I’m delighted,” the New York Democrat told The Daily Beast on Wednesday, when asked his reaction to Garland’s comments.

Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee—the panel that drafted Democrats’ two sets of impeachment articles against Trump—said he came away with the clear impression Garland is “actively seeking a prosecution of Trump.”

For over a year, Democratic lawmakers have anxiously looked to Garland for a sign he was actively doing much of anything related to Trump. Their anticipation quickly turned to exasperation as the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 conducted hearings featuring bombshell after bombshell—and laid out a potential case for Trump’s criminal culpability.

“What are they doing over there?” asked Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a member of the select committee, after learning in July that the DOJ did not subpoena Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump staffer-turned-star witness.

Intentionally or not, Garland’s comments during his interview served as a partial answer to that question. So did a major Washington Post report, which broke Tuesday night, confirming that the DOJ is investigating Trump personally as part of its criminal investigation surrounding Jan. 6.

Not every Democratic lawmaker is encouraged by the latest developments, however. Some remain frustrated at the pace of the department’s probe and, more broadly, have never been convinced that Garland would pursue criminal charges against Trump even if the case were strong.

“I think Merrick and the DOJ are more worried about the institution of the DOJ than the institution of democracy,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

The Arizona progressive expressed a concern that Garland might “allow coup attempters to go free,” leaving Trump’s supporters to “end up holding the bag for the irresponsible actions of this former president.”

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) wondered if Garland’s recent moves have come in response to pressure, primarily from the findings of the select committee.

“You know, I want to believe that [the DOJ has] been serious about this all along. But it does seem like the pressure that the January 6 committee has created, with this powerful case they’re presenting has lit a fire under the Department,” said Huffman. “And that’s okay too. But doing nothing just seems completely untenable in light of what we know.”

The possibility of a Trump indictment looms large for Democratic members of Congress. Some have spent the last four years intimately involved in oversight and investigations concerning Trump’s actions, from his 2016 campaign’s ties with Russia to the effort to subvert the 2020 election that culminated on Jan. 6.

Many believe there is a clear criminal case against Trump for his actions surrounding the 2020 election. But lawmakers are balancing that with some real sensitivity to the potential fallout—both electorally and to the nation’s institutions of governance—of moving to prosecute a former president.

“The more information we have, the more I think it’s imperative that they prosecute him, that they try,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY). “It’s not an easy decision. I wouldn’t want to have to make the call.”

To be sure, building a case for prosecution—against a president especially—takes time. And though it’s been well over a year since the events on Jan. 6, new details about the event continue to emerge as the select committee continues its investigation. The panel has said it is cooperating with the DOJ’s request that they share transcripts of witness interviews with the department.

“Having been a former prosecutor, investigations just take time,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), who noted he’s elated with news that the DOJ is taking actions against Trump. “And sometimes you have to wait for certain things—and it’s not, to me, unreasonable that it’s taking this amount of time. It’s a very complicated investigation.”

For some lawmakers, it’s been frustrating to watch the select committee—which has a fraction of the resources of the DOJ—seem to be miles ahead of the department in its investigation.

The select committee, said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), a member of the Judiciary Committee, has “presented a model of how to be deliberative and thorough, as well as efficient.” The DOJ, said Escobar, “has a lot to learn from that.”

“My hope is that the breadth of what we don’t know is impressive,” Escobar said, “and I hope that there’s a lot of work happening behind the scenes that the public is currently unaware of.”

Members of the select committee have, at times, seemed to nudge the attorney general. In an interview with NBC after the committee’s most recent public hearing, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) explicitly addressed Garland.

“I can tell the Department of Justice is watching our hearings closely,” said Luria, referencing instances in which Jan. 6 defendants have quoted testimony and information from the committee. “If [Garland] is watching today, I’d tell him he doesn’t need to wait on us, because I think he has plenty to keep moving forward.”

In recent days, the DOJ has indicated its investigation is closing in the top tier of the Trump administration. Two top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence are now slated to speak before a federal grand jury, while former Pence chief of staff Marc Short appeared before a grand jury last week.

CNN reported Wednesday afternoon that Hutchinson, who gave explosive public testimony to the Jan. 6 committee earlier this month, is also cooperating with the DOJ investigation.

Garland himself is receiving a briefing on the department’s investigation each week while mulling the path forward. In his interview with Holt, the attorney general said the investigation thus far is the most “wide-ranging” in DOJ’s history and promised “justice without fear or favor” for anyone found culpable for the events on Jan. 6.

The attorney general also indicated he would not waver on a prosecution timeline if Trump does announce a run for the 2024 presidency—which he’s teased since the very day he left office, and could happen before the November elections.

That prospect, said Escobar, should give the DOJ even more urgency—even if it complicates officials’ desire to completely insulate the process from politics.

“A completely lawless president, who sent an armed mob to the Capitol to engage in a coup, could potentially run for reelection,” she said. “That’s the reality, and I know politics should not be a part of the deliberative process and the decision-making at the DOJ, but it is a reality.”

Garland, the Texas Democrat said, “needs to understand that there’s a clock… and the clock keeps moving.”



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