Why Trump May Face Criminal Charges

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

– Voltaire

So former President Donald Trump, who has been impeached twice by the House but saved from conviction by his loyal Senate Republicans, may have committed a criminal offense during the Jan. 6 attempted coup at the Capitol.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., an avowed Never Trumper who is vice chair of the House committee investigating the siege of the icon of American freedom, first broached such a possibility publicly. The panel’s chair, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., confirmed it to The Washington Post.

The committee, which The Guardian reported has evidence gathered from more than 30,000 records and interviews from more than 300 people, has homed in on how Trump spent his time on Jan. 6. It wants to know why it took three hours and seven minutes before he called off his mob charging the Capitol to halt the certification of Joe Biden as president-elect, as if Biden were the enemy.

“That dereliction of duty causes us real concern,” Thompson told the Post. “And one of those concerns is that whether or not it was intentional, and whether or not that lack of attention for that longer period of time, would warrant a [criminal] referral” by the committee to the Justice Department, Thompson said. Justice then would decide whether Trump committed a crime.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has not indicated publicly whether his prosecutors have opened an investigation into Trump’s activities that day beyond arresting hundreds of suspects who participated in the unprecedented event staged by Americans and instigated by a president, no less. He may be waiting for the House panel to finish its probe. But even if the committee makes a criminal referral, Justice is under no obligation to pursue charges against Trump or others.

And even if Trump should be charged with one or more crimes, including the possibility of obstruction of Congress in the interruption of Biden’s certification, there’s skepticism about whether anything would come of it.

“Trump’s team will try every stalling tactic, every obfuscation and every slanderous blame shift before he would land in the [court] docket, at which time the Republican Congress would pass special laws to shelter him until President [Ron] DeSantis or [Ted] Cruz would pardon him,” Houston businessman Lawrence Sbar, 77, told me in an email. “The Trump game is far from over.”

While investigations are underway behind the scenes, Trump and his coconspirators openly are undermining democracy by shutting out minority voters who generally mark ballots for Democrats and are electing or appointing officials who oversee elections to ensure Republican victories in 2022 and beyond.

Those who don’t share these subversive Trumpist events are becoming more anxious, more alarmed and are expressing more urgency in efforts to stop the potential Republican steal of elections from one of only two major political parties turned extremist. It also has an army of “patriotic” weapons-carrying white supremacists and nationalists behind it, as Jan. 6 made clear.

“We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe,” Barbara F. Walter, who teaches political science at the University of California, San Diego, told Post columnist Dana Milbank. She also is on a CIA panel that monitors political instability worldwide.

America already has entered the first two phases of insurgency and whether the third phase, “open insurgency,” began with Jan. 6 still is undetermined, according to the CIA, Milbank wrote.

“If you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America,” Walter wrote in her book, “How Civil Wars Start,” to be released in January, “. . . you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States . . . has entered very dangerous territory.”

Barton Gelman, staff writer for The Atlantic, in its January-February 2022 issue: “Donald Trump came closer than anyone thought he could to toppling a free election a year ago. He is preparing in plain view to do it again, and his position is growing stronger. Republican acolytes have identified the weak points in our electoral apparatus and are methodically exploiting them.”

“Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, Donald Trump may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024. He does not intend to take that chance,” Gelman concluded in a lengthy investigative piece headlined, “January 6 Was Practice.”

George Packer, another Atlantic staffer wrote in the same issue: “There’s no easy way to stop a major party that’s intent on destroying democracy. The demonic energy with which Trump repeats his lies . . . and [how] Republican politicians around the country try to seize every lever of election machinery – the relentless drive for power by American authoritarians is the major threat that America confronts.

“The Constitution doesn’t have an answer. No help will come from Republican leaders; if Mitt Romney and Susan Collins are all that stands between the republic and its foes, we’re doomed.”

We’re one people living in two different countries within the same borders: A real world where Biden is president and policies become laws, where all are endowed with “certain inalienable Rights,” and where “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are still the goals we live by.

And the other? An insane metaverse of lies and conspiracy theories where Trump lives as a “fake” president and millions of people follow him, like lemmings falling over a cliff to disaster. And maybe we’re not even one people anymore, like back in 1861, the start of the Civil War.

Alice’s rabbit hole is getting very crowded.

We’re facing an overthrow of the Biden reality based on the pretenses and falsehoods of nothing more than an ignorant would-be dictator that is taking us down a path to totalitarianism, with him as a self-declared Napoleonic emperor.

Trump so far has not taken responsibility or accepted accountability for any of his actions. He’s good at taking people to court. Perhaps the House committee investigating those activities and the Justice Department can fix that.



Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.