Editorial: Memo to Merrick Garland: If no one is above the law, prove it

Attorney General Merrick Garland has insisted that “no person is above the law in this country,” and it appears that he meant it. The FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach home, Mar-a-Lago, could not have happened without Garland’s knowledge and approval.

The concept that no one is above the law has been the theme of countless patriotic speeches. It seemed to be a point of national consensus. But some important Republicans, beguiled by or beholden to Trump, have forsaken that bedrock principle of equal and impartial justice.

The hysterical reactions by Kevin McCarthy, Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis and others to the execution of a search warrant would put the ex-president beyond the reach of the law. They have all showed why they don’t belong in positions of power.

It’s inconceivable that the FBI would invade the home and safe of a former president without the attorney general’s approval. Nor is it likely that any federal magistrate or judge would have approved a warrant for Trump’s home without some strong evidence of criminality. (It wasn’t a “raid,” either. Trump was not there, but the Secret Service was notified in advance).

The true test

The true test of Garland’s promise will be whether Trump is actually indicted.

The raid on Mar-a-Lago reportedly concerned suspected violations of the Presidential Records Act in regard to sensitive classified material. The National Archives had already found 15 boxes of documents there and asked the Justice Department to investigate. It’s been reported that, while in office, Trump flushed documents down White House toilets.

The classified document issue would be weighty enough. Of great or greater danger: Trump’s domestic schemes to overturn the 2020 election, his willful delay in calling off the violent mob that was obstructing the electoral vote count on Jan. 6, 2021, and his ongoing, relentless intimation that the American people cannot trust the outcome of any election, particularly not one that he loses.

Those were — and are — the hallmarks of a dictator.

Rep. McCarthy, R-Cal., and the usual claque of Trump’s enablers weren’t waiting or caring to find out what the Justice Department might actually have found at Mar-a-Lago, what DOJ might do with it, or what allegations persuaded a judge to authorize the search.

“I’ve seen enough,” said McCarthy, who in fact had seen nothing. He threatened to investigate the Justice Department and Garland personally if the Republicans retake the House. In so saying, he showed vividly why they should not.

Hysterics on the right

Right-wing commentators all over the internet were screaming “War!”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called for defunding the FBI. Whatever happened to the Republicans’ commitment to “back the blue”?

Gov. Ron DeSantis, aching to be more Trump than Trump, called the search “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the regime’s political opponents,” and tweeted, “Banana Republic.”

So spoke the governor who weaponized the Florida Legislature against Disney, the state’s dominant tourist attraction, after it had mildly criticized his anti-LBGTQ legislation.

“Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships. But never before in America,” tweeted Florida’s senior senator, Marco Rubio.

Trump’s firing of an FBI director for refusing to pledge personal loyalty to him — now that was characteristic of third world dictatorships.

‘Not going to end well’

Once upon a better time, in 2016, Rubio, running against Trump, warned: “There are many people on the right, in the media and voters at large that are going to be having to explain and justify how they fell into this trap of supporting Donald Trump, because this is not going to end well, one way or the other.”

He was right. But like so many others, Rubio, who must face Florida voters in November, is a captive member of Trump’s cult. Whether it’s for fear of Trump or for his favor doesn’t matter.

The reckless responses from Rubio and others illustrate what has been all along the principal argument for not indicting Trump, no matter how much he might deserve it: The right wing would go berserk.

It’s never been done here, they say. Democracies don’t do it, they say. Yet the fact that it has not been done here underscores the case for doing it now. Democracy here and worldwide cannot abide an American president going unaccountable for what Trump did to overthrow our government.

No American president ever attempted that. None ever refused to accept the outcome of an election. None ever flouted multiple laws so openly.

Indeed, Richard Nixon’s downfall was over what he tried to conceal. But his party cared more for the Constitution then than it does now.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, campaigning for his daughter Liz, the Jan. 6 select committee’s vice chairman whom Trump is trying to purge, put the case succinctly.

“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump. He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him.”

If that doesn’t deserve prosecution, what does?

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The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

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