How High Will Justice Reach?

Alan Zendell, November 30, 2022

The wind blowing across the country this week may be a giant sigh of relief over the Justice Department’s successful prosecution of five people who helped the right-wing extremist Oath Keepers plan the January 6th, 2021 attack on the Capitol. The seditious conspiracy convictions of the two most senior leaders of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, sent a strong message to anyone contemplating the future overthrow of the United States government.

Despite Donald Trump’s attempts to politicize DOJ and the federal courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, the system in place to defend our democracy worked. That all five of the Oath Keepers on trial were convicted of multiple felonies related to the insurrection sends the message that the “we were only following orders” defense won’t protect the rank and file among the insurrectionists.

The convictions are especially important because seditious conspiracy is so difficult to prove. The trial of the Oath Keepers was the first successful such federal prosecution in twenty years. In deciding to go forward with the prosecution, Attorney General Merrick Garland took a huge risk. Failure to convict would have placed the future of our democracy in doubt, and destroyed the legacy of one our country’s most talented and reliable jurists.

Garland’s courage and determination to see justice done remind us that the price of maintaining our freedoms is high and ongoing. We became complacent, and the result was Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Despite never achieving close to a 50% favorability rating, Trump was able to leverage aggressive support from hard core fringe groups and evangelists to assert his will over the majority. He literally attempted to lynch our democracy and strangle it.

Two vital questions remain: how high will the investigations by DOJ and the State of Georgia reach, and how will we deal with Trump supporters moving forward? Donald Trump is a master at keeping his own hands clean and getting others to do his dirty work. That kept him out of serious trouble in his business life, but this is different. He never understood how government works, and that may be his downfall. He will not be able to bribe and threaten his way out of the mess he created. He believes no opponent can stand up to him, but he’s wrong.

Senior aide Stephen Miller is testifying before a federal grand jury, and the convicted Oath Keepers have considerable incentive to cooperate with DOJ now that they are facing what could essentially be life sentences in federal prison. We might even see Mike Pence sit before a federal grand jury. Everyone who seeks to destroy has a price. Faced with the loss of their own life and freedom, they all turn on their leaders when their options run out. If you don’t think so, consider Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg. Stabbing each other in the back is the one thing all such people share in common when their own necks are on the line.

Our country needs to see Trump held accountable. He must be indicted and tried for his crimes. Whether he fights in the courts to the bitter end, or realizes that accepting guilt and responsibility for his actions is in his self-interest, he must be convicted to show all of us and the world that America can still be relied on. I expect that President Biden would pardon him to avoid the spectacle of a former president imprisoned and his vilest supporters continuing to stir up trouble, on condition that he stay out of politics and keep his mouth shut.

Whether Trump is convicted or not, his influence will not disappear overnight. We’ll still have to deal with people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert. In another universe, neutralizing Trump would assure their silence, but in one in which a craven character like Kevin McCarthy is likely to become Speaker of the House, they will have a voice.

McCarthy is a politician who is driven entirely by ambition. Like Trump, he’ll pander to anyone who supports his bid to become speaker. Since Trumpers control enough Republican votes in the House to hold the Speakership hostage, McCarthy’s history makes it a near certainty that he’ll cut deals that preserve Trump’s influence. With more than 220 Republicans in the House come January, is it possible that there is no one who can emerge as the consensus leader we need?

For now, I’m focused on next week’s Senate run-off election in Georgia. Raphael Warnock should easily defeat the last of Trump’s hand picked unqualified candidates, Herschel Walker. The differences between the two men are stark enough to overcome political divisions, and if the Democrats hold fifty-one seats, no one will be able to hold the Senate hostage.

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