As President Joe Biden took office on Wednesday, he faced mounting pressure from fellow Democrats to grant his Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute outgoing President Donald Trump.
The Daily Beast reported that Biden “has resolutely promised to separate his administration’s political affairs from the DOJ he’ll soon inherit, vowing total independence and delighting many who have longed for a restoration of the most basic democratic principles tested over the past four years.”
But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from urging that his incoming DOJ investigate and potentially prosecute the man who inspired an insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month. Interviews with leading activists, party members, legal scholars, and one vocal member of Congress reveal an emerging belief that the department should hold Trump criminally accountable for the violent riots and his attempt to sway the election in Georgia.
“I think back to when I’m in therapy,” said Rahna Epting, the executive director of the progressive organization MoveOn. “My therapist says: What’s really important for healing is for the acknowledgment of the injury to have actually happened by the perpetrator. We need people to own up, we need people to admit to their lies. We need the truth to be known,” she said. “Without that, healing is just repressing.”
Epting is not the only one putting forth such an argument, the news outlet noted, adding that the sentiment that “Trump and any affiliated associates should be charged for inspiring deadly violence in the nation’s capital has escalated in the riot’s aftermath.”
“No one wants to have to launch a massive investigation into the former administration,” Epting said. “But we have no other choice. If they choose to backburner that, I think they’re going to be forced to deal with it one way or another because this threat that has been whipped up on the right is not going to just disappear.”
Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, has said “members of his organization have approached Biden transition officials behind closed doors to detail concerns from Black Americans about the severity of the threat,” The Daily Beast reported.
Johnson told the publication: “Insurrection and a failed coup attempt. That is treason. And any people involved should be treated as such, including the current president.”
“The incoming Justice Department must address domestic terrorism and white supremacist activity,” Johnson said. “They have a legal obligation to do so.”
The Daily Beast also noted that Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) have both said they believe Trump’s actions, even before Jan. 6, warrant investigation and prosecution.
Still, the majority of congressional Democrats have yet to weigh in on prosecuting the ex-president. Many lawmakers, particularly senior ones, have been queasy at the notion of pursuing criminal charges against Trump—no matter how merited—out of concern over the precedent it could set.
Biden, too, appears to have some concerns. On Jan. 7, he unveiled Judge Merrick Garland as his choice to lead the beleaguered department out of an extended period of internal corrosion. When announcing Garland, who was previously nominated by President Barack Obama to be a Supreme Court justice, Biden diligently restated his intention for the body to remain wholly independent.
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