Two men are back-to-back in front of a white background.
Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: Here’s my hot take. After eight hearings, I now believe Attorney General Merrick Garland may indict former President Donald Trump. 

Ethan: Does that mean you are finally on the “lock Trump up, throw away the key for life, and treat him like the traitor he is” train? Welcome aboard!

Phil: Tap the brakes, big guy. Whether Trump is guilty needs to be decided by an impartial jury. While the Jan. 6 committee has done a good job of providing selective evidence, impartial jurors they are not. Unless there is something the Jan. 6 Commission missed or chose not to present, Garland will indict on the issue of blocking government officials from doing their jobs.

Ethan: That’s a big step from the freedom of speech argument you made in our June column after the first hearing. What shifted you from saying, “I am open, but I need to see more,” to “If that is all there is, I have seen enough?”

Phil: A few things. I said in that column that I didn’t yet see the evidence that Rep. Liz Cheney claimed Trump “summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” With evidence now uncovered showing that Trump invited those protesters to Washington, fully aware of what was likely to happen, and that he knew the crowd was amped up.

Ethan: “Amped up?” I assume you mean “armed up.”

Phil: Perhaps, although the evidence is just hearsay that people were wielding guns.

Ethan: Not according to the police radio reports from the day of the attack and some of the charges that have now been filed.

Phil: Either way, he knew the crowd was looking for trouble and he still encouraged them to storm the capitol. The committee then presented pretty compelling evidence that Trump tried to forcefully persuade the head of secret service to drive him to the Capitol.

Ethan: “Tried to forcefully persuade?” You mean, “tried to strangle.”

Phil: Again, hearsay, but either way, his clear goal was to participate in the attack and he was only stopped because, as president, he couldn’t simply drive himself there. And then, after encouraging and seeking to participate in the attack, he spent 187 minutes in his private dining room watching the attack unfold and pleading with senators to delay certification of the election results. Although I would like to hear his side of the story, it is very hard for me to argue against the case for seeking an indictment that he aided and abetted the blocking of government officials from doing their jobs, and, honestly, for me to even comprehend any president who loves his country behaving that way.

Ethan: It’s like a fire chief watching an arsonist try to burn a city down and not sending a single firefighter. 

Phil:. That said, we do enter tricky constitutional areas when someone starts running for president against an incumbent, as Trump is likely to do. The DOJ is prohibited from seeking to defeat a political opponent, which is why I hope Garland moves quickly if he agrees he has a case

Ethan:  While I agree the DOJ should never be used that way, this would not be some out-of-the-blue charge. This has been investigated for over a year, fully out in the open. The most important thing is accountability. But I am with you, the sooner the better.

Phil: Fully investigated is the key determination Garland must decide. Congress isn’t empowered to conduct criminal investigations, the Justice Department is. And, at this point, I believe he should get this out of the court of politics and into the court of law, where it belongs.