As the ex-president's involvement in crimes becomes clearer, the justice minister must choose between two unappealing options.
The hearings of the commission on the events of January 6, 2021 are a crescendo of compromising facts for Donald Trump. The question is no longer whether he committed acts liable to criminal prosecution, but rather what Merrick Garland is waiting for to indict him?
It is probably the most far-reaching decision a US Attorney General has ever had to make. He will not be able to hesitate indefinitely.
I will not repeat the list of potentially criminal acts of the ex-president. Unless you're obsessed with his lies, it's hard not to see what warrants his impeachment.
Hundreds of participants in the January 6 uprising have already been charged and several are already behind bars. If he had not been president, it is clear that the main instigator of this event would also have already been called to appear.
Taboos, obstacles and risks
As we learned after the Mueller inquiry, the constitutional obstacles to criminally impeaching a sitting president are enormous. In the case of a former president, it is a taboo that no one has yet dared to challenge, which partly explains Garland's enormous caution in this matter.
Garland may be concerned about the apparent conflict of interest of having to decide the fate of her boss' main political adversary. Nor should we overlook the inherent complexity of the case and the fact that Donald Trump will pay for himself – or probably will have others pay – a battalion of lawyers who will multiply the delays in the proceedings and the appeals for months or years.
Regardless of the outcome of a trial, risks abound. It is almost certain that armed extremist groups would see this as a pretext to violently demonstrate their support for Trump. As for Republican supporters, tens of millions are sufficiently intoxicated by Trump's lies to react only slightly less drastically.
The risks associated with an acquittal would be no less real. First, it would be a knockout blow to confidence in a justice system where the dice are loaded in favor of the powerful and privileged. An acquittal of Trump would also be seen as a form of legitimization of his mode of political action based on lies, intimidation and violence.
A necessary risk
The risks of an acquittal are therefore real, but those of passing the towel on Trump's actions would be even worse. It is for this reason that it would be unacceptable not to call Donald Trump to account for his actions in court.
This next episode in the political circus that began seven years ago when Donald Trump descended the escalator of his tower is likely to be even more polarizing and potentially more violent than any that have come before him.
A Trump trial poses significant risks, but it is the only chance for our neighbors to get rid of a cancer that could get the better of the American democratic experiment.