A few days after federal agents stormed Donald Trump’s castle in Palm Beach last week, Judge Beryl Howell berated a man from Georgia for his involvement in the Capitol protest on January 6, 2021.
“Listening without question to political rhetoric that leads to serious offenses, criminal conduct, is not an excuse when you’re standing in a court of law,” Howell told Glen Simon, a Trump supporter who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on restricted grounds. “You’ve got to use your common sense and your own sense of who you are and how you’d like to conduct yourself as an American citizen before just blindly doing what a political figure says.”
Howell then sentenced Simon to eight months in prison.
The “political figure” to whom the judge was referring is President Trump. And Howell is not just any judge; she is the chief judge of the D.C. District Court that is overseeing at least 850 criminal cases related to the Capitol protest.
Appointed by Barack Obama in 2010, Howell does not disguise her partisan leanings or her contempt for Trump supporters. Howell describes the four-hour disturbance on Capitol Hill as “criminal activity that is destined to go down in the history books of this country.” She has scolded prosecutors for not bringing harsher charges in January 6 cases while insisting the hundreds of thousands of Americans who protested Joe Biden’s election that day had no legitimate grievance. She urged the government to set damages to the Capitol at $500 million rather than the accurate figure of $1.4 million in order to significantly boost restitution fines against January 6 defendants.
During a hearing last year, Howell mocked Representative Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) for saying video footage from inside the Capitol on January 6 looked like a “normal tourist visit.”
“Your purpose was not to be a tourist walking through the Capitol, was it?” Howell asked during a plea hearing for Leonard Gruppo, who pleaded guilty to the petty offense of “parading” in the Capitol. Gruppo said he was not there as a tourist. Howell then refused to accept his plea until Gruppo admitted that he was in Washington on January 6 “as part of a demonstration in support of President Trump.”
Howell’s lectures and hostility are just a taste of what hundreds of Trump supporters have endured at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in the nation’s capital over the past 19 months. Even though most face low level misdemeanor charges, judges nonetheless treat January 6 protesters like domestic terrorists while often blaming Trump for what they consider an illegal incursion into the ruling class’s personal fiefdom of Washington, D.C. that day.
And they are salivating at the chance to arraign Donald Trump.
It now appears inevitable that the Justice Department will bring criminal charges against the former president. FBI Director Christopher Wray’s stunt at Mar-a-Lago on August 8 is part of creating the optical illusion that Donald Trump is guilty of any number of crimes related to January 6 or the mishandling of secret government documents—or both. On Monday, the Justice Department subpoenaed another Trump White House lawyer as the legal momentum accelerates.
Attorney General Merrick Garland is doing his part to build the public case while Lisa Monaco, his deputy, runs the day-to-day lawfare operation against Trump. Monaco, a longtime Obama confidant who worked in his White House until the last day, is a rabid Trump hater. She intends to finish what the Obama Justice Department started in 2016 by indicting Donald Trump.
Of course, technically, any indictment would be the result of a grand jury investigation—proceedings held in the same courthouse filled with loathing for Donald Trump and his supporters. Grand juries composed of residents in a city that gave Trump five percent of the vote in 2020 and four percent in 2016 have issued hundreds of indictments and thousands of criminal charges against January 6 protesters. This includes charges against 16 protesters for “seditious conspiracy,” a rare criminal offense for which no American has ever been convicted.
Federal prosecutors are enjoying similar success before regular juries. Garland’s Justice Department is undefeated in jury trials of January 6 defendants; D.C. juries have returned unanimous guilty verdicts on every single charge in seven trials since March. This includes convictions on “obstruction of an official proceeding,” a vague post-Enron law never before used against political protesters. (A jury also quickly convicted Trump advisor Steve Bannon on two counts of contempt of Congress.)
The obstruction count is one of the offenses Garland’s office likely will file against Trump.
As evidence mounts that Trump supporters cannot get a fair trial in Washington—surveys of prospective jurors conducted by defense counsel show a heavy bias against January 6 protesters—D.C. District Court judges have denied each change of venue motion. Coverage of the January 6 select committee hearings undoubtedly has amplified that bias, especially for high-profile defendants such as members of the Oath Keepers. The committee has focused on the roles of both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, airing videos of their conduct that day and attempting to tie these alleged militias to Donald Trump.
A week after a former member of the Oath Keepers testified before a televised hearing in July, defense attorneys representing the Oath Keepers filed another motion to delay the trial and move it out of D.C. “The main point we have to consider is that you have a congressional committee that goes out and paints the Oath Keepers as white supremacists,” one defense attorney explained to Judge Amit Mehta, another Obama appointee.
Mehta rejected the argument and took umbrage at another attorney’s suggestion the committee’s work was political. “This is not a forum to express your political views or your views about the motivations of the committee,” Mehta scolded. “I don’t think they’re hosting the hearings just to interrupt this trial.”
He denied the motion; the first Oath Keepers trial begins next month. It’s possible the Justice Department will charge Trump for conspiracy for allegedly working with the “militias” to attack the Capitol.
This is the legal and judicial circle of hell now fired up to come for President Trump—a vengeful Justice Department run by Obama loyalists working with a weaponized FBI to bring criminal charges against hundreds of Trump supporters who then face the wrath of enraged judges of both political parties. There is no way out.
And at this point, there’s no way out for Merrick Garland, either. Democrats have raised expectations that Trump soon will be in handcuffs; failure to do so will result in a harsh backlash by their own voters this fall. After six years of promises, Democrats better deliver the goods on Trump or face intra-party revolt.
Americans should prepare for the inevitable—the unprecedented sight of a former president pleading not guilty to crimes he is alleged to have committed by a Justice Department run by his successor and potential rival in the next presidential election.
One can only imagine the big smile on Beryl Howell’s face.