President Donald Trump’s decision to dismiss former FBI Director James Comey has precipitated a small cataclysm in the nation’s capital, as commentators speculate that Trump has dealt a deathblow to his administration’s integrity.
Whether the public shares their assessment is still an open question, but Trump could strike a blow for competence and trust by installing a seasoned prosecutor widely admired by his political opposition — Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s last nominee to the Supreme Court.
The White House has been silent with respect to possible successors, though names like Michael Chertoff and Ray Kelly have circulated widely in the hours after Comey’s dismissal.
The strength of his resume alone could make Garland a serious candidate. The judge is a veteran of the highest levels of the Department of Justice, where he executed and supervised sensitive investigations and prosecutions of the sort America can expect in the coming years.
Garland first joined DOJ in the waning days of the Carter administration, when he served as special assistant to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti. He returned to public service in 1989 as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, where he prosecuted a wide range of cases on behalf of the federal government.
Four years later, he was appointed deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division at DOJ, where he supervised several sections of Department prosecutors. He was so capable a prosecutor and manager that the Justice Department’s second-in-command asked him to serve as her principal deputy in 1994.
In this capacity Garland forged a national reputation for thorough, vigorous prosecutions. He led the trial team that brought a successful death penalty case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and directed the prosecution of unabomber Ted Kaczynski from Washington. His ascent in the department was meteoric, and the legacy he left won bipartisan acclaim.
His government experience is supplemented by a decade in the private sector at Arnold & Porter, where he handled complex corporate litigation matters of the sort that would also leave him well qualified to execute the Bureau’s white collar crime operations.
Obvious political advantages would attend Garland’s appointment at this precarious moment of Trump’s presidency. Senate Democrats joined the previous administration in offering uniformly glowing assessments of Garland’s quality and experience. None could now plausibly marshall a convincing case against him, after mounting a year-long campaign to secure him a spot on the nation’s highest tribunal.
His appointment would also open a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Democratic appointees have a 7-4 advantage on the court, widely considered the second most important in the country, as it has jurisdiction over most federal agencies. Trump’s allies in conservative legal circles would relish the prospect of another GOP appointee on the panel.
All this is to say nothing of the fact that Garland is regarded as a man of unimpeachable integrity. An investigation under his supervision into collaboration between Trump aides and Russian operatives would be immune from questions of rectitude. If Trump is committed to a thorough investigation that will mollify his critics, there’s no better choice than Judge Garland.
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