DOJ official ‘emphatic that Garland can and will prosecute’ Trump allies over Jan. 6: investigative reporter
Judge Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be US Attorney General(AFP)

An investigative reporter who recently spent time with a Justice Department official said he was "optimistic" that former President Donald Trump and his allies will be held accountable for their attack on democracy.

David Rohde, the online news director for The New Yorker, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the House select committee hearings were producing important evidence that could deliver a political and legal blow to the former president.

"I met with a Justice Department official recently and they said they are emphatic that [attorney general Merrick] Garland can and will prosecute if there's enough evidence," Rohde said. "They have pointed back to his speech in January that said he will follow every lead and also the speech he gave at Harvard, a graduation speech about public service, but he talked to that class about the importance of defending democracy. But I do think the Justice Department sees it as a last resort."

"A member of the Judiciary Committee told me they're trying to defeat Donald Trump politically first, what happens at the ballot box," Rohde added. "But the $250 million, $1 million of that going to an organization run by Mark Meadows, lying people to raise money, not using it for the purpose you promised. So I think that's another angle for a very clear answer, more cut and dried possible prosecution."

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The risk with a criminal prosecution would be proving intent, Rohde said, which might be difficult to do for the notoriously slippery Trump.

"Donald Trump is very clever about hinting what he wants, signaling what he wants but not having that definitive proof, so there's a huge desire among people, skeptics of Trump or even people who fear him for a prosecution," Rohde said. "But the bar is much higher for a criminal prosecution and, again, I don't think we know yet what Merrick Garland is going to do, but it's a very serious thing to do it. It's a last resort, I think. What if Donald Trump is put on trial and acquitted?"

But he said both the House Select Committee and the Justice Department understand that some action must be taken in response to the insurrection.

"It's a hell of a moment," he said. "I mean, if we can't agree on election results, we're looking at chaos and civil war, and I've covered this before, and people resorting to political violence is a very dangerous thing for the country, so I think it's an option. Prosecution is necessary if you defy election results."

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"I'm optimistic," Rohde added. "I'm impressed with the job that the Jan. 6 committee is doing. They're elected politicians, they're informing voters and producing new information on what the president did."

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