Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday said the Department of Justice would continue to pursue those responsible for the January 6 insurrection “at any level,” vowing that the charges brought against more than 725 people in the year since the attack on the Capitol “will not be our last”.
In remarks to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the worst attack on the Capitol since the 1814 Burning of Washington, Mr Garland appeared to acknowledge critics who’ve accused him of holding back on charging anyone in former president Donald Trump’s inner circle – or Mr Trump himself – for roles they may have played in the violence that unfolded as Congress met to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, or suggested that the department is slow-walking any investigations into the same.
The former District of Columbia circuit judge said the department has operated at a deliberate pace that is governed by evidence, and evidence alone, and vowed that the department was not done filing charges against those responsible for the insurrection.
“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last. The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators – at any level – accountable under law, whether they were present that day, or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault. on our democracy,” he said. “We will follow the facts, wherever they lead”.
“Because January 6th was an unprecedented attack on the seat of our democracy, we understand that there is broad public interest in our investigation. We understand that there are questions about how long the investigation will take, and about what exactly we are doing,” he said.
“Our answer is and will continue to be the same answer we would give to with respect to any ongoing investigation: As long as it takes, and whatever it takes for justice to be done, consistent with the facts and the law”.
“I understand that this may not be the answer some are looking for, but we will and we must speak through our work. Anything else jeopardizes the viability of our investigations, and the civil liberties of our citizens,” he added.
Mr Garland touted the progress made over the past year in bringing charges against those who were caught on more than 20,000 hours of video footage or brought to the department’s attention by the more than 300,000 tips received from citizens.
“As of today, we have arrested and charged more than 725 defendants in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia for their roles in the January 6 attack,” he said, adding that the charges have been determined using “well-worn prosecutorial practices” – filing “greater charges” against “who assaulted officers or damaged the Capitol” and “lesser charges” against those who did not.
The attorney general noted that many of those facing “greater charges” have been indicted for conspiring to corruptly obstruct an official proceeding – charges based on an obscure, little-used part of the US criminal code that many accused Capitol rioters have argued is inapplicable to what they’ve been accused of.
Last week, a District of Columbia federal judge rejected such a legal challenge from four members of the “Proud Boys” right-wing nationalist gang who argued that Congress’ quadrennial certification of electoral college votes was not such a proceeding. And members of the House select committee investigating the origins of the insurrection have said the committee could make criminal referrals of high-level Trump administration officials – including Mr Trump himself – for prosecution under that same statute if the evidence warrants it.
Mr Garland did not address the possibility of charges against Mr Trump or any other specific person in his remarks. But he said the “central norm” that the department is following under his leadership holds that “there cannot be different rules depending on one’s political party or affiliation”.
“There cannot be different rules for friends and foes and there cannot be different rules for the powerful and the powerless,” he said. There is only one rule: We follow the facts and enforce the law in a way that respects the Constitution and protect civil liberties … and we adhere to those norms, even when, and especially when the circumstances we face are not normal”.
Continuing, Mr Garland explained that the department is handling “straightforward cases” first because they can “provide an evidentiary foundation for more complex cases”.
“Investigating the more overt crimes generates linkages to less overt actors, and the evidence they provide can lead us to others who may also have been involved, and that evidence can serve as a foundation for further investigative leads and techniques,” he said.
He added that “a full accounting” in “circumstances like those of January 6th” doesn’t “suddenly materialize”.
“To ensure that all those criminally responsible are held accountable, we must collect the evidence,” he said.
Mr Garland also took aim at the lies about the conduct of the 2020 election that have become articles of faith for supporters of Mr Trump.
After noting that many state legislatures have enacted new restrictions on voting based on “unfounded claims of material vote fraud in the 2020 election,” he said such claims “have corroded people’s faith in the legitimacy of our elections” and “have been repeatedly refuted by the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both the last administration and this one, as well as by every court, federal and state that has considered them”.