In a speech Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the actions the department has taken so far to respond to the assault “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,” Garland said. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Garland spoke ahead of the anniversary of the Capitol attack as he is under increasing pressure from the left. Critics have called for the department to prosecute not just those who breached the Capitol that day but also the political actors and operatives — including former President Donald Trump — who orchestrated the failed attempt to reverse the 2020 election results and whose incendiary rhetoric inflamed the riot.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona recently called Garland an “extremely weak” and “feckless” attorney general “who has not been helpful in terms of preserving our democracy.”
Wednesday, Garland called the Capitol breach an “unprecedented attack on our democracy,” as he pledged that the department would do everything “in our power to defend the American people and American democracy.”
“We will defend our democratic institutions from attack. We will protect those who serve the public from violence and threats of violence,” Garland said. “We will protect the cornerstone of our democracy: the right of every eligible citizen to cast a vote that counts.”
As department officials have said, its response to January 6 has been the largest investigation in its history, and one of its most complex. More than 700 defendants have been arrested in the probe and the FBI is still calling for the public’s help in identifying more than 350 other individuals it believes engaged in violent acts on the Capitol grounds that day.
Dozens of the January 6 defendants have been charged with obstructing an official proceeding, though the department has not yet brought any sedition charges.
Wednesday, Garland recounted some of the violence and the brutality of that day, detailing accounts of police officers being beaten, tased, and dragged down the stairs by the rioters, all while Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were evacuated from the Capitol.
“As a consequence, proceedings in both chambers were disrupted for hours — interfering with a fundamental element of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next,” Garland said. “Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice.”
He pointed to the “well-worn prosecutorial practices” the department has followed in bringing the variety of charges against those who breached the Capitol grounds.
“In complex cases, initial charges are often less severe than later charged offenses,” Garland said. “This is purposeful, as investigators methodically collect and sift through more evidence.”
In addition to leading the prosecution of the rioters themselves, Garland has been faced with high-stakes decisions on how to approach Congress’ investigations into the insurrection. His department has offered cooperation with lawmakers’ reviews of Trump’s efforts to weaponize the Justice Department in the election reversal bid.
The department has also charged ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon for his noncooperation with the House committee investigation, after a referral from the House. (Bannon has pleaded not guilty.)
The Justice Department has not taken public action on a separate House referral seeking similar charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, for his 180 on cooperating with the investigation.
The department also declined to shield Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil suit brought against the Alabama Republican for his remarks at the January 6 Ellipse rally that preceded the Capitol assault.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
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