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Merrick Garland: Justice Department will hold January 6 perpetrators ‘at any level, accountable under law’

Merrick Garland: Justice Department will hold January 6 perpetrators 'at any level, accountable under law'
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“The actions we have taken so far will not be our last,” Garland said. “The Department of Justice remains committed to holding the perpetrators of January 6, at any level, accountable by law — whether they were present on that day or were criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

Rep. Robin Gallego of Arizona recently described Garland as “too weak,” “helpless,” and an attorney general who “has not been helpful in terms of preserving our democracy.”

On Wednesday, Garland called the Capitol an “unprecedented attack on our democracy” and vowed that the department would do everything in its 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 the threat of violence,” he said. “We will protect the cornerstone of our democracy: the right of every eligible citizen to cast an important vote.”

He responded to questions raised about the speed of the investigation and what it would cover.

“Our answer is, and will remain, the same as we would give with respect to any ongoing investigation: as long as it takes and whatever requires justice — consistent with the facts and the law,” he said.

Promising that the department will continue to “talk through our work,” he said complex investigations are being built “by laying the groundwork,” with immediate issues being resolved first.

“In circumstances like the one on January 6, full accounting doesn’t suddenly materialize,” Garland said, explaining the different ways in which evidence is collected and the clues followed.

His rhetoric also tacitly retracted criticism from Trump allies who claimed the department’s trials were politicized. Garland said the department was pursuing “facts” and not “an agenda or assumption.”

“The central rule is that in our criminal investigations, there can be no different rules depending on the political party or affiliation,” he said. “There can be no different rules for friends and foes. Nor can there be different rules for the strong and the weak.”

As department officials said, its response to Jan. 6 was the largest investigation in its history, and one of the most complex. More than 700 defendants have been arrested in the investigation and the FBI is still calling for public assistance in identifying more than 350 other people believed to have participated in violence at the Capitol that day.

Dozens of the defendants were charged on January 6 with obstruction of official proceedings, although the administration has yet to file any charges of sedition.

On Wednesday, Garland recounted some of the violence and brutality that occurred that day, detailing police officers being beaten, tortured, and dragged down stairs by rioters, all while Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were evacuated from the Capitol.

“As a result, procedures in both houses were disrupted for hours — interfering with a fundamental element of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another,” Garland said. Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no top priority for us in the Department of Justice.”

He cited “outdated prosecutorial practices” that the department had used in bringing a variety of charges against those who violated Capitol rules.

“In complex cases, initial charges are often less severe than later offenses,” Garland said. “This is purposeful, as investigators are systematically collecting and examining more evidence.”

Violence ‘permeates many parts of our national life’

Wednesday’s speech covered more than just the breach of the Capitol itself, as Garland also addressed the escalation of threatening behavior toward school staff and aircraft, as well as threats and violence faced by election staff and other officials.

“These acts of violence and threats are not linked to any set of partisan or ideological views,” Garland said. “But they are so intrusive into so many parts of our national lives that they risk becoming normal and routine if we don’t stop them.”

He tacitly dismissed Republican allegations that the Department of Justice’s approach—particularly in a memo on harassment of school board officials that had become a hotly contested point—trampled on free speech protections in the Constitution.

“There is no right in the First Amendment to unlawfully threaten to hurt or kill someone,” Garland said Wednesday, citing a line of the late Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion.

With his voice stifling, Garland recalled last year’s attack on the Capitol and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing — a pivotal moment in his career as a federal attorney general.

“The time to respond to threats is when they occur, not after the tragedy,” he said.

His speech included a lengthy discussion of voting rights, in the context of threats to election officials as well as state legislative efforts to make voting more difficult.

Garland said allegations of mass vote fraud “weaken people’s confidence in the legality of our elections,” and that they have been “repeatedly refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies in both the previous administration and this administration, as well as by every court — federal and state — that considered them.” .

“The Department of Justice will continue to do everything in its power to protect voting rights through our enforcement powers,” Garland said, also repeating calls for Congress to pass legislation that would expand protections for federal voting rights.

“But as with violence and threats of violence, the Department of Justice — even Congress alone — cannot defend the right to vote,” Garland said. “The responsibility to maintain democracy — and to maintain confidence in the legitimacy of its core operations — rests with every elected official and every American.”

Trump cancels press conference on January 6 anniversary at the invitation of advisers

In addition to leading the prosecution of the rioters themselves, Garland faced high-stakes decisions about how to handle congressional investigations into the mutiny. His department has offered to cooperate with lawmakers’ reviews of Trump’s efforts to arm the Justice Department in an effort to undo the election.

The department also accused Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide, of failing to cooperate with the House committee’s investigation, following a House referral. (Bannon pleaded not guilty.)

The Justice Department has not taken public action on a separate House referral seeking similar charges against Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, for cooperating with the investigation.

The Department also refused to protect Representative Moe Brooks in a civil suit against the Alabama Republican for his remarks at the January 6 Ellipse rally that preceded the Capitol attack.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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