(The Hill) – Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday defended the Justice Department’s approach to prosecuting those involved in the Jan. 6 riot, signaling the potential for charges for those who never set foot in the Capitol.
“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last. The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January six perpetrators at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day, or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Garland said on the eve of the attack’s one-year anniversary.
The attorney general’s remarks came as Democratic lawmakers have voiced impatience with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) apparent unwillingness to target leaders who may have prompted the attack on the Capitol.
In recent weeks, the House Jan. 6 Select Committee has even signaled that it’s considering criminal referrals to DOJ if it finds evidence that former President Trump or members of his inner circle violated the law in connection with the riot.
In the nearly 30 minute speech, Garland defended the department’s strategy of prosecuting more direct cases of those present in the building.
“We build investigations by laying a foundation. We resolve more straightforward cases first because they provide the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases. Investigating the more overt crimes generates linkages to less overt ones. 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.
“Those involved must be held accountable. And there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice.”
DOJ has charged more than 725 defendants in connection with the attack, filings made after reviewing more than 20,000 hours of video footage of that attack and serving more than 5,000 subpoenas and search warrants.
Garland said Wednesday that more than 300 of those defendants have been charged with felonies.
But even as the House select committee moves ahead with investigating Trump and his allies, there has been little to suggest that federal prosecutors have their sights set on political leaders who may have played a role in rallying the former president’s supporters to try and stop the Electoral College certification.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice-chair of the Jan. 6 panel, said last month that one of the key questions for lawmakers is how culpable Trump is for last year’s violence.
“Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceedings to count electoral votes?” Cheney asked during a hearing, citing a felony charge that has been brought against many of the Jan. 6 defendants.
DOJ has taken some action on behalf of the committee, filing charges against one-time White House strategist Steve Bannon after he refused to comply with a subpoena from lawmakers.
The full House made a similar referral for former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, which DOJ has not yet acted on.
But Garland said the department would shy away from answering questions about the course or timing of its investigations.
“We understand that there are questions about how long the investigation will take, and about what exactly we are doing. Our answer is and will continue to be the same answer we would give 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,” he said.
“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.”