Attorney General Merrick Garland marked theof the with a sweeping defense of the Justice Department's investigation, hinting that prosecutors' mission to hold organizers accountable could include charging those not physically present at the U.S. Capitol during the riot.
"The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last," Garland said Wednesday, addressing staff members gathered in the Justice Department's Great Hall for the publicly broadcasted speech.
"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 added, "We will follow the facts wherever they lead."
Garland's wide-ranging, 27-minute remarks come on the heels of criticism that the Department of Justice has failed to prosecute political leaders whose explosive remarks fanned the flames of January 6 rioters with false claims of 2020 election fraud. That list includes former President Trump and his associates, who have not been charged in connection to the assault despite intensifying public debate over their culpability.
Though the attorney general did not name Trump or his political allies, Garland vowed the Justice Department would continue to "speak through our work," by tackling straightforward cases first to build a complex investigation into the insurrection.
"In circumstances like those of January 6th, a full accounting does not suddenly materialize," Garland said, outlining the full scope of evidence collected, thus far.
In total, 140 prosecutors havewith crimes in connection to January 6. Investigators have issued roughly 5,000 subpoenas and search warrants, seized 2,000 devices, reviewed 20,000 hours of video and fielded more than 300,000 tips from the general public.
Approximately 165 defendants have pleaded guilty so far, including 20 of the more than 325 charged with felonies, including assault of police officers and corruptly obstructing or attempting to obstruct congressional proceedings. Yet the department has not yet brought any sedition charges to bear nor pursued sentencing enhancements for apparent domestic terrorism crimes.
Garland vowed, Wednesday, to hold accountable both the "powerful and the powerless."
"The central norm is that, in our criminal investigations, there cannot be different rules depending on one's political party or affiliation," Garland said. "There cannot be different rules for friends and foes."
Addressing the speed of the investigation nearly one year since it began, Garland said his "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."
Before a moment of silence, Garland read the names of five police officers who died following their response to the U.S. Capitol on January 6: Brian Sicknick, who, and , Jeffrey Smith, Gunther Hashida and Kyle DeFreytag, who all .
"Some perpetrators tackled and dragged law enforcement officers," Garland said, listing a series of gruesome examples of violence exhibited just outside the U.S. Capitol. "Among the many examples of such violence: One officer was crushed in a door. Another was dragged down a set of stairs, face down, repeatedly tased and beaten, and suffered a heart attack," Garland said.
"Some perpetrators attacked law enforcement officers with chemical agents that burned their eyes and skin," he continued. "And some assaulted officers with pipes, poles, and other dangerous or deadly weapons."
Ticking off a list of at-risk members of society, Garland went on to highlight the mounting threats waged daily against election officials, airline crews, teachers, journalists, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, beyond the events of January 6.
"There is no First Amendment right to unlawfully threaten to harm or kill someone," Garland said, relying on a ruling written by the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia that notes individuals are protected under law from "the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur."
According to Garland, the Justice Department charged more people in 2021 in criminal threats cases than in any year dating back to at least 2016.
The attorney general also defended voting rights, calling out state and local efforts to audit election results where there was no evidence of widespread fraud. He rebuked suggestions that "state legislators set aside the choice of the voters themselves."
"But as with violence and threats of violence, the Justice Department -- even the Congress -- cannot alone defend the right to vote," Garland said. "The responsibility to preserve democracy -- and to maintain faith in the legitimacy of its essential processes -- lies with every elected official and every American."
Ahead of the January 6 anniversary, the Justice Department has cooperated with congressional probes of Trump's efforts to overturn the election by pressuring agency officials andwith contempt of Congress after the former aide by the January 6 Congressional Committee.
The fullto hold former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, but the Justice Department has not yet charged him.
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