Merrick Garland vows to pursue all those responsible for 6 January attack

The US attorney general, Merrick Garland, on Wednesday vowed that the justice department would hold accountable everyone responsible for the deadly 6 January attack on the US Capitol.

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Photograph: Reuters

Garland’s remarks come as he faces growing calls from lawmakers, legal experts and former elected officials to intensify the department’s investigation into the events of 6 January, and in particular, to prosecute those who helped orchestrate the failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, including the former president and his associates.


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In a solemn speech marking the first anniversary of the assault on the seat of government, Garland said it did not matter whether the perpetrators were present at the Capitol riot or committed other crimes that wrought chaos on that day.

“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 in his remarks, delivered from the justice department’s Great Hall in Washington. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Garland recounted in detail the brutality of the day, contesting a rightwing revisionist narrative that the attack was not violent. Officers were assaulted with pipes and poles, beaten and shocked with stun guns. One officer, he said, was dragged down the stairs by rioters, while lawmakers and the vice-president fled for their lives.

“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,” he said. “Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice.”

Garland did not mention Donald Trump by name, and in keeping with the justice department’s longstanding rule not to comment on ongoing investigations, he did not detail any possible leads the department was pursuing related to the former US president, his family or his allies.

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Donald Trump, who urged supporters to ‘fight like hell’ on 6 January, was not mentioned by name by the attorney general. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

He said he understood the intense public interest in the case, and promised that the actions taken by the department so far “will not be our last”.

Garland said the department was laying the foundation for more “complex” cases by pursuing prosecutions against more “straightforward” ones. “In complex cases, initial charges are often less severe than later charged offenses,” he said. “This is purposeful, as investigators methodically collect and sift through more evidence.”

The investigation into the events of 6 January is one of the “largest, most complex and most resource-intensive investigations” in the nation’s history, Garland said, outlining its scope.

To date, he said investigators had issued 5,000 subpoenas and search warrants; seized 2,000 devices, viewed 20,000 hours of video footage, searched 15 terabytes of data and received 300,000 tips from the public. More than 700 people in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia have been charged for their roles in the insurrection, which left 140 law enforcement officers injured. Five officers who defended the Capitol that day have since died.

Reading their names aloud, Garland asked for a moment of silence to remember the fallen officers.

On Thursday, Democratic leaders in Congress will host a day of remembrance events, beginning with speeches from Biden and Kamala Harris at the US Capitol.

Previewing his speech, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Biden would acknowledge “the singular responsibility President Trump has for the chaos and carnage” of 6 January.

“The president is going to speak to the truth of what happened, not the lies that some have spread since and the peril it posed to the rule of law and our system of democratic governance,” Psaki said, adding that Biden was “clear-eyed about the threat the former president represents to our democracy and how the former president constantly works to undermine basic American values and rule of law”.

Garland’s remarks extended beyond the events of 6 January. He lamented a rise in violence that has touched nearly every aspect of American life. He pointed to attacks on elections officials, airline crews, teachers, journalists, police officers, judges and members of Congress.

“These acts and threats of violence are not associated with any one set of partisan or ideological views,” he warned. “But they are permeating so many parts of our national life that they risk becoming normalized and routine if we do not stop them.”

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