U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed Wednesday that Justice Department prosecutors will pursue officials “at any level” responsible for last January’s riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead … as long as it takes,” Garland told Justice Department lawyers and staff a day ahead of the one-year anniversary of the hours-long storming of the Capitol, the building often viewed around the world as the symbol of American democracy.
Garland said more than 725 people who participated in the riot have been arrested, some charged with assaulting police, smashing windows and doors and ransacking congressional offices, delaying lawmakers from certifying that Trump had lost his 2020 reelection bid.
Garland did not name any targets of the ongoing investigation but said, “The actions we have taken so far will not be our last.”
“There can be no different rules for the powerful and the powerless,” he said.
Some Democratic lawmakers have begun to complain about the pace of the investigation and called for Trump and key aides to be held accountable for their attempts last January 6 to block congressional certification that Democrat Joe Biden had won the November presidential election.
But Garland said, “A full accounting (of how the January 6 assault on the Capitol was planned and unfolded) does not suddenly emerge.” He said prosecutors have no agenda or assumptions but have “no higher priority” than learning all they can about the riot.
“We will follow the money … we will follow the facts,” Garland said.
The Justice Department has given no public indication of the extent to which it might attempt to hold Trump and his political allies accountable for the riot.
At a rally near the White House on January 6, 2021, before the riot unfolded, Trump urged thousands of supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory.
Trump made the baseless claim at the rally, as he does to this day, that the vote count was fraudulent and cheated him out of a second four-year term. Numerous recounts in key political battleground states have shown the initial vote counts were highly accurate and that any limited errors would not have changed the outcome in Trump’s favor.
A select House of Representatives committee is investigating the riot and is in a legal fight with Trump over whether he must turn over key phone calls records and documents that might shed light on his actions leading up to and during the chaos at the Capitol.
A U.S. appellate court in Washington has ruled that the investigative committee has a “uniquely vital interest” in seeing any documents related to the riot and its planning, but Trump has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling, saying his White House documents should be shielded from public release.
The committee’s chairman, Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, told news talk shows Sunday that the nine-member committee is particularly interested in learning why Trump resisted entreaties from his daughter, Ivanka Trump, Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials for more than three hours to call off the protest.
Eventually, Trump released a short video calling for the rioters to leave the Capitol, adding, “We love you; you're very special."
In the video, Trump mentioned the false conspiracy theory that he actually won the election, saying, "I know your pain; I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it. Especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace."
After the Capitol was cleared of protesters, Congress certified Biden’s election victory in the early hours of January 7.
Trump initially announced he would hold a news conference Thursday on the one-year anniversary of the rioting but called it off late Tuesday and said he will talk about it at a political rally on January 15. Trump says he is considering whether to mount a 2024 campaign to reclaim the White House.
Of the more than 725 people arrested so far, 225 have been charged with assault or resisting arrest. More than 75 of those were charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon against police officers. Prosecutors say that 140 U.S. Capitol Police and Washington city police were injured during the attack.
So far, prosecutors in Washington say about 165 individuals have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, from misdemeanors to felony obstruction, with 70 defendants receiving some kind of sentence. Of those, 31 people were ordered jailed, and 18 were sentenced to home detention, with the remaining 21 defendants placed on probation.
Some trials of defendants contesting charges against them are scheduled for next month.