(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday will deliver a rare address on the Justice Department’s sweeping investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, in remarks one official said will outline DOJ’s “efforts to hold accountable those responsible” attack on the Capitol.
One year after the assault, more than 700 people across nearly every state in the U.S. have faced federal charges for joining the riot — and the FBI continues to seek tips on hundreds more still-unidentified individuals, including more than 350 who committed violent acts while on Capitol grounds.
More than 70 people have been sentenced for their criminal conduct on Jan. 6, including 32 who were ordered to time behind bars. A New Jersey man seen hurling a fire extinguisher at police during the siege received the harshest sentence handed down by a judge thus far of more than five years in prison, an ominous sign for the more than 200 individuals currently facing charges of assaulting law enforcement.
According to the Justice Department, more than 270 face charges like conspiracy or obstruction that carry potential maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, and prosecutors have said in hearings for several alleged rioters that they’re weighing potential terrorism enhancements for those DOJ can prove were driven by political motivation in their crimes.
But even as the federal investigation into those who carried out the attack on the Capitol charges forward, DOJ and specifically, Garland himself, have increasingly found themselves the subject of public scrutiny over what critics have argued is a seeming hesitance to hold accountable those like former President Donald Trump or his allies who urged the rioters to march toward Congress or otherwise worked to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The criticism has been levied by numerous legal experts, former prosecutors and lawmakers in editorial pages and cable news appearances — and has even extended to at least one of the federal judges overseeing the prosecutions of the Jan. 6 rioters.
On Jan. 6, ABC News Live will provide all-day coverage of events marking one year since the attack on the U.S. Capitol and the continuing fallout for American democracy.
In a November sentencing hearing for Jan. 6 rioter John Lolos, for instance, District Judge Amit Mehta described Lolos as a “pawn” being punished even as those who “created the conditions” for the insurrection “in no meaningful sense of the word have been held to account.”
Garland has acknowledged the commentary as recently as October in an appearance at the New Yorker Festival, where he said he’s aware “there are people who are criticizing us for not prosecuting sufficiently and others who are complaining that we are prosecuting too harshly.”
Specifically asked at the event about Trump’s alleged role in inciting the riot, Garland declined to answer directly noting Justice Department policy against commenting on potential investigations.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators of Jan. 6 are brought to justice,” Garland said. “We will follow the facts and the law where they land.”
A DOJ official said that Garland’s remarks Wednesday will similarly “not speak to specific individuals or charges,” but rather will “discuss the department’s solemn duty to uphold the Constitution, follow the facts and the law, and pursue equal justice under law without fear or favor.”
The speech comes as a parallel investigation by the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol siege continues to trickle out details of Trump’s actions before, during and after the attack as well as the activities of his inner circle who were seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory.
The co-chairs of the bipartisan committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., have said in recent weeks that potential criminal referrals to DOJ for specific individuals could be on the table if they find what they believe amounts to evidence of unlawful conduct.
The committee has already made two referrals to DOJ for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows over their defiance of congressional subpoenas. DOJ indicted Bannon in November on two counts of contempt of Congress and his trial is currently set for July.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. has yet to take action against Meadows after receiving his contempt referral in mid-December.
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