AG Merrick Garland says Justice Department has 'no higher priority' than investigating Jan. 6 Capitol riot

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Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday the Justice Department has “no higher priority” than bringing to justice those who were involved in last year’s January 6th Capitol Hill riots, amid a surge in crime which continues to plaque prominent American cities.

“Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice,” Garland said as he spoke about the DOJ investigation into the 2021 riots.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice on January 5, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)

Speaking the day before a “solemn anniversary,” Garland said the protesters who took part in the riots were “interfering with a fundamental element of American democracy – the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next.”

Garland announced the arrests of “more than 725 defendants in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia for their roles in the January 6 attack.” Garland also stated that the department has charged over 300 people with felonies. Twenty of those charged with felonies have already pleaded guilty, Garland said.

The nation’s chief law officer also touted norms established by the DOJ to investigate criminal matters, claiming that “different rules” cannot be used when determining whether someone broke the law.

“Over 40 years ago, in the wake of Watergate Scandal, the Justice Department concluded that the best way to ensure the department’s independence, integrity, and fair application of our laws, and the best way to ensure the health of our democracy is to have a set of norms to govern our work,” Garland said.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland arrives to speak at the Department of Justice on January 5, 2022, in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)

“The central norm is that in our criminal investigations there cannot be different rules depending on one’s political party or affiliation,” he added. “There cannot be different rules for friends and foes and there cannot be different rules for the powerful and the powerless. There is only one rule.”

Describing the “unprecedented attack” and the trouble that law enforcement officers found themselves entangled with on that day, Garland reaffirmed that the investigation is ongoing and information into what is being done by the department will be limited.

“Because January 6 was an unprecedented attack on the seat of our democracy, we understand that there is broad public interest in our investigation,” Garland said. “We understand the questions about how long the investigation will take and about what exactly we are doing.”

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, violent protesters storm the Capitol in Washington.
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“The answer is, and will continue to be, the same answer we 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,” Garland added.

Garland also said that in “circumstances like those of January 6, a full accounting does not suddenly materialize.”

“To ensure that all those criminally responsible are held accountable, we must collect the evidence,” he said. “We follow the physical evidence, we follow the digital evidence, we follow the money, but most important we follow the facts, not an agenda or an assumption. Facts tell us where to go next.”

“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,” Garland said.

During his speech, Garland failed to mention the abundance of violence perpetrated by members of Antifa, during which rioters repeatedly attacked law enforcement officers and federal government buildings and even attempted to set up breakaway zones in Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore. 

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