Merrick Garland vows to investigate Capitol riots

WASHINGTON – Judge Merrick Garland on Monday offered a first look at how he will handle the investigation into last month’s insurrection at the US Capitol. If confirmed as the US attorney general it takes “wherever it may take us. “.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of his confirmation process, Garland called the effort of hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump to prevent Congress from meeting on January 6 to certify the election results as “the most egregious attack on Democrats process I have ever seen and one I never expected to see in my life. “

More than 230 people have been charged to date, and the Justice Department is exploring hundreds more to participate in an extensive nationwide investigation. Garland, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for more than two decades and, prior to that, a senior Justice Department official, told the committee that understanding what resources prosecutors and prosecutors need FBI for investigation would be your “first priority” and “first report” if confirmed.

Garland spoke about leveraging his experience as a lead prosecutor in the federal investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, not only in response to the assault on the Capitol, but also in general to combat the rise of white supremacy. He said there was a line connecting the January insurrection to the Oklahoma City bombing and back to the “original Justice Department battles against the Ku Klux Klan.”

“We must do everything in the Justice Department’s power to prevent this type of interference with the policies of American democratic institutions, and I plan, if confirmed as attorney general, to do everything in my power to ensure that we’re protected, ”Garland said.

Above Garland’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday was the hearing he never had in 2016 after former President Barack Obama nominated him for the United States Supreme Court. Top Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time, refused to act on his nomination, arguing that the vacancy should remain open until after the fall presidential election. Senator Chuck Grassley, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2016 and is the highest-ranking Republican now that Democrats control the Senate, began his remarks Monday by defending the decision not to hold a hearing five years ago, but saying that he now he gave the judge a “warm welcome” and described him as a “good choice” for the attorney general.

One of the big unresolved questions is whether former President Donald Trump or the Trump allies involved in urging the people to oppose Congress’ certification of the election could face criminal prosecution; some defendants have blamed the former president, saying they were following his instructions when he told them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”

When asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse if he would follow the investigation “upstream” to the “sponsors, organizers, ringleaders or aides and accomplices” of the violence on January 6, Garland generally said he would apply that approach, but did not specifically do so. . commit to investigating any particular person.

“We start with the people on the ground and work our way up to those who are involved and most involved, and we will follow these leads wherever they lead us. That’s the job of a prosecution, ”Garland said.

Garland spoke repeatedly about wanting to make sure prosecutors and the FBI have the resources they need to continue the investigation. Acting US attorney in Washington, DC, Michael Sherwin, has publicly rejected a report last month that prosecutors were considering not charging some people for conserving resources, saying “there is no manpower problem.” When Senator Lindsey Graham asked Garland to inform the Judiciary Committee if the Justice Department needed more resources, Garland responded that he was “eager” to have that conversation with the senators.

Several Republican members of the committee raised demonstrations last year in Portland, Oregon, which involved violent nightly clashes between protesters and police around federal court. Senator Chuck Grassley, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, asked Garland to commit to continuing that investigation, as well as that of the Capitol uprising. Senator Josh Hawley, who raised his fist to encourage Trump supporters gathered outside the Capitol on January 6 a few hours before a mob descended on the building, asked Garland if attacks on federal courthouses like the ones that What happened in Portland were acts of internal extremism. or domestic terrorism.

Hawley did not explicitly say that he was comparing what happened in Portland to the insurrection, but Garland’s response made it clear that this was what he understood Hawley was doing. Garland said violence against a court was a “serious” crime that should be punished, but said it would draw a line between an attack on federal property and an attack aimed at preventing judges from hearing the cases.

“Both are criminals, but one is a central attack on our democratic institutions,” Garland said.

Garland also invoked the insurrection when Hawley asked him during a separate exchange whether Garland supported the elimination of funding for police departments. Garland said that he, like Biden, did not.

“We saw how difficult life was for police officers in the body camera videos we saw when they were defending the Capitol,” he said.

The assault on the Capitol revived efforts in Congress to pass a law creating new categories of federal crimes for domestic terrorism. Garland refused to take a position on the matter. As a candidate, President Joe Biden voiced his support for a new national terrorism law “that respects free speech and civil liberties.” Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have spoken out against it, arguing that even if it were motivated now by the desire to eradicate white supremacy, any effort to give law enforcement more policing and prosecutorial power would end up hurting the law enforcement agencies. communities of color. .

Garland said he would need to find out whether federal criminal laws already on the books provide prosecutors with enough tools to respond to these types of cases before taking a position on the new legislation. He noted that prosecutors had been able to successfully prosecute other domestic terrorists in the past under existing laws, including Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced plans to create an independent commission to investigate the insurrection, similar to the commission that Congress created after 9/11. Senator Chris Coons asked Garland if he would support him. Garland said he believed the 9/11 commission was helpful and that Congress had the authority to do something similar again, but asked that any parallel investigation not “interfere” with the department’s ability to prosecute, for example by revealing operations in course, revealing sources. , or soliciting the testimony of individuals in a way that complicated the Department of Justice’s ability to charge them.

Garland is expected to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee without a hitch and get confirmation when his nomination goes to the full Senate for a final vote. One of the only times Republican committee members expressed doubts about Garland on Monday was when asked about his commitment to retain John Durham, a special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate how the FBI and the Department of Justice handled the situation. investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Trump and Republicans frequently attacked that investigation as politically motivated; Reviews by the Justice Department inspector general’s office identified flaws in the way officials conducted the investigation early on, but they also did not support Trump’s claims of a widespread and politically biased “witch hunt.”

Garland said he saw “no reason” to end Durham’s work, but did not believe it was appropriate to take a specific position without understanding all the facts and status of that investigation.

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