Garland has come under increasing public pressure from critics of the probe who say it is moving too slowly or that the charges pursued by the Justice Department are too weak. Garland worked to address those concerns during his speech, placing significant emphasis on the process of an investigation of this size and import.
Initial charges for defendants, for example, he said, were less steep. But as the probe has gone on, those charges have become increasingly tougher.
“This is purposeful as investigators collect more evidence,” Garland said, noting that the early, less complicated cases provide a foundation for further investigation leads and techniques.
“A full accounting does not suddenly materialize,” he added. “To ensure all are held accountable, we must collect the evidence.”
More than 325 individuals have been charged with felonies related to the attack, and many of those charges are tied to assaulting police officers and disrupting the counting of electoral votes by Congress. Over 20 people have pleaded guilty to assault charges while over 40 people have pleaded guilty to obstruction charges. Garland said Thursday that at least 17 people will go to trial on felony conspiracy charges in the months ahead.
“We understand there are questions about how long the investigation will take and about what exactly we are doing,” he said. “Our answer is and will continue to be the same: As long as it takes and whatever it takes for justice to be done consistent with the facts and the law.”
Garland stressed that the department is following not just physical evidence, but extensive digital evidence. The department is also “following the money,” he said, and above all, the facts.
“The facts tell us the evidence … We conduct every investigation guided by the same norms and we adhere to those norms even when, and especially when, the circumstances we face are not normal,” he said.
The attorney general also vowed to defend democratic institutions from attack and said the Justice Department would protect Americans not just from physical violence or threats of it, but would also protect them from threats to the “cornerstone of our democracy” like limitations and restrictions enacted on voters rights.
Recent legislation across the U.S. and decisions in the courts have narrowed those rights for millions of Americans and have been predicated, Garland said, on widely debunked, unsubstantiated, and unfounded claims of election fraud in 2020.
“Those claims, which have corroded people’s faith in the legitimacy of our elections have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the last administration and this one as well as by every court, federal and state, that has considered them,” Garland said.
The subject of extremism and the overt threat it poses to everyone in the U.S. was also touched upon; Garland said the DOJ would root out those who threaten election workers and officials while keeping the First Amendment at the fore.
“The Department has been clear that expressing a political belief or ideology, no matter how vociferously, is not a crime,” he said before adding that prosecutors have charged more people with criminal threats in the last year than they have in the past five years.
Careful to say that increased acts of violence and threats are not limited to one particular group or ideology, Garland lamented that extremism is “permeating so many parts of our national life” that it risks “becoming normalized and routine” if left unchecked.
Though he was diplomatic, Garland’s remarks implicitly pointed to ongoing complaints from Republican lawmakers who say the DOJ violated the First Amendment rights of the parents of schoolchildren when it released a memo saying it would address violent threats posed to school officials and teachers.
Condemning extremist violence, Garland became slightly emotional and choked back tears as he spoke about the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Garland prosecuted bomber Timothy McVeigh.
“The time to address threats is when they are made, not after the tragedy has struck,” he said.
For now, followers of the Jan. 6 probe in Congress are eagerly awaiting a decision from the Justice Department on former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows was referred to the department on a criminal contempt of Congress charge after he abruptly stopped cooperating with insurrection investigators.