Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday defended the Justice Department against claims that it is not charging the rioters who breached the US Capitol on January 6 harshly enough.
“Prosecutors involved in this case are making determinations in every case about what charge fits defense what charge fits the law,” Garland said during an interview for The New Yorker festival, when he was asked about the criticisms, which have come from outside observers and at least one of the judges presiding over the cases.
Many of the defendants have been charged only with misdemeanors and some low-level offenders have reached plea deals that will likely allow them to avoid jail time.
In one such case this summer, DC District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell questioned the appropriateness of bringing a sole “petty offense” against the defendant. Meanwhile, another judge on the court, Judge Trevor McFadden, suggested last week that the Department hasn’t been “even-handed” because those who participated in riots associated with the racial justice protests of 2020 were not prosecuted as aggressively, according to McFadden, as the insurrection defendants.
“I am quite aware that there are people who are criticizing us for not prosecuting sufficiently and others who are complaining that we are prosecuting too harshly,” Garland said Monday. “This is, you know, part of the territory for any prosecutor in any case, I have great confidence in the prosecutors who are doing these cases.”
Asked about the question of accountability for former President Donald Trump, Garland pointed to the department policy limiting public comments on pending investigations or individuals.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators of January 6 are brought to justice,” Garland said. “We will follow the facts and the law where they land.”
Garland, a former federal judge on the influential DC Circuit Court of Appeals, worked at the department before joining the judiciary. As a prosecutor, he played a major role in the investigation of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.
Asked whether that experience made him less surprised than others about the violence on January 6, Garland recalled how the threat of domestic terrorism had been on the rise in the period before the 1995 bombing.
“Anybody looking, perhaps, would have seen that it was rising again, in the last decade or so,” Garland said.
But being insulated in the “monastery of the judiciary,” he added, “I can’t say I met was any better at predicting what would happen on January 6 than anyone else.”
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