Attorney General Merrick Garland will give a speech Wednesday about the Justice Department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, remarks that come as the country’s top law enforcement officer is facing calls to do more.
Garland will not speak about specific people or charges, according to a Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity Monday because the speech had not yet been officially announced.
The remarks, which will be delivered in the Great Hall and streamed on the Justice Department’s website, will begin at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, the department said.
A growing chorus of lawmakers, former public officials and others have called on Garland in recent weeks to intensify the department’s effort to investigate the events of Jan. 6 and what led up to it, and to focus in particular on holding former president Donald Trump and those close to him accountable.
A Harvard Law professor and two former federal prosecutors, for example, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that Garland cannot prevent future violence “without a robust criminal investigation of those at the top.”
Three former military generals also wrote in The Washington Post that the Justice Department should “show more urgency,” and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, suggested that she wants to explore whether Trump committed a federal crime by obstructing an official proceeding of Congress.
The longtime girlfriend of Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died the day after the riot, told “PBS NewsHour” on Monday that she holds Trump “100 percent responsible” for Sicknick’s death and wants the former president to serve time in prison.
Joyce Vance, a U.S. attorney in the Obama administration, said that while Garland most certainly will not announce plans to charge Trump or his associates Wednesday, his speech has the potential to ease public frustration with the pace and tenor of the Justice Department’s work.
“I think DOJ could do more to engage with the public,” Vance said, “not to assure us that they’re going to indict a former president or anyone around him but to assure us that DOJ understands the job it has to do and takes it seriously.”
“I would like to hear him say that he will follow the evidence no matter where it leads and that no man is above the law,” she added. “But it’s possible that if he were to say something like that — which is pretty bland and uncontroversial — that it would raise expectations and people would read into it.”
Federal prosecutors in D.C. announced last week that they have charged more than 725 people with assault, resisting arrest and other crimes in connection with the events of Jan. 6. About 165 people have pleaded guilty, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Some legal analysts say charges for Trump and others seem unlikely, however, given that public evidence has not pointed to a grand conspiracy of the president or top allies directing rioters. A Washington Post review of court records last year found that the vast majority of those charged federally were not known to be part of far-right groups or premeditated conspiracies to attack the Capitol. Rather, they were an array of everyday Americans, including community leaders, small-business owners, teachers and yoga instructors.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has been highly critical of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, said he finds talk of possible criminal charges “baffling.”
Proving a crime, he said, “would require evidence that [Trump] anticipated and enabled a violent attack on the Capitol” and “a level of coordination with some of these individuals who led efforts to enter the Capitol building.”
“It’s not a crime to fail to promptly call for people to leave the Hill,” Turley said. “Much of this debate is entirely detached from the criminal code and governing criminal case law.”
Vance said that while she sees evidence she believes warrants further investigation of Trump — including his asking the Georgia secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat there — substantiating a criminal case could be difficult. She said she hopes the Justice Department will explain publicly at the end of the investigation why prosecutors did or did not take certain steps, as a way of restoring public faith in the institution.
“Ultimately, the question that has to be answered is whether the rule of law is sufficient to the task of holding a president who tried to stay in office after losing an election accountable,” she said.
The Justice Department’s investigation is running parallel to the House committee’s probe of the Capitol breach and of efforts to nullify Joe Biden’s victory at the polls. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the chair of that committee, recently told The Post that lawmakers are particularly interested in why it took Trump so long to call on his supporters to stand down after they stormed the Capitol.
Thompson said the delayed response could be a factor in deciding whether to make a criminal referral, which is when Congress tells the Justice Department it believes a crime has been committed.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sicknick died during the Jan. 6 riot. He died Jan. 7. It also incorrectly described Sicknick as married. It was his longtime girlfriend who was interviewed on “PBS NewsHour.” The article has been corrected.