U.S. attorney general on Jan. 6 riots: ‘We will follow the facts, wherever they lead’

U.S. attorney general on Jan. 6 riots: 'We will follow the facts, wherever they lead'
An image of the riots on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON — The highest-ranking law enforcement official in the United States is vowing to leave no stone unturned in the ongoing investigation into the Capitol Hill riots a year ago.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department has come under partisan fire for its deliberate, slow-moving work on the case, is pleading with Americans for patience.

Garland says more than 725 people have been arrested and charged in relation to the Jan. 6 attack, with those involved in assaulting police officers facing the most serious counts.

He says the investigation has issued more than 5,000 subpoenas and search warrants, seized 2,000 electronic devices and examined 20,000 hours of video footage and 15 terabytes of data.

President Joe Biden will mark the one-year anniversary of the attack today with a speech the White House says will distinguish between the truth of what happened on Capitol Hill and the lies perpetrated by former president Donald Trump.

Trump, for his part, has cancelled plans for a news conference in Florida, choosing instead to focus on a rally in Arizona next week.

Garland didn’t mention Trump by name Wednesday, but he intimated that the investigation will continue to work behind the scenes at bringing those responsible for the attack to justice — regardless of political prominence or partisan affiliation.

“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” he said.

“We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

READ MORE: The New Normal: UVic professor calls events at U.S. Capitol Hill alarming but predictable

Investigating an event like Jan. 6 is a complex and challenging endeavour that doesn’t instantly reveal all the necessary facts and evidence, he added.

“We follow the physical evidence, we follow the digital evidence, we follow the money,” Garland said. “But most important, we follow the facts, not an agenda or an assumption. The facts tell us where to go next.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s speech won’t shy away from blaming Trump for what transpired on Jan. 6, calling out the former president for spinning the ongoing fiction around the 2020 election outcome, and criticizing Republicans for their failure thus far to confront reality.

“You don’t just love your country when you win; you love your country, you love democracy, in any scenario,” Psaki said.

“What is most disappointing to (Biden) is that there has been a silence, and a times a complacency, by far too many Republicans who have sat by and defended the Big Lie, and perpetuated misinformation to the American public.”

Five people died either in or as a direct result of last year’s hours-long melee on Capitol Hill, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who succumbed to his injuries the following day after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher and hit in the face with pepper spray.

Protester and Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by police as she and several others tried to smash their way through the doors leading to the speaker’s lobby. Three other Trump supporters — Kevin Gleeson, Rosanne Boyland and Benjamin Philips — also lost their lives.

But countless other Capitol Police officers remain scarred, physically and emotionally, not only from the events of that day but also what they describe as the political efforts since then to shrug off Jan. 6 as a legitimate and non-violent public protest.

Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a decorated U.S. Army veteran and Capitol Police officer, was among several who testified before Congress last year about the experience. An opinion piece published Wednesday in the Washington Post drove home his lingering sense of betrayal.

“We grieve for an America somehow divided over what really transpired on Jan. 6, and we are deeply concerned about the threat of future political violence that continues to hover over our democracy,” Gonell and colleague Harry Dunn wrote.

“What we want — indeed, what we demand for ourselves and our fellow officers — is accountability for Jan. 6.”

Unlike the show of national unity that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. body politic remains more fractured then ever, particularly on the question of the events of last January, a new poll by USA Today and Suffolk University suggests.

While 83 per cent of respondents said they were worried about the future of democracy in the U.S., they part ways along political lines over why: 58 per cent of Republicans who took part in the survey still say Biden is not the legitimate president, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

Only a narrow majority of all respondents, 53 per cent, said the select committee is doing important work, including 88 per cent of Democrats, while 42 per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed dismissed the committee as a waste of time, including 78 per cent of Republicans.

With Trump cancelling his plans, two of the former president’s staunchest congressional defenders — Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — have scheduled a counter-programming news conference Thursday in D.C.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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