Biden nominee Merrick Garland vows to make Capitol riot investigation DOJ's highest priority

Judge Merrick Garland gave a glimpse into how he’ll lead the Justice Department as the U.S. Attorney General

By Jon Skolnik
February 23, 2021 10:26PM (UTC)
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Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on February 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Garland previously served at the Chief Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday as part of his confirmation as the U.S. Attorney General, Judge Merrick Garland pledged to make the Justice Department's investigation into the Capitol riot his top priority.

"I don't care who pressures me in any direction," Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The Department, if I am confirmed, will be under my protection for the purpose of preventing any kind of partisan or other improper motive in making any kind of investigation or prosecution. That's my vow. That's the only reason I'm willing to do this job," Garland said.

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Garland, who currently sits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as a circuit judge, recalled his experience investigating the Oklahoma City Bombings in 1995 when he was working in the Clinton-era Justice Department. "It looks like an extremely aggressive and perfectly appropriate beginning to an investigation, all across the country in the same way our original Oklahoma City investigation was," Garland said during his hearing, noting that the current political climate is a far "more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City."

Over 230 individuals have been charged for their involvement in the Capitol riot, with hundreds more expected to be indicted on charges that span the criminal spectrum. Garland expressed his intent to follow trails of complicity from bottom to top. "We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved," Garland said, "and we will pursue these leads wherever they take us. That's the job of a prosecution."

Garland also spoke about the need for the Justice Department and federal prosecutors to have adequate resources to carry the investigation out. "I don't know yet what additional resources would be required by the department," he said, "I can assure you that this would be my first priority and my first briefing." However, last month, Assistant Director of the FBI Assistant Director in Charge, maintained that the investigation currently suffers from "no manpower issue."

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With President Joe Biden considering the legislation of a new domestic terrorism law in the wake of the Capitol riot –– a law that Biden maintained "respects free speech and civil liberties" –– Garland was pressed on whether he too would be willing to expand the definition of domestic terrorism. Garland declined to give a clear answer, noting that the scope of current laws might already allow him to prosecute the insurrections to the fullest extent. Garland did, however, agree that domestic terror is rising in the U.S.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asked Garland whether he intends to support the 9/11-style commission House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is launching. Although Garland expressed his support for the commission in spirit, he made a point to delineate any parallel investigations out of the Justice Department. 

Both Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C have expressed their support of the circuit judge, setting up Garland, who was famously blocked by Senate Republicans from even receiving a confirmation hearing as Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee in 2016, is set to be confirmed vote by the Senate on a bipartisan basis.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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