During his confirmation hearing Monday, Judge Merrick Garland made two things clear about how, if he confirmed, he’d lead the Justice Department’s response to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
First, he said he didn’t see the attack on the Capitol as a “one-off.” The department, he said, must address it as part of a larger effort to contend with extremists groups.
Second, he didn’t pull off the table prosecuting those who facilitated the mob even if they themselves didn’t ransack the Capitol.
Garland made the first point from the very beginning of the hearing, articulating it in his opening statement. He connected his work, as a top official in the Clinton DOJ, on the Oklahoma City bombing case to the Jan. 6 riot, and said that “battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions” remains “central” to the Department’s “mission.”
He elaborated on this holistic view more explicitly during the question period.
Garland connected department’s role in addressing a rise in hate crimes not just to the Oklahoma City bombing, but to the department’s early battles with the Ku Klux Klan.
“I intend to make sure that we look more broadly, to look at where this is coming from, what other groups there might be that could raise the same problem in the future, and that we protect the American people,” he said.
The second point came up when Democrats question Garland. Multiple Democrats implied that anyone connected to the riots who broke the law should be fair game for DOJ prosecutions, regardless of whether they themselves ransacked the Capitol. But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Garland point-blank to not rule out an “upstream” approach to investigating those who were not at the Capitol but who funded, organized or otherwise aided the mob. Garland affirmed that the department would pursue all leads.
Later in the hearing, Garland signaled his support for Congress itself investigating the insurrection. But he also cautioned that lawmakers should be mindful that their probe doesn’t inadvertently screw up the department’s work.
He asked that “the commission’s investigation not interfere with our ability to prosecute individuals and entities” that caused the storming of the Capitol.