The Justice Department plans to prosecute anyone who was “criminally responsible for obstructing the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday, speaking at greater length than before about a criminal investigation. federal which seems to have moved well beyond the rioters who attacked the Capitol.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Garland said the House committee’s televised hearings on Jan. 6 brought to light “the truth about what happened…and what a risk it posed to our democracy. And he acknowledged that Justice Department investigators learned things from congressional testimony.
“Look, the Department of Justice has conducted the most extensive investigation in its history,” he said. “And the committee is also carrying out an extremely wide-ranging investigation. It is inevitable that there will be things they find before we have found them. And it is inevitable that there are things that we find that they did not find. This is what happens when you have two large surveys going on at the same time.
A day after the news broke that the Chief of Staff to former Vice President Mike Pence had been called before a federal grand jury investigating on Jan. 6, Holt asked Garland if the Justice Department would indict former President Donald Trump if the evidence supported such action.
“The indictment of a former president, and possibly a presidential candidate, would undoubtedly tear the country apart,” Holt said. “Is that your concern when making your decision here, do you have to think about things like that?”
Garland replied, “We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding January 6, accountable for any attempt to interfere with the legal transfer of power from one administration to another. This is what we do. We pay no attention to other issues in this regard.
Holt followed up, asking if, if Trump were to run for president again, “wouldn’t that change your schedule or how you move or don’t move?”
Garland replied, “I repeat that we will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the transfer, the legitimate and legal transfer of power from one administration to another.”
Garland has spoken before about the peaceful transfer of power, but in the context of the attack on the Capitol. In a January 5 speech, Garland described the assault as “an interference with a fundamental element of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another.”
But Garland’s language in Tuesday’s interview seemed to hint at a larger goal – any criminal interference in the transfer of power, not just actions related to the attack. Some experts have argued that many of Trump’s actions, including his attempt to use the Justice Department to advance false allegations of fraud and his efforts to pressure Pence before Jan. 6, are part of a criminal scheme to stop the transfer of power.
Since January, the Justice Department has acknowledged that it has been investigating those who submitted fake voter lists. And Marc Short, who was Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, testified last week before a federal grand jury in Washington, according to a person familiar with the matter – the most senior person in Trump’s White House known for the ‘have done.
The January 6 hearings highlighted allegations that Trump knew the crowd of protesters were armed, but still wanted them to march to the Capitol — and that he was seeking to pressure the Justice Department and Pence in schemes to undermine and nullify legitimate election results. Many legal experts say the hearings presented a solid legal roadmap for a series of lawsuits that could include Trump.
“The only pressure that I or my prosecutors or the agents feel is the pressure to do the right thing,” Garland said. “It’s the only way to pursue the rule of law. This is the only way to maintain the confidence of the American people in the rule of law, which is an essential part of our democratic system.
On other topics, Holt asked Garland about the recent spate of mass shootings and how authorities can spot troubled individuals before they commit violence.
“That’s the hardest question in a democracy,” he said.
“We have to respect the First Amendment. We can’t just troll the internet by watching what everyone in the country is doing. But we have joint terrorism task forces that assess both foreign and domestic terrorists and domestic violent extremists, including racially motivated violent extremists, which you were talking about. We must have our eyes on the ground. This is why our cooperation with local communities and our cooperation with national and local law enforcement is so important.