U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday said the Justice Department will not shy away from controversial or politically sensitive cases, apparently responding to critics who want criminal charges against former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Garland, a day before his first anniversary as the top U.S. law enforcement official, addressed the issue in comments to reporters ahead of a meeting with senior department officials.
“We do not shy from cases that are controversial, or sensitive or political,” Garland said, without mentioning specific investigations. “We treat like cases alike, without regard to the subject matter. What we will avoid and what we must avoid is any partisan element of our decision-making about cases.”
The House of Representatives select committee investigating last year’s Capitol attack by Trump supporters seeking to block formal congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden accused the former president last week of illegal conduct. In what may be a prelude to formally asking the Justice Department to bring changes, the panel said in a court filing Trump potentially engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and may have obstructed an official proceeding.
The Justice Department already has charged more than 775 people, including the leaders of far-right groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.
None of Trump’s close allies have been charged directly in connection with the attack, though his former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon is facing misdemeanor charges of obstructing the committee’s investigation by refusing to testify or provide records.
Garland also has confirmed that the National Archives has informed the department that Trump took classified materials with him down to his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House. Garland has stopped short of confirming whether the department will investigate the matter.
Some congressional Democrats have painted Garland as too timid. For instance, U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego in January called Garland “extremely weak” and said that more of the Jan. 6 organizers should be arrested.