Attorney General Merrick Garland acknowledged Wednesday that the Justice Department is prioritizing prosecuting those who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol over those who rioted and looted during last summer’s social justice demonstrations.
“I think it’s fair to say in my career as a judge and in law enforcement, I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Mr. Garland said in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. “There was an attempt to interfere with the fundamental element of our democracy — the peaceful transfer of power.
“If there has to be a hierarchy of things that we prioritize, this would be the one we would prioritize because it is the most dangerous threat to our democracy,” he continued.
But Mr. Garland said zeroing-in on the Capitol rioters has not deterred his investigators from focusing on other crimes, and he assured lawmakers that the Justice Department isn’t using political ideology to prioritize prosecutions.
“The role of the Justice Department is to prosecute violations of criminal law regardless of ideology,” he said.
Conservatives have complained they see a double standard in the vigorous crackdown on Capitol rioters compared to the more sporadic prosecutions of protesters who upended American cities last summer. They say the Justice Department has zealously pursued Capitol suspects while being silent on those who rioted and looted during the social justice protests.
The Justice Department has filed federal charges against more than 300 people stemming from last summer’s protests against police brutality. In contrast, federal arrests in the U.S. Capitol attack have surpassed 430.
“Is rioting and pilfering in cities … subject to prosecution?” Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, asked Mr. Garland.
The attorney general said not every case is subject to federal prosecution but vowed to pursue any wrongdoing.
Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, cautioned Mr. Garland not to engage in a “false equivalency” by prioritizing the Capitol rioters over foreign terrorists or other threats.
“I think it is tricky when you generalize something like Jan. 6, which all of us acknowledge was a horrific occurrence at the Capitol,” he said.