Garland praises Oath Keepers verdict, won’t say where Jan 6 inquest goes

A day after a federal jury convicted two far-right extremists of leading a plot to spark political violence to prevent Joe Biden’s nomination, Attorney General Merrick Garland promised his Justice Department would continue to “work tirelessly” to hold accountable those responsible for efforts to annul the 2020 elections.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors pointed to the defendants’ ties to key allies of President Donald Trump, such as Roger Stone, ‘Stop the Steal’ organizer Ali Alexander, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

But Garland declined to say Wednesday whether he expects prosecutors to eventually press charges against them or anyone else who was not physically involved in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“I don’t want to speculate on other investigations or parts of other investigations,” Garland told reporters during a briefing where he also touted the Justice Department’s efforts to establish federal oversight of the system. water supply in Jackson, Mississippi.

Garland called the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation and Jackson’s water crisis “important matters of public concern.”

“I am very proud of the lawyers, investigators and staff whose unwavering commitment to the rule of law and tireless work culminated in these two important victories yesterday,” he said.

The status of the main investigations involving Donald Trump

Tuesday’s verdicts confirmed a key Justice Department argument made in the seven-week trial: that the Capitol breach was not an isolated event, but rather a culmination or part of a larger conspiracy by extremists who wanted to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Biden. In this case, the jury found that the founder of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, and a senior deputy, Kelly Meggs, were at least partially responsible for the gun staging and were preparing to oppose by the force to the federal authority. Both were found guilty of “seditious conspiracy”, a rarely used charge that is among the most serious to date in the extensive January 6 investigation.

Justice Department officials had been watching the Oath Keepers verdict to help decide whether to bring criminal charges against other high-profile pro-Trump figures who had played a role in the buildup of violence, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said prosecutors would also consider the outcome of an upcoming trial involving members of another extremist group, the Proud Boys, which is expected to begin mid-December.

During the briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Garland also said he had asked the House committee on Jan. 6 — which was conducting a separate investigation into the attack — for all interview transcripts and evidence he had. he had collected. This has long been a point of tension between the Justice Department and Congress, as the committee has yet to turn over all the documents.

“We would like to have all of the transcripts and all of the other evidence collected by the committee so that we can use it in the normal course of our investigation,” Garland said.

After Trump announced in mid-November that he would run for president in 2024, Garland appointed a special adviser to oversee investigations related to Trump and his advisers after his 2020 election loss, as well as a separate investigation into Trump’s possession of classified documents after he left the White House.

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Defined in statute as an effort by two or more persons to “conspire to overthrow, overthrow, or destroy by force the Government of the United States”, or to oppose by force the authority or laws thereof, seditious conspiracy is rarely charged. Prosecutors often find it difficult to prove this at trial, especially when other, simpler crimes can be charged for the same behavior.

Praveen Fernandes, vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center – a liberal think tank and law firm that had followed Rhodes’ trial closely – said the guilty verdict was significant.

“It’s not just a rendering of justice to Rhodes and Kelly Meggs – but it’s a sign that a jury may have figured out what happened that day as a seditious conspiracy,” Fernandes said. “It at least opens up a universe that says it’s at least possible to get such a conviction for acts that led up to January 6.”

But legal experts also warned that the verdict was not a slam dunk for the government, highlighting how difficult seditious conspiracy cases are to prosecute. Three other Oath Keeper associates who were on trial were acquitted of sedition charges. The five defendants were found guilty of obstructing Congress as members met on January 6 to confirm the results of the 2020 election, a key step in the country’s peaceful transfer of power.

In deciding the seditious conspiracy charge, jurors appeared to focus on written or recorded documents. evidence of conspiratorial intent, a warning sign for prosecutors that the threshold for convicting people on this rare charge is high.

Rhodes lawyer James Lee Bright said he expects the Justice Department will nonetheless take the mixed verdict as a sign to “full steam ahead” with prosecutions. others allegedly involved in the planning of what unfolded on January 6.

Federal prosecutors in the Rhodes trial made it clear that Stone, Trump’s longtime political adviser who has consistently denied knowledge of or involvement in any unlawful acts on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, was investigated, presenting evidence they said the government obtained from his phone in December 2021.

Who are the Oath Keepers? What do you want to know.

On the day news outlets said Biden had won the election, prosecutors say, Rhodes shared a text with Stone, Alexander and Proud Boys frontman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and others asking, “What is the plan?”

They also alleged that Rhodes shared a plan with that same “Friends of Stone” cryptic chat group that included major points of an anti-government uprising in Serbia that included the storming of its parliament.

Rhodes also wrote public letters to Trump urging him to invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military and private militia to ensure he remains in power.

But lawyers for people who worked for Trump and other members of Oath Keepers have expressed skepticism that Trump received or acted on those messages.

“Of the 10 terabytes of evidence we had in this trial, I can tell you that there is nothing in the body of evidence given or shown to us that would in any way indicate the ability of ‘indict former President Trump for Jan. 6,’ Bright, one of Rhodes’ attorneys, told reporters after Tuesday’s verdict.

On Wednesday, Garland said the work of Justice Department attorneys to secure the guilty verdicts “makes it clear that the department will work tirelessly to hold accountable those responsible for crimes related to the attacks on our democracy in January 2021.”

Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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