US attorney general defends prosecutions of Jan. 6 rioters By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

By Andrew Goudsward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday vowed to continue prosecuting people accused of storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a day after Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson suggested he wanted to shield people who took part in the attack.

Garland did not directly criticize Johnson, but noted that the department “only prosecutes those people we believe commit crimes.”

“I am extremely proud of the men and women of the department who are working every day to hold accountable those who committed crimes on Jan. 6,” Garland said at a news conference on an unrelated matter. “They will continue to do so.”

Johnson said on Tuesday that House Republicans, who are releasing video footage from the Capitol from the day of the riot, are blurring the faces “of persons who participated in the events of that day.”

“We don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ and to have other concerns and problems,” Johnson told reporters.

A Johnson spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The demand to release the footage came from hard-right lawmakers, some of whom have downplayed the violence and spread conspiracy theories that the riot by supporters of former President Donald Trump was orchestrated by federal agents or informants.

Federal prosecutors already have access to Capitol surveillance footage, which they have used in scores of cases against those accused of taking part in the attack, a failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Online sleuths have also combed publicly available footage of the attack, and in some cases have identified suspects to authorities.

The Justice Department has charged more than 1,200 people with taking part in the riot and more than 900 have either pleaded guilty or been convicted following a trial, including dozens who assaulted police officers.

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