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Elie Mystal: AG Garland Must Be More Aggressive, Hold Trump & Allies Accountable for Insurrection

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On the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection of January 6, when right-wing and white supremacist supporters of Donald Trump attacked the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, we speak with Elie Mystal of The Nation about the Department of Justice investigation, led by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who pledged Wednesday to bring everyone involved to “justice.” Mystal says Garland should be more aggressive and also pursue Donald Trump. “I want actual evidence that this man is willing to take on the powerful, politically connected Republicans who did this to us, and so far I don’t see that evidence,” says Mystal. So far, 725 rioters have been arrested on smaller charges.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: One year ago today was the deadly January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when a violent right-wing mob, incited by President Trump, stormed the Capitol in what’s been described as an attempted coup.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

AMY GOODMAN: A Senate report found at least seven people were killed in connection with the attack. The insurrection began shortly after then-President spoke at a rally urging supporters to head to the Capitol after once again falsely claiming the election had been stolen.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to walk down to the Capitol! And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

AMY GOODMAN: Today President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are addressing the nation to mark this first anniversary. Republican leaders are not expected to attend any of the day’s events at the Capitol.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to continue investigating who organized the insurrection. He spoke from the Justice Department’s Great Hall.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.

Because January 6 was an unprecedented attack on the seat of our democracy, we understand that there is broad public interest in our investigation. We understand that there are questions about how long the investigation will take and about what exactly we are doing. Our answer is, and will continue to be, the same answer we would give with respect to any ongoing investigation: as long as it takes and whatever it takes for justice to be done consistent with the facts and the law. I understand that this may not be the answer some are looking for, but we will and we must speak through our work. Anything else jeopardizes the viability of our investigations and the civil liberties of our citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Elie Mystal, The Nation's justice correspondent, who asks in his new piece, “Will Garland Do What It Takes to Bring the Insurrectionists to Justice?” Elie's forthcoming book is titled Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution.

Elie, welcome back to Democracy Now! You were very critical of what Merrick Garland, the attorney general, had to say yesterday. Why?

ELIE MYSTAL: Well, yeah, I have been critical of what he’s been doing up to this point. But I want to be clear here: If Merrick Garland has a secret plan to one day hold the people responsible for January 6th accountable, his investigation would look kind of like it looks right now. The problem is that if Merrick Garland didn’t have a secret plan and had no intention of holding those people accountable and was only going to go after the low-hanging fruit with minimal charges, his investigation would look pretty much like it looks right now. So, the question is really not — the question is simply: Do you trust Merrick Garland? Do you believe what he just said, that he will do everything it takes to go hold the people accountable — the people responsible accountable? Do you believe him or not? Because you don’t see right now any evidence that he’s actually going to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he said in his remarks yesterday, “These acts and threats of violence are not associated with any one set of partisan or ideological views.” Your response?

ELIE MYSTAL: Well, he’s wrong, right? Because one set of partisan ideological views attacked the Capitol, and the other set didn’t. It’s as simple as that. And this is why I’m saying, like, “Do you trust him or not?” Because this kind of both-sidesism of, you know, terrorism and insurrection, this is why I have concerns, dude, right?

Like, what we’re seeing from Garland is that he will say the right things. He will stand up there, and he will say, “We will pursue these people ’til the ends of the…” Right? He’ll say all the right things, but when you look at what he does, what he does doesn’t match what he says. He says he’s going to look for people and hold people accountable whether they were there or not, but he’s only arrested people who were there. He says he’s going to follow the money, but he’s only arrested people who have done the deed, right? He hasn’t actually followed the money or made any indictments over people who funded the insurrection thus far, right? He says he’s going to pursue people to the fullest extent of the law, but so far he’s only sentenced 71 people. Now, that’s small. There’s the opportunity that penalties will increase as we go forward, but so far those 71 people have relatively received very light sentences. Very few people have received jail time. Fifty-six of the 71 people he has sentenced have only been sentenced for parading or picketing inside the Capitol building, which, you know, is a couple of weeks off. You get more than that for possession with intent to distribute, than you get for storming the Capitol looking for Mike Pence to hang him. So, again, what comes out of his mouth is appropriate; what he does with his pen so far has been underwhelming.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, those sentenced, it’s less than 10% of those arrested, and they still say they’re looking for hundreds more people. But, as you point out and you tweeted, “So, one thing you should notice about Garland’s framing of Jan 6 is that he starts at storming of the Capitol, not at the rally before.” Why is this so significant?

ELIE MYSTAL: Right. So, when Garland has given his recap of the day’s events, he starts when the people have already amassed in front of the Capitol, before they’re about to go in. That’s an interesting place to start. If you were going to bring conspiracy charges, you wouldn’t start there; you would start at least where you started, Amy, on your show, with the Trump speech, right? I would start with the Mo Brooks speech and with the Donald Trump Jr. speech, when he tells them to go down and fight like hell. You might start a week before the events of January 6th, as Trump — as the big lie really started to take hold in the Senate and in the public. You might start two weeks before or a month before, because the lie happened over the course of weeks. If you were going to make a conspiracy charge and really hold the people accountable for — people accountable who are responsible for those 700 or so people who breached the Capitol, you wouldn’t start at noon on January 6th; you’d start a lot earlier.

But Garland — and you have to listen to his words carefully. He’s a lawyer. He’s not saying things idly. Oh, he’s going to hold everybody who can be shown to be criminally responsible, right? So he’s always trying to give himself an out, a hedge, a way to avoid holding the most powerful people accountable. And look, Garland is happy to put his foot down on the QAnon shaman, all right? Like, the guy with the horns, he’s going to get the long arm of the law, right? But what about the congresspeople who allegedly or apparently gave these people a tour of Congress before they did it? I haven’t heard any investigation about them from his office. So, again, if you trust that it’s happening, good for you. That’s a cool story. But I need a little bit more evidence before I trust this man to do what I believe is necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Elie Mystal, what do you say to those who say, when you’re talking about, perhaps, for example, holding President Trump criminally responsible, who was not there, though he told the folks he would be there — he in fact was watching from his dining room, as we are now continually hearing the reports of, and then we’ll hear more of from the select committee — and did not comment for more than three hours as people begged him to issue a statement, and he ultimately said, “Go home. We love you,” after over three hours, where Republicans and Democratic legislators were hiding away to prevent themselves from being attacked — of course, Vice President Pence, key among them, was taken out by security. But what do you say to those who say he’s got to build this case carefully? It’s going to go through the courts. The appeals courts in the area are there, have underscored the expanded right of the president and the executive.

ELIE MYSTAL: Sorry. Did I lose you?

AMY GOODMAN: So, the question is, they have to build this case very carefully.

ELIE MYSTAL: Yep. And that’s exactly what they said about Mueller. I mean, this is — Amy, this argument is exactly the argument they gave me about Robert Mueller. “Oh, he’s doing the — he’s crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, and he is going to come down the pipe.” And Mueller did nothing.

And quite frankly, if Garland wanted to prove that he was this guy, this dedicated, dogged public servant who is going to pursue justice to the end of the Earth, well, he’s still got the Mueller report sitting there. Mueller outlined 10 instances of obstruction of justice and didn’t prosecute on those. Well, Merrick Garland could. But you notice that he’s not. And so, that’s why I keep saying he can talk the game, but look at the man’s actions. If he was willing to go after Trump for crimes that Trump committed, he’s already got the Mueller report. But he’s not acting on the Mueller report, is he?

So, now he’s going to say, like, “Oh, we’re doing all the things to cross the T’s and dot the I’s.” But this other investigation that maybe — I mean, that’s why I keep saying it goes back to trust. Maybe, sure, this great white, institutional, liberal prosecutor will totally get Trump this time, not like the last one who — like, that’s what you’ve got to — that’s what you’re selling to me. And there are going to be people who believe that. Again, I’m just — I want actual evidence that this man is willing to take on the powerful, politically connected Republicans who did this to us, and so far I don’t see that evidence.

AMY GOODMAN: Elie Mystal, I want to thank you so much for being with us, The Nation's justice correspondent. We'll link to your piece, “Will Garland Do What It Takes to Bring the Insurrectionists to Justice?” Elie’s forthcoming book, Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution.

Up next, as false claims about voter fraud fuel Republican efforts to restrict voting access, especially for Black voters, we go to Georgia to speak with professor Carol Anderson. Among her books, White Rage and One Person, No Vote. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” performed by Alicia Keys. A version of this song was played yesterday at the Louisiana ceremony where Governor John Bel Edwards issued a posthumous pardon to Homer Plessy, who was arrested in 1892 for refusing to leave a “whites only” passenger car. The Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson came out of this, which upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine.

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“White Rage” Author Carol Anderson: GOP Attack on “Election Fraud” Really an Attack on Black Voters

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