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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland Delivers Address; Capitol Security. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 05, 2022 - 15:00   ET



MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Police officers who put their lives on the line every day to serve our communities have been targeted with extraordinary levels of violence.

Flight crews have been assaulted. Journalists have been targeted. School personnel and their families have been threatened. A member of Congress was threatened in a gruesome voice-mail that asked if she had ever seen what a .50-caliber shell does to a human head.

Another member of Congress, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, received threats that left her terrified for her family. And, in 2020, a federal judge in New Jersey was targeted by someone who had appeared before her in court. That person compiled information about where the judge and her family lived and went to church.

That person found the judge's home, shot and killed her son and injured her husband. These acts and threats of violence are not associated with any one set of partisan or ideological views, but they are permeating so many parts of our national life that they risk becoming normalized and routine if we do not stop them.

That is dangerous for people's safety, and it is deeply dangerous for our democracy.

In a democracy, people vote, argue, and debate, often vociferously, in order to achieve the policy outcomes they desire. But, in a democracy, people must not employ violence or unlawful threats of violence to effect that outcome. Citizens must not be intimidated from exercising their constitutional rights to free expression and association by such unlawful conduct.

The Justice Department will continue to investigate violence and illegal threats of violence, disrupt that violence before it occurs, and hold perpetrators accountable.

We have marshaled the resources of the department to address the rising violence and criminal threats of violence against election workers, against flight crews, against school personnel, against journalists, against members of Congress, and against federal agents, prosecutors, and judges. In 2021, the department charged more defendants in criminal threat cases than in any year in at least the last five. As we do this work, we are guided by our commitment to protect civil

liberties, including the First Amendment rights of all citizens. The department has been clear that expressing a political belief or ideology, no matter how vociferously, is not a crime. We do not investigate or prosecute people because of their views.

Peacefully expressing a view or ideology, no matter how extreme, is protected by the First Amendment. But illegally threatening to harm or kill another person is not. There is no First Amendment right to unlawfully threaten to harm or kill someone.

As Justice Scalia noted in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, true threats of violence are outside the First Amendment, because laws that punish such threats -- quote -- "protect individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur."

The latter point hits particularly close to home for those of us who have investigated tragedies, ranging from the Oklahoma City bombing to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The time to address threats is when they are made, not after the tragedy has struck.

As employees of the nation's largest law enforcement agency, each of us understands that we have an obligation to protect our citizens from violence and fear of violence, and we will continue to do our part to provide that protection.

But the Justice Department cannot do it alone. The responsibility to bring an end to violence and threats of violence against those who serve the public is one that all Americans share.


Such conduct disrupts the peace of our public spaces and undermines our democracy.

We are all Americans. We must protect each other. The obligation to keep Americans and American democracy safe is part of the historical inheritance of this department. As I have noted several times before, a founding purpose of the Justice Department was to battle violent extremist attacks on our democratic institutions.

In the midst of Reconstruction following the Civil War, the department's first principle task was secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. This meant protecting black Americans seeking to exercise their right to vote from acts and threats of violence by white supremacists.

The framers of the Civil War amendments recognized that access to the ballot is a fundamental aspect of citizenship and self-government. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to make the promise of those amendments real. To do so, it gave the Justice Department valuable tools with which to protect the right to vote.

In recent years, however, the protections of the Voting Rights Act have been drastically weakened. The Supreme Court's 2013 decision in the Shelby County case effectively eliminated the preclearance of Section 5, which had been the department's most effective tool for protecting voting rights over the past half-century.

Subsequent decisions have substantially narrowed the reach of Section 2 as well. Since those decisions, there has been a dramatic increase in legislative enactments that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to vote and to elect representatives of their own choosing.

Those enactments range from practices and procedures that make voting more difficult, to redistricting maps drawn to disadvantage both minorities and citizens of opposing political parties, to abnormal post-election audits that put the integrity of the voting process at risk, to changes in voting administration meant to diminish the authority of locally elected or nonpartisan election administrators.

Some have even suggested permitting state legislators to set aside the choice of the voters themselves.

As I noted in an address to the Civil Rights Division last June, many of those enactments have been justified by unfounded claims of material vote fraud in the 2020 election. Those claims, which have corroded people's faith in the legitimacy of our elections, have been repeatedly refuted by the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both the last administration and this one, as well as by every court, federal and state, that has considered them.

The Department of Justice will continue to do all it can to protect voting rights with the enforcement powers we have. It is essential that Congress act to give the department the powers we need to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a vote that counts.

But, as with violence and threats of violence, the Justice Department, even the Congress cannot alone defend the right to vote. The responsibility to preserve democracy and to maintain faith in the legitimacy of its essential processes lies with every elected official and with every American.

All Americans are entitled to free, fair and secure elections that ensure they can select the representatives of their choice. All Americans are entitled to live in a country in which their public servants can go about their jobs of serving the public free from violence and unlawful threats of violence. And all Americans are entitled to live in a country in which the transition from one elected administration to the next is accomplished peacefully.

The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the democracy to which all Americans are entitled.


As I recognized when I spoke with you all last March, service in the Department of Justice is more than a job and more than an honor. It is a calling. Each of us, you and I, came to work here because we are committed to the rule of law and to seeking equal justice under law. We came to work here because we are committed to ensuring the civil rights and civil liberties of our people. We came to work here because we are committed to protecting our

country, as our oath says, from all enemies foreign and domestic. Together, we will continue to show the American people, by word and by deed, that these are the principles that underlie our work.

The challenges that we have faced and that we will continue to face are extraordinary, but I am moved and humbled by the extraordinary work you do every single day to meet them.

I look forward to seeing more of you in person soon and to our continued work together.

Thank you, all.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, that's Attorney General Merrick Garland delivering remarks on the eve of the insurrection anniversary, but really the scope much broader than January 6.

He talked about the scourge of violence against school officials and flight attendants, even other public servants, and, of course, finishing with voting rights.

Let's now broaden the conversation with CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez, senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe, who was deputy direction of the FBI, senior political analyst Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN chief political correspondent and co-host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Dana Bash.

Andrew, let me start with you.

Again, the scope of these remarks initially were sold as discussing the investigation, but they went far beyond that in close to 30 minutes. What stood out to you?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it was a really interesting speech. He gave us a lot of detail on the extent of the investigation.

We got a lot of numbers and figures about things, offenses that had been charged and sentences that had been levied. And he tried -- he came close to answering I think the biggest question we all have about many people's frustration about a lack of senior level people, organizers, co-conspirators currently charged in the case.

And I thought it was interesting when he said, we are committed to holding all people at any level responsible, whether they were present on January 6 or not.

I think that's about as close as you're ever going to get this attorney general to say, yes, we are considering more complicated charges against individuals who may not have stepped on the Capitol grounds that day, but might have been responsible for getting others there or planning those events. So I thought, to me, that was the most interesting thing he had to say

about January 6.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Jeffrey, I thought that it was clear he had heard the criticism and heard people's frustration, because he was addressing it directly.

And it was almost as if he had heard your explanation for the way that they were proceeding, because he echoed what you had said last hour, which was, we are following well-worn prosecutorial practices of basically going after the low-hanging fruit first and hoping that they offer more information about the big fish.

But what jumped out at you from everything he just said?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, if you missed the speech, I can sum it up in three words: Please be patient. That was the argument in January -- about January 6 that Garland made.

And like Andy, I definitely -- the phrase that jumped out at me was, we will hold people at any level -- the people accountable at any level, whether they (AUDIO GAP) and that means the people who organized, paid for, planned the riot that took place at the Capitol.

That's a promise. We will see whether they have the evidence to make it -- to make it real.

I have to say there was another thing that jumped out at me, where he said, well, this isn't just one political party.

Really? I -- there's only one political party that I'm aware of, the Republican Party, that's been leading the effort to undermine the rule of law and to undermine the right to vote.


And I thought, in this effort to seem bipartisan, he engaged in some bogus both-sider-ism, when it's really only one political party in this country that's trying to limit the right to vote and only one political party that's been defending the people who rioted on January 6.

BLACKWELL: Dana, what stood out to you?


But in that context, when he was talking about the violence that is out there, he actually seemed to get a little emotional when he talked about the federal judge who had somebody come to her House and kill her son and severely injure her husband, just about broadly the violence and the threats of violence that are going on across the country.

And, I mean, if I were to put into layman's terms what he was trying to do is just we need to take a national chill pill. People need to somehow, some way calm down. We, as the law enforcement, the chief law enforcement officer, effectively, of this country, we're going to do our best and we're going to prosecute, but this is a societal issue that we need to address.

And it was extraordinary to hear the attorney general of the United States make that kind of speech, as you were saying, Victor and Alisyn, that we thought was really going to be focused on January 6, trying to explain himself, trying to defend himself and the Justice Department.

He took it much more broad and much more pointed at society than I don't think -- certainly I didn't expect.

CAMEROTA: And, Nia-Malika, he also reminded us, and it bears repeating every day, how many police officers were grievously injured.

And he just laid out again the assault they had to deal with and how violent and heinous it all was. And, I mean, it just reminds me of when Senator Ron Johnson tried to claim a month after the attack that it wasn't an armed insurrection.

And he just obviously once again highlighted that lie and talked about the things that they're still dealing with and how many police officers lost their lives afterwards in connection to this. And he was -- I mean, I found it really powerful in some ways, because he has such a straight, no-frills delivery, but was talking about such dramatic, hideous things.

I thought that it just was, a year later, powerful.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and what we have seen over this last year is a real attempt to really rewrite what happened on January 6.

But he made it real again. We, of course, have seen these horrific instances of police officers being caught in doors. He talked about a police officer being dragged down the stairs, and, of course, that moment of silence for the five officers who lost their lives that day.

You have got a country that really admires police officers, and particularly party as well, with Republicans, are always talking about the blue line, always talking about law and order. So it was very, I thought, moving and poignant that he talked about how this was an assault on democracy, but an assault specifically on many, many police officers.

And it just brought back those images from a year ago that we all witnessed on television. I thought the big takeaway was, American democracy is still in peril, right?

We saw the immediate peril on January 6. But it continues throughout different states who are really trying to change laws, make it more difficult for Americans to vote, make it so that a certain party has more power in counting the votes as well.

And he talked about Congress having a role to play in really safeguarding our democracy, safeguarding people's right to the vote, but also -- and Dana pointed this out as well -- it is up to Americans as well to really think about what not only happened on January 6, but what continues to happen in state after state in really trying to upend American democracy.

BLACKWELL: Evan, we talked at the top of the last hour about some of the critics in the Democratic Party who say that this is moving too slowly.

Ruben Gallego calling the attorney general weak and feckless. He, of course, did not address those named -- the name-calling from members of the Democratic Party, but he did get to some of the critics.

Let's play what he said about the pace of this investigation.


GARLAND: 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 to -- 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.


BLACKWELL: We have talked about how broad this investigation is.

But, Evan, a year ago, when he was announced as the choice for the A.G., what he talked about was returning norms to the department. He talked about his history there, some of his heroes in the Department of Justice.

And to now have to lead this investigation in this political context, this is not the environment in which he wants to be and the environment he wants to deliver this speech.


I think he -- this is an attorney general who's not very comfortable in the political sphere. And you can see that. But he has heard the criticism. This is an attorney general who's heard some of that criticism.

It's hard to avoid. And so what he was trying to do there is respond to some of that, but still sticking to his guns, which is the idea that, under the Justice manual, which is the book, the Bible, so to speak, that guides U.S. attorneys and prosecutors here, is that you don't talk about ongoing investigations.

One of the things that I think maybe Merrick Garland also might want to remember is that there's also a part of the Justice manual that says that sometimes it's in the interests of justice and in the interest of the American public to know that something is being done about an important investigation.

And so what he was trying to do is, in just oblique terms, address some of that criticism, but also not going so far. And I think he needed to do the speech to address the idea that this was an attack on American democracy that happened a year ago. And we need to know that the Justice Department is trying to figure out how to make everyone accountable for that.

And I think the larger thread in this speech, was also talking about some of the things that Nia-Malika just talked about, which is that there are states around the country that are taking elections out of the hands of officials, local officials, and secretaries of state, and putting it in the hands of legislators, which is a recipe -- potentially a recipe for disaster, and, of course, also restricting people's rights to vote.

And those things are all tied together to perhaps produce the -- another instance in another couple of years, when there's a national election that is going to be tightly contested. And perhaps you're going to have -- it's going to come down to a couple of states.

So I think he was trying to accomplish a couple of things here, answer his critics, but also make the clarion call that there's a bigger problem here and our political leaders need to solve that.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, quickly, did you have something?



TOOBIN: Can I just add a point to what Evan was saying?

I thought his point about voting rights -- he is a former federal appeals court judge who knows better than anyone what the Supreme Court has done to voting rights in the last decade or so. And he recognized that the Justice Department's hands are much more tied than they used to be.

There used to be Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which essentially has been eliminated by the Supreme Court. The fact is, as these states restrict voting rights, the Justice Department has filed one lawsuit against Texas. They are doing what they can.

But the tools that they have are much less than they used to be. Congress is supposedly weighing changes on the Voting Rights Act. It's very hard to get that through a filibuster.

But the fact is, he is not only pleading for patience on January 6, and the criminal prosecutions. He's saying, look, recognize the way the Supreme Court has taken away the tools that we used to use to protect voting rights around the country.

CAMEROTA: OK, Evan, Nia-Malika, Jeffrey, Dana, thank you all for the analysis. Really helpful. OK, now to this. The Capitol Police chief told lawmakers today the

force is -- quote -- "absolutely" better prepared to defend the Capitol. But the challenge is dealing with those threats to lawmakers.

BLACKWELL: CNN Whitney Wild joins us now from Washington.

So, tell us, what more did the chief say?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, he pointed out that there are these dueling issues.

So there are these issues that the Capitol has to protect against, say, a large-scale demonstration. The event that there's going to be another January 6 at this point seems pretty minimal. But the reality is, they have to deal with a flood of people all the time.

So the Capitol Police chief is trying to weigh how to make sure to shore up the Capitol. And he says he's done that through this 25-page blueprint that they have to prepare for tomorrow. So, basically, what they have done is created a blueprint for these big large-scale events.

We saw it September 18, when there was a demonstration that was a Justice for January 6 Rally, a way to bring justice to the rioters who've been mistreated in the D.C. jail, a falsehood, by the way. Nonetheless, there was this little event that ended up being basically a scrimmage, because there were so many -- there were so few people who actually came out to protest.


However, on that day, the Capitol Police showed their immense force and also their partnerships, showed for the world how many law enforcement agencies they can rally if there's an issue. So that was the first thing he needed to do. And he tells lawmakers that that's why the Capitol is safer today than it was on January 6, 2021.

Meanwhile, he's also dealing with this reality that there is a growing number of threats; 9,600 threats they tracked in 2021 against members, multiple threats a day. And what they're trying to do now is figure out, what is just noise, what is just someone sounding off on social media? What is somebody just saying something, but with no real intention of actually causing harm?

And what is the real threat? That's a challenge throughout law enforcement, but it is particularly important for Capitol Police to drill down on that, because the members are their responsibility, both in Washington, as well as making sure that they're protected when they go to their home districts.

Now, the point here is that there are these two challenges I have just laid out. But they come down to a single issue, which is the manpower. Capitol Police is down 447 officers. He points out that, without increased funding, without increased recruitment, they simply will be -- continue to be challenged in trying to navigate the threat landscape, as well as making sure that their officers are well-rested and not exhausted by immense overtime.

Those were the major challenges he laid out. And those will be challenges that the department is grappling with for years to come.

CAMEROTA: Yes, those challenges and those numbers that you have just reminded us of are truly sobering.

Whitney Wild, thank you for that report.

And remember to join Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper for an unprecedented gathering inside the Capitol with police, lawmakers and leaders. It's "Live From the Capitol: January 6 One Year" -- "One Year Later," I should say. It begins tomorrow night at 8:00 here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Newly revealed texts show FOX's Sean Hannity was saying one thing to White House insiders, but something very different on TV. We will discuss next.