WASHINGTON The enormous manhunt for hundreds of rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Donald Trump’s behalf on January 6, 2021, and the criminal investigation into attempts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power make up the “most wide-ranging probe” in Justice Department history.
Additionally, logistics are a nightmare.
Some federal authorities are worried that the already strained Jan. 6 probe could finally come to an end as cases against Capitol rioters progress through the legal system and testimony concerning Trump’s role before a federal grand jury.
In recent months, more than a dozen sources familiar with the extensive Jan. 6 probe have spoken with NBC News and expressed varied levels of concern about whether the Justice Department’s resources are enough for such a significant criminal investigation.
In the nearly 19 months following the attack on the Capitol, federal authorities have made around 850 arrests, but that still represents only a small portion of the more than 2,500 people who entered the building and the hundreds more who committed significant crimes outside but haven’t yet been apprehended. The vast amount of evidence—whether it comes from body cameras, surveillance footage, or damning content created by suspects themselves—presents a formidable challenge for a huge bureaucracy using technology that is frequently at best a few years old.
The investigation into the Capitol siege is being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is also looking into two other cases that have a bearing on Trump’s behavior leading up to and on the day of the attack: the fake electors scheme and a plot to thwart the certification of the electoral votes on January 6.
Officials must manage a sizable docket full of cases that must be addressed either by plea or at trial, each with its own enormous discovery demands and trial clock, in addition to the challenging work of moving those future prosecutions forward.
Although federal law enforcement agents have hundreds of ready-made cases, the rate of arrests has drastically slowed. The Justice Department, the FBI, and any other law enforcement agency aiding with arrests, which frequently occur far from the closest FBI field office and begin the clock on defendants’ rights to a speedy trial, must devote new resources to each case.
Help has been requested by the Justice Department. In order to support the “exceptional,” “unprecedented,” and “complex” investigation, it is requesting more than $34 million from Congress in its budget request for 2023. This amount will pay for 130 personnel, including 80 federal prosecutors.
The Justice Department received the sought cash in a budget package for fiscal year 2023 that passed the House Appropriations Committee last month, rather than in the omnibus spending bill that was approved in March.
In an interview with Lester Holt from NBC News this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed his confidence in the Justice Department’s ability to manage the workload regardless of what Congress decides to do.
Naturally, we would prefer more resources, and if Congress wants to provide them, that would be great, Garland remarked on Tuesday. However, we have agents and prosecutors working on this case from all over the nation, and I have complete faith in their skills, professionalism, and commitment to the job.
Others involved in the case feel it is at a turning point.
An official remarked that, for case management purposes, many of the Jan. 6 participants who will ultimately be charged haven’t yet been arrested.
The requirement to give support for the cases that are currently proceeding to trial, according to another official, was one of many factors that contributed to the strain.
According to a third person, several of the U.S. attorneys from offices across the nation who were delegated to Washington to work on matters related to the Capitol incident are being called back to their offices.
The official described it as somewhat of a work in progress.
Joyce Vance, a former US attorney and legal expert for MSNBC, said: “The resources are a source of anxiety for people. There are a huge number of cases, which puts strain on not just the DOJ but on the courts and probation. The entire system is put under pressure.”
One cause for optimism, according to sources, is that a fresh group of “term AUSAs,” or temporary assistant US attorneys, will soon join the Capitol Siege Section, bringing much-needed relief that might aid in managing the current docket and accelerating new cases. Young lawyers who may already be quite familiar with technology and social media platforms that have played significant roles in the Jan. 6 probe may find the two-year posts attractive, which is merely a bonus, according to an official.
According to the Justice Department’s budget request, the Capitol inquiry is depleting resources from federal prosecutors nationwide who are juggling a variety of other legal issues.
The Justice Department told Congress: “This will negatively affect the United States Attorneys’ capacity to fill vacancies and pursue significant matters in other jurisdictions.” The financing is required to continue prosecuting the increasing number of cases connected to the U.S. Capitol breach, which has left the Department with a massive challenge of identifying and convicting individuals responsible for the attacks.