Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday reiterated that "no person," not even a former president, was above the law amid calls from some congressional Democrats to charge Donald Trump after last year's Capitol riot.
During a press conference, a visibly animated Garland twice said that "no person" was above the law when pressed specifically about Trump, whom Democrats say incited the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection over his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in 2020. Democrats also cite Trump's larger, months-long campaign to try and reverse his election loss. (Trump insists he did nothing wrong.)
The Department of Justice has been prosecuting various cases related to the rioting last January.
"There is a lot of speculation about what the Justice Department is doing, what's it not doing, what our theories are and what our theories aren't, and there will continue to be that speculation," the attorney general said Wednesday. "That's because a central tenant of the way in which the Justice Department investigates and a central tenant of the rule of law is that we do not do our investigations in the public."
"We have to hold accountable every person who is criminally responsible for trying to overturn a legitimate election, and we must do it in a way filled with integrity and professionalism," Garland added.
In the 18 months since the attack on the Capitol, the DOJ has charged 855 defendants from all 50 states. Among those, 263 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees, including approximately 90 individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, according to prosecutors.
There have been more than 325 guilty pleas in Jan. 6 cases so far; slightly less than 100 defendants have been sentenced to federal prison.
Former Trump campaign and White House official Steve Bannon is currently on trial over contempt of Congress charges, pleading not guilty to allegations that he willfully did not comply with a House Jan. 6 committee subpoena.
However, as the panel investigating the insurrection has ramped up its public hearings in June and July, Democrats have increasingly called for the DOJ to charge the former president himself -- an unprecedented though not impossible move.
By contrast, the government's position has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged with federal crimes, only impeached by Congress.
And as a matter of policy, federal prosecutors take precautions when investigating candidates for office, as they do not want their work to influence elections -- though there are exceptions, including with Hillary Clinton, who in turn criticized the choice for the DOJ to speak publicly amid her 2016 campaign since she was never accused of a crime.
Calls to charge Trump have only increased among Democrats, including after testimony before the Jan. 6 committee that he was aware some in the crowd during his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 were armed even as he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol.
According to testimony at the hearings, Trump also tried to go to the Capitol himself during the rioting but was refused by his Secret Service agents.
"Trump was told the mob was armed. He sent them to the Capitol to kill us. He wanted to go into the House Chamber to overturn the election. He assaulted a Secret Service agent who told him no. He must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the…law," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., tweeted last month.
Separately, according to the House committee, the DOJ said it is interested in learning more about the pro-Trump scheme to submit fake electors to the Electoral College to keep him in power.
Trump, who is a possible 2024 presidential contender, has said the committee's work is nakedly partisan and one-sided.
Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., previously said on ABC's "This Week" that he wanted more than charges.
"I'm principally interested in telling the American people the truth so we can fortify our institution against coups and insurrections going forward," he said.
"But I know that there's a great public hunger for individual criminal accountability, and I've got confidence in the Department of Justice, in Attorney General Merrick Garland, to do the right thing in terms of making all the difficult decisions about particular cases," he continued then.
The committee's vice chair, Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, told ABC News' Jonathan Karl on "This Week" earlier this month that she believed the DOJ should not avoid prosecuting Trump.
She acknowledged that indicting Trump would be "difficult" for the country but said that not doing so would support a "much graver constitutional threat."
The issue of charging Trump is not a new one, though it is now an option for federal prosecutors since he left the White House.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016 said it could not definitively clear the then-president of accusations he obstructed justice.