WASHINGTON — This is the “largest investigation” in Justice Department history: the unprecedented manhunt for hundreds of rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on behalf of of Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 and the criminal investigation into efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
It’s also a logistical nightmare.
As cases against the Capitol rioters progress through the court system and a federal grand jury hears testimony about Trump’s role on Jan. 6, some federal officials fear this could push the already lengthy Jan. 6 investigation to a halt. a breaking point.
In conversations with NBC News over the past few months, more than a dozen sources close to the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation have expressed varying degrees of concern about whether the resources the Justice Department has allocated effort are sufficient for such a large criminal investigation.
Federal authorities have made about 850 arrests in the nearly 19 months since the attack on the Capitol, but that’s still only a small fraction of the more than 2,500 people who have entered the building. and hundreds of others who have committed serious crimes on the outside but have yet to be arrested. . The huge amount of evidence – whether body cameras and surveillance videos or damning content generated by the suspects themselves – presents a huge challenge for a huge bureaucracy working with technology that is often a few years old. late, at best.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is overseeing the Capitol siege investigation, is also conducting separate investigations exploring the bogus voter scheme and a conspiracy to obstruct certification of the Jan. 6 electoral vote, which relate to both Trump’s actions in the lead up to Jan. 6, as well as the day of the attack.
Even with the daunting task of advancing these future lawsuits, officials must manage a huge docket filled with cases that must be resolved either by plea or at trial, each with its own discovery requirements and trial clock.
Although hundreds of ready-made cases are in the hands of federal law enforcement officials, the pace of arrests has slowed noticeably. Each new case requires new resources from the Justice Department and the FBI, as well as any other law enforcement entities assisting with arrests – which often take place far from the nearest FBI field office. – and starts the clock running on the speedy trial rights of defendants.
The Department of Justice asked for help. Its 2023 budget request asks Congress for more than $34 million to fund 130 staff, including 80 federal prosecutors, to help the “extraordinary”, “unprecedented” and “complex” investigation.
The Justice Department did not get the funding requested in the omnibus spending bill passed in March – it was included in a fiscal year 2023 spending bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee last month.
Attorney General Merrick Garland told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview this week that he was “confident” the Justice Department could handle the caseload regardless of what Congress does.
“Of course, we would like more resources, and if Congress wants to give us some, that would be great,” Garland said Tuesday. “But we have people – prosecutors and agents – from across the country working on this case, and I have every confidence in their ability, their professionalism, their dedication to this task.”
Others close to the investigation say she is at a crossroads.
“We don’t have the manpower,” an official said, noting that many Jan. 6 participants who will ultimately be charged have yet to be arrested, in the interest of case management.
Another official said the cut was “the culmination” of many factors, including the need to provide support for cases that are currently in trial.
A third official said some of the prosecutors who had been seconded to Washington to work on Capitol riot cases from U.S. prosecutors’ offices across the country were being sent back to their offices.
“It’s kind of a work in progress,” the official said.
Former US attorney Joyce Vance, legal analyst for MSNBC, said: “People are concerned about resources. It’s a huge amount of cases, and it puts a strain on not just the DOJ, but the courts and probation. system.”
One reason for hope, sources say, is that a new group of “term AUSAs,” or assistant U.S. attorneys hired on a temporary basis, will soon join the Capitol Headquarters section, providing a Much-needed relief that could help manage the existing case and expedite new cases. It’s just a bonus that the two-year positions attract young lawyers who may already be very familiar with the technology and social media platforms that played a huge role in the Jan. 6 investigation, an official said. .
The Justice Department’s budget request said the Capitol investigation takes away resources from federal prosecutors across the country who face a host of other law enforcement challenges.
“This will negatively impact the ability of United States prosecutors to fill vacancies and pursue important cases in other jurisdictions,” the Justice Department told Congress. “The funding is needed to continue to prosecute the growing number of cases related to this breach of the US Capitol that has left the Department with an immense task of finding and charging those responsible for the attacks.”