Sharp inconsistencies with other January 6 inquiries add to the pressure on Garland.

Last week, local prosecutors in Atlanta stepped up their criminal investigation into efforts by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia, targeting voter fraud, a member of Congress. issued a subpoena and won a court battle to compel Rudolph W. Giuliani to testify before a grand jury.

In Washington, on January 6, 2021, the House Select Committee investigating the capital attack released its latest batch of damning revelations about Mr. Trump in a prime-time hearing, directly suggesting that Mr. Lawsuits are needed before they destroy it. democracy of the country.

But at the Justice Department, where the gears of justice always seem to be slowest, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland was forced to rely on generalizations about the American legal system, saying that “any person in this country is not above the law”. That set off growing questions about why there has been so little public action to hold Mr. Trump and his allies accountable.

“There has been a lot of speculation about what the Justice Department is doing, what it isn’t doing, what our views are and what our views are not, and the speculation continues,” Mr. Garland said at a briefing. will.” He appeared a little irritated when he told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s because a central tenet of the way the Justice Department conducts investigations and a central tenet of the rule of law is that we do not conduct our investigations publicly.”

The contrast between the public urgency and aggressiveness and silence of the investigation being conducted by Georgia prosecutors and a congressional committee, on the one hand, and the apparent prudence and procedure of the Justice Department, on the other, is so striking that it is a question for Mr. Garland. The problem has become — and is only becoming more apparent by the week.

The House committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, with more still coming forward, and has sifted through what it has learned to craft a coherent narrative implicating Mr. Trump. have received The Georgia prosecutor, Fannie T. Willis, appears to be assembling a sprawling case that some experts say could lead to conspiracy or fraud charges.

What’s going on inside the Justice Department is largely opaque, aside from its priorities in the months after the attack: its prosecution of the hundreds of rioters who stormed the Capitol and its crackdown on extremist groups there. Sedition cases.

But through subpoenas and search warrants, the department has made clear that it is investigating at least two possible lines of inquiry that could lead to Mr. Trump.

One centers on so-called fake voters. In that line of inquiry, prosecutors have issued subpoenas to some people who signed up to be on a list of electors that pro-Trump forces are trying to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the Electoral College. Wanted to use it for help. 6, 2021.

The fraudulent voter scheme has been investigated under Thomas Windham, a prosecutor brought in last year by the Justice Department to help bolster its efforts. Mr. Windham’s team also released subpoenas to a wide range of characters connected to the Jan. 6 attacks, seeking information about lawyers who worked closely with Mr. Trump, including Mr. Giuliani and including John Eastman, a little-known conservative lawyer who tried to help Mr. Trump find a way to block congressional certification of the election results.

Mr. Windom was asked in the first round of depositions about members of the executive and legislative branches who “planned or executed any rally or obstructed, influenced, hindered or delayed” the certification of the 2020 election. were involved in the effort.

A second line of Justice Department inquiry centers on efforts by Jeffrey Clark, a Trump-era Justice Department official, to pressure Georgia officials into sending a letter not to certify the state’s election results, suggesting they were false. Do that the department had found evidence of election rigging there. .

Mr. Clark’s home was searched last month by federal investigators, who seized his electronic devices. As part of the same line of inquiry, federal agents also seized Mr. Eastman’s phone.

But the Justice Department often appears to be lagging behind House committees in finding key evidence, especially when Cassidy Hutchinson, a former West Wing aide under Mr. Trump, provided her insider account on Jan. Interviewed by Prosecution

And the committee has not been shy about weaponizing its action to pressure Mr. Garland to proceed more aggressively, even compiling evidence of criminal charges filed in civil court related to its investigation. Its vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, said on CNN on Sunday that the committee is still considering whether to make criminal referrals to the department, a symbolic move that would leave the attorney general alone. The pressure will increase.

Mr. Garland has repeatedly emphasized that one of his primary goals is to strengthen the department’s commitment, after the Trump years, to professionalism and impartiality — a formula that some of his critics see as It leaves them with an escape route from pursuing politically explosive material. The investigation comes at a time when Mr. Trump is being considered as a possible candidate in 2024. Questions about how quickly Mr. Garland is pursuing the investigation have frustrated Democrats and former Justice Department officials and even President Biden.

“Experienced prosecutors, like Merrick Garland, are often motivated by outside scrutiny in high-profile cases from victims, the media and politicians,” said Samuel Buell, a Duke University law professor and former Justice Department member. are familiar.” The task force that investigated the energy company Enron.

“But what’s different here is that you have a group of people – in this case the committee – who have the power of submission and have chosen the best facts to tell a clear, one-sided, accessible story, ” They said.

A criminal prosecution against Mr. Trump would present a series of challenges for the Justice Department. Andrew Goldstein, a leading prosecutor who has examined the question of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation, said the hearings were based on the most criminal charges Congress could have to investigate Mr. Trump. Action is interrupted.

But bringing a case based on that allegation would present a series of hurdles, as prosecutors would need to show that Mr. Trump took a specific action and intended to obstruct the election certification, meaning he knew it. What was that? was wrong to do. Mr. Goldstein said in an interview with the New York Times podcast “The Daily” that the hearings provided strong evidence of Mr. Trump’s intent, but the actions he took to that end were harder to find. Will be.

For example, he said, Mr. Trump’s remarks to his supporters on the Alps — before he invited them to march on the Capitol — could potentially be considered protected by their First Amendment rights. will

“Without question, what happened on Jan. 6 was horrific for our country and our democracy,” Mr. Goldstein said. “If there’s criminal wrongdoing going on, you certainly don’t want to back down. But you also want to make sure the cases you bring are strong and the right cases to bring.

Mr. Goldstein said that even if prosecutors were able to prove that Mr. Trump had broken the law and that the lawsuit could survive an appeal, Mr. Garland would ultimately have to decide whether bringing one was in the country’s best interest. It is in interest. A prosecution — a question complicated by Mr. Trump’s apparent plans to run for president again.

“When you’re talking about a political leader, those considerations are certainly different and more difficult,” Mr. Goldstein said, “because there you have a very clear and important principle that the Department of Justice Every effort should be made not to interfere in elections, using criminal processes and not to take measures that could affect the political process.

In fact, the Department of Justice is bound by a series of laws, guidelines, and rules that do not apply to Congress or Georgia investigators. In addition to still coming under fire over Mr. Trump’s handling of the Russia case and an earlier inquiry into his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, department officials have legally dismissed the grand jury’s work. cannot talk about and are strongly discouraged from talking, even in broad terms, about ongoing investigations.

None of these rules apply to a congressional committee. And, unlike a courtroom, the committee does not have to allow Mr. Trump to defend himself and can release whatever evidence it wants, including hearsay.

The history of congressional investigations is, at times, complicated, and in one high-profile example, the Department of Justice investigation.

During the House investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, he granted immunity to Lt. Col. Oliver North to persuade him to testify in a nationally televised public hearing.

But years later, after the Justice Department convicted Mr. North of three felonies, a federal appeals court threw out the charges, saying that Mr. North’s immunity testimony had damaged the case. .

So far, there is no public evidence that Congress has granted immunity to any of the hundreds of witnesses it has interviewed.

But legal experts said there are other ways the committee’s actions could complicate prosecutions. When prosecutors call a witness at trial, they want the witness to have few examples of contradicting themselves or the prosecution, because those statements have to be handed over to defense attorneys and the witness’ credibility can be damaged by the defense. Can be used to convey. .

The committee has conducted thousands of hours of recorded statements with Trump aides and administration officials who will likely be witnesses in Justice Department prosecutions. Mr. Boyle said there are almost certainly instances in the recording of witness statements that complicate their claims.

“Prosecutors want their witnesses to testify at trial for the first time,” Mr. Boyle said. “It’s a problem, but not a fatal problem in terms of immunity,” he said, adding that when the Justice Department considers whether to bring a high-profile prosecution, the potential problems are many. Internal scrutiny is something prosecutors want to avoid at all costs. An issue that could lead to a case and damage the reputation of the department.

At the Justice Department on Wednesday, a reporter pressed Mr. Garland about what he was doing to hold Mr. Trump accountable. Mr. Garland, known for his gentle demeanor during his seven years as a federal appeals court judge, became agitated.

Mr Garland said the investigation into the 2020 election rigging was the most important in the department’s history because it undermined a central tenet of the country’s democracy. He said the department “needs to hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to subvert a legitimate election and must do so with integrity and professionalism.”

“Look, no one in this country is above the law,” Mr. Garland said.

A reporter interrupted Mr. Garland: A former president too?

Mr. Garland looked agitated.

“Maybe I’ll say it again, no one is above the law in this country – I can’t say it any more clearly than that,” Mr Garland said, adding that the department would not be responsible for anyone involved. There is nothing stopping a person from investigating. In an attempt to overturn the elections.

Glen Thrush Cooperation reporting.