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Judge Merrick Garland Is Biden's Pick To Be U.S. Attorney General

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is now dark in Washington, D.C., where the city is under curfew until a.m. tomorrow. Just hours ago, pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building after forcing their way past barricades and through Capitol Police and other security officers. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been monitoring the situation, and she joins us now with the latest.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so Congress plans to return to business tonight, this business of counting Electoral College votes. Usually this is just a formality, but tonight, obviously, is so radically different. Can you just tell us what is being done to strengthen security on Capitol Hill, and how is returning even possible given all that has happened today?

JOHNSON: Well, the acting attorney general is coordinating with law enforcement partners to add additional federal support to the Capitol Police. Jeffrey Rosen put out a statement rather late in the day, saying the violence on our nation's capital is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy. DOJ has deployed hundreds of federal agents from the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals to help. The National Guard is sending more than a thousand troops, and Virginia and Maryland police are on hand as well. The evacuation of the Capitol, we're told, is mostly complete. We're also told that the FBI located and disarmed multiple suspicious devices in or near the Capitol.

There have been some concerns today, Ailsa, about the performance of the U.S. Capitol Police. I have some new information on that. We know one woman was shot there and died. A law enforcement source tells me the alleged shooter was a senior U.S. Capitol Police officer. There were two shots. It's believed the woman was unarmed, and the D.C. police are actively investigating that now.

CHANG: OK. Wow. All right. Well, there were hundreds of protesters, Carrie, inside the Capitol building, many of them, obviously, illegally inside the Capitol building. They had breached through security areas. What is going to happen to them? I mean, because there are photos all over Twitter - people in Trump hats, protesters in the chamber. Their faces were identifiable, people in lawmakers' offices. What do you think is to come in the coming days, weeks ahead for these people?

JOHNSON: You know, there's - yeah, there's been a little bit of outrage, Ailsa. Many of those people left the Capitol and went about their day in the streets of Washington. Some of them were armed, and others had tear gas or mace on them. But some did stop to talk with reporters or post selfies. Law enforcement will be scouring those videos and photos. Lots of those people scattered, but the same law enforcement source tells me they expect to charge a handful of people by the morning tomorrow.

CHANG: A handful. That doesn't sound like a whole lot, does it?

JOHNSON: Not a whole lot. And, you know, there's certainly going to be a lot more work to do, and going to have to be an after-action report about what happened here on the law enforcement end of things.

CHANG: OK. And can you tell us exactly whose job will it be to prosecute them?

JOHNSON: You know, D.C. is an odd system compared to other parts of the country. The U.S. attorney's office in D.C. will most likely take the lead there.

CHANG: OK. Of course, what would have been the big news out of your beat today, out of the Department of Justice, was that Merrick Garland was nominated to be the new attorney general under President-to-be Joe Biden. Remind us why that in itself would have been the seismic news of the day.

JOHNSON: Oh, my gosh. How many times have we talked over the last four years about the chaos and turmoil at the Justice Department, Ailsa? That place has a morale problem and a public confidence problem. Merrick Garland, Joe Biden thinks, will help resolve some of those issues. Garland is a former DOJ official - lots of experience in managing that building in the Clinton years, also some experience with cases like the Unabomber and the Oklahoma City bombing. He's known as nonpartisan and a level head and a guy who does things for reasons based on the law and not politics or protecting the president. So that would, Democrats believe, be a change from the current situation.

CHANG: Why do you think Merrick Garland in particular was chosen, particularly to step - to be in the job after someone like Bill Barr? What are the issues that are left to be resolved at the Justice Department after Bill Barr's departure?

JOHNSON: You know, one of the things that I've heard the Biden transition and the decision-makers among the president-elect and the vice president-elect that really swayed them was this parallel. After Watergate and the abuses of President Nixon, the Justice Department brought in a very well-respected University of Chicago president, Ed Levi, to run the place. They think Merrick Garland can be that kind of transformative figure to make sure that criminal cases are brought for the right reasons and to put the law above politics. That's the goal for Merrick Garland if he gets confirmed by the Senate this year.

CHANG: That is NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.