President Joe Biden on Thursday reaffirmed the Justice Department’s independence in the investigations into the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In doing so, he partially walked back a comment he made last week in which he said he hopes the department “goes after them and holds them accountable criminally,” referring to those who defied subpoenas to produce documents and testify in front of Congress.
“The way I said it was not appropriate,” Biden said at a CNN town hall on Thursday evening.
When asked last Friday whether the Justice Department should prosecute people who refuse to appear under subpoena, Biden said, “I do, yes.”
Following Biden’s statement last week, the department responded by emphasizing its independence.
“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop,” said Anthony Coley, a Justice spokesperson.
Biden said that when he was elected, one of his priorities was to “ reestablish the reputation and integrity” of the Justice Department, saying that the department had been “corrupted” during the Trump administration.
“I did not, have not and will not pick up the phone and call the attorney general and tell him what he should or should not do in terms of who he should prosecute,” Biden said.
“I have yet to talk to the attorney general about anything,” he added.
However, Biden doubled down on his support for pressing charges against those who defy subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6.
“I think that anyone who does not respond to that kind of question from the legitimate committee and the House of Representatives [and] the United States Senate should be held accountable,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, the House voted to hold Steve Bannon, the longtime Trump adviser and ally, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before the Jan. 6 committee after being subpoenaed.