Probe of Capitol riot swells further
Law enforcement has identified more than 400 suspects and has brought federal criminal charges against over 150 people for actions related to the storming of the Capitol by protesters seeking to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s win in the November election, officials said Tuesday.
In the first public update on the probe since Biden’s inauguration, a top prosecutor and FBI official said a central focus of investigators at the moment is violence against police officers who were beaten or crushed while seeking to hold the line against the rioters.
“You will see a geometric increase in cases related to assault on police officers,” acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin told reporters on a conference call.
At least five people are believed to have died in connection with the riot. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was injured in the riot, died the following day. Three members of the public died from injuries or medical issues. Another police officer died by suicide a few days later.
While most of those charged so far have faced solely misdemeanors, dozens have faced more serious felony charges, like obstruction of Congress, interfering with police during civil disorder or carrying a dangerous weapon into the Capitol.
Sherwin said he expects some defendants to soon face a particularly serious charge: sedition.
“We are closely looking at evidence related to the sedition charges. … You’re talking 20-year felonies,” Sherwin said, referring to the maximum sentence under the statute. “Yes, we are working on those cases and I think the result will bear fruit very soon. …That’s what we’re trying to build towards.”
Sherwin and the head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Steven D’Antuono, also seemed eager to push back against a Washington Post report that prosecutors were considering not filing charges against some of the hundreds of people who stormed into the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The officials insisted that the massive probe is not overwhelming investigators, prosecutors or the courts.
“At the FBI, we do big. We do challenging. And we do complex,” D’Antuono said, while acknowledging that in terms of the sheer number of suspects, the Capitol riot case stands alone. “This case is unique in its magnitude and the number of subjects,” he said.
“If a crime was committed, whether it was inside or outside the Capitol, we are charging you,” Sherwin said. “There’s no manpower issue here. We have no issues with the court. …There’s no internal deliberations or confusion among any law enforcement partner. I want to make this clear and no confusion among the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the court system. Everyone is all in in these cases.”
During the 25-minute briefing, the officials shed little or no light on some of the most sensitive issues related to the investigation, such as whether any charges will be brought against people who whipped up the crowd at a rally that took place on the same day as the breach of the Capitol. Former President Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and attorney Rudy Giuliani were among the speakers.
“We are looking in this investigation at everyone who has criminal intent to commit a crime — a federal crime,” Sherwin said.
D’Antuono seemed to lessen expectations for such charges when he said that outsized boasts on the web are unlikely to lead to charges unless they are tied to some more concrete plans. “There’s a lot of rhetoric. We are trying to separate the aspirational versus the intentional,” he said.
The officials ignored a question about whether they are investigating the potential involvement of members of Congress or their staff in the riot, either by giving tours to participants or by relaying details on where lawmakers took shelter during the unrest.
Sherwin, a career prosecutor installed in his current leadership post on an acting basis last year by former Attorney General William Barr, insisted that the change of administration has not affected how the investigation and prosecution is being handled.
“The criminal code is the same it is on the 26th of January as it is on January 6th,” said Sherwin. “If the evidence is there, if we can identify someone, they are going to be charged — regardless of who is in the White House.”
Many Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys quit in the weeks leading up to Inauguration Day, but the Biden administration has said it intends to allow the remaining chief prosecutors to stay in their slots for now.
D’Antuono revealed no particular progress in the investigation into who left pipe bombs near the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters on Jan. 6. A photo of a suspect has been released and a $75,000 reward is available for information leading to an arrest, the FBI official said, adding that the bombs were “viable.”
Sherwin said the number of new cases filed could “plateau” soon, as the investigation moves from targeting those whose participation was obvious on social media to those whose involvement could only be proven through emails, searches and other evidence. He said more than 500 search warrants and grand jury subpoenas have been issued as the investigation widens.
“We picked off the internet stars — rebel flag guy, the Camp Auschwitz guy, the fellow in Pelosi’s office — the easily identifiable individuals,” the prosecutor said. “All these cases aren’t based upon social media Twitter and Instagram posts. … These cases are moving at a very rapid clip.”