WASHINGTON – U.S. authorities have opened case files on at least 400 people and expect to bring sedition charges against some “very soon” in the sprawling investigation of the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, officials said.
Acting U.S. attorney Michael Sherwin said Tuesday at a news conference that while new arrests in the nationwide manhunt will soon “plateau” after an initial wave of 135 arrests and 150 federal criminally charged cases, investigations continue into whether “militia groups [and] individuals” from several states conspired and coordinated the illegal assault on Congress beforehand.
In charging papers, prosecutors have identified a dozen members or affiliates of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys – a far-right group – and the anti-government Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, which recruit heavily among former military and law enforcement personnel. Sherwin suggested that seditious conspiracy charges are pending and, without commenting on grand jury indictments, said that “the results will bear fruit very soon.”
Federal law makes conspiring to overthrow or oppose by force federal authority punishable by up to 20 years in prison, including the use of violence to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of law.
Sherwin, the top federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia, gave reporters an update on the probe, alongside FBI Washington Field Office head Steven D’Antuono, roughly three weeks after mobs of Trump supporters overran police lines and smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol.
The riot disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory and led to the evacuation of lawmakers and assaults on about 139 police officers. It also resulted in five deaths, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and a California woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by an officer while climbing through a window leading to an inner room of the House.
Law enforcement officials have estimated that 800 people entered the Capitol without authorization, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
In teleconference Tuesday, officials declined to confirm that figure, saying the total remained fluid pending video and other analysis. But D’Antuono confirmed that the FBI has opened subject case files on more than 400 people with the help of more than 200,000 public tips and from other sources.
Prosecutors have obtained more than 500 grand jury subpoenas and search warrants, and charged dozens for assaulting police, a number Sherwin said would quickly grow.
Asked about the potential of related future violence, D’Antuono said the FBI is “determining if there are any viable leads we can follow.”
‘There’s a lot of threats out there,” he said. “We are trying to separate the aspirational from the intentional.”
Sherwin denied that there was a private debate among law enforcement officials over whether to charge individuals not observed to have engaged in violent, threatening or destructive behavior.
“There is no internal deliberation or confusion among any law enforcement partners . . . or the court system; everyone is all in on these cases,” Sherwin said. “If a crime was committed, we are charging you, regardless of whether you were outside or inside the Capitol, to include misdemeanors.”
The update came amid a steady surge of court appearances and detention hearings. On Tuesday, a defense lawyer for a woman accused of stealing a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during the Capitol riot said the allegation came from an ex-boyfriend who had “vowed to take revenge” on the defendant and started sending messages in her name.
A U.S. magistrate judge ordered that Riley June Williams, 22, remain on home confinement with her mother in Harrisburg, Pa., under restrictions after prosecutors in D.C. did not request her detention.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui of D.C. initially voiced concern about the release because of the “very frightening scenario” laid out in charging papers, which stated that an unnamed former romantic partner said Williams stole a laptop during the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol and planned to sell it to a Russian friend to give to the Russian intelligence agency SVR.
But the judge changed course after learning more during hearings Monday and Tuesday, saying the case was appearing less like a spy thriller and more like a domestic dispute.
“This read like an episode of ‘The Americans,’ but it sounds like an American story of a different sort, frankly,” about “someone with an ax to grind,” Faruqui said.
“There is a lot of reason to be skeptical” of the allegations, federal public defender A.J. Kramer agreed, citing an ex-boyfriend against whom Williams is seeking a restraining order. “They are made by somebody who has vowed to take revenge on her.”
Justice Department senior trial attorney Mona Sedky asked for Williams’s release on the condition that she stay off computers and the Internet, citing fresh concerns that she was destroying evidence. Sedky also asked for a mental health screening out of “personal interest in the defendant’s safety and well-being.”
Prosecutors did not make the requests lightly, Sedky said, but based on evidence learned since Williams’s arrest that she had deleted social media accounts and urged others on Discord – a gaming platform – to erase messages about Jan. 6. Prosecutors identified Williams as a woman seen in video of the riot directing others upstairs, toward Pelosi’s office.
Faruqui ordered Williams, who attended the hearing by videoconference, to use the Internet only for legal or mental health consultations. The judge also said he would trust her and her mother to follow the rules because “the alternative is catastrophic” – jail.
Williams’s defense argued that she deleted social media accounts not to hide evidence but because the ex-boyfriend had started sending messages under her name.
The FBI has “seized all her electronics” and searched her car and home, Kramer said. “They’ve searched everywhere; she does not have the computer.”
Williams surrendered to authorities Jan. 18, a day after she was charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. An FBI affidavit said she appeared to have filmed and shared a video of another person lifting an HP computer off a desk inside the Capitol.
Williams was charged with aiding or abetting the theft of government property, but the FBI did not allege that she personally took the device, adding that its whereabouts were unknown.
Also on Tuesday, two Rocky Mount, Va., police officers who are charged with taking part in the Capitol riot were fired.
“Our officers are held to high standards for how they conduct themselves on and off-duty,” the town said in a statement. “The actions by two have driven our beautiful town into the national spotlight in ways that do not reflect our whole community.”
The officers – Jacob Fracker, 29, and Sgt. T.J. Robertson, 47 – have told reporters that they did not see any violence in the Capitol and were allowed into the building. But according to court documents, one wore a gas mask and told a friend he ran through flash bangs, rubber bullets and chemical gas; he compared the experience to being in Afghanistan. Both men are combat veterans; one is a corporal in the Virginia National Guard.
Late Monday, prosecutors charged a California man with stealing the Senate chamber’s gold-fringed American flag as well as papers from the desk of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader at the time.
Tommy Frederick Allan, of Rocklin, Calif., was allegedly recorded outside the Capitol, saying he had removed the documents he held in his hand from McConnell’s desk, and the distinctive gold-corded flag and flagpole with a gold eagle finial was recovered from him, according to an unsealed FBI charging affidavit. Information about Allan’s attorney was not immediately available.
A Texas man charged in the attack was ordered held without bail Monday after apologizing for urging the assassination of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Twitter; he blamed former president Donald Trump for his actions.
“I am ashamed of my comments,” Garret Miller, 34, of Richardson, Texas, said in a statement released by attorney Clint Broden. “I believed I was following the instructions of former president Trump and he was my president and the commander-in-chief. His statements also had me believing the election was stolen from him.
“Nevertheless, I fully recognize Joe Biden is now the President of the United States and that the election is over,” Miller continued. He said he never intended to harm Ocasio-Cortez nor police, apologized to both, and called his social media posts “completely inappropriate.”
Miller tweeted “Assassinate AOC” on Jan. 6, according to charging papers. Afterward, he threatened an officer online, writing that if he got his hands on the officer, he would “hug his neck with a nice rope,” court documents said.
On Jan. 16, he wrote on Facebook that “its huntin season” and that the officer “deserve[s] to die,” prosecutors alleged.
Nicholas DeCarlo, a friend of Hawaii Proud Boys leader Nicholas Ochs, was arrested Tuesday, according to the Justice Department. He and Ochs claimed to be journalists covering the event; DeCarlo was photographed at the Capitol wearing a shirt that read “Murder the Media,” named for his alt-right live-streaming collective, according to charging papers. He is charged with trespassing and unlawfully protesting at the Capitol, as well as obstructing an official proceeding.
Separately, a federal judge in D.C. on Tuesday barred pending further review the conditional release of the mother of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot. Lisa Eisenhart is accused of conspiracy with her son Eric Munchel of Nashville. She is also charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds.