A Justice Department “strike force” is seeking to assemble a sedition case against some of those involved in last week’s riot at the Capitol, which is now being treated as a massive crime scene, a top prosecutor said Tuesday.
The acting U.S. attorney in Washington, Michael Sherwin, said a team of his colleagues was examining whether to file those serious charges, which carry a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
“We are looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy,” Sherwin said at the Justice Department’s first televised news conference since the violent takeover of the Capitol last Wednesday.
“Just yesterday, our office organized a strike force of very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors,” he added. “Their only marching orders from me are to build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol.”
Sherwin said that more than 70 people were already facing criminal charges and that he expected that number to grow “geometrically.”
“I expect that number to grow into the hundreds,” the prosecutor said. “Just the gamut of cases we’re looking at is mind-blowing.”
Sherwin described some of the early, less-serious charges filed against participants in the violent riots — in which five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died — as placeholders that would eventually be expanded into far graver indictments. He also said some of the conduct that has received widespread public attention — like the man who sat in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair and stole a piece of mail — only scratched the surface of the criminality that took place. Additional, nonpublic information will be “shocking” when it comes out, he said.
The prosecutor also indicated that federal authorities were treating the investigation of the Jan. 6 events as the equivalent of a counterterrorism or counterintelligence investigation, throwing massive resources into the effort to follow finances, communications and movements of the perpetrators.
Sherwin noted that prosecutors began presenting cases to a grand jury in Washington on Monday. Two indictments have already been made public, including one charging a felony violation of the federal Anti-Riot Act for interfering with police in the midst of “civil disorder.”
The intensity of the investigation comes as federal officials are warning of the potential of more violence ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Sherwin also mentioned that journalists were targeted by some of the violent actors and that a separate task force of prosecutors had been set up to examine those incidents.
“Some of those rioters specifically targeted members of the media and assaulted them,” he said.
With a slew of staggering videos already being played on TV and online, Sherwin insisted that even more disturbing evidence would eventually be made public.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what happened in the Capitol,” the veteran prosecutor said. “I think people are going to be shocked at some of the egregious contact that happened.”
Amid a round of finger-pointing among law enforcement agencies about obviously inadequate preparation for the angry crowd, an FBI official insisted that his agency had promptly shared the intelligence it had about potential violence.
“All that information was shared with our partners,” said Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
One priority for the investigation is examining who assaulted Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was involved in altercations with rioters and died a day later.
“It cuts us to the core that one of our law enforcement brethren passed away,” D’Antuono said.
Another priority is determining who left pipe bombs on Wednesday at the offices of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee near the Capitol. A $50,000 reward has been posted for evidence about the identity of those involved in planting the bombs.
“They were real devices. They had explosive igniters. They had timers,” Sherwin said. “We don’t know, obviously, exactly why they did not go off.”