The federal prosecutor who recently left the nationwide federal investigation into the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 said the Justice Department was scrutinizing possible sedition charges against rioters as well as examining any criminal liability for former President Donald Trump.
Michael Sherwin, the former acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told Scott Pelley on CBS’s 60 Minutes that authorities are investigating Trump’s role and that he also believed the evidence existed to file sedition charges against some of those involved in the Capitol riot. The prosecutor has been hinting at both since January.
“It’s unequivocal that Trump was the magnet that brought the people to D.C. on the 6th,” Sherwin said in the interview that aired on Sunday. “Now the question is, is he criminally culpable for everything that happened during the siege, during the breach?”
Sherwin said Trump’s words drove the rioters to action.
“We have plenty of people — we have soccer moms from Ohio that were arrested saying, ‘Well, I did this because my president said I had to take back our house.’ That moves the needle towards that direction. Maybe the president is culpable for those actions. But also, you see in the public record, too, militia members saying, ‘You know what? We did this because Trump just talks a big game. He’s just all talk. We did what he wouldn’t do,'” he added.
Sherwin, who will now be heading off to work at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, was asked on Sunday about possible sedition charges against rioters.
“I personally believe the evidence is trending towards that, and probably meets those elements,” Sherwin said, adding, “I believe the facts do support those charges, and I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that.”
Much of this analysis echoes what Sherwin said weeks ago, shortly after the riot. When asked in January about whether Trump’s actions were being investigated, he said, ”We’re looking at all actors.” He also said: “Anyone who had a role, and the events fit the elements of a crime, they’re going to be charged.”
Sherwin then announced the creation of a specialized “strike force of very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors” whose sole directions were to determine whether there should be “significant cases tied to sedition and conspiracy” so the Justice Department can “build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that have occurred in the Capitol.” He said in January, “We are closely looking at evidence related to the sedition charges,” claiming: “I think the results will bear fruit very soon.”
Members of two right-wing groups, the Oath Keepers militia and the Proud Boys, have been hit with conspiracy charges for their alleged roles in the Capitol siege, but no one has been charged with sedition.
When asked on 60 Minutes whether investigators believed there was a premeditated plan designed by groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys to breach the Capitol, Sherwin said authorities were looking into it.
“That’s what we’re trying to determine right now,” he said. “We’ve charged multiple conspiracy cases, and some of those involve single militia groups, some of them involve multiple militia groups. For example, individuals from an Ohio militia were coordinating with a Virginia militia group of Oath Keepers, talking about coming to the capital region, talking about, no specific communication about breaching the Capitol, but talking about going there, taking back the House. [They were] talking about ‘stopping the steal’ [and] talking about how they need a show of force in D.C.”
Sherwin said more than 400 people had now been charged in connection to the Capitol riot. “The bulk of those cases are federal criminal charges, and significant federal felony charges,” he said.
Sherwin said more than 100 people had been charged with “assaulting federal officers and local police officers.” He estimated 10% of the cases were “more complex conspiracy cases where we do have evidence … where individual militia groups from different facets … did have a plan,” though he said “we don’t know what the full plan is — to come to D.C., organize, and breach the Capitol in some manner.”
Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer, died after responding to the attack at the Capitol. While the cause of death for the veteran police officer, who received the rare tribute of lying in honor in the Capitol rotunda, has not yet been released, two men were arrested last week for assaulting Sicknick with a chemical spray, which Sherwin said could potentially lead to murder charges.
“If evidence directly relates that chemical to his death, yeah,” he said when asked whether the two men could be charged with killing Sicknick if it was determined that the bear spray caused his death. “We have causation. We have a link. Yes. In that scenario, correct, that’s a murder case.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray declined to provide details related to the Sicknick investigation in early March.
Four others died as a result of the siege of Congress as lawmakers worked to affirm President Biden’s 2020 election victory. Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and Trump supporter, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer while attempting to climb through a window into the Speaker’s Lobby. Three others died from “medical emergencies,” according to officials. Two other Capitol Police officers who responded to the riot later died by suicide, according to local police.
Trump was impeached in the House on a charge of inciting an insurrection before being acquitted in the Senate. Trump was previously impeached in December 2019 on two Ukraine-related charges before being acquitted in the GOP-led Senate.
Sherwin also confirmed the pipe bombs found by investigators outside the headquarters for the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, which were planted the night before the storming of the U.S. Capitol, were real weapons and not props.
“It appears they weren’t armed properly,” Sicknick said Sunday when asked why the pipe bombs didn’t explode. “And there could be a whole host of reasons. But they were not hoax devices. They were real devices.”
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