Prosecutors are pursuing beefed-up charges against pro-Trump rioters that stormed the U.S. Capitol, including felony cases involving sedition and conspiracy.
(CN) — The federal prosecutor leading criminal cases against the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol building last week says authorities will pursue tougher charges against the rioters in the weeks ahead, and that the number of cases could grow into the hundreds.
“This is only the beginning.” Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin told reporters Tuesday. “We’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy.”
More than 70 criminal cases have already been brought against people involved in the Capitol insurrection, Sherwin said, while investigators continue to scour more than 100,000 tips sent to authorities about people who were allegedly part of the mob.
“This is a 24/7, full-bore extensive operation into what happened that day,” Sherwin said.
The update from the Justice Department comes amid news that, contrary to what one FBI official initially claimed, the agency was aware of right-wing extremists planning violence at the Capitol just a day before rioters stormed the building.
Steven D’Antuono, the top official at the FBI’s Washington Field office, told reporters on Friday there was “no indication” the rioters were planning “anything other than First Amendment-protected activity.”
But another FBI field office in Virginia had in fact alerted authorities in an internal memo about explicit threats of violence just a day before the insurrection, according to the Washington Post.
At Tuesday’s briefing, D’Antuono acknowledged that the FBI did receive “some intelligence” about people threatening violence at the Capitol.
Still, he defended the bureau’s handling of the reports, saying the information was “immediately disseminated” and that it led to the arrest of Enrique Tarrio, leader of the extremist group Proud Boys, in the days before the mob attack.
D’Antuono also suggested the intelligence reports were vague.
“In this case, we had no indication information was linked to any specific person,” he said.
The government’s promise of tougher prosecutions held true in at least one case Tuesday, as authorities filed a beefed-up criminal charge against Richard Barnett, the man who was photographed with his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk.
Barnett is now facing an amended charge for allegedly carrying a stun gun into the Capitol that could land him in prison for up to 10 years if convicted.
The 60-year-old Arkansas resident was already facing multiple other charges related to the mob attack, but according to court documents, the amended charge was brought after police received a tip on Monday that the image of Barnett at Pelosi’s desk appeared to show him carrying a stun gun. Barnett’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“People thought what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said during a trip to the Texas border.
The president has in fact faced widespread condemnation over his remarks to his supporters ahead of the Capitol storming, including from members of his own party and his own government. Multiple Trump administration officials resigned in the days after the attack, with some specifically citing the president’s dangerous rhetoric.
Sherwin, the federal prosecutor, said Tuesday that authorities had focused initially on lower-level misdemeanor charges against the rioters that could be brought quickly, but that they were now exploring charges covering everything from assault on Capitol Police officers to theft of national security information to murder.
Sherwin suggested the full scope of the violence of the Capitol would become clearer to the public as the investigation continued.
“As the days go on, there’s going to be more social media, and people will recognize that in some instances, [Metro police] and Capitol police were in open-handed combat with some of these persons inside the Capitol,” he said. “It’s going to come into laser focus over the next weeks and days, and I think people are going to be shocked.”
The FBI is still searching for any suspects involved in the planting of two pipe bombs outside the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters.
“They were real devices,” Sherwin said Tuesday. “They had explosive igniters. They had timers.”
Sherwin said it is still unclear why the bombs did not go off.
Federal authorities continue to warn that right-wing extremists are planning further armed protests across the nation ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
A group of House Democrats that includes the chamber’s Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson released a statement Tuesday after a briefing from the FBI calling for more action to address those threats.
“Based on today’s briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy,” the lawmakers wrote. “This is a moment when our entire national security and law enforcement apparatus must be working in complete lockstep.”
Biden has said he’s “not afraid” to take the oath of office outside, while police insist they will not be caught off guard at the inauguration in the way they apparently were during the Capitol siege.