The Department of Justice has created a “strike force” to look into charging some of those involved in last week’s invasion of the US Capitol with sedition and conspiracy, both felonies.
The DOJ, along with the FBI, is considering charges in hundreds of potential cases related to the fatal Jan. 6 insurrection led by supporters of President Donald Trump, who spread lies that the election had been stolen by Democrats. Five people died in connection with the event, including a Capitol police officer.
“Just yesterday, our office organized a strike force of very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors [whose] only marching orders from me are to build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol,” acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
These charges could carry up to 20 years in prison, Sherwin added.
Sherwin spoke alongside Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, detailing the crimes and charges both agencies are focusing on investigating.
Among those crimes, both officials mentioned the pipe bombs planted near the headquarters for the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, the day of the insurrection. No one associated with the planting of these devices has been caught yet, the officials said.
The bombs were both “real devices,” Sherwin told reporters, saying they both had igniters and timers on them, though they did not go off. The agencies are working with DC's Metropolitan Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to investigate the incidents, which may have been intended to be used as a diversion from the riots, Sherwin said.
The Justice Department has already opened more than 170 “subject files” on people involved in the insurrection who potentially committed crimes, and authorities plan to open more in the coming days.
So far, more than 70 people have been charged with crimes ranging from trespassing to illegal possession of explosive devices and assault rifles. Sherwin added that his department wanted to charge those involved in the insurrection as quickly as possible, so many people currently facing lesser charges — such as trespassing or disorderly conduct — could face more serious or even felony charges as the investigations continue.
To manage the massive investigation, DOJ has created several other strike forces of prosecutors to look into individuals who targeted and committed violence against journalists during the riots, another into those who targeted law enforcement officers, and another into those who stole “national security information or national defense information” while invading the offices of members of Congress.
“The scope and scale of this investigation in these cases are really unprecedented, not only in FBI history, but probably DOJ history,” Sherwin said. “The Capitol grounds, outside and inside, are essentially a crime scene, and we have literally thousands of potential witnesses and a scenario in which we are going to have, I believe, hundreds of criminal cases.”
During the press conference, D’Antuono of the FBI went into more detail on the information the agency gathered ahead of last week’s insurrection.
In the weeks leading up to the riots, the FBI received intelligence that “a number of individuals were planning to travel to the DC area with the intention to cause violence,” D’Antuono said.
The FBI shared that information with other law enforcement agencies, and it led to one arrest by the Metropolitan Police Department on Jan. 5, ahead of the event, as well as several cases in which other individuals were prevented from traveling to DC. D’Antuono said any information they gathered was disseminated to all levels of law enforcement.
“We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the internet are just practicing keyboard bravado, or they actually had the intent to do harm,” D’Antuono said. “In this case, we had no indication that information was linked to any specific person.”
While D’Antuono’s meaning was unclear, and not clarified in follow-up questions, his statement differs from one made last during a DOJ press conference on Friday, during which he said that the FBI had “no indication that there was anything other than First Amendment activity” planned for Jan. 6.