Taxpayers Footed The Bill For The Capitol Insurrection. The DOJ Might Make Jan. 6 Defendants Cover More Of It.
Prosecutors recently bumped up the cost estimate of the Capitol attack from $1.49 million to $2.73 million.
The Justice Department is considering increasing the amount of money people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection will have to agree to pay as part of a plea deal, a prosecutor told a judge Thursday, citing a new cost estimate for the attack that went up by more than $1 million from its original sum.
Until this month, prosecutors had estimated the cost of damage to the Capitol — expenses covered at the time by taxpayer dollars — at nearly $1.5 million. All but a handful of the more than 250 defendants to plead guilty so far have accepted the same terms of restitution to help pay back that amount: $500 for a misdemeanor plea and $2,000 for a felony case.
Testimony from the Architect of the Capitol and evidence shared by prosecutors detail a broad range of destruction inside and outside of the building as thousands of former president Donald Trump’s supporters descended on the complex. Rioters shattered windows and broke doors, shutters, and furniture. They destroyed temporary staging and sound systems set up for inauguration festivities and tracked paint over stone paths and Capitol corridors. They ripped up two historic lanterns from the ground. Police officers and the people they were trying to stop deployed chemical sprays against one another, damaging statues and paintings.
Earlier this month, the government shared in court filings that the cost estimate had gone up, now totaling $2,734,782 as of March. The Architect of the Capitol’s original estimate of $1.49 million, which the agency provided in May 2021, had gone down to $1,234,354; court filings didn’t include an explanation for the change and a spokesperson for the agency did not immediately return a request for comment.
But there were new numbers from other congressional offices affected by the attack. The House Chief Administrative Officer was seeking $338,294. The Secretary of the Senate and the Senate Sergeant at Arms were seeking $32,075 and $79,490, respectively.
The largest jump in how much money Jan. 6 had cost the government came from the US Capitol Police, which put its latest outlay at $1,160,569. That number included $1,045,129 in pay for officers and other employees who were injured on the job that day. The total revised cost estimate was first reported by Politico.
The numbers cited by prosecutors in the federal criminal cases are still far below the $30 million in costs outlined by the Architect of the Capitol shortly after the attack. In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee in February 2021, J. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol, explained that his office’s expenses in the immediate aftermath included repairs, historic preservation, contracts for security perimeters, and support for the National Guard.
At a sentencing hearing Thursday for defendant Richard Watrous, a New York man who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count for parading and demonstrating in the Capitol, US District Chief Judge Beryl Howell asked about the latest cost figures. Assistant US Attorney Douglas Collyer had put the new numbers in the government’s sentencing brief for Watrous, but said it didn’t change the terms of the plea deal, which Watrous signed in January and included the $500 sum for restitution.
Howell asked Collyer if the government would change the $500 baseline going forward. Collyer confirmed that it was under review and that it was possible officials would change it. Howell, who’d probed in the past whether the government’s cost estimate was too low, approved of that answer. The judge said she thought the American people would be “happy” to hear that people who participated in the attack, and not taxpayers, were covering more of the expense.
Collyer didn’t provide details about the timing of the review process or who would be responsible for deciding whether to change the restitution amounts. A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, which is leading the prosecution effort, did not immediately return a request for information.
Defendants who have pleaded guilty to date have agreed to pay more than $170,000 in restitution per their agreements with the government, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis of court records. In addition to restitution, judges have ordered defendants to pay more than $110,000 in fines as part of their sentences.
Howell asked Collyer during Thursday’s hearing how much money Jan. 6 defendants had actually paid the government after being sentenced. He said he did not know. The spokesperson for the US attorney’s office also didn’t immediately return a request for information about payments. A representative of the probation office for the DC federal district court also could not immediately be reached.
Howell sentenced Watrous to 36 months of probation, and during that time, he’ll have to spend 14 days in jail and 60 days in home detention. In addition to the $500 restitution payment that he agreed to as part of his plea deal, Howell imposed a $2,500 fine, a penalty that went beyond what the government recommended.
Watrous spent less than 10 minutes inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and didn’t destroy property or engage in violence, but Howell noted that, unlike many defendants, he went in twice. He acknowledged staying at the building after seeing police deploy explosives and tear gas against the mob, although he insisted that he walked away and went to a calmer area. When Watrous told the judge that he was on the side of police, she asked him, “You do understand that you were a member of that mob?” Watrous replied that, “looking back,” he did.