Sun, October 17, 2021

in-focus

Trump's remarks before riot may be investigated, acting D.C. U.S. attorney says


WASHINGTON - The top federal prosecutor in Washington D.C. said Thursday that President Donald Trump was not off limits in his investigation of the events surrounding Wednesday's riot at the U.S. Capitol, saying "all actors" would be examined to determine if they broke the law.

Asked if federal agents and prosecutors will look at the incendiary statements made by speakers at Trump's rally shortly before a mob of his supporters breached security at the Capitol and wreaked havoc inside, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said: "Yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building, but . . . were there others that maybe assisted or facilitated or played some ancillary role in this. We will look at every actor and all criminal charges."

Asked specifically if that included Trump, who had urged the crowd to "fight like hell," before the rioting began, Sherwin replied, "We are looking at all actors here, and anyone that had a role, if the evidence fits the element of a crime, they're going to be charged."

Not long after the prosecutor made those remarks, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany gave a brief statement, saying: "What we saw yesterday was a group of violent rioters undermining the legitimate First Amendment rights of the many thousands who came to peacefully have their voices heard in our nation's capital. Those who violently besieged our capitol are the opposite of everything this administration stands for."

The far-reaching federal investigation could spell fresh legal jeopardy for the president's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, who also spoke to the crowd, declaring at one point, "let's have trial by combat," and declaring he was willing to stake his reputation, and that of the president, on being able to someday find criminality in the 2020 vote count.

On Thursday morning, Giuliani tweeted that the previous day's violence "was shameful. It was as criminal as the rioting and looting this summer which was not condemned strongly enough by the Left. This violence is condemned in the strongest terms. Our movement values respect for law and order and for the police."

Two of the president's sons also spoke at the event, though their remarks were less incendiary, threatening to primary Republicans who did not support Trump's effort to change electoral college tallies.

"Have some backbone. Show some fight. Learn from Donald Trump," Eric Trump told the crowd. "And we need to march on the Capitol today. And we need to stand up for this country. And we need to stand up for what's right."

Sherwin, the prosecutor, said that the first priority of investigators are the individuals who personally engaged in destructive or violent acts at the Capitol, or what he called "the closest alligators to the boat."

He also noted there were potential national security risks in Wednesday's chaos, with video showing papers strewn around lawmakers' offices, and some accounts of people taking things from the building.

"This is probably going to take several days to flesh out what was stolen, what wasn't," he said. "Items were stolen from senators' offices, documents were stolen, and we have to identify what was done, and it could have potential national security equities."

Sherwin spoke to reporters by phone Thursday to emphasize that the Justice Department and FBI are rapidly pursuing cases against those who engaged in violence or other lawbreaking, saying that dozens of people would be charged by the end of the day, and investigators are continuing to piece together evidence to bring additional cases.

The vast majority of those who broke into the Capitol building were allowed to politely leave once the chaos ended. One online video even showed an officer holding the door for a stream of angry individuals, including one who triumphantly shouted: "We stopped the vote!"

Now, investigators face a more complex task of piecing together digital evidence to identify and charge those who engaged in violence. That could take weeks or in some cases months, meaning that the bulk of that prosecutorial work may be left to the Biden administration.

Sherwin said investigators' work was made more difficult by the fact that Capitol Police let so many of the people who broke into the building simply walk out.

"It appears they were not apprehended or zip-tied by the police," said Sherwin, and agents will now have to gather cellphone records and video footage to "identify people, charge them, and execute their arrest."

FBI agents have already received thousands of tips after asking for the public's help in identifying people in the photos and videos of the mob storming the Capitol building.

Officials said they have a broad list of possible crimes to consider, from seditious conspiracy to damaging federal property to simple unlawful entry.

But there are other, more serious potential charges in play, too. Pipe bombs were discovered outside the Republican National Committee headquarters and the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Officials have yet to charge anyone with leaving those homemade bombs there, but such actions may lead to terrorism charges.

"The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that those responsible for this attack on our Government and the rule of law face the full consequences of their actions under the law," Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement Thursday.

While prosecutors vowed to file the toughest charges possible, they also signaled that they plan to file cases on lesser crimes like unlawful entry, which may be easier to prove, given the voluminous social media postings of the rioters.

D.C. Metro police released dozens of photographs Thursday seeking to identify and possibly charge with unlawful entry some of those who stormed into Congress, including a heavily tattooed shirtless man draped in animal fur and wearing Viking horns.

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday said the FBI has deployed its "full investigative resources" and will "hold accountable those who participated in yesterday's siege of the Capitol."

The political fallout from the rioting continued Thursday, as Republicans faced a deep, angry rift within their party over the pro-Trump riot.

Former Attorney General William Barr - who before his Dec. 23 resignation had been one of Trump's most loyal and effective cabinet secretaries - issued a statement condemning the president.

"Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable," Barr said in the statement, released through his former spokeswoman. "The President's conduct yesterday was a betrayal of his office and supporters."

Published : January 08, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Devlin Barrett