The U.S. Department of Justice held a news conference Tuesday with acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin and FBI Washington Field Office ADIC Steven D’Antuono discussing charges and arrests made in connection with last Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.
According to the DOJ officials, there are more than 170 active subject files seeking individuals identified as potential persons that committed crimes, a number that is expected to swell into the “hundreds” in coming weeks. The DOJ has launched investigations into serious felony charges of “sedition and conspiracy,” as well as a “mind-blowing” number of crimes related to the events that transpired last week.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” D’Antuono said in his statement.
He revealed that the FBI has collected more than 100,000 pieces of digital media from the public that authorities are using to investigate an extraordinarily broad range of crimes committed by the pro-Trump mob.
“I want to stress that the FBI has a long memory and a broad reach. Agents and our partners are on the streets investigating leads not only here in the D.C. area, but also across the country through the FBI’s 56 field offices,” D’Antuono added.
“Even if you’ve left D.C., agents from our local field offices will be knocking on your door if we find out you were a part of the criminal activity at the Capitol,” he said.
Last Wednesday, tens of thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., in protest of the congressional certification of the Electoral College. Having been told by the president and his allies for months that the November election was fraudulent, and after news broke that Vice President Mike Pence would not attempt to reject slates of electors from disputed battleground states, some protesters led a mob to storm the Capitol, succeeding in infiltrating the building as lawmakers were assembled for debate.
In the ensuing violence, several police officers were assaulted by rioters, congressional offices were raided, various crimes ranging from trespass to felony murder were committed, and five people lost their lives in what the media proclaimed was an insurrection attempt. Additionally, two pipe bombs were discovered near the Capitol at the headquarters of the RNC and the DNC, though both were safely detonated by law enforcement and no one was injured.
The DOJ officials confirmed Tuesday that the pipe bombs were real explosive devices with igniters and timers. Investigators do not know why the bombs didn’t go off, they said. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the individual(s) who planted the bombs.
Federal and local law enforcement has come under intense scrutiny as critics accuse Capitol Police of having been woefully unprepared to prevent the events that transpired.
According to D’Antuono, the FBI knew that the rally last Wednesday would take place and sought information about potential violence that might occur. Intelligence gathered through social media and through sources indicated that “a number of individuals were planning to travel to the D.C. area with intentions to cause violence.”
“We immediately shared that information and action was taken,” D’Antuono claimed, citing the Metropolitan Police Department arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio the night before the rally on destruction of property and weapons charges.
D’Antuono took pains to clarify that the FBI can’t open a criminal investigation into social media posts, which fall under First Amendment protections, without a threat of violence or alleged criminal activity.
The DOJ has launched multiple investigations into the criminal activity that did take place, acting U.S. attorney Sherwin told reporters.
“The scope and scale of this investigation into these cases are really unprecedented, not only in FBI history but probably DOJ history,” he said, describing the Capitol grounds on the inside and outside as “essentially a crime scene” with “literally thousands of potential witnesses” and “hundreds of criminal cases” that will be filed at all levels of the court system.
“This is going to be a long-term investigation,” Sherwin emphasized. He referred to the growing list of crimes to be investigated as “mind-blowing.”
So far, the DOJ has filed charges in over 70 cases, a number he expects will “grow into the hundreds.” The types of cases being investigated include simple trespass, theft of mail, theft of digital devices, assaults on police officers, theft of potential national security or defense information, felony murder, and even civil rights excessive force investigations.
Law enforcement officials are making it a priority to file simple charges against as many people as they can as quickly as possible to catch criminals. Most of these are misdemeanors or trespass cases, Sherwin explained. Some of them may be related to firearms charges.
“This is only the beginning, so after these criminal charges are filed via criminal complaints, that allows us, that allows law enforcement across the United States to arrest people,” Sherwin elaborated. “After those charges are filed, then we have the ability to then indict these individuals on more significant charges.”
“We’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy,” he revealed.
Sherwin also announced the organization of a “strike force” of national security and public corruption prosecutors to build seditious and conspiracy charges “related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol” with potential sentences of up to 20 years in jail for those convicted.
“Regardless of if it was just a trespass in the Capitol or if someone planted a pipe bomb, you will be charged and you will be found,” he warned the perpetrators.
The DOJ is also focusing on prosecuting assaults on police officers.
“In some instances, MPD and Capitol Police were in open-handed combat with some of these persons inside the Capitol, where tear gas was used on the Capitol Police and federal officers and they were also used against some of these rioters,” Sherwin said.
“People are going to be shocked with some of the egregious conduct that happened within the Capitol.”