WASHINGTON – Justice Department officials add prosecutors and agents to their extensive investigation into the January 6th attack on the Capitol as it enters a more complicated phase and they are considering how to deal with the heavy caseload, including attempting to averting a potential backlog in court, according to law enforcement officers.
Their efforts to indict more complex cases were evident on Friday when prosecutors filed an indictment against a right-wing militia group, the Oath Keepers, accusing six other alleged members of the group of organizing a military attack on the Capitol to help President Donald. J. Trump overturns the 2020 election results and stays in power.
The investigation has already led to charges against more than 230 people and numerous subpoenas. More than a dozen federal attorneys from across the country have been hired to work with the US law firm in Washington, which is leading the investigation. That could add up to 400 to 500 criminal cases in total, according to a law enforcement officer.
Michael R. Sherwin, the acting US attorney in Washington who oversaw the investigation, is due to step down soon. But officials plan to keep him busy to further monitor the investigation from Justice Department headquarters, according to those familiar with the leadership discussions.
The F.B.I.’s Washington Field Office, which moved quickly in the days following the attack to process a variety of tips, digital clues, and interviews, is outsourcing more of this work to field offices across the country. The Domestic Terrorism Operations Division of the Office, which is investigating F.B.I. Headquarters, will coordinate this work.
In the weeks immediately following the siege of Congress, the speed of the FBI’s investigation gave a glimmer of hope that the rioters could be held accountable as the government grappled with security flaws that enabled the pro-Trump mob to target one of the cases to break through most fortified buildings in one of the nation’s safest cities.
But the investigation has now reached a tipping point where the simple cases have largely been done and more complex ones are emerging.
Signaled the postponement at a press conference last month, Mr Sherwin said the pace of arrests would plateau as prosecutors focused on building “the more complicated conspiracy cases related to possible coordination between militia groups”.
According to a law enforcement officer, prosecutors are currently discussing obtaining confessions of guilt from defendants and ensuring suspects’ cooperation.
According to current and former prosecutors, critical criminal investigations often depend on information from informants and cooperating witnesses. However, the unrest investigation, unusual in many ways, has led to hundreds of indictments with little cooperation from those involved. Instead, it used almost exclusively social media evidence and tips from family members and acquaintances.
In order to bring more serious charges against organized conspiracy suspects in order to overthrow the elections, the government may need to work with those already supported by the F.B.I. who could want a lower rate.
“Cooperation partners are de facto experts on a crime because they are in a conspiracy,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former Washington prosecutor who focused on murder and extortion cases. “You can provide direct evidence to the jury of who played what role inside. what the hierarchy was; and what the structure was like within the organization. “
The Justice Department first accused members of the Oath Keepers last month of traveling to Washington to breach the Capitol, its first major conspiracy case, without cooperation. In the original charges, prosecutors found three members of the group featured in widespread videos dressed in paramilitary clothing and moving in a coordinated manner through the chaotic mob.
On Friday, the department accused six other people of the conspiracy, including Kelly Meggs, the self-described head of the Florida chapter of the organization, who the prosecution said wrote on Facebook, “Gentlemen, we’re going to DC.” Another Florida Oath Keeper, Graydon Young, was charged with arranging firearms and combat training for himself and others for himself and others.
Members of the Oath Guards charged with conspiracy have so far shown no public signs of willingness to cooperate. One, Thomas E. Caldwell, has vowed to fight these charges in court.
But that can change. This week, Dominic Pezzola, a member of the right-wing extremist nationalist group the Proud Boys, stated in a court case that he was ready to plead guilty and “make amends”.
Should the Justice Department be able to obtain confessions of guilt, it could ease pressure on the federal courts in Washington, which have dropped almost all lawsuits in response to the coronavirus pandemic and are years behind.
Washington Federal District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, who early in her career served on Capitol Hill as an adviser to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, made no effort to hide her disdain for any part of the Capitol Suspects.
“What happened that day is criminal behavior that should go down in the history books of this country,” she said during a trial in the case of Richard “Bigo” Barnett, who was shown in photos with his feet propped up on a desk in the office of Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi. He pleaded not guilty of accusing him of illegally entering the Capitol with a dangerous weapon, a walking stick used as a stun gun.
Judge Howell said the prosecution “did not properly capture the scope of what Mr. Barnett is charged with,” and she said residents “are still living here in Washington, DC, with the aftermath of the violence that is.” this defendant purports to have participated. “
Judge Howell told the National Law Journal, “There is no question that in criminal cases where the defendant wants trial, the trials have all been delayed.” But she said the court “had a plan to get started immediately as soon as we resume trials”. A spokeswoman said the details were being worked out.
While a backlog has built up due to the pandemic, the court document shows that numerous criminal cases continued to be processed and settled in criminal proceedings as the defendants reach objection agreements with prosecutors and are sentenced.
Even so, Kirschner predicted that “if the Justice Department doesn’t bring a slew of these cases, the court records will be destroyed,” and estimated that the Washington Federal District Court handles about 400 cases a year.
Prosecutors have expected members of extremist groups to take their cases to justice so they can use the venue as a platform for their propaganda. But they may not see time in court anytime soon.
Alan fire Post coverage from New York, and Adam Goldman from Washington.