Federal prosecutors have announced President Trump could potentially face charges over his role in inciting the violent siege of the US Capitol after he urged his supporters to ‘march’ on Congress to protest the results of the presidential election.
Acting US attorney for DC Michael Sherwin on Thursday said ‘all options are on the table’ for charging members of the pro-Trump mob, who could now face up to 10 years in prison under the president’s own executive order to protect federal property.
‘We are looking at all actors here. Not only the people who went into the building,’ Sherwin said during a press conference on the mayhem.
When asked if the president could be included in the probe, he replied: ‘We’re looking at all actors here, and anyone that had a role and the evidence fits the elements of a crime, they’re going to be charged.’
Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election, had earlier urged his supporters to ‘fight like hell’ and protest Congress’ formal approval of Joe Biden’s win in yet another failed attempt to stay in power.
As a sitting president, he cannot be charged with any crimes until he officially leaves office on January 20 when Biden is inaugurated, however authorities can still open a case and conduct an investigation.
Police say they are now in the process of tracking down at least 36 suspects – in addition to the 81 already arrested – who scaled the Senate and House Chambers, vandalized statues, fired tear gas and defaced property on Wednesday in chaotic scenes.
The suspects, who are part of a group of white supremacists, Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists, are wanted on a slew of charges including inciting a riot and weapons charges – and the Department of Justice has promised to bring them all before the courts.
Experts say some could face the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge – which former attorney general William Barr’s Justice Department threatened to use against those who caused violence at BLM protests last summer.
Sherwin said 55 cases have been charged so far, but warned it is ‘just the beginning.’
Fifteen federal cases were expected to be filed on Thursday for crimes including unauthorized access and theft of property, and investigators are combing through reams of evidence to bring additional charges.
He said 40 other cases have already been charged in a District of Columbia superior court.
Photos of the suspects were revealed at a press conference on Thursday as a growing number of politicians, including President-elect Joe Biden and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, have blamed Trump for the violent uprising that left four people dead.
More than 50 Capitol and DC police were also injured in the riot, including several who were hospitalized.
Some of the assailants have already been identified through social media – such as the horned QAnon ‘Shaman’ Jake Angeli and a MAGA fan whose marketing company fired him when they spotted his work lanyard around his neck – but the rest are wanted by law enforcement, and a huge manhunt has been launched across DC and the country.
The first few defendants charged in the chaos appeared in DC Superior Court on Thursday, CNN reported.
Jared Amos, 38, of Florida, pleaded not guilty to unlawful entry to Capitol grounds and violating Mayor Bowser’s 6pm curfew.
David Ross, 33, of Massachusetts, also pleaded guilty to the same charges. Both men have been ordered to stay away from DC area unless they are attending court hearings.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said federal authorities have teamed up with various law enforcement agencies to gather evidence, identify additional perpetrators and charge those people with federal crimes.
‘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,’ Rosen said in a statement.
In an ironic twist, Rosen said the violent protesters will face ‘full consequences of their actions under the law,’ which could include up to 10 years in prison for ‘injury of federal property,’ under President Trump’s executive order to protect American monuments, memorials, and statues during unrest.
The order, which came amid nationwide demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, states offenders would be prosecuted for vandalizing government property which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Trump at the time vowed to give ‘long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country’.
The extraordinary breach has raised questions from lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum as to how law enforcement could allow a mob to occupy and vandalize the federal building.
Several members of Congress have since called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked so he is removed from office in the next two weeks while House Democrats have drawn up articles of impeachment.
Sen. Charles Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reached out directly to Vice President Mike Pence Thursday to try to push him to act immediately to remove President Trump from office, only to be rebuffed.
‘Speaker Pelosi and I tried to call the vice president this morning to tell him to do this,’ Schumer told reporters in New York Thursday. ‘They kept us on hold for 25 minutes and then said the Vice President wouldn’t come on the phone.’
‘So we are making this call public because he should do it and do it right away,’ Schumer said, explaining why both he and Pelosi are calling on Pence and the Trump cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare Trump unfit and install Pence as president in an acting capacity.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday characterized the incident as ‘textbook terrorism’ and joined in the criticism of the police response.
‘Obviously it was a failure or you would not have had people enter the Capitol by breaking windows and terrorizing the members of Congress who were doing a very sacred requirement of their jobs,’ she said.
Crews were seen erecting ‘nonscalable’ black fences around the perimeter grounds just after 10.30am this morning, which officials called a ;precautionary measure’ ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration following the violence that erupted less than 24 hours earlier.
Former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson told Fox News on Thursday it was clear the wild incident was ‘instigator-generated’.
‘It didn’t just happen. There were people there that came to do it and generated it and caused this horrible mayhem,’ he said.
Coulson said it is likely the remaining suspects will be tracked down and charged soon, now that the FBI and Secret Service can identify them using their ‘good facial recognition ability’ on the photos.
It comes as DC Police Chief Robert Contee released numerous images of the persons of interests in hopes the public could help identify them and lead to their arrests.
‘These images depict individuals engaged in various acts of violence or property destruction,’ Contee said in a news conference on Thursday.
Two men and two women died in the violent siege in Washington DC on Wednesday, including 35-year-old US Air Force veteran Ashli Babbit, who was shot dead by police after she tried to clamber through a barricaded entrance.
Another three victims died after suffering ‘medical emergencies’ related to the breach.
They have been identified as Benjamin Phillips, 50, of Ringtown, Pennsylvania, Kevin Greason, 55, of Athens, Alabama, and Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, Georgia, DC Police Chief Robert Contee confirmed.
Further information regarding the nature of their deaths was not released.
Phillips was reported to be the founder of a pro-Trump social media site called Trumparoo and had coordinated transportation for several dozen people from Pennsylvania to Washington.
His profile on the site said he was organizing a bus from the Bloomsburg area to go to the rally and expressed anger at Democratic officials and moderate Republicans.
Members of his group said they last saw Phillips around 10.30am Wednesday, and that he did not show up to meet them for a 6pm departure, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. They learned from police that he had died and had a somber ride back to Pennsylvania.
US Capitol Police arrested 13 people for unlawful entry charges in Wednesday’s riots.
Another 68 people were arrested by DC Police between Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning, with more expected to be charged as authorities continue to identify and search suspects, police said.
Of those arrests, five were related to unlawful firearm possession and two were for other prohibited weapons including metal knuckles and blackjack-like weapons.
The majority of arrests were related to curfew violations and unlawful entry, with 48 arrests made on US Capitol grounds. Only one of the suspected arrested is from the DC area, Contee said.
A 27-year-old Maryland woman, identified as Jessica Reinke, was arrested and charged with defacing public property and assaulting a police officer, according to police arrest records.
And only one person was arrested on felony charges overnight. The suspect, identified as Joshua Pruitt, 39, of DC, is charged with felony rioting, as well as unlawful entry and curfew violation.
Pruitt is reported to have ties to The Proud Boys, a white supremacist group that has been present at Trump rallies across the country in the past.
Christopher Alberts, from Maryland, was among the crowd of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol building, an event which he called ‘the beginning of a revolution.’
‘The people that were here today are going to come back even more, and we’re not coming back peacefully, and we’re not coming back unarmed,’ he told The Dispatch. ‘America’s long overdue for revolution.’
The 33-year-old was later arrested and charged with carrying a pistol without a license and possessing a firearm on Capitol Grounds, among other charges.
Alberts had told the publication that he was attacked by police officers as he tried to enter the federal building.
‘The second I got to the tops of the steps they f**king baton my leg. They freaking rubber-bulleted by arm,’ he said.
A list of arrests released by the police department Thursday did not include several suspects identified as participants on social media, including ‘QAnon Shaman’ Jake Angeli or Richard ‘Bigo’ Barnett, who broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk and took a piece of her mail.
Dozens of those involved in the violent siege, labeled as ‘great patriots’ by the president are yet to be identified and the FBI is now asking for the helping in finding them, tweeting they are ‘accepting tips & digital media depicting rioting & violence in the U.S. Capitol Building & surrounding area on January 6, 2021.’
‘If you have witnessed unlawful violent actions, we urge you to submit any information, photos, or videos that could be relevant,’ they added. Police later released images of ‘persons of interest’ they want to identify.
Most of those already arrested have been accused of curfew violations. Others face charges of carrying a pistol without a license.
The former Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, has said the bureau must make ‘identifying, arresting, and prosecuting every single person that you possibly can that entered that Capitol building yesterday’ a top priority.
But some of those who took part have already been identified online as members of far right groups, white nationalists, Neo-Nazis and supporters of conspiracy theory QAnon. They are from states all over the country including Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Oregon.
Chief Steven Sund, in his first public comment on the mayhem from Wednesday, said in a statement that rioters ‘actively attacked’ Capitol police and other law enforcement officers with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants and ‘took up other weapons against our officers.’
He described the scene as ‘unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.,” said Sund, a former city police officer.
‘Make no mistake: these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior. The actions of the USCP officers were heroic given the situation they faced.’
Lawmakers from both parties have pledged to investigate law enforcement’s actions and questioned whether a lack of preparedness allowed a mob to occupy and vandalize the building.
Mayor Muriel Bowser joined in the criticism of the police response. ‘Obviously it was a failure or you would not have had people enter the Capitol by breaking windows and terrorizing the members of Congress who were doing a very sacred requirement of their jobs.”
A large crowd of Trump supporters had rallied near the White House on Wednesday morning, and the president told them that he would go with them to the Capitol. He didn’t. Instead he sent them off with incendiary rhetoric.
‘If you don´t fight like hell, you´re not going to have a country anymore,’ he said. ‘Let the weak ones get out,’ he went on. ‘This is a time for strength.’
Capitol Police, who are charged with protecting Congress, turned to other law enforcement for help with the mob that overwhelmed the complex and sent lawmakers into hiding. Both law enforcement and Trump supporters deployed chemical irritants during the hours-long occupation of the complex before it was cleared Wednesday evening.
[via The Daily Mail]