Federal authorities in Washington, D.C. said Tuesday that they’ve charged more than 70 people and opened over 170 case files stemming from last week’s deadly attack on the US Capitol and defended their handling of the probe so far, stressing that it’s only beginning.
Michael Sherwin, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, provided the tallies during an afternoon briefing with Steven D’Antuono, assistant director of the FBI Washington field office.
“We’ve already charged over 70 cases, and again, that number I suspect is going to grow into the hundreds,” Sherwin said.
He added that while most of the initial charges have been misdemeanors, authorities are looking to make weightier cases that would carry significant prison time for anyone convicted.
“We’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy,” Sherwin said. “In addition to that, we’re looking at and taking a priority with cases in which weapons were involved and cases in which destructive devices were involved.”
In addition, Sherwin said, officials are looking into assaults on police officers and members of the news media during the attack on the Capitol last Wednesday.
Earlier that day, President Trump had held a rally in which he encouraged his supporters to walk to the Capitol and “fight like hell” in an effort to disrupt the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s November victory. Bedlam soon followed, leaving five people dead including a Capitol police officer.
Sherwin and D’Antuono were asked at one point during the briefing about what indications law enforcement received before the attack suggesting violence was possible.
“We received a lot of intelligence, like I said in my statement, a lot of intelligence information throughout all different means, be it through social media” or sources, D’Antuono said. “We shared intelligence through the JTTF model [Joint Terrorism Task Force] and we also shared it through our command post structure. ... So all that information was shared with our partners, and we went from there.”
He said FBI agents across the country are working to apprehend suspects. Agents, he said, “are scrubbing video, we’re talking to witnesses, we’re talking to individuals that we arrest.”
Sherwin also discussed pipe bombs found at the RNC and DNC offices.
“They were real devices,” Sherwin said. “They had explosive igniters. They had timers. We don’t know, obviously, why they did not go off. ... That is all obviously being vetted and investigated. What was the purpose of those devices being planted? Was it a diversionary type of a tactic used by some of these rioters?”
He said investigators are seeking the people who planted the bombs.
“And as mentioned, with this strike-force to focus strictly on sedition charges, we’re looking at, in creating this, just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation, we’re looking at everything,” Sherwin said. “Money, travel records. Looking at disposition, movement, communication records. So no resource related to the FBI or the US attorney’s office will be unchecked in terms of trying to determine exactly, if there was a command and control, how it operated and how they executed these activities.”
D’Antuono said authorities are putting up a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identification of whoever planted the pipe bombs.
He also responded to a report in the Washington Post that a day before the Capitol siege, an FBI office in Virginia had issued an internal warning that extremists planned to travel to the Beltway to commit violence and “war,” according to an internal document reviewed by the newspaper.
“That was a thread on a message board,” D’Antuono said, adding that when his office received the information, “we briefed that within 40 minutes to our law enforcement partners - our federal, state law enforcement partners. ... It got ingested into the JTTF system. It was, again, shared with all the law enforcement partners through that process that we have.”
The Post also reported that an advisory approved for release the day before Capitol riot included details of people sharing a map of the complex’s tunnels, along with possible rally points for conspirators to meet up in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Carolina.
Asked about the rally point information, the FBI Boston office said in a statement that it “cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigation or investigative steps at this time,” and that the agency is accepting tips related to the violence.