Acting U.S. Attorney for D.C. Michael Sherwin said Tuesday that with a strike force established to focus strictly on sedition charges related to the U.S. Capitol riot “we’re looking at and treating this just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation.”
“We’re looking at everything, money, travel records, looking at disposition, movement, communication records,” Sherwin said at a Justice Department press conference. “So, no resource related to the FBI or the U.S. 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.”
Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said that in six days “we have opened over 160 case files and that’s just the tip of the iceberg” as agents investigate and fan out across the country to arrest and charge people with taking part in last week’s Capitol riot.
“The significance of this investigation is not lost on us. This is a 24/7, full-bore, extensive operation into what happened that day,” D’Antuono said. “We cannot do our job without the help of the American people. Since our call for tips, videos, and pictures we have received more than 100,000 pieces of digital media, which is absolutely fantastic. And we are scouring every one for investigative and intelligence leads.”
D’Antuono said the FBI “developed some intelligence that a number of individuals were planning to travel to the D.C. area with intentions to cause violence,” leading to the pre-rally arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio by D.C. police and others having their travel disrupted by authorities.
“We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the internet are just practicing keyboard bravado or they actually have the intent to do harm. In the latter, we work diligently to identify them and prevent them from doing so,” he said. “As offensive as a statement can be, the FBI cannot open an investigation without a threat of violence or alleged criminal activity.”
Sherwin said the number of cases against people accused of committing crimes inside and outside the Capitol is “going to geometrically increase” and likely to “grow into the hundreds.”
“Because given the enormity of the actors we saw both inside and outside the Capitol, the range of criminal conduct is really, I think, again, unmatched in any type of scenario that we’ve seen in the FBI or the DOJ,” he said. “We’re looking at everything from simple trespass to theft of mail to theft of digital devices inside the Capitol to assault on local officers, federal officers both outside and inside the Capitol to the theft of potential national security information or national defense information to felony murder and even civil rights excessive force investigations. So just the gamut of cases and criminal conduct we’re looking at is really mind-blowing.”
Sherwin said that while trespassing charges were initially filed against many suspects heavier charges can be added, including “significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy.” The new strike force of “very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors” at the U.S. Attorney’s Office is tasked with building “sedition and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol.”
“In addition to that we’re looking and taking a priority with cases in which weapons were involved and cases in which destructive devices were involved,” he added. Other teams are focusing on targeted assaults against law enforcement and media by Capitol rioters.
Sherwin said that pipe bombs planted outside the DNC and RNC headquarters were “real devices” with ignitors and timers, but it’s unclear why they did not detonate before being destroyed by bomb squads.
“What was the purpose of those devices being planted? Was it a diversionary type of a tactic used by some of these rioters? Was it something — or did it have some other type of nefarious purpose? So, that is what the ATF, the FBI, MPD are looking at as we speak right now and looking for those persons that planted those devices,” he said.