Federal prosecutors are looking at bringing “significant” cases involving possible sedition and conspiracy charges in last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol.
That’s according to acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, who provided an update on criminal charges at a Justice Department news conference today.
He says that some of the misdemeanor charges brought against the people who sieged the Capitol were intended as placeholder counts and that more serious charges including sedition are possible.
He says the Justice Department has created a specialized task force that will look at everything from travel to movement of the individuals.
Speakers at a rally before the insurrection included Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani – who disputed the results of the November presidential election without evidence and called for “trial by combat” – and Trump himself, who vowed in front of the crowd of thousands of his supporters to “never concede,” then urged them to walk down to the Capitol with the exhortation, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
Thousands of those supporters then did walk to the Capitol Building, where a short time later they clashed with Capitol Police and ultimately breached the building, prompting the suspension of a joint session of Congress and a lockdown of multiple federal buildings.
In the ensuing chaos, at least five people were killed, including a Capitol Police officer who died Thursday evening of injuries sustained during the event.
Although neither Trump nor Giuliani participated in the breaching of the Capitol, a George Washington University law professor said their involvement and speeches at the preceding rally could potentially amount to incitement and even seditious conspiracy under a memorandum written in September by then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, now the acting attorney general.
The memo, sent Sept. 17 to all U.S. attorneys, was titled “Charging in connection with violent rioting, including 18 U.S.C. § 2384” – which is the portion of the federal code defining “seditious conspiracy.”
At the time, Rosen said he sent the memo to re-emphasize instructions from then-Attorney General Bill Barr that prosecutors should consider sedition charges for individuals who committed violent crimes at protests.
The memo, and Barr’s statements, were a response to months of Black Lives Matter protests across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
The memo lays out in explicit language the sorts of actions that could warrant a sedition charge, including conspiracies “by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States” or to seize, take or possesses any property of the United States.
The memo makes clear that Section 2384 “does not require proof of a plot to overthrow the U.S. Government.”
The memo tells prosecutors specifically that they should consider a charge of seditious conspiracy “where a group has conspired to take a federal courthouse or other federal property by force.”