The top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., said on Friday there is no “direct evidence” to suggest that rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol had formed “kill capture teams.”
The comments by acting U.S. attorney Michael Sherwin appeared to be an effort to walk back claims that federal prosecutors in Arizona had made in a court filing late on Thursday, in which they alleged there was evidence that rioters intended “to capture and assassinate elected officials.”
Sherwin said his office is leading the prosecution effort, but as local offices help to track down suspects in their districts, there may have been a “disconnect” on the evidence obtained so far in the cases.
Late on Thursday, federal prosecutors had made sweeping claims about the ongoing investigation in a filing as they asked a judge to detain Jacob Chansley, an Arizona man and QAnon conspiracy theorist photographed wearing horns as he stood at the desk of Vice-President Mike Pence in the chamber of the U.S. Senate.
The detention memo, written by Justice Department lawyers in Arizona, goes into greater detail about the FBI’s investigation into Chansley, revealing that he left a note for Pence warning that “it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona told Reuters the office plans to file an amended memo today, ahead of Chansley’s appearance in federal court for his detention hearing.
WATCH | Security expert doesn’t expect a repeat of Jan. 6 on inauguration day in D.C.:
In Chansley’s case, prosecutors had suggested in the filing that he suffers from drug abuse and mental illness, and told the judge he poses a serious flight risk.
“Chansley has spoken openly about his belief that he is an alien, a higher being, and he is here on Earth to ascend to another reality,” they wrote.
Justice Department, Congress to review what went wrong
Prosecutors and federal agents have begun bringing more serious charges tied to violence at the Capitol, including revealing cases Thursday against one man, retired firefighter Robert Sanford, on charges that he hurled a fire extinguisher at the head of one police officer and another, Peter Stager, of beating a different officer with a pole bearing an American flag.
Steven D’Antuono, FBI Washington field office assistant director in charge, said Friday 270 suspects have been identified in connection with the attack at the U.S. Capitol last week, in which Trump’s supporters stormed the building, ransacked offices and, in some cases, attacked police. More than 100 have been taken into custody.
Many of the people apprehended so far have been tracked down, thanks in large part to videos and photos posted on social media.
“To those of you who took part in the violence, here’s something you should know: Every FBI field office in the country is looking for you,” said D’Antuono. “As a matter of fact, even your friends and family are tipping us off.”
An Ohio man who posted videos from the riots has been arrested on federal charges of making interstate threats and threatening a witness.
In one video, 40-year-old Justin Stoll, of Wilmington, Del., declared: “D.C.’s a war zone! … You ain’t got enough cops, baby! We are at war at the Capitol. We have taken the Capitol. This is our country.”
The federal complaint said that when one YouTube viewer said he or she had saved his video, Stoll warned that if the viewer took action to “ever jeopardize me, from being with my family,” then the person would meet his or her maker, and that he would be the one to “arrange the meeting.”
Stoll appeared before a U.S. magistrate in Cincinnati, who released him under restrictions, including that he remain in southern Ohio with electronic monitoring, stay off social media, stay away from firearms, obtain mental counselling and not contact potential witnesses or victims.
On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department’s internal watchdog said it will review how the FBI and other law enforcement agencies prepared and responded to the storming of the Capitol.
WATCH | What the Capitol Hill riots set in motion for extremists:
The probe will be co-ordinated with other federal agencies whose law enforcement arms were also involved in responding to the assault, including the Defence Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior.
The review from Michael Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, comes after many media outlets, including Reuters, reported that the FBI office in Norfolk, Va., circulated a bulletin a day before the events at the Capitol, warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and “war.”
On Thursday, Horowitz’s report on the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy at the southern border was released, highlighting a lack of planning and communication across federal agencies during the short-lived approach of prosecuting adult asylum seekers in large numbers and detaining migrant children in separate facilities.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that if members of Congress were found to have been accomplices to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, they should be prosecuted.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey, has accused Republicans of inciting the Trump supporters, saying she saw colleagues leading groups on what she called “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol the day before the attack. The allegation has yet to be substantiated.
More than 30 House Democrats have asked the acting House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the acting head of the Capitol Police for information about who was in the building on Jan. 5, the previous day.
“If in fact it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection, if they aided and abetted the crimes, there have to be actions taken beyond the Congress, in terms of prosecution for that,” Pelosi, a Democrat, said.
Pelosi also named retired lieutenant-general Russel Honoré to lead a security review of the violence at the Capitol.