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DOJ Opens Nearly 200 Cases Into Pro-Trump Riot On Capitol Hill

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's been almost a week since the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. Today, for the first time, Justice Department officials went before cameras to give us an update on the investigation. Those officials say prosecutors have opened more than 170 cases so far and that we should expect that number to rise dramatically in the weeks to come. Here with the latest is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: OK. So the first on-camera briefing from the Justice Department since this attack six days ago. What else did they have to say?

LUCAS: Well, it is the first briefing, although, notably, neither the FBI director nor the acting attorney general took part. Instead, we heard from a senior official in the FBI's Washington field office, as well as the acting U.S. attorney for D.C., Michael Sherwin. And Sherwin said, as you noted, that they've charged more than 70 cases so far. And he said that number is likely to grow into the hundreds. And he said the charges really run the gamut. They're looking at trespassing, theft of mail, theft of digital devices, assaulting an officer, theft of national defense information. There are also weapons charges and even felony murder. Here's how Sherwin put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL SHERWIN: The range of criminal conduct is really, I think, again, unmatched in any type of scenario that we've seen - the FBI or the DOJ.

KELLY: OK. So an unmatched range, but presumably investigators and prosecutors are focusing their energies more on certain crimes than others?

LUCAS: They are, yes. Sherwin said that he's set up a strike force in his office, bringing together national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors. The idea there, he said, is to build seditious conspiracy cases related to what he called the most heinous acts at the Capitol. And that's important because such charges would carry significant prison time.

He said prosecutors are also focusing on assaults against law enforcement officers. Remember, one Capitol police officer died from injuries that he sustained defending the Capitol during the riot. And then Sherwin also said that he's assigned prosecutors to focus on assaults against the media because we also saw reporters, of course, assaulted during the riot.

KELLY: Yes, sadly. Did the officials provide any clearer picture on what they found on the front end - indications of planning, of coordination by the rioters?

LUCAS: Well, the assistant director in charge of the Washington field office for the FBI, Steve D'Antuono, said agents are scrubbing video. They're talking to witnesses. They are trying to figure out an answer to that question, but they don't have one yet.

We did, however, learn more about the two pipe bombs that were planted near the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee on Capitol Hill the day of the insurrection. Sherwin said those devices were real. They had igniters. They had timers. And he said officials are investigating why they didn't go off and what the goal behind them was.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHERWIN: 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 and PD are looking at as we speak right now.

KELLY: Just briefly, Ryan, there has been criticism that the warning signs were out there and that authorities, including the FBI, missed them. Did they take on that criticism today?

LUCAS: Well, interestingly, last week we were told that there was no indication by the FBI - we were told this - of anything other than a peaceful protest. And then today, we learned that the FBI actually had sent a situational awareness report internally on January 5, indicating that people were discussing online calls for violence on the 6, the day of the riot. The FBI says it passed that information along, but clearly there were warning signs that were missed.

KELLY: All right. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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