In the eight months since the attack on the US Capitol, the investigation has ballooned into a nationwide manhunt for the Trump supporters and right-wing extremists who stormed the building and grounds, assaulted dozens of police officers and temporarily halted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
Nearly 600 people from 44 states and Washington, DC, have been charged in federal court, according to CNN’s latest tally, with authorities announcing new arrests on a near-daily basis.
The 50th guilty plea was finalized Wednesday in DC District Court when Abram Markofski pleaded to a misdemeanor. He admitted that he traveled from Wisconsin to DC, attended then-President Donald Trump’s rally and then illegally breached the Capitol building.
Prosecutors are working to resolve many of the lower-level cases, and most of the 50 guilty pleas are for nonviolent rioters. Meanwhile, cases are progressing against defendants who allegedly attacked police or are members of right-wing extremist groups, like the Proud Boys.
Some of the federal judges overseeing recent guilty pleas have wondered out loud why rioters aren’t being forced to pay more in restitution to repair $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol, and have questioned whether rioters are showing enough remorse for undermining US democracy.
Of the 50 people who have pleaded guilty, only six have been sentenced so far. One of those rioters received a prison sentence, two others were sentenced to time already served because they have been in jail while their case progressed. More sentencings are slated for this fall, but there are hundreds of other Capitol riot cases still in the early stages of court proceedings.
Hundreds of the rioters are charged with felonies, and new cases have been unveiled almost every day in the eight months since January 6. But even with that progress, the FBI is still trying to hunt down hundreds of rioters listed on its “Most Wanted” website and has still not identified the person caught on video leaving two pipe bombs on Capitol Hill.
Prosecutors have expanded conspiracy cases against far-right extremist groups that they allege coordinated and planned to disrupt Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory on January 6. The Justice Department has secured cooperation deals with some of the alleged conspirators, and prosecutors are now beginning to use that information to paint a clearer picture of how these groups planned to travel cross-country — some with weapons — to participate in the event.
Prosecutors have called this investigation “one the largest in American history.” And there are more than 15,000 hours of footage from the siege, including surveillance tapes and police body-worn cameras. So far, the Justice Department has said it has made about 2,300 hours of the tapes available to defendants — the equivalent of watching video for almost 100 days straight.
Sorting through this mountain of evidence and allocating relevant pieces to each case is a gargantuan task that has led to delays in some cases. This has become a frustrating setback for some of the few dozen defense attorneys with clients who were ordered to stay in jail pre-trial.
Truth versus lies
The milestone number of guilty pleas and charges comes as the House Select Committee is ramping up its effort to investigate January 6. The Democratic-run committee was formed after Senate Republicans blocked the formation of an independent, bipartisan commission.
Hoping to examine communications between lawmakers and individuals involved with the many rallies that were precursors to the insurrection, the House committee has requested that a group of social media and telecommunication companies preserve the phone records of some GOP members of Congress, Trump and members of his family.
It is unclear how this will affect the Capitol rioters’ cases. The FBI is also assessing some communications between members of Congress and the rioters, but a US official briefed on the matter told CNN in March these communications would not necessarily indicate any wrongdoing and investigators are not targeting lawmakers just yet.
Meanwhile, some Republican officials and media figures have touted insurrectionists as “tourists,” claimed rioters were framed, and continued to push the same election lies that drove some of the rioters to the Capitol in January. A political rally in support of defendants still in jail, which supporters are referring to as “political prisoners,” is planned in Washington for September 18.
Pushing the same false narrative that they are the victims of this incident, some rioters have raised more than $2 million over the Internet to pay for legal fees, according to a CNN analysis.