A federal judge suggested that prosecutors were being far too lenient on the Capitol rioters, asking why some rioters were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanors and why the amount of money the government is looking to recover is far short of the $1.5 million in damage caused during the riot.
Not quite “hanging’s too good for ’em”–but close.
What set the judge off was the case of Glenn Croy of Colorado Springs. Croy was charged with illegally entering the Capitol on January 6. Under a deal with prosecutors, Croy was to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of parading or picketing in the Capitol. That charge carries a six-month jail sentence and up to a $5,000 fine.
Croy initially agreed with Howell that his actions on Jan. 6 were taken with what the judge called “the purpose of stopping Congress from certifying the electoral vote from the 2020 presidential election.”
But a short time later his defense attorney, Kira Anne West, added that there was no agreement with prosecutors that was Croy’s intent that day. In fact, West said, his client said he had “no intention of stopping any vote” and didn’t actually know that the Electoral College votes were scheduled to be tallied at the time the historic building was stormed.
Those claims didn’t appear to sit well with Howell.
“This is the puzzle for this petty offense charge. … It’s to parading, demonstrating or picketing. … That is typically for an end,” the judge said. “Demonstrating is typically about something. It’s parading about something.”
Indeed it is. And the judge has put her finger on why the vast majority of the 550 cases brought against Capitol rioters will be tossed. The prosecution has been royally botched.
The handling of other Jan. 6 cases by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and its superiors at the Justice Department has pointed to such a distinction. Cases where defendants posted on social media about trying to stop the vote have generally produced more serious charges, while those lacking such evidence seem to have been treated more leniently, even if the acts allegedly committed were similar.
Yet, Howell didn’t seem to be buying it, and repeatedly suggested it could be inferred that those who entered the Capitol were not just there on a lark.
The key is “intent.” If the prosecutors can prove an intent to disrupt or interfere with the election in the protesters’ actions, that should lead to felony charges and long jail sentences. The judge wants prosecutors to throw the book at any protester who entered the Capitol building — apparently, even if they can’t prove the intent was to overthrow the government.
The judge is also miffed that the prosecutor is recommending fines that total far less than the damages caused.
Howell also said she was puzzled why prosecutors are using a sum of about $1.5 million to calculate restitution in the cases, while Congress agreed last month to appropriate $521 million to the National Guard for costs incurred in providing security for the Capitol for four months after the Jan. 6 assault. Biden signed the bill on July 30.
“Would you explain the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s reason to limit restitution to a little less than $1.5 million in repairs to the building itself, when the total cost of this riot to the American taxpayers is half a billion?” the judge asked.
Can you imagine a judge asking why Black Lives Matter rioters weren’t assessed a couple of billion dollars for the damage caused by rioting and looting during last summer’s unrest?
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It’s been clear that the government has had it in for the rioters from the beginning. The convictions and guilty pleas should keep the appeals courts busy for the next 20 years or so.