Capitol assault investigations edge ever closer to Trump
By Marc Arcas
Washington, Jan 2 (EFE).- The quest to bring those responsible for the violent assault on the United States Capitol to justice has culminated in hundreds of lines of inquiry, some of which have pierced Donald Trump’s inner circle as the anniversary of the insurrection nears.
The investigation into the Capitol breach on January 6, 2021, is two-pronged.
Those directly involved in the assault have found themselves at the sharp end of the law, facing charges in the courts ranging from trespass and vandalism to acts of violence.
This process runs in tangent with the work of a select committee in Congress, which is investigating political instigators of pro-Trump riot and whose net has been cast over figures close to the former president.
As of today, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has filed charges of varying magnitude against more than 700 people from across the country.
“It varies a great deal depending on what they did,” Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University, told Efe. “It can range from trespass, entering the Capitol without permission, which is a very minor charge, to physical violence, which can carry many years in prison.”
“Especially one on a Capitol police officer would carry the longest charge,” he added.
The heaviest sentence handed down in relation to the Capitol breach so far was for exactly that crime. Robert S Palmer, a participant of the Stop the Steal riot, pleaded guilty to hurling a fire extinguisher at a police officer and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.
Although arrests have been made across the US, from Washington D.C. to Alaska and even Hawaii, all charges are handled by the District of Columbia, which has jurisdiction over the matter unless the accused pleads guilty, in which case a sentence can be served in their home state.
This is not often the case. Of the 700 accused so far, only 150 have agreed to enter a guilty plea, according to the Department of Justice.
One of those who made a deal with the prosecution was Jake Angeli, the self-declared QAnon Shaman who became a well-known figure of the rioting, which he attended wearing a bison hat.
Angeli, born Jacob Chansley, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for knowingly entering restricted grounds without legal authorities and disorderly conduct.
While the FBI and the courts have taken on the nationwide search for those directly involved in the Capitol breach, the House of Representatives, currently in the hands of the Democratic Party, is spearheading a political investigation into the events of January 6 and the days leading up to it.
The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack comprises nine members but only two hail from the Republican Party. Indeed the committee’s future is uncertain and could depend on whether the Democrats manage to hold the House in the midterm elections in November this year.
Unlike the courts, the committee does not have the power to seek legal recourse against the rioters. Its investigation is merely informative.
However, should someone who is called on to testify refuse to do so, they can be found in breach of Congress, which can lead to charges from the Department of Justice.
This has been the case with three figures closely linked to Trump — former presidential advisor Steve Bannon, ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Jeffrey Clark.
Guilty convictions in their cases could lead to several months or a year in prison.
“It’s worth noting that for these people who are mostly highly educated professionals, in many cases lawyers, even a relatively short criminal sentence would be enormously damaging to their careers,” Ilya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University, told Efe.