Jan 15, 2021

DOJ Update on Capitol Attackers January 15: Transcript

DOJ discusses criminal charges against Capitol attackers
RevBlogTranscriptsPolitical TranscriptsDOJ Update on Capitol Attackers January 15: Transcript

The Department of Justice held a briefing, updating the public & media on the criminal charges for those who rioted & entered the US Capitol building. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.

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Speaker 1: (00:14)
(silence) Hello?. The call will begin shortly. Please continue to hold. And the US DRJ call will begin shortly. Please continue to hold. Thank you. ( silence)

Speaker 1: (10:16)
[inaudible 00:10:16] Thank you for holding for the US Department of Justice call. We’ll be started the call in just a couple of minutes. We appreciate your patience, and please continue to hold for the US Department of Justice conference call. We’ll be starting in just a couple of minutes. Thank you. (silence)

Speaker 2: (11:00)
Good day and welcome to the Department of Justice media call. All participants will be in listen-only mode. Should you need assistance, please signal a conference specialist by pressing the star key followed by zero. After today’s presentation, there will be an opportunity to ask questions. You may join the Q&A line during this presentation by pressing star and one on your touch-tone phone. To withdraw your question, please press star then two. Please note, this event is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to Mark [Ramone 00:00:12:24]. Please go ahead.

Mark Ramone: (12:27)
Thank you. And thank you all for joining us. We’re a few minutes late because we wanted to wait until the Mayor of DC was able to finish her press conference, because I think theirs went a little late. We have three speakers today that will give brief remarks and then we have time for a few questions, and then we’ll let these guys that are leading the investigation and prosecutions get back to work. The first that is going to speak is the acting US Attorney for the District of Washington, Michael Sherwin. He’s going to be followed by the FBI Assistant Director in charge of the Washington field office, Steven D’Antuono.

Mark Ramone: (13:04)
And then we have an individual, Ashan Benedict, who is the Special Agent in charge of the ATF Office here in Washington. Again, he hasn’t been on one of these calls previously. It’s Ashan, A-S-H-A-N, Benedict, B-E-N-E-D-I-C-T. Without further ado, I’m going to turn it over to Michael Sherwin, but I would ask that if you do think you’re going to ask a question, start queuing up now. I believe it’s star one to queue up, so we can get right into the Q&A phase, and then let these guys get back to their day job. Thank you. Go ahead.

Michael Sherwin: (13:41)
Okay. So, hello everyone. It’s Mike Sherwin here. So, a quick update with where we’re at in terms of prosecution and the investigation, then I’ll turn it over to my colleagues here with the Bureau and ATF. So, as of this morning, 8:00 AM, we have currently 175 open investigations [crosstalk 00:13:58] that are subjects that we’re currently looking at related to the violence in the Capitol. That would include cases of violence outside the Capitol, and also on the Capitol grounds, and also inside the Capitol.

Michael Sherwin: (14:11)
As related to those 275 open investigations, we anticipate that that’s going to grow easily past 300 probably by the end of the day, and then exponentially increase into the weekend and next week. So again, as of 8:00 AM this morning, in terms of cases, prosecutions, we’ve opened 98 criminal cases in terms of criminal cases that have been filed. And the majority of those cases are federal felony cases. So, I think I tried to articulate this earlier this week that initially we were looking to fix, find and charge the low-hanging fruit, the individuals that we could easily round up and charge. A great bulk of those were misdemeanor cases.

Michael Sherwin: (14:50)
But as the investigation continues, as the days and weeks progress, we’re looking at more significant federal felony charges. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in partnership with our local and federal partners. So, some of the cases that I think I want to just highlight, that are emblematic of what we’re trying to do here are the following. In terms of trying to really focus on some of the violent offenders, both inside and outside the Capitol, some of these cases include Mr. Peter Stagger. This was the individual of Arkansas. He was charged with a federal felony and arrested yesterday in Arkansas.

Michael Sherwin: (15:23)
And this was the individual, I think that’s really the height of hypocrisy, that was beating an MPD officer with a flagpole. And at the other end of that flag pole was attached the American flag. And look, as a veteran, I found that case even more egregious, the act of just, again, the hypocrisy of Mr. Stagger’s actions. Another case focusing on violence that was … Mr. Staggers case was balanced on law enforcement, and we’re specifically focusing on that. But also, unfortunately, as this case goes on, we’re seeing indications that law enforcement officers, both former and current, maybe have been off-duty and participating in this riot activity.

Michael Sherwin: (16:05)
And I think as we said earlier, we don’t care what your profession is, who you are, who you’re affiliated with. If you were conducting or engaged in criminal activity, we will charge you and you will be arrested. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. For example, yesterday two off-duty Rocky Mountain Virginia police officers were charged federally and arrested in Virginia for their participation in the rioting at the Capitol.

Michael Sherwin: (16:32)
Another case of interest that also came up was Robert Sanford out of Pennsylvania. Again, I think this is another case, the height of hypocrisy. Mr. Sanford is a retired firefighter and he was charged with a federal felony with attacking MPD officers. He actually threw a fire extinguisher at them and hit one in the head. Now, there’s some confusion. This is unrelated to the death of the CP officer that perished, that died, unfortunately, during these riots. But again, this is just another indication of our aggressiveness to try to find and charge immediately the most egregious actors.

Michael Sherwin: (17:09)
A final note here before I turn it over to my colleagues. We believe, and we’re hopeful, and we believe that these cases are having impact. Over the past few days we’ve had several people, given the way we’re charging these cases and what we’re charging them with, these federal felonies, have self-reported and turned themselves in with attorneys. And we encourage the public to do that. And we believe that we’ll continue as the investigation goes on. So at this point, I’m going to turn over the discussion to my colleagues at the FBI.

Mark Ramone: (17:42)
Okay. This is Mark Ramone again. I apologize for not mentioning this at the beginning of the call, but the attribution is, this is on the record. It can be recorded for use by the broadcast. You can live tweet, stream, whatever you want to do with this audio. We apologize that we did not have a video feed for this one. Our press conference room is now a security operation center at DOJ, so we’re on audio-only. Go ahead, Steven.

Steven D’Antuono: (18:14)
Thanks, Mark. So again, this is Steven D’Antuono. I’m the Assistant Director in charge of the Washington field office for the FBI. We are here to provide an update on our progress in the investigation of last week’s siege of the Capitol. I want to assure you that an enormous amount of work has been done in the past nine days. We are making progress on all fronts. The pipe bomb case, the rioting and violence investigation and the death of the US Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick.

Steven D’Antuono: (18:44)
This is a large puzzle with so many pieces. We are working diligently to put those pieces together. We continue to work closely with our partners in the DC US Attorney’s office, as well as with other law enforcement partners here and across the country. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank them for their partnership and collaboration and tracking down, arresting and charging those responsible for the Capitol riots. FBI personnel continue to work day and night gathering evidence, sharing intelligence, working with federal prosecutors to bring charges.

Steven D’Antuono: (19:20)
To date, we’ve identified more than 270 suspects involved in criminal activity in and around the Capitol. The FBI has arrested more than 40 subjects and with the help of our partners around the country, more than 100 individuals have been taken into custody. We are methodically following all the leads to identify those responsible and hold them accountable. The American people have played a critical role in assisting us with these efforts. On behalf of the FBI and our law enforcement partners, I want to thank the American people for your incredible outpouring of tips to help us bring these perpetrators to justice. We are continuing to review them all and we ask that you keep them coming.

Steven D’Antuono: (20:08)
In the past week alone, we’ve received nearly 140,000 photos and videos from the public. 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. As a matter of fact, even your friends and family are tipping us off. So, you might want to consider turning yourself in, instead of wondering when we’re going to come knocking on your door, because we will. If you have tips, no matter how small, please contact 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit photos and videos to fbi.gov/uscapitol. That’s Capitol with an O. Your tips are helping us investigate people on a variety of federal charges. Today, I want to focus on a particular egregious charge, assault on a law enforcement officer. Law enforcement officers risk their lives each and every day to protect the rights of the American people. Investigating violent assault on these offices is a priority for the FBI and our partners. You attack one of us, you attack us all. And as acting US Attorney, Mike Sherwin just stated, we arrested several first subjects on these charges. One was Peter Stagger, as he mentioned, of Arkansas, who was captured on video using an American flag, the symbol of our democracy, to repeatedly strike down a DC metropolitan police officer, who was dragged down the Capitol steps and forced into a prone position by a large group of rioters. Also, like Mike said was arrested, Robert Sanford, a retired Pennsylvania firefighter who is alleged to have struck three officers with a fire extinguisher. And these are just two-

Steven D’Antuono: (22:03)
… with a fire extinguisher. And these are just two examples of this brutal assault on law enforcement this week. we are working with the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Capitol Police to identify and investigate all of these and other violent attacks on those who are doing their duty to protect the very symbol of our democracy, the U.S. Capitol. The tips we have received from the public have been critical in furthering these investigations. You can see photos of additional suspects of assault on a law enforcement officer, and help us find them by viewing our seeking information posters at www.fbi.gov.

Steven D’Antuono: (22:39)
This is an unprecedented incident. If this investigation was a football game, we’d still be in the first quarter. So let this be a reminder. The full force of the FBI is investigating the heinous acts we saw last week, and we will leave no stone unturned until we locate and apprehend anyone who participated in the violence. Thank you.

Speaker 3: (23:02)
All right. Now speaking as Ashan Benedict from the ATF, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Washington, DC field office, where he is the special agent in charge.

Ashan Benedict: (23:14)
Good afternoon, everybody. So ATF’s been sitting on the Inaugural Committee for months now, and we routinely support every inauguration in Washington, DC, working with Capitol Police, Secret Service, FBI, and MPD to coordinate. Just to back up to January 6, ATF responded to the explosive devices on that day, working with Capitol Police and FBI to secure that scene. As that was unfolding, we ended up supporting the U.S. Capitol Police, our brothers and sisters in uniform, during the day of the riots there. We are jointly investigating the pipe bombs and the Molotov cocktails with the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police, and that investigation is currently ongoing. Following up on the events of January 6 and the overall planning with the inauguration, we have special agents, explosive specialists, bomb technicians, K-9 units, and our Special Response Team, all assigned and deployed in and around Washington DC, working with Secret Service, Capitol Police, and our MPD partners moving forward. Firearms. I ask anybody who’s coming in the district to be very cognizant of the laws of the district regarding firearms. Anybody who violates federal law as it pertains to firearms possession, or firearms trafficking, or the use of firearms, they will be investigated by the ATF, and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. So please, folks, be mindful of the laws on the books and act smartly.

Ashan Benedict: (24:50)
We’re asking for the public’s assistance to provide information on illegal possession of firearms and explosives related to this event, any other events, or in the regular course of business. They can contact any one of the ATF field offices around the country, or call ATF at 888-ATF-BOMB. They can also report anonymously through an ATF app called Report It. Finally, I hope this coming week is safe, and lawful, and free of these challenges that we’ve faced on the 6th. And we stand ready to protect the nation’s capital, and work with our partners to ensure the transition and tradition of a peaceful transition of power here in Washington, DC. Thank you.

Speaker 3: (25:34)
All right. Thank you all, for those brief remarks. And operator, we’ll open it up now for questions, please. Again, queue up, star one.

Operator: (25:45)
We will now begin the question and answer session. If you do have a question, please press star then one on your touch tone phone. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the keys. Please note that you will be limited to one question today. Our first question will come from Alex Malin with ABC News.

Alex Malin: (26:07)
Hi there. I’m just wondering if you can confirm that there are currently 37 suspects that are being looked at into the investigation of officer Brian Sicknick’s death. And separately from that, several lawmakers in the past couple of days have come forward and raised concerns about their colleagues, fellow lawmakers, potentially other people in the Congress, staffers, being involved in potentially assisting some of the rioters that we saw. Has that become a part of this investigation yet?

Steve D’Antuono: (26:38)
So I’ll address your first question first, obviously. The Officer Sicknick case is an ongoing investigation, and we are looking at everything and anyone that is involved in that matter. And then as for your… Oh, sorry, this is Steve D’Antuono, the ADIC of FBI, the [inaudible 00:26:59] WFO. And then the second part, the second question, is the women and men of the FBI, we’ll leave no stone unturned. We are looking at every piece of this puzzle. It’s a very large puzzle, as you can imagine. And we’re taking every piece that we possibly can and finding every piece to put that puzzle together, to give us a true picture of what happened on that day, on the 6th, before the 6th, and after the 6th.

Speaker 3: (27:32)
Next question, please.

Operator: (27:38)
Our next question comes from Kevin Johnson with USA Today.

Kevin Johnson: (27:43)
Hi, good afternoon. In an earlier filing, I believe late yesterday, y’all indicated that there was strong evidence that lawmakers were targeted for capture or for assassination. Can you talk a little bit about whether that applies beyond the case of Mr. Chansley?

Mike Sherwin: (28:09)
Sure, I’ll address that. This is Mike Sherwin, the U.S. Attorney here in DC. So, first of all, I want to say, start off the bat by saying there is no direct evidence at this point of kill-capture teams and assassination, but let me add to that. Look, as we tried to describe here, the cases are all being charged here in DC, and with our law enforcement partners. And what makes this case in particular unprecedented and unusual and extremely complex is the fact that after the event, obviously thousands of people went back to their home districts. And that has complicated things, obviously, because we’ve had to locate them with our law enforcement partners. After they’re charged, we need to work with other districts to not only find these people, but have initial appearances in districts across the United States. There were appearances in two districts, I believe you’re making reference to, I believe Texas and Arizona.

Mike Sherwin: (29:03)
And at some of those hearings, there were other prosecutors that may be a disconnect, that may be adding information that’s not directly related to what we have. So I want to just reiterate what I have already stated. And on that basis yes, in terms of complex cases, looking for these organized groups, I think I’ve stated this before, we have specialized prosecutors here working with specialized counterterrorism investigators, looking at these type of organization for these most egregious acts. But right now, again, we don’t have any direct evidence of kill-capture teams.

Speaker 3: (29:43)
Thank you. Next question, please.

Operator: (29:47)
Our next question comes from Katie Benner with The New York Times.

Katie Benner: (29:52)
Hi, thanks so much. This is a question for either the U.S. Attorney or the ADIC. We’ve seen images of people wearing clothing that seemed to identify them as members of groups, like the Proud Boys or other militia groups. We’ve seen neo-Nazi garb. Can you say which extremist groups you’ve been able to identify at the Capitol so far, and can you characterize the impact that those extremist groups have had on the investigation? Could you characterize the impact they’ve had by being in the mix at the rally that day and as part of the attack? And have you seen any coordination within these groups to come to DC in a coordinated way to disrupt Congress last week?

Mike Sherwin: (30:30)
So Katie I’ll start that question and then I’ll turn it over to my colleagues here at the Bureau. So look, you’re right. If you look at social media, you could see a lot of affiliation with some of the protest activity, some of the rioting activity, and it runs the whole gamut of different groups from soup to nuts, A to Z. But right now, look, we’re not going to label anything because everything’s on the table in terms of the extremist groups. But look, I think the evidence speaks for itself. These guys have labeled themselves. I mean Mr. Kevin Seefried labeled himself when he was walking through the Capitol with the Stars and Bars, and Mr. Robert Packer labeled himself when he was with the Camp Auschwitz shirt in the Capitol. So we’re not going to try to label these people. We’ll let them label themselves with the evidence. But all of these extremist groups are being looked at in terms of their participation at the Capitol.

Speaker 3: (31:20)
Steve, do you have anything to add?

Steve D’Antuono: (31:22)
Yeah. So I would just add the fact that we’re looking at this as a riot case. We’re looking at everything we can, and we’re focusing on people who broke the law. I just can’t stress enough of a wide broad scope that this investigation has.

Speaker 3: (31:41)
Thank you. Next question.

Operator: (31:44)
Our next question comes from Catherine Herridge with CBS News.

Catherine Herridge: (31:49)
Thanks for taking my questions. My first question is for Mr. Sherwin. We’re 10 days into this. What does the evidence tell us about premeditation? And secondly, for Mr. Benedict, did the pipe bombs at the RNC and the DNC fail to explode? Thank you.

Mike Sherwin: (32:09)
Okay. So to try address that, Catherine. So look, initially, the initial tranche of arrests are all very reactive-type cases where we had violence on police officers, destruction of property within the Capitol and trespassing and violence outside the Capitol grounds. Those were the initial reactive, quick hit cases. Trying to reiterate again, look, there are breadcrumbs of organization in terms of maybe what was taking place outside of the Capitol and inside, with perhaps some type of communication with core groups of people ingressing into the Capitol, and some coordinated activity of individuals within the Capitol. And that is a tier one top priority for both the U.S. Attorney’s office and our federal law enforcement partners to see, again, whether there was this overarching command and control, and whether there were these organized-

Mike Sherwin: (33:03)
There was this overarching command and control. And whether there were these organized teams that were organized to breach the Capitol, and then perhaps try to accomplish some type of a mission inside the Capitol. But that is ongoing. And again, I think this is going to take weeks, if not months, to find out the actual motivations of some of those groups.

Mike Sherwin: (33:21)
Sean?

Sean Benedict: (33:23)
Excuse me, Sean Benedict. Answering your question, I can confirm that devices did not explode by the Capitol on that day. They were rendered safe by law enforcement, and we mitigated the risk to the public. And the components are currently being analyzed.

Speaker 4: (33:41)
Okay. Next question, please.

Speaker 5: (33:44)
Our next question comes from Sarah Lynch with Reuters.

Sarah Lynch: (33:49)
Yeah, hi, I was hoping you could provide a little bit more update about what you might be looking at with regard to public employees and government employees that might’ve have been involved. As some of these cases have come out, there’s been more information about strange things happening with Capitol police, where one person gave someone a hug and said, “It’s your house now,” and let the person in. I also was wondering, there’s been some talk and chatter online about whether any congressional members may have played a role. And I was wondering if you can say whether you are looking to see if any lawmakers may have aided and abetted the rioters getting into the building. Thanks.

Steve Antionno: (34:32)
This is Steve [Antionno 00:34:34] of the [inaudible 00:34:35] for WFL, FBI. This is a large puzzle, and we’re looking at every piece of the puzzle that we can possibly put on the table to put the picture together. And the men and women of the FBI are not leaving any stone unturned.

Mike Sherwin: (34:53)
And I’m sorry, this is Mike Sherwin. I just want to add to what Steve was saying. And I apologize, at the beginning I think I may have misspoke. As of 8:00 AM this morning, we have 98 current cases in which we have charged, the majority of those are federal felony cases. And as, again, of 9:00 AM this morning, we have 275 open subject files, which we think will be well over 300 by the end of the day. Thank you.

Speaker 4: (35:20)
Next question, please.

Speaker 5: (35:22)
Our next question will come from Patricia Milton with CBS News.

Patricia Milton: (35:28)
Yes, for Mr. Sherwin. Of those arrested, are there any cooperation being given where they’re providing a fuller picture for you and more evidence?

Mike Sherwin: (35:42)
In short sum? Yes. Again, I think the quick efforts of law enforcement and our prosecutors to charge and quickly arrest a great number of these rioters has had a significant impact. We have had several people, based upon people that have already been charged, that have, on their own, self-reported. In some instances with defense attorneys, to not only turn themselves in, but to provide information about others. Which is extremely beneficial and makes our cases move much more quickly. And it helps provide intelligence to the FBI and other partners so we could charge additional people.

Mike Sherwin: (36:21)
So yes, people are coming forward. Now, look, looking into the nuts and bolts, we’re not cutting deals with anyone. Even if people are self- reporting, they will be held accountable. But obviously we encourage those people to self-report because they could usually, at the end of the day, perhaps get some benefit that other people do not, if they do not cooperate with law enforcement.

Mike Sherwin: (36:45)
So again, reiterating what the FBI and ATF said, there are hotlines out there. If you know someone involved, or if you are involved, it behooves you to turn yourselves in for a variety of reasons.

Speaker 4: (37:02)
All right, thanks. Operator, we’ll take one more question, please.

Speaker 5: (37:02)
Our next question will come from Sadie Gurman with Wall Street Journal.

Sadie Gurman: (37:08)
Hi there. Hoping that you can clarify whether you’ve been able to definitively determine how Officer Sicknick died. And secondly, there’s been a lot of chatter and a lot of memos and bulletins sent out about the general landscape of threat possibilities ahead of the inauguration. But I’m wondering if you can kind of describe what you’re seeing, and whether you’re seeing any evidence of specific, credible threats to come in the next few days.

Steve Antionno: (37:39)
The Officer Sicknick case is an ongoing investigation, and we’re still pursuing all leads and avenues on that.

Speaker 4: (37:47)
All right, thank you everybody. If you have any other questions, you can email me or any of the DOJ or FBI press teams, and we’ll try to get back to you again [inaudible 00:04:57]. Thank you all for joining and we’ll talk to you next time. Operator, that’s it.

Speaker 5: (38:05)
The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today’s presentation. You may now disconnect.