Top Justice Department officials on Tuesday vowed to bring sedition and conspiracy charges against the Capitol rioters, potentially sending them to federal prison for 20 years.
While they announced the aggressive prosecutions, FBI officials also countered reports that agents failed to act swiftly the day before the attack when they discovered Internet posts plotting a “war” on Congress.
FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono said the threat was vague and could not be tied to a specific person or group. But the FBI notified other agencies within 40 minutes of learning about the threat.
“We deal with specifics and facts,” he said. “We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the internet are just practicing keyboard bravado.”
That explanation wasn’t good enough for lawmakers outraged that more wasn’t done with the early intel, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
“This is a moment when our entire national security and law enforcement apparatus must be working in complete lockstep,” the Democratic leaders of seven House committees said in a statement. “This was not a peaceful protest that got out of hand. This was an attempted coup to derail our Constitutional process and intimidate our duly elected leaders through violence.”
While the Justice Department was in the uncomfortable position of defending itself, investigators pounced on an Illinois man they say threatened President-elect Joseph R. Biden.
But officials and lawmakers concede there are still “grave concerns” about additional threats.
To clamp down on potential threats, Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. Attorney for Washington, said prosecutors are pursuing the harshest charges possible against some in the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol.
Prosecutors are pursuing sedition and conspiracy charges “related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol.”
Sedition is defined as two more people conspiring to “overthrow, put down, or destroy” the government. It can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The Justice Department already opened 70 cases and the number of individuals charged is expected to grow into the hundreds in the coming weeks.
The FBI is investigating more than 170 people related to the riot, according to Mr. Sherwin.
Prosecutors are looking at charges ranging from simple trespass, theft of mail and theft of digital devices from the Capitol to assault on police, theft of national security information and felony murder.
“The range of criminal conduct is really unmatched in any type of scenario that we’ve seen,” Mr. Sherwin said, adding that the number of potential charges was “mind-blowing.”
Among those charged was Lonnie Coffman, 70, of Arkansas.
Prosecutors say Mr. Coffman had guns, 11 Molotov cocktails and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his truck parked just blocks from the Capitol on the day of the deadly siege.
Among the evidence unsealed against Mr. Coffman on Tuesday were copies of “good guys” and “bad guys” lists he kept in his pickup truck.
The “bad guys” list named Rep. Andre Carson, Indiana Democrat and a Muslim, and an unspecified federal judge appointed by President Obama, according to court documents.
Authorities also arrested a suburban Chicago man who they claim threatened to kill any Democrat who stepped on the White House lawn during Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
Louis Capriotti, 45, of Chicago Heights, Illinois, was charged with transmitting a threat in interstate commerce. He was arrested at his home, officials said.
A federal criminal complaint alleges that Mr. Capriotti left a threatening message for an unidentified member of Congress from New Jersey on Dec. 29.
“If certain individuals “think that Joe Biden is going to put his hand on the Bible and walk into that [expletive] White House on January 20th, they’re sadly [expletive] mistaken.” Mr. Capriotti said, according to prosecutors. “We will surround the [expletive] White House and we will kill any [expletive] Democrat that steps on the [expletive] lawn.”
The effort to take out potential threats ahead of the inauguration comes as authorities warn of possible violence in the days ahead.
Capitol security officials Tuesday warned lawmakers that thousands of pro-Trump extremists are planning to storm the Capitol ahead of Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
Lawmakers were reportedly told of four specific threats against the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court in a phone call, two members of Congress said.
“We have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat. “It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violence extremists in the days ahead.”
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