A federal judge this week blasted a top Justice Department official for publicly bragging about the agency’s sprawling investigation into the January 6 Capitol melee. In an emergency hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta warned government prosecutors to keep quiet or face a gag order.
Mehta fumed over comments made in a television interview by former acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin—he led the first two months of the nationwide manhunt for suspected “insurrectionists”—that could imperil the already shaky case against ten alleged members of the Oath Keepers. The lawyers of the defendants facing several charges including conspiracy, attended the virtual hearing on Tuesday.
“The Justice Department needs to understand that these types of public statements can jeopardize the integrity of a criminal case and affect the rights of the defendants,” Mehta said. (Sherwin reportedly is under internal investigation himself for giving the “60 Minutes” interview last week.) “No matter how much press attention this matter gets, it will be clear these defendants are entitled to a fair trial. The government, quite frankly in my view, should know better.”
The Obama-appointed judge, with those few sentences, said more to defend the rights of Trump-supporting protesters than the totality of Republican leadership in Washington, D.C.. Top Biden officials are accelerating the weaponization of powerful federal agencies against regular Americans who dared, not just to vote for Donald Trump, but also to doubt the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. The Justice Department’s Capitol breach probe, its official name, gives cover to inflict severe punishment for those verboten acts and beliefs.
The same cabal that wielded its authority against the former president and his associates for more than four years has aimed its arsenal at hundreds of Trump supporters—yet the GOP remains silent.
Crickets from Congressional Republicans
Early on, Republicans joined Democrats in overhyping the events of January 6. “This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) preached in a statement released that evening. “They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed. They failed to attempt to obstruct the Congress.”
Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), in a typically dramatic speech the next day, claimed the Capitol “has been desecrated. Blood has been spilled in the hallways.” (He also warned we should not tell our children that American institutions “can’t be trusted,” despite all evidence to the contrary.)
Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) insisted “those who made this attack on our government need to be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Well, Graham got his wish. And then some.
A handful of protestors, some who showed up with the sole intent of causing trouble, undoubtedly committed crimes including vandalism, assault on police officers, and theft of private and government property. Lawmakers were forced into hiding for fear of being attacked. Entering someone’s office uninvited, even in a government building, is a no-no. Those people face severe penalties, and should.
But many Americans—more than 300 have been arrested so far with promises of more to come—face spurious accusations that are destroying their lives.
Take, for example, the case of Jessica Watkins. The Ohio bar owner was arrested January 18 and initially charged with three counts related to her involvement in the Capitol breach.
She is one of the nearly 100 Americans that Michael Sherwin’s office detained prior to Inauguration Day in a display of what he called “shock and awe” to deter people from protesting Biden’s swearing-in ceremony on January 20. “It worked because we saw through media posts that people were afraid to come back to D.C. because…if we go there, we’re gonna get charged,” Sherwin boasted in his “60 Minutes” interview.
Watkins, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, has been behind bars ever since. As a member of the Oath Keepers, Watkins is one of ten people accused of concocting a “conspiracy” to halt the certification of the Electoral College, a task completed about 13 hours after the siege began on January 6. As I reported here, no Oath Keeper has been charged with a violent crime; none of them is charged with assaulting an officer or vandalizing the building or destroying property.
Watkins’ life, however, is ruined. Federal prosecutors are fighting her request to be released from jail pending trial, and Judge Mehta just granted a 60-day continuance based on the “complexity” of the investigation. (Mehta, despite his judicious comments this week, is no hero in his handling of most Capitol breach cases.)
In a filing this week, prosecutors warned Watkins poses a danger to society since she allegedly holds “extremist and violent views regarding how to address what she believed to be a fraudulent election.”
Further, the government argued, Watkins also is a threat because the government successfully destroyed her business and her way of life, which prosecutors mocked. “[T]he dangerous nature and circumstances of the offense itself…remain acute concerns in a new world without her cherished firearms, her professional livelihood (the Jolly Roger bar), her personal hobby (leader of the Ohio Regulars militia), and that is now governed by a regime that she actually used violence against in order to preserve something as fundamental as her way of life.”
So, to summarize: The most powerful law enforcement agency in the world rounded up nonviolent veterans to intimidate other Americans planning to protest Joe Biden’s inauguration then held those Americans in jail for months, subsequently destroying their lives then used the fact the federal government destroyed these people’s lives as evidence they are a threat to society. Oh, and delayed the trial due to case overload the government itself created.
Death of a Party Summarized
But where is the outrage from Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C.? Due process has been tossed; the disparity between how January 6 defendants are treated versus the treatment of “peaceful protestors” last summer is on full display. (The same U.S. attorney’s office now prosecuting Capitol breach defendants dropped nearly all felony rioting charges after the George Floyd protests over the summer.)
Trump-supporting Americans, including a teenager, have been denied bail partially based on their beliefs that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate. Dozens have been transported to D.C. jail to await trial in a hyper-partisan judicial system that views them with utter contempt. Veterans, gun owners, and homeschoolers are openly derided in court.
Nearly 130 Americans face a flimsy charge of “obstruction of an official proceeding” for attempting to delay Congress’ certification of the Electoral College—an act, by the way, attempted by members of Congress themselves in 2016—which seeks to criminalize political protest and sets a dangerous precedent. The obstruction charge, despite its vague legal definition, is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Weapons such as bear spray or riot shields, which are not legally considered “deadly or dangerous” when used by antifa, suddenly fit that category for January 6 protestors even if they never used them. Misdemeanors such as trespassing or disorderly conduct will be used to build sedition cases against American citizens. Meanwhile, lies about the way a Capitol police officer died and the narrative of an “armed insurrection” remain ingrained in the public record.
The Justice Department’s prosecutions, even as some cases fall apart, are fueling similar actions by other powerful agencies. The Director of National Intelligence described Capitol protestors as “domestic violent extremists” and the Homeland Security department is considering a “no fly list” for anyone involved in the January 6 “attack.”
These Stasi-like tactics should not be permitted in America.But Republicans are endorsing this with their confirmation of both Attorney General Merrick Garland and his number two, Lisa Monaco.
The U.S. government now holds political prisoners in jail in the nation’s capital, and the party that purports to stand for freedom, liberty, and rule of law refuses to defend them.
It’s not just a sign of a cowardly, weak party—it’s the sign of a dead one.