The House Judiciary Committee held a raucous hearing in the Big Apple on Monday to discuss New York City’s rising crime problem. Republicans sought to highlight the poor performance of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is refusing to prosecute various crimes as he instead pursues a criminal case against Donald Trump, and leaving a tide of victims in his wake.
It’s fine, and perhaps politically shrewd, for the GOP to shine a light on crime-enabling local prosecutors jeopardizing the safety of their cities in exchange for partisan witch-hunts. But for the next hearing, congressional Republicans need only walk a few blocks from their House offices to the office of Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
Graves, the Biden campaign advisor who was appointed in 2021 to head what is arguably the most powerful U.S. Attorney’s office in the country, is accelerating the selective prosecution of Trump supporters for any involvement in the events of January 6 while at the same time declining to prosecute dangerous criminals in Washington, D.C. as the city descends into violent chaos. And unlike with Bragg, oversight of Graves is directly under the purview of Congress.
Graves is in the unique position of prosecuting both local and federal cases in the nation’s capital. Officials bragged in the Justice Department’s 2023 budget plan that Graves’ office “has undertaken an extraordinary effort to hold accountable those who engaged in criminal acts [on January 6] and is committed to using every appropriate tool to punish those criminal acts.” Congress subsequently approved a $34 million budget increase so Graves can hire at least 80 more attorneys solely for the purpose of prosecuting Trump supporters who protested Joe Biden’s election nearly 28 months ago.
More than 1,000 individuals have been arrested and charged so far for their participation in January 6; the overwhelming majority face nonviolent felonies such as obstruction or low level misdemeanors including “parading” in the Capitol. But Graves is far from finished. He recently warned the D.C. courts and public defender’s office to prepare for another 1,000 defendants, prompting one senior judge to announce his retirement rather than spend the next several years handling January 6 cases.
Graves’ politicized standard of justice is expressed in any number of ways. Perhaps his most cruel and unconstitutional act is seeking pretrial detention for dozens of January 6 defendants including individuals not accused of committing any violence resulting in the holding of political prisoners in a fetid D.C. Gulag.
Graves continues to indict Trump supporters for obstruction of an official proceeding, the dubious felony now under scrutiny from federal judges who recently noted the Justice Department’s unprecedented use of the evidence-tampering statute passed in the wake of the Enron scandal two decades ago. Several defendants have been charged with “seditious conspiracy,” an offense comparable to treason and one for which no American had ever been convicted prior to January 6.
His line prosecutors routinely ask judges to deny change of venue motions amid ample proof Trump supporters cannot get a fair trial in Washington; Graves’ office has a near-perfect conviction rate before biased D.C. juries.
Once a January 6 defendant is convicted, Graves seeks excessive prison sentences as retribution including up to five years in jail on the obstruction charge.
Last week, Graves asked a judge to sentence Patrick McCaughey to 15 years in prison after he was found guilty of nine counts, including assault of a police officer—he pinned an officer in a doorway with a riot shield—and obstruction.
McCaughey, who was 21 at the time, has no criminal record but that didn’t stop Graves from wanting McCaughey to spend the rest of his young adult life behind bars. Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee who convicted McCaughey at a bench trial, sentenced McCaughey to 90 months.
Unfortunately for McCaughey, he didn’t get the Daron Cottingham treatment from Graves. Cottingham, 20, was arrested in January 2022 for two violent armed carjackings. Cottingham hit one victim in the face with his illegal gun. After Cottingham held up a Lyft driver at gunpoint, stealing his wallet and car, he led D.C. Metro police on a vehicle and helicopter chase through parts of the city. Unlike McCaughey, Cottingham already had a rap sheet.
But for all of that, Conttingham was sentenced to just 10 years in prison—with two years suspended under the “Youth Rehabilitation Act.” Lucky for Cottingham that he wasn’t wearing Trump gear at the time.
Carjacking is just one category of crime spiraling out of control in the nation’s capital. (One D.C. crime watcher reported multiple carjackings in the city over the weekend.) According to police data, crime is up 23 percent on Graves’ watch; homicides are up 30 percent. Murders in the district exceeded 200 for the past two years, a figure not seen since 2003.
At the same time, the rate of “declination”—cases that the government refuses to prosecute after an arrest is made—at Graves’ office has soared to 67 percent, double the rate in 2015. This is prompting widespread criticism from police officials and community leaders.
Graves recently told the Washington Post that several factors contribute to his charging decisions, including his fixation on the Capitol protest.
“After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, [Graves] said his office temporarily pulled about 15 prosecutors and staffers from D.C. Superior Court cases to focus on prosecuting the federal cases. Graves said all of those staffers have since returned to D.C. Superior Court side or their positions have been filled by other prosecutors.”
But Graves’ vengeful prosecution of Trump supporters, nearly all of whom live outside of Washington, is having nationwide impact. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco last year admitted the Justice Department is pulling prosecutors from other areas to handle January 6 cases that ultimately “draws—on resources that are needed to fight violent crime.”
House Republicans added the hashtag #DemocratCrimeCrisis at the end of a promotional video posted on the House Judiciary Committee’s Twitter account on Monday. If members are planning to make this a tour of sorts, the next stop should be Washington, D.C., after Graves is subpoenaed to publicly testify.
Americans deserve to know why Graves is using federal resources to ramp up a clearly political prosecution aimed at Trump supporters; Washingtonians deserve to know why Graves is surging resources to prosecute meemaws from far away states who trespassed at the Capitol more than two years ago rather than go after repeat, violent offenders in their own city. And January 6 defendants deserve a public accounting of Graves’ inhumane, ruthless, and destructive conduct in office.
What Graves is doing is as unprecedented as Bragg’s criminal indictment of a former president but with far greater consequences. He is systematically criminalizing political dissent without any pushback from those in charge including federal judges and members of Congress. House Republicans need to change that without further delay.