The former US attorney in office in the country’s capital likely violated Justice Department rules when he interviewed CBS ’60 Minutes’ about the January 6th investigation into the Capitol attack and referred to an internal office, a prosecutor, for review was said Tuesday.
The chief of the Criminal Investigation Department of the US law firm in the District of Columbia spoke up after a federal judge berated the Justice Department over the television interview, along with another recent news report, warning that further press releases could result in a gag order or sanctions.
“These kinds of statements in the media could affect the jury pool and the rights of those accused,” said US District Judge Amit Mehta during a videoconference hearing of 10 members and staff of the right-wing extremist group Oath Guardian indicted for conspiracy in the attack are.
“Let this hearing serve as an indication to the Justice Department that I will not tolerate continued media outreach that I believe will undermine these defendants’ rights to a fair trial,” the judge said.
The flap above the interview shows the Justice Department’s challenges in handling the sprawling case involving hundreds of defendants from across the country. Prosecutors at times struggled to maintain a consistent account across multiple cases and had to backtrack on some statements made in court hearings or papers because they disagreed with what leaders were willing to argue publicly.
Mehta said he was “surprised to say the least” to see Michael Sherwin, who until recently led the investigation into the January 6 riot and discussed the cases in “60 minutes”. During the interview, which aired on Sunday after Sherwin was replaced as Washington’s chief prosecutor, Sherwin suggested that some of the rioters might face seldom-used sedition charges.
“Personally, I believe the evidence tends, and probably fulfills, these elements,” Sherwin said.
Sherwin first considered the possibility of seditious conspiracy charges that could result in up to 20 years in prison in January, stating that a special group of prosecutors had been looking into whether they would turn to any of the rioters. In no case does the public prosecutor have to bring charges.
Criminal Investigation Director John Crabb said the matter had been referred “60 Minutes” to the Department of Justice’s professional responsibility bureau for investigation. Crabb said the department also plans to investigate an article in the New York Times citing anonymous sources that prosecutors had brought sedition charges against members of the Oath Guards.
“We understand and share the court’s concerns about the media exposure and disclosures that have been made,” said Crabb. “The department has already taken steps on both of them.”
So far, more than 300 people have been charged in the January 6 riot, and prosecutors have indicated that up to 100 more people will be charged. The most serious conspiracy allegations were made against members of the Oath Keepers and other extremist Proud Boys factions who, according to the authorities, have come to Washington to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
Also on Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a man identified by prosecutors as a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer and accused of storming the Capitol, on pre-trial detention.
Hale-Cusanelli, a military veteran, wore a “Hitler mustache” while serving as a security officer at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, New Jersey, where prosecutors said he had a “secret” security clearance. US District Judge Trevor McFadden concluded that Hale-Cusanelli posed a threat to the public, saying the defendant had a “well-documented” history of racist and violent rhetoric, including talk of yet another civil war.
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