Official: No ‘direct evidence’ of plot to kill at Capitol
Phoenix – Federal prosecutors said there was “strong evidence” the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week aimed to “capture and assassinate elected officials,” but the head of the investigation cautioned Friday that the probe is still in its early stages and there was no “direct evidence” of such intentions.
The accusation came in a motion prosecutors filed late Thursday in Phoenix in the case against Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man who took part in the insurrection while sporting face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns.
“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government,” prosecutors wrote in their memo urging the judge to keep Chansley behind bars.
But Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, backed away from those claims later Friday, saying they have “no direct evidence at this point of kill, capture teams.”
Sherwin said there appears to have been confusion among some prosecutors in part because of the complexity of the investigation and number of people involved. Prosecutors raised a similar prospect Thursday in the case of a former Air Force officer who they alleged carried plastic zip-tie handcuffs because he intended “to take hostages.”
The sprawling investigation involves multiple cities and jurisdictions, in part because so many of the rioters simply went home; only 13 were arrested in the moments after the building was cleared.
The FBI has been investigating whether any of the rioters had plotted to kidnap members of Congress and hold them hostage, focusing particularly on the men seen carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs and pepper spray.
The prosecutor in that case against Chansley said when he climbed up to the dais where Vice President Mike Pence had been presiding moments earlier, Chansley wrote a threatening note to Pence that said: “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
Pence and congressional leaders had been ushered out of the chamber by the Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police before the rioters stormed into the room.
Gerald Williams, Chansley’s attorney, didn’t return a phone call or respond to email Friday morning seeking comment. A detention hearing is scheduled in his case for later Friday.
Chansley, who calls himself the “QAnon Shaman” and has long been a fixture at Trump rallies, surrendered to the FBI field office in Phoenix on Saturday.
News photos show him at the riot shirtless, with his face painted and wearing a fur hat with horns, carrying a U.S. flag attached to a wooden pole topped with a spear.
QAnon is an apocalyptic and convoluted conspiracy theory spread largely through the internet and promoted by some right-wing extremists.
Chansley told investigators he came to the Capitol “at the request of the president that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021.” An indictment unsealed Tuesday in Washington charges him with civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, disorderly conduct in a restricted building, and demonstrating in a Capitol building.
More than 80 people are facing charges stemming from the violence, including more than 40 people in federal court. Dozens more were arrested for violating a curfew that night. The federal charges brought so far are primarily for crimes such as illegal entry, but prosecutors have said they are weighing more serious charges against at least some of the rioters. Some were highly-trained ex-military and police.
Sherwin said this week that he has organized a group of national security and public corruption prosecutors whose sole focus is to bring sedition charges for the “most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol.”
The Air Force officer, Col. Larry Rendall Brock, Jr., was arrested Sunday in Texas after being photographed on the Senate floor during the deadly riot wearing a helmet and heavy vest and carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs.
“He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer said, without providing specifics.
Brock’s attorney, Brook Antonio II, noted that he has only been charged with misdemeanors. Antonio said there was no direct evidence of Brock breaking doors or windows to get into the Capitol, or doing anything violent once he was inside.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report from Fort Worth, Texas.