Feds Walk Back Claim That Capitol Rioters Planned To “Capture And Assassinate” Lawmakers
Prosecutors said Thursday that they believe rioters who sieged the Capitol last week had more violent plans against lawmakers, but walked back the accusation the next day.
One day after filing court documents stating they believe they have “strong evidence” that members of the violent pro-Trump mob who attacked the U.S. Capitol had plans to “assassinate elected officials,” federal prosecutors walked back the accusation while saying they might reup the claim during a trial, according to multiple news outlets citing a Friday hearing.
In a news conference Friday, Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin appeared to cast doubt on those findings, saying that no “direct evidence” had emerged as of yet to suggest the rioters had formed “kill capture teams,” according to multiple reports.
Later that same day, Arizona federal prosecutor Todd Allison reportedly told a judge to remove the accusation that the “intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials” from Thursday’s court filing.
BuzzFeed News and CNN reported that Allison told the judge that the accusation may come up again during a trial.
In the motion initially filed Thursday night, federal prosecutors in Arizona said they had “strong evidence” that attackers had plotted deadly violence against lawmakers. The motion came in a case against Jacob Chansley, the shirtless Arizona insurrectionist who was photographed breaking into the Capitol with a horned furry hat and a spear.
The line the prosecutors reportedly want to omit reads: “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.”
The court document also stated that Chansley left a note on the Senate Chamber dais to Vice President Mike Pence that read, “it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.” Chansley has denied that this note was a threat, prosecutors said, but government officials “strongly disagree.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who was inside the Capitol and forced to shelter in place during the attack, said some of her colleagues were “nearly assassinated.”
"I can tell you that I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die,” Ocasio-Cortez said during an Instagram Live.
Widely shared photos from the January 6 attack showed multiple rioters inside the building wearing tactical gear and carrying zip ties.
The Department of Justice announced on Sunday that two of the men allegedly pictured carrying plastic restraints, Larry Brock and Eric Munchel, were arrested. Brock confirmed to the New Yorker last week that he was in the photos, but claimed that he “found” the zip ties on the floor.
Officials called Chansley “the most prominent symbol” of the violent insurrection and said he was a “self-proclaimed leader of the QAnon,” a conspiracy theorist extremist group comprised of Trump loyalists. Chansley told federal officials he drove from Arizona to Washington, D.C. with a group of people “at the request of the President that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021.”
The House has since impeached Trump for a second time, this time for “incitement of insurrection.”
The court document filed Thursday also said that during an interview with NBC News before he was arrested, Chansley considered it a “win” that members of Congress were forced to take shelter in the Capitol.
“The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win,” Chansley said, according to court documents.
Chansley has been charged with two felonies: committing an act of civil disorder that obstructed the conduct of a federally-protected function, and obstructing an official proceeding. He’s also been charged with four misdemeanors, court documents said.
The documents said Chansley told the FBI he was interested in returning to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration on January 20, and prosecutors asked the court that he be detained because he is “likely to flee.” A judge agreed, despite the removal of the “assassination” claim from the documents, saying Chansley was a flight risk.
Federal officials are investigating hundreds of people in connection to the January 6 insurrection that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Law enforcement has arrested dozens of people, including two off-duty police officers, a firefighter, and some ex-military members.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that prosecutors sought to walk back their “capture and assassinate” allegations.