Proud Boys Case Delayed, Revealing Tensions Between Jan. 6 Inquiries
For the past year or so, the Justice Department and the House Selection Committee of January 6 have largely managed to avoid interfering with each other, even as they both drive hard and fast over the same terrain in search of the facts about the mafia. attack on the Capitol last year and what led to it.
But in recent days, parallel investigations have collided, in sign of mounting tension, as lawyers and prosecutors in one of the most prominent criminal cases – the Proud Boys sedition case – reached a rare point of agreement: that the commission’s efforts are causing headaches in the normal course of an orderly prosecution.
During a hearing on Wednesday in the Federal District Court in Washington, the two warring sides joined forces by asking a judge to put some breathing space between the case and the work of the commission, and the selection process that was set to begin in August. to set.
Judge Timothy J. Kelly eventually granted the request and said the Proud Boys trial will now begin in December. As part of his ruling, Judge Kelly pointed to the committee’s role in the delay.
“Every party before me believes that the trial should continue because of the activities of the Jan. 6 committee,” Judge Kelly said. He pointed out that while one of the Proud Boys defendants – Enrique Tarrio, the group’s former leader – opposed the delay, bringing down the trial was “the first thing all parties to this case agreed on”.
It was perhaps inevitable that tensions would arise between the two investigations being conducted simultaneously, along similar lines of inquiry, by separate branches of government.
The Justice Department has been arguing with the commission in recent weeks over access to transcripts of interviews conducted by the House panel, with the commission saying it can share some material with federal prosecutors next month, while withholding other material until it is released. examination in September.
But the Proud Boys case is the first of more than 820 criminal cases linked to the Capitol bombing, in which the conflicting interests of the House Committee and the Justice Department have turned into a legal matter.
From the start, the two investigations had different goals and were guided by different rules.
According to the panel’s own statement, the commission’s investigation was designed to explore as fully as possible the roots of the violence at the Capitol, and it ultimately aims to propose legislation to prevent something similar from happening again. The investigators have been given relatively free rein to subpoena documents and witnesses, although dozens of people — especially those close to former President Donald J. Trump — have refused to comply with the demands.
The Justice Department, on the other hand, has a narrower, but possibly more consistent, goal: to find out whether anyone involved in the Capitol attack or in Mr. Trump’s various attempts to undermine the election should be charged with federal crimes. . The researchers are bound by rules that require high standards of evidence even before they can start collecting evidence.
The problems in the Proud Boys case began this month, immediately after prosecutors filed an incendiary conspiracy against five top members of the far-right group. The charges came at a very emotional time: just three days before the House committee held its highly anticipated first public hearing.
Since the hearing focused closely on the Proud Boys’ role in the Capitol attack, lawyers for the group became outraged and promptly claimed in court hearings and documents that the Justice Department had colluded with the commission to draw attention to its findings. to increase.
“No objective observer would deny the reasonableness of the inference that the filing of the sedition charge was scheduled to coincide with the televised prime-time hearing of the select committee on the same subject,” wrote one of the attorneys for the sedition. Proud Boys.
The Proud Boys also argued that the widely-watched hearings, which have been going on throughout the month and are likely to continue into July, have irreparably affected the Washington jury — or, as one of their attorneys put it in a recent filing, the “good, well-meaning, informed, media attention citizens of the District of Columbia.”
Prosecutors have denied coordinating their charges to coincide with the commission’s public hearings and argued that potential jurors in Washington probably didn’t watch the televised events more than those in Miami or New York.
Still, another sticking point has emerged between the House committee and the Justice Department: when the panel plans to release as many as 1,000 transcripts it’s made from interviews with its witnesses.
The committee has suggested that it will make the transcripts public as early as July, having originally said they would be released in September. But both dates upset attorneys for the Proud Boys, who, ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, told Judge Kelly they were concerned about the transcripts coming out and biasing a jury close to their trial.
The attorneys also worried that new details about their clients could be in the transcripts that could further ignite a jury or harm their defense. At least two Proud Boys involved in the criminal proceedings gave interviews to the commission: Mr Tarrio, who has been charged with seditious conspiracy, and Jeremy Bertino, who is mentioned in court files but has not yet been charged.
The government was also concerned for reasons of its own about what the transcripts might contain, and last week prosecutors filed court documents in the Proud Boys case containing a letter sent by the Justice Department to the commission’s staff. .
In the two page letter, department officials accused the panel of obstructing both future criminal cases and cases already underway by refusing to share the transcripts. The officials said they were particularly concerned that by withholding the transcripts, the commission was making it more difficult for prosecutors to gauge the credibility of witnesses who may have both spoken to the panel and appeared secretly before a grand jury.