After his first attempted coup d'état (the 1923 Munich Putsch), Hitler was given a firm slap on the wrist by the very pro-Nazi Bavarian government. Erich Ludendorff was declared innocent simply because he had been a "hero" of World War I. Hitler received the minimum sentence for high treason, five years’ imprisonment, of which he served about nine months in the fortress of Landsberg, where he wrote much of Mein Kampf. So far, the rioters and insurrectionists from the 1/6 Trump Putsch have gotten far less. This morning, Politico reported that Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the federal court in Washington, suggested yesterday that federal prosecutors are being too lenient in their handling of the over 500 cases of the seditionists, many of the traitors being allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. This is a very clear signal encouraging the Trumpists to try again.
Howell aired her doubts during what was expected to be a routine morning hearing to take the guilty plea of a Capitol riot defendant, Glenn Croy of Colorado Springs, Colo. Croy was arrested in February on charges that he and another man, Terry Lindsey, illegally entered the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Croy was seeking to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of parading or picketing in the Capitol. That carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
However, Howell’s comments at Croy’s hearing signaled she had broader concerns about prosecutors’ approach than just the way they handled Croy’s fairly typical case.
Croy initially agreed with Howell that his actions on Jan. 6 were taken with what the judge called “the purpose of stopping Congress from certifying the electoral vote from the 2020 presidential election.”
But a short time later his defense attorney, Kira Anne West, added that there was no agreement with prosecutors that was Croy’s intent that day. In fact, West said, his client said he had “no intention of stopping any vote” and didn’t actually know that the Electoral College votes were scheduled to be tallied at the time the historic building was stormed.
Those claims didn’t appear to sit well with Howell.
“This is the puzzle for this petty offense charge… It’s to parading, demonstrating or picketing… That is typically for an end,” the judge said. “Demonstrating is typically about something. It’s parading about something.”
Howell then grilled the prosecutor handling the case, Clayton O’Connor, about why prosecutors hadn’t insisted that Croy admit as part of the plea that he was trying to block the electoral vote.
“Why isn’t that in the statement of offense?” the judge asked.
In response, O’Connor laid bare aspects of prosecutors’ decision-making that have rarely been discussed publicly: why some defendants who went into the Capitol but aren’t accused of violence against others or damaging property are facing a felony obstruction-of-Congress charge that can carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, while others who appear to have acted similarly that day have escaped with misdemeanors.
“Largely, because of the elements which go to the obstruction charge which many of Mr. Croy’s co-rioters have been charged with,” O’Connor explained. “In the review of the investigation, that fact was not revealed to a degree that the government could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt with regard to Mr. Troy.”
The handling of other Jan. 6 cases by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and its superiors at the Justice Department has pointed to such a distinction. Cases where defendants posted on social media about trying to stop the vote have generally produced more serious charges, while those lacking such evidence seem to have been treated more leniently, even if the acts allegedly committed were similar.
Yet, Howell didn’t seem to be buying it, and repeatedly suggested it could be inferred that those who entered the Capitol were not just there on a lark.
O’Connor, the prosecutor, concurred.
“Contextually, we agree with you that’s apparent,” he said, before insisting that the government needed more evidence of intent in each case than just entry into the building.
Howell also seemed to lament the fact that those pleading guilty to petty misdemeanors carrying the maximum six-month jail term couldn’t be put under supervised release by the court if they also received jail time. Such an option is available and commonly used by judges in felony cases.
“Under petty offenses, there are only two options the court can do: probation or a term of imprisonment,” she said.
Howell also said she was puzzled why prosecutors are using a sum of about $1.5 million to calculate restitution in the cases, while Congress agreed last month to appropriate $521 million to the National Guard for costs incurred in providing security for the Capitol for four months after the Jan. 6 assault. Biden signed the bill on July 30.
“Would you explain the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s reason to limit restitution to a little less than $1.5 million in repairs to the building itself, when the total cost of this riot to the American taxpayers is half a billion?” the judge asked.
“I’m happy to get you that answer,” O’Connor replied.
“Thank you. I’d appreciate that answer,” Howell said, adding that the meager restitution amount being sought was ”a little bit surprising” given the government’s usual approach to such issues.
“I’m accustomed to the government being fairly aggressive in criminal cases involving fraud and other types of cases,” said the judge, a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel who is an appointee of President Barack Obama.
At previous hearings in other cases, Howell has suggested that charges against some Jan. 6 defendants might understate the gravity of their actions because the chaos they contributed diverted police from more threatening members of the crowd. Howell has also questioned other decisions by prosecutors in the riot-related cases, such as the government’s failure to challenge an appeals court ruling that made it harder to detain non-violent defendants.
Should these seditionists be allowed to run for office in the future? Should they even be allowed to vote? Or should they be imprisoned for 10 and 20 years, not just as punishment but to send a signal that their violent, treasonous behavior won't be tolerated?
With mounting evidence that 1/6 was a very serious coup attempt and Trumpists already openly plotting a second act [Note: I was suspended from Facebook for posting this there], society needs to protect itself and the best way to do that is to use the justice system to punish the criminals-- especially while seditious members of Congress like Marjorie Traitor Greene (Q-GA), Andrew "Just Tourists" Clyde (R-GA), Mad Cawthorn (Nazi-NC), Matt Gaetz (Predator-FL), Lauren Boebert (Q-CO), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and others are trying to turn the criminals into heroes, martyrs and political prisoners.