Why is the DOJ going so easy on the Capitol rioters? A federal judge wants to know
When Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, they racked up quite the bill. From covering architectural repairs to the costs of bringing in police and the National Guard, the tab was in the millions. With that in mind, you might think those being charged will have to pay some astronomical fines. But this week, a federal judge pointed out that the restitution prosecutors are asking for is nowhere near enough to cover the damage.
On Monday, Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the federal court in Washington, questioned the Department of Justice about its prosecution plan during a plea hearing for defendant Glenn Croy. Politico reported that Croy was arrested in February on charges of illegally entering the Capitol building.
Per the outlet, Croy wanted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of parading or picketing in the Capitol, which has a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. This plea was part of a deal with prosecutors. However, it didn't sit well with Howell, who wanted to know why prosecutors didn't include an explicit motive.
"This is the puzzle for this petty offense charge ... It's to parading, demonstrating or picketing ... That is typically for an end. Demonstrating is typically about something. It's parading about something," Howell said.
When asked why prosecutors hadn't made Croy admit intentions to block the electoral vote as part of the plea deal, the prosecutor in charge of the case, Clayton O'Connor, told Howell, "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."
But this wasn't all that bugged Howell. As part of Croy's deal, he agreed to pay $500 in restitution — which is a typical amount to rioters who are pleading guilty to misdemeanors, according to CNN. The outlet reported that the few insurrectionists who did plead guilty to felony charges agreed to pay $2,000 each in restitution, which is not much when you consider the total costs of the Capitol riot.
In February, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton told lawmakers that costs of repairs to architecture alone topped $30 million and is expected to continue rising. And last month, Congress agreed to appropriate $521 million to the National Guard to cover costs after it warned that, without reimbursement, they would have to cancel annual training and deny people pay.
So, why aren't the insurrectionists paying more? Well, because prosecutors are using a total of about $1.5 million to calculate restitutions. That number didn't impress Howell. During the meeting, she said, "Where we have Congress appropriating all this money due directly to the events on January 6, I have found the damage amount of less than $1.5 million, when all of us American taxpayers are about to foot the bill for close to half a billion dollars, a little bit surprising."
Howell went on to add that she's "accustomed to the government being fairly aggressive in criminal cases involving fraud and other types of cases." When asked directly by Howell if he could "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", O'Connor did not have an explanation.
The pithy restitution rates that Capitol rioters are receiving isn't totally shocking, though. After the riot first occurred, people were quick to point out differences in police response to the predominately white, Trump-supporting crowd compared to responses to protesters for Black lives that were happening nationwide. With that in mind, it's unsurprising to see the DOJ being lenient on the rioters.