The Justice Department has opened an internal investigation into a federal prosecutor who said Donald Trump could face charges in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, it was announced on Tuesday.
Michael Sherwin, the Trump-appointed former acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, appeared on 60 Minutes on Sunday but was not authorized to speak out.
His remarks caused uproar at the Justice Department, according to CNN.
Judge Amit Mehta, who is overseeing many of the cases, said on Tuesday in an unusual hearing that he was ‘surprised’ by Sherwin’s remarks, and troubled by a New York Times article that cited anonymous Justice Department sources.
‘I found it troubling that sources within the Department of Justice were detailing the possibility of additional charges in a pending criminal case and an ongoing criminal investigation,’ Mehta said, adding, ‘this case will not be tried in the media.’
Michael Sherwin, the Trump-appointed former acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, broke protocol by not seeking department approval for Sunday’s interview
Sherwin on Sunday described the investigation into the January 6 Capitol insurrection
Mehta said the news coverage could undermine due process rights of defendants and that he would consider imposing a gag order if the pattern continues.
Sherwin has left DC and returned to Miami, handing over the case to his successor.
Yet John Crabb, head of the criminal division at the Justice Department, told Mehta that an internal investigation had begun into Sherwin’s interview.
Crabb said Sherwin had been referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates misconduct allegations against Justice Department lawyers and officials.
The remarks reportedly infuriated senior officials in the department, where new Attorney General Merrick Garland is pushing for a ‘no drama’ policy and discouraging comments on active investigations.
‘It’s flat out improper,’ David Laufman, a former Justice Department prosecutor, told CNN of Sherwin’s interview.
‘I don’t think it’s OK for an [assistant US attorney] to be talking to the media about what charges are appropriate in a case under investigation.’
New Attorney General Merrick Garland is pushing for a ‘no drama’ policy and discouraging comments on active investigations
Among his other remarks, Sherwin said he believed sedition charges were supported for some of the rioters who participated — a comment that could hem in senior officials who are currently weighing whether to bring the politically controversial charges.
Sherwin supervised the early weeks of investigations into the Capitol riot through March 3, before handing over the investigation to return to Miami, where he serves as an assistant US attorney.
The probe has so far criminally charged 400 people for their actions on January 6, and he said on Sunday that Trump was also being investigated.
‘We have people looking at everything,’ Sherwin told 60 Minutes. ‘Everything’s being looked at.’
‘It’s unequivocal that Trump was the magnet that brought the people to D.C. on the 6th,’ said Sherwin.
‘Now the question is, is he criminally culpable for everything that happened during the siege, during the breach?’
Trump summoned his loyalists for a ‘wild’ rally at the White House on January 6, hours before the crowd surged down the National Mall and stormed the Capitol
Sherwin, who on the day of the riots dressed in his running clothes and went down to the area to see for himself, said that his team was relying heavily on social media and publicly-available documentation of the day. He said their accounts and their rationale made charges against Trump more likely.
‘We have plenty of people – we have soccer moms from Ohio that were arrested saying: ‘Well, I did this because my president said I had to take back our house,’ Sherwin explained.
‘That moves the needle towards that direction. Maybe the president is culpable for those actions.
‘But also, you see in the public record too militia members saying, ‘You know what? We did this because Trump just talks a big game. He’s just all talk. We did what he wouldn’t do.’
Of the 400 arrested so far, Sherwin said the majority are facing federal criminal charges, ‘and significant federal felony charges.’
Roberto Minuta, a New York man with ties to the Oath Keepers militia group and Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone, is among those to have been arrested and charged
Graydon Young, an Army and Navy reserve veteran from Florida (arrow), has been charged
He said around 100 of them were charged with assaulting federal officers and local police officers. Prosecutors say 139 police officers were assaulted.
Among those charged with assaulting an officer were two men, George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, who used bear spray on Officer Brian Sicknick, who died during the riot.
Sherwin said that, if it was proved the spray killed Sicknick, the pair would be charged with murder.
‘If evidence directly relates that chemical to his death, yeah,’ said Sherwin.
‘We have causation, we have a link. Yes. In that scenario, correct, that’s a murder case.’
Shewin said that, despite the carnage, the day ‘could have been a lot worse’ because two major plots did not succeed.
One was a series of pipe bombs around DC that failed to detonate. The FBI are still looking for the perpetrator.
The other was an alleged plot of Lonnie Coffman, a 70-year-old from Alabama who brought 11 Molotov cocktails which were designed to act like napalm on explosion.
‘It’s actually amazing more people weren’t killed,’ said Sherwin.
‘We found ammunition in his (Coffman’s) vehicle.
‘And also, in the bed of the vehicle were found 11 Molotov cocktails. They were filled with gasoline and Styrofoam.
‘He put Styrofoam in those, according to the ATF, because when you throw those, when they explode, the Styrofoam will stick to you and act like napalm.’