Federal prosecutors have informed some Capitol riot defendants the Justice Department has given the green-light to cut guilty plea deals, a step toward bringing the first of the hundreds of cases to a close, according to attorneys involved in the talks.
Defense lawyers involved have long recognized that much of the evidence in the Capitol riot cases isn’t disputable enough to take to trial – especially because so much is on video – and that many of the more than 350 people charged would want to end their court proceedings quickly. But the cases have stalled for weeks as the Justice Department worked out what it was willing to offer, prompting attorneys to ask for delays in many of the court proceedings.
It’s not clear yet which or how many defendants may be getting plea deals, and they haven’t been offered to all interested defendants at this time, the attorneys told CNN. Lawyers who spoke to CNN described deals for defendants with misdemeanors, and not the cases with more severe charges.
The hang-up until now appears to at least partly come from how unusual the Capitol cases are: that there are hundreds, each with many hours of video evidence, and the charges range from the equivalent of trespassing and vandalism crimes to more serious violence and conspiracy charges.
“There’s no formula in place to say,’OK, this is what they’re going to offer’ ” for plea deals, one defense attorney who was still awaiting a possible offer for their client said Thursday night. “These cases don’t fit a matrix we’re used to dealing with,” such as how a defendant charged with murder could cut a deal to plead guilty to a lesser manslaughter charge, the lawyer added.
In recent days, the Justice Department has been close to cutting deals with Capitol riot defendants, including arranging for cooperators to help in their major cases. But the department’s leadership had not signed off.
For instance, a prosecutor in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case told a federal judge on Tuesday that leadership above her direct supervisors was still discussing plea deals. And in a court filing on Monday in the case of a heavy metal guitarist in talks to cooperate, prosecutors acknowledged that Capitol riot plea deals needed “extensive review and approval at various levels of government necessitating more time than usual to approve and negotiate.”
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on Thursday.
It’s not yet clear if the prosecutors have been authorized to make deals with defendants around the major conspiracy cases, against the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
Next week marks 100 days since the insurrection. Several defendants deemed to be violent, obstructive or threats to public safety are awaiting further court proceedings from jail. On the whole, judges and lawyers have acknowledged the Capitol insurrection on January 6 has created one of the most sprawling and intensive investigations in American history.