J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for a US Senate seat in Ohio, is a law school graduate. But Vance made a significant false claim on Thursday about legal proceedings against people who allegedly participated in the Capitol insurrection last year.
On the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 riot, Vance tweeted out a link to a website that encourages donations to people who have been accused of involvement in the attack on the Capitol. And Vance wrote: “There are dozens of people who protested on J6 who haven’t even been charged with a crime yet are being mistreated in DC prisons. A friend suggested the below link if you’re able to support them.”
In another tweet moments later, Vance claimed that many of the prisoners are military veterans who have been “accused of nothing.”
Facts First: Vance’s claims are false. Every alleged Capitol rioter who is being held in jail to await trial has been charged with a crime. Moreover, every one of the dozens of defendants listed on the very donations page Vance was promoting has been charged with a crime.
More than 90 minutes after his false tweets, Vance appeared to implicitly concede that he wasn’t correct to claim that dozens of Capitol riot prisoners “haven’t even been charged with a crime” – posting a new tweet that read, “*convicted (not charged).” But Vance did not delete either that false initial tweet or the false subsequent tweet claiming the prisoners have been “accused of nothing,” and he did not explicitly say that he had been wrong.
A Vance campaign spokesman had not responded as of Friday night to a CNN request for comment.
Vance graduated from Yale Law School in 2013. A venture capitalist best known as the author of the bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” he had more than 172,000 Twitter followers as of Thursday.
The ‘political prisoners’ claim
We won’t attempt to fact-check Vance’s subjective claim that the jailed defendants are being “mistreated”; conditions at DC jail facilities are known to be poor in general. But there is no factual basis for his claim in another tweet in the thread that “these people are political prisoners.”
The vast majority of the 700-plus people who have been charged over the Capitol riot to date were released to await trial shortly after they were arrested. The dozens who have been kept in jail before trial are only being held because a federal judge – not the Biden administration – ruled that they are either too dangerous to release or pose a flight risk. Most of these defendants have been charged with attacking police or conspiring with far-right extremist groups. And when defendants have argued during their court cases that they are victims of politically motivated prosecution because they support former President Donald Trump, federal judges, including those appointed by Trump, have rejected these arguments.
As of late 2021, about 40 Capitol riot defendants were being held in jail in Washington, DC in particular. While Vance might have been using the word “prisons” informally, the defendants are being held before trial in a jail facility run by the DC government, not a federal prison; they would be transferred to prison if convicted and sentenced to prison time.
The website Vance promoted in his false tweet, called the “Patriot Freedom Project,” was created by a relative of one of the defendants who has spent time in the Washington jail – Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a former Army reservist who was known as a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer by colleagues at the Navy base where he had worked as a contractor.
A Trump-appointed judge ruled that Hale-Cusanelli had to stay in jail to await trial, saying he was worried Hale-Cusanelli posed a threat of violence to members of the public. An appeals court then upheld Hale-Cusanelli’s detention.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this article.