Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., on Thursday pointedly did not rule out charging President Donald Trump in connection with inciting a riot after his supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol complex a day earlier.
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said the Department of Justice will consider lodging criminal charges against anyone who played a role in the riot, which for hours delayed the confirmation by Congress of Joe Biden‘s election as the next president.
A reporter during a press call noted that Trump had called on his supporters at a rally before the riot to fight for him.
Asked if he was eyeing Trump’s role in sparking the chaos, Sherwin said: “I don’t want to sound like a broken record. We’re looking at all actors here.”
“Anyone who had a role and where the evidence fits a crime,” he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sherwin’s remarks.
The New York Times reported that White House counsel Pat Cipollone had warned Trump that he could face legal exposure for the riot because of his remarks at the rally, where he urged his fans to march to the Capitol.
The Times also reported Thursday that Trump since Election Day has told advisors that he is considering pardoning himself for any crimes, and has asked whether he should do so.
The riot came after more than two months of false claims by Trump that he both won the election in a landslide, and that there was widespread ballot fraud in multiple battleground states that gave Biden his margin of victory in the Electoral College vote.
For weeks after Election Day, Trump, his lawyers and allies had waged a long-shot effort to overturn Biden’s win by filing lawsuits. But judges, some of them appointed by Trump, rejected a number of those suits, while other cases were voluntarily withdrawn. Ultimately, not a single Biden vote was invalidated on a claim of fraud.
Trump then focused his efforts on Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, where Vice President Mike Pence was to preside over the opening of state electoral results and the counting of ballots, as prescribed in the Constitution.
Trump said, falsely, that Pence had the power to refuse to accept a state’s ballots. He pressured the vice president to do so for states that Biden won.
As Trump supporters rallied outside the White House on Wednesday, Pence released a three-page letter that said he did not have the authority to grant Trump’s wish, and that he would not even try to do so.
At the rally, Trump told the crowd, “We are going to have to fight much harder.’
“And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country. Because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution,” Trump said.
He also said the supporters should then “walk down to the Capitol.”
During the same rally, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and ex-top federal prosecutor, said “let’s have trial by combat” to settle the claims of election fraud.
Sherwin on Thursday said that prosecutors in Washington have filed 55 criminal cases in the past 36 hours, including 15 federal cases.
All of the 15 federal cases are directly related to the breach of the Capitol, he said.
“Fifteen, I think that’s a good start, but in no regard is that the end. This is just the beginning,” Sherwin said.
He said authorities will interview members of the Capitol police, who have been criticized for the apparent ease with which the complex was breached. Sherwin said that if any Capitol police officers were complicit with the rioters, they will be charged.