DOJ Walks Back ‘Capture and Assassinate’ Claim

In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, "Never mind."

Yesterday, I asked, “Did Q Shaman Intend to ‘Capture and Assassinate’ Government Officials?” Apparently, the answer is No.

CNN (“US takes back its assertion that Capitol rioters wanted to ‘capture and assassinate’ officials“):

Justice Department prosecutors have formally walked back their assertion in a court filing that said Capitol rioters sought to “capture and assassinate elected officials.”

A federal prosecutor in Arizona asked a magistrate judge in a hearing on Friday to strike the line in a recent court filing about defendant Jacob Anthony Chansley, a man who is alleged to have led some in the crowd in the first wave into the Capitol with a bullhorn while carrying a spear and wearing a fur headdress.

The entire line the prosecutors want to omit from their court filing is: “Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government.”

The stunning move comes a few hours after the Michael Sherwin, the acting US attorney in Washington, DC,  said at a press conference there was “no direct evidence of kill and capture teams” at this time in the siege of the Capitol building.

In court, Todd Allison, a line prosecutor for the Justice Department in Arizona, said DOJ may want to argue that type of assertion if Chansley goes to trial, but cannot say that at the moment.

“We do not want to mislead the court by discussing the strength of any specific evidence” related to his intent, Allison said.

The lesson here, once again, is never to take a prosecutor’s brief as gospel. Their incentive is to over-dramatize, over-charge, and generally overstate the known facts.

Still, these aren’t local yokel DA’s who have to grandstand to score points with the voters. These are US Attorneys, ostensibly the best of the best, working on one of the most high-profile incidents imaginable. We should be able to expect better.

I haven’t seen the request to strike the words from the original filing. It would be interesting to see if they offered an explanation here.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    Oh, I get it now–when they were all shouting “Hang Mike Pence” they meant a PICTURE of Pence, not the actual Pence.

    18
  2. mattbernius says:

    Still, these aren’t local yokel DA’s who have to grandstand to score points with the voters. These are US Attorneys, ostensibly the best of the best, working on one of the most high-profile incidents imaginable. We should be able to expect better.

    James, Ken White aka @popehat would like some words with you. He, unfortunately, has some bad news for you.

    5
  3. Tony W says:

    What was the gallows for, I wonder?

    8
  4. CSK says:

    @Mikey: @Tony W:
    I was just about to ask both those questions, but you two anticipated me. Maybe I should reiterate them:
    Why yell “Hang Mike Pence”?
    Why the gallows?

    5
  5. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: Also, too, the zip ties.

    7
  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, they are still working for the Trump Administration…or at least a Republican administration.

    1
  7. ImProPer says:

    “The lesson here, once again, is never to take a prosecutor’s brief as gospel. Their incentive is to over-dramatize, over-charge, and generally overstate the known facts.”

    Good advice, once again, for true seekers of justice. I know we want there to be this large overt conspiracy that the good guys will wrap up and deliver to the prosecutor with a bow. This is indeed a best case scenario. What appears to be more likely, is that it isn’t the case. A hodgepodge of wackos, with an American revolution fetish, seems to be what we are actually facing. Dramatization, especially that which they perceive as persecution, only emboldens them. It is basically the only predictions in their ramblings that is coming true.
    Tools prosecutors typically use to efficiently get lots of convictions against people with out the means to defend themselves, will only embolden the rioters, as they should. Tempting
    as it may be to have justice remove that blindfold, it needs to stay on. Just prosecute the cases as they come up, there are plenty of overt acts committed by individuals, including the President. Hyperbole is the problem, not the solution.

    2
  8. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    Yes, and the guns and the Molotov cocktails.

    6
  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Am I missing something? Michael Sherwin, appointed in 2020, out of the Trump DoJ? The guy who tried to get Michael Flynn’s guilty plea dismissed? And we believe anything he has to say?

    15
  10. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: @Tony W: @CSK: I am reasonably sure that some of the people who participated in the riot at the Capitol had murderous intent. The question was whether this particular individual, as alleged by the prosecutorial filing, did. The fact that DOJ is walking the claim back almost immediately suggests they lacked evidence for that claim.

    3
  11. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: And the two bombs. Well, two we know about.

    2
  12. Jax says:

    I see a lot of these yahoo’s are already begging for pardons from Trump. It will be interesting to see if he does it.

    2
  13. drj says:

    This doesn’t mean that kill & capture prosecutions are off the table. It simply means that there is at this time insufficient evidence to include that specific charge in a court filing against one specific individual.

    So far, Sherwin said, officials have not found “direct” evidence of a kill-capture plot — as federal prosecutors had initially alleged in a court filing that said Capitol rioters sought to “capture and assassinate elected officials.” But they are pursuing that possibility as part of the investigation based on the evidence they have, CNN had learned, and Sherwin added that counterterrorism prosecutors are still looking at coordination between groups..

    Maybe nobody had the intention to capture and kill legislators (unlikely because of the zip cuffs), or maybe Chansley didn’t have that intention.

    But the fact that prosecutors are not overcharging based on the evidence that is currently available, doesn’t prove that at all.

    6
  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    Also a quick Google suggests that Todd M Allison is actually a yokel DA who I believe is also a Trump DoJ appointee who had it seems very little impact as a lawyer before being elevated. He got his JD twelve years ago. Extrapolating from the dates it appears he came in under the Trump regime.

    2
  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    The claim about Q Shaman, in particular, is colorable. The quoted piece, though conflates that with a claim that nobody was trying to do that. And the Michael Sherwin quote appears to be Sherwin doing much the same, though he’s using a dodge by referencing “kill or capture teams”.

    How would that be defined? If I’ve got some zip ties, and so do you and we nod at each other as we go in the doors, I’m sure that doesn’t count as a “team”.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As I said before, while something like 95-98% of the folks there were for certain sure deluded idiots with no clear rationale, plan, or goal, I have no doubts there were serious actors there for reasons that have yet to be determined. If those reasons ever will be determined.

    Regardless, they all need to be prosecuted and presuming they are found guilty, given an appropriate sentence for the crimes they committed.

    6
  17. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Sherwin is a career federal prosecutor but these cases are being tried by the USAs where the individuals live. Even if you don’t believe him, the report notes, “A federal prosecutor in Arizona asked a magistrate judge in a hearing on Friday to strike the line in a recent court filing about defendant Jacob Anthony Chansley. . . .”

  18. James Joyner says:

    @drj: But the presumption of our system is innocence. It’s outrageous for state officials to make inflammatory allegations, let alone in certified judicial filings.

    3
  19. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I agree with every word of that.

    1
  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    I’m sorry, but ‘career prosecutor’ means nothing in this situation. If he got his big bump under Trump he has an asterisk beside his name. Forever. Trump appointees should be assumed to be corrupt. And why would I assume the situation is any different in Arizona, a red state until recently? What guidance might they have they gotten from DC?

    3
  21. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    But the presumption of our system is innocence.

    Not for prosecutors, it ain’t.

    It’s outrageous for state officials to make inflammatory allegations, let alone in certified judicial filings.

    That’s why prosecutors wanted to amend their court filing! To remove the allegation for which (in Chansley’s case) thay don’t have the evidence.

    Where is the scandal here?

    4
  22. gVOR08 says:

    I expect dumping Trump appointed US Attorneys is nowhere near the top of Biden’s “Gotta do Today” stack, but I expect many of these cases will be finished under new supervision.

    3
  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:
    Every Trump appointee – particularly in anything law enforcement related – has to be assumed to be corrupt. I don’t think @James has grasped that, quite yet. We should have the equivalent of de-Nazification or de-Baathification.

    We can’t, but in a perfect world we’d purge every Trump judge and every Trump prosecutor. It is unfair on its face to have these people bringing charges and trying cases when they were appointed by a white supremacist insurrectionist. Imagine being a Black defendant in a Trump court. It’s appalling.

    At the very least any statement by any Trump appointee should be viewed with extreme suspicion.

    7
  24. ImProPer says:

    @mattbernius:

    After reading your post I looked Ken White up
    and found this gem.
    @Popehat:

    “Just a reminder that being really, really stupid, I mean just breathtakingly ignorant, is not a defense to general intent crimes.”

      The Achilles heel for Trump, and his dream team of legal scholars. Guiliani, who if nothing else is an expert on organized crime, and his  Vinny “the Chin” Gigante type act is probably no coincidence. Proving this will probably be impossible, his immensely stupid act is quite convincing. However yelling the “president has won in a landslide, there is overwhelming evidence that the democrats stole it” is the very definition of incitement, and I believe a general intent crime. Just like Yelling fire in a crowded theater.

    3
  25. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    particularly in anything law enforcement related

    Or economics, or the environment, or health, or foreign policy, or immigration, or defense. What’d I miss? Seems like we ought to be entitled to backsies, especially if he’s actually convicted on the impeachment charge.

    “Corrupt” seems to be joining the long list of political terms whose meaning shifts. Seems like in addition to bribery and such it should include ideologically corrupted.

    2
  26. gVOR08 says:

    @ImProPer:

    @Popehat:
    “Just a reminder that being really, really stupid, I mean just breathtakingly ignorant, is not a defense to general intent crimes.”

    Seems especially apt to Steven’s “White Privilege” post today.

    5
  27. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    Jenna’s excuse seems to be that The Donald made her do it.

  28. Tim says:

    @James Joyner:

    Wrong Gilda Radner character reference in your sub-title, James. It was Emily Litella who would say “Nevermind,” not Rosanne Roseannadanna.

    7
  29. ImProPer says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “Imagine being a Black defendant in a Trump court. It’s appalling.”

    Hate to be captain obvious, but it’s been appalling long before Trump, and a rare bipartisan accomplishment. Joe has a lot of work to do, and reversing the course will be hard, I hope he gets a lot of help.

    3
  30. James Joyner says:

    @Tim: Ah, yes, you’re right. It’s been 40 years since I’ve seen those bits and conflated her two signature characters.

    1
  31. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: We need to treat Trump appointees with skepticism but that doesn’t apply to career officials. This guy has served, so far as I know honorably, since the last days of the Bush administration. He’s not even the USA but a line attorney. You’re doing what the Trumpies did with the ‘Obama holdovers’ and it’s not only unjust but corrosive to a professional civil service.

    5
  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tony W: I think we need to go back to the discussion earlier in the week where the thesis that no Congressperson was hanged or detained by force establishes that there is no evidence for what the gallows or the zip cuffs were for to understand the DOJ position.

    (I’m still not buying, this, but…)

    3
  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    After the Civil War we cleaned house. Sorry, but I don’t give any weight to ‘career’ this or that, not anymore. One ‘career professional’ after another has laid down for Trump. Every new appointee early on we’d hear the beltway chorus singing their praises, only to watch them abandon their duty to serve Trump.

    Sherwin walked into court and presented a bogus, political brief to dismiss charges against Michael Flynn, a traitor. Had he resigned in protest, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t have much patience for the ‘I was only following orders’ crowd. As for the AZ guy, I want to see what communications reached him from DoJ in DC.

    Everyone who collaborated with the seditionist, treasonous, corrupt Trump regime bears the mark of Cain.

    5
  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @ImProPer:
    Absolutely right. It’s been fucked since forever for Black defendants. Now we need to unfuck it.

    2
  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: I know it seems rare, but it happens more often than one might think. 😉

  36. MarkedMan says:

    James, either you are wildly misinterpreting the story, or I’m missing a piece of it. You keep on talking about “overcharging” but this wasn’t a charging statement. It was a denial of bail issue. The question is, “is it safe to let this guy out or is the potential he will do harm too great. There was a violent riot that resulted in multiple deaths and he was a highly visible and aggressive instigator and a participant, and left a threatening note behind. His compatriots are at this very moment trying to foment violent attacks in all 50 states and again in DC, and this time they are making it clear the rioters should bring guns. Of course he should be denied bail, as should any other leader who was arrested.

    Why the hell are you carrying water for this guy?

    4
  37. ImProPer says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Due to some bad habits of mine a while ago, I got to see this first hand, and am hoping for a change. For about a week after George Floyd’s Murder, I was heartened by what appeared to be a large coalition. Now, not as much. In unfucking it, alot of players will be loosing power, or the perception of it. Good news is that some of them on the right, are being rounded up as I type this.

    1
  38. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s outrageous for state officials to make inflammatory allegations, let alone in certified judicial filings.

    Unfortunately, Dr. J., this is a clear understanding that reflects your societal position. Prosecutors overreach is a benefit of the system, designed to keep the uppity underclass in their places. Just not supposed to apply to rich white folks like her.

    4
  39. Northerner says:

    @drj:

    Though after the nonsense of all the “evidence” of a stolen election that somehow disappeared when it came to court, it might not be a bad idea to assume that if intent to capture and assassinate can’t be proven in court then maybe it should be dropped as well?

    Just like election fraud, this should be pretty easy to prove if it happened. The court standard showed its strength in throwing out Trump’s unproven claims, so maybe go with it.

    Though my personal guess is that in this case it’ll turn out that a few of the mob did in fact have that intent, and evidence to that effect will be shown in court.

    2
  40. HarvardLaw92 says:

    You should read this as “DOJ prosecutors in Arizona took that particular line of attack off of the table for now” .

    They don’t want that being evaluated by a magistrate judge in AZ. They want to reserve it as a trial issue for DC. In other words, strategic move, not an indication of insufficient evidence.

    4
  41. de stijl says:

    There is a distinction between this cannot be proved to a jury with sufficient evidence, and it never happened.

    That it got raised supports the first.

    1
  42. Pas says:

    Do you think the department of justice will start working for the people once Trump is out