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A federal judge just told the DOJ what we’re all thinking on Jan. 6 prosecutions

Judge Beryl Howell interrogated the department over its weak sentencing requests for Capitol rioters.

A federal judge slammed the Justice Department on Thursday for seeking weak sentences for rioters involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell of the District of Columbia tore into the DOJ for allowing rioter Jack Jesse Griffith to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of parading in the Capitol. Howell was beside herself, according to The Washington Post:

“No wonder parts of the public in the U.S. are confused about whether what happened on January 6 at the Capitol was simply a petty offense of trespassing with some disorderliness, or shocking criminal conduct that represented a grave threat to our democratic norms,” Judge Beryl A. Howell said in court Thursday. “Let me make my view clear: The rioters were not mere protesters.”

It sounds like Howell has been reading my group chat with friends.

Howell, nominated to the court by then-President Barack Obama in 2010, asked Thursday why the DOJ would seek such minimal charges for participants in what the prosecutors called an “attack on democracy ... unparalleled in American history.”

What’s more, she said, prosecutors haven’t even asked for defendants who haven’t paid their court-ordered fines to be under court supervision. She suggested prosecutors were giving some of the rioters preferential treatment.

Members of a pro-Trump mob try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.John Minchillo / AP file

Like the other Capitol rioters who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, prosecutors agreed Griffith would pay only $500 in restitution.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had the government ask for a restitution payment and not ask for a term of probation,” Howell said Thursday, according to the Post. “Is it because the government thinks these defendants are more trustworthy?”

Prosecutors sought a sentence of three months in jail for Griffith. Howell sentenced him to three years of probation. Probation shouldn't be "the norm" for Capitol rioters, she explained, but Griffith shouldn't be punished more than others who engaged in similar conduct.

The people who attacked our democracy in January are facing weaker punishments than many who have tried to defend it.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has faced criticism — including from Howell — over the DOJ’s weak prosecutions for Jan. 6 rioters. And he’s offered a fittingly weak excuse in response:

“I am quite aware that there are people who are criticizing us for not prosecuting sufficiently and others who are complaining that we are prosecuting too harshly,” he said this month. “This is, you know, part of the territory for any prosecutor in any case.”

Garland’s defense amounts to “if I’m making two opposing sides mad, I must be doing something right.” That’s a suitable strategy for dealing with feuding children — it’s not a proper strategy for holding apparent insurrectionists accountable.

I know of nonviolent civil rights protesters who have served more time in prison than many of the rioters involved in the deadly attack on the Capitol. The people who attacked our democracy in January are facing weaker punishments than many who have tried to defend it. I was glad to see a federal judge share my concern this week.

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Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.