Trump's role in Capitol riot may figure in criminal probe

President Donald Trump addressed a crowd on Jan 6 and urged his supporters to go the Capitol.
President Donald Trump addressed a crowd on Jan 6 and urged his supporters to go the Capitol.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The US charged 55 people with crimes stemming from the siege of the US Capitol and President Donald Trump's actions ahead of the riot may be investigated by federal prosecutors.

Asked whether the US Attorney's office would scrutinise the president's role in inciting the storming of the Capitol, Mr Michael Sherwin, the acting US Attorney in Washington, said at a press conference that "all actors" are being looked at.

"Anyone that had a role, and the evidence fits the elements of a crime, they're going to be charged," Mr Sherwin said.

Mr Trump addressed a crowd Wednesday and urged his supporters to go the Capitol, saying they would "never take back our country with weakness."

The violent mob then stormed the Capitol, charging past police barriers, smashing windows and sending lawmakers fleeing for safety.

The riot, which resulted in four deaths, forced members of Congress to temporarily abandon their formal certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November election. The lawmakers returned and completed the certification once the building was secured.

One man who was arrested near the Capitol with a semiautomatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails. Most of the others face charges like unlawful entry, though some were charged with more serious crimes like assault. More charges are expected in the coming weeks.

"That's a good start, but in no regard is this the end," Mr Sherwin said.

He added that "all charges" are on the table, including insurrection and rioting. "We're not going to keep anything out of our arsenal."

Among those charged was Mark Leffingwell, who is accused of attacking an officer at the scene, according to a statement of facts filed in Washington federal court.

Leffingwell "attempted to push past me and other officers," Capitol Police Officer Daniel Amendola said in the statement. "When he was deterred from advancing further into the building, Leffingwell punched me repeatedly with a closed fist. I was struck in the helmet that I was wearing and in the chest."

According to the statement, Leffingwell later "spontaneously apologised" for striking the officer.

Christopher Michael Alberts was charged with possession of a 9-millimeter handgun and ammunition. According to court documents, an officer spotted a bulge on his right hip and notified two other officers.

Alberts tried to run but got caught and officers recovered the gun, which had one round in the chamber and a full twelve-round capacity magazine, as well as a full spare magazine, a gas mask, a pocket knife, a ready-to-eat military meal and a first-aid kit, according to the court filing.

He told police he had the gun for personal protection and that he didn't intend to use it to hurt anyone.

Photos and videos of rioters brawling with police and ransacking lawmakers' officers were widely circulated on social media Wednesday afternoon.

Legal experts say a wide variety of crimes - everything from vandalism to sedition - occurred during the riot and that prosecutors could charge offenders even if they walked away from the incident without being detained.

"Yesterday, our nation watched in disbelief as a mob breached the Capitol Building and required federal and local law enforcement to help restore order," Acting Attorney-General Jeffrey Rosen said on Thursday. "The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that those responsible for this attack on our Government and the rule of law face the full consequences of their actions under the law."

Participants could be charged with the "willful injury of federal property," as well as assaulting law enforcement officers and trespassing, legal experts said. Some could also face more serious charges, including sedition and insurrection, which would require proving an intent to disrupt or even overthrow the government.

Shortly after lawmakers certified the election results early Thursday, Mr Trump said in a statement there would be an "orderly transition" of power to Mr Biden on Jan 20, noting that he continued to "disagree with the outcome of the election."