- Feb 20, 2021
A judge in the U.S. Capitol riot case issued a stern warning Tuesday to federal prosecutors after former acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin hinted in an interview with “60 Minutes” that the government could pursue sedition charges against members of the far-right group Oath Keepers, who participated in the Jan. 6 melee.
“No matter how much press attention this case gets, these defendants are entitled to a fair trial,” District Judge Amit Mehta said at a Tuesday hearing, adding that “this case will not be tried in the media.”
In the interview that aired Sunday, Sherwin, who previously led the Capitol investigation, told Scott Pelley of CBS that he believes the evidence in the case “is trending towards” charges of sedition, a serious offense that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
“I believe the facts do support those charges,” Sherwin told Pelley. “And I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that.” To date, no sedition charges have been filed in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases opened by the federal government since the deadly Jan. 6 attack.
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin. (Sarah Silbiger/AP)
The interview, along with a similar story in the New York Times, prompted Mehta to schedule Tuesday’s afternoon hearing, during which he expressed his disapproval over Sherwin’s revealing sit-down and said he will not hesitate to impose a gag order, which would mean the case cannot be discussed at all in public.
“The Department of Justice needs to understand that these types of public statements can jeopardize the integrity of the criminal case and affect the rights of criminal defendants,” Mehta said.
Representing the government at the hearing, John Crabb, head of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., said Sherwin did not comply with the Justice Department’s rules and procedures before doing the interview and has been referred to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility for an investigation on whether he violated the department’s rules.
According to the department’s policy on discussing pending cases, any communication by DOJ personnel with the media must be approved in advance by the U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general.
It wasn’t immediately clear from the hearing what consequences Sherwin might face for the interview. The Department of Justice declined to comment on Tuesday.
Sherwin stepped down from his post as acting U.S. attorney earlier this month and plans to return to the U.S attorney’s office in Miami, CBS reported.