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Prosecutors building sedition, conspiracy charges against some Capitol rioters

The Department of Justice is working to build sedition and conspiracy charges against some of the rioters who stormed the Capitol last week, the top federal prosecutor for Washington, D.C., said Tuesday.

Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for D.C., said in a press conference that he has assembled a team of national security attorneys to explore some of the harshest charges his office could pursue in the wake of the riot that overran the Capitol and left five people dead Wednesday.

"Just yesterday, our office organized a strike force of very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors," Sherwin told reporters. "Their only marching orders from me are to build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol."

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Sedition charges can carry prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Sherwin said Tuesday that prosecutors have now charged more than 70 cases following the riot and the FBI has opened investigations into more than 170 people.

Most of the demonstrators who have been arrested and charged over the past few days are facing counts ranging from trespassing to weapons charges to assaulting a police officer. But Sherwin stressed that his office is looking to add the most serious charges that it can for certain defendants.

"With this strike force that was established to focus strictly on sedition charges, we're looking at and treating this just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation," he said. "We're looking at everything: money, travel records, looking at disposition, movement and communication records, so no resource related to the FBI, or the U.S. Attorney's Office will be unchecked in terms of trying to determine exactly if there was a command and control, how it operated and how they executed these activities."

Among those who have already been charged is a man who prosecutors say brought multiple guns and bombs to the Capitol last week and was carrying a list of "good guys" and "bad guys."

The FBI is also still investigating who planted pipe bombs that were discovered at the Democratic and Republican party headquarters during the riot.

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Law enforcement authorities at all levels have been facing tough questions about why they were not more prepared for the massive unrest that burst through the halls of Congress.

Tuesday's press conference came just hours after The Washington Post reported that the FBI had circulated an internal memo from its Norfolk, Va. field office the day before the riot warning of potential violence at the Capitol.

At the press conference, Steven D'Antuono, the head of the FBI's Washington field office, defended the bureau's actions during the lead-up to the riot as it was monitoring online discussions among right-wing demonstrators.

"As offensive as a statement can be, the FBI cannot open an investigation without a threat of violence or alleged criminal activity," D'Antuono said. "However, when that language does turn to a call of violence or criminal activity, the FBI is able to undertake investigative action. And in this case, we had no indication, information was linked to any specific person, but that this is a matter of an online discussion."

"This information was immediately disseminated through a written product, and briefed to our command post operations to all levels of law enforcement," he added.

Democratic leaders were briefed on Tuesday by Sherwin and D'Antuono's offices about their efforts before and after the Capitol riots.

"Based on today’s briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy," five Democratic House committee chairs said in a joint statement. "It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead."

"We demand full accountability not only to hold those perpetrators responsible, but to send a strong signal that future seditious activity will not be tolerated and will be met with the full force of the law,” they added.