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Judge admonishes feds over Capitol riot sedition talk to media

A judge on Tuesday admonished federal prosecutors following multiple media reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering sedition charges against some of the defendants tied to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

District Court Judge Amit Mehta abruptly convened a hearing on Tuesday after the former acting U.S. attorney for D.C. gave an interview on "60 Minutes" and The New York Times published a story reporting that the more severe charges were under consideration, citing anonymous law enforcement sources.

"No matter how much press attention this matter gets, let me be clear these defendants are entitled to a fair trial, not one that was conducted in the media," said Mehta, who was appointed to the federal district court by former President Obama.

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The judge is overseeing the prosecution against a group of ten alleged Oath Keepers who are facing various charges, including conspiracy and obstruction, over their participation in the storming of the Capitol.

Michael Sherwin, who until last week had been overseeing the prosecutions against all the Capitol rioters as the acting D.C. U.S. attorney, told "60 Minutes" in an interview that aired Sunday that he believed prosecutors had gathered enough evidence to bring sedition charges against some of the defendants, though he did not single out any of the more than 400 people facing indictments.

The New York Times followed the segment with a story on Monday saying that DOJ could potentially add sedition charges to the group of Oath Keepers.

Mehta said on Tuesday that "these types of public statements jeopardize the integrity of a criminal case and affect the rights of a criminal defendant."

"Let me just say at the outset that I am surprised, I'm being restrained in my use of terminology, to say the least, to see Mr. Sherwin sitting for an interview about a pending case in an ongoing criminal investigation," the judge said.

"Whether that interview violated justice policy is really not for me to say, but it is something I hope the Department of Justice is looking into," the judge added. "As for the New York Times story, I found it troubling that sources within the Department of Justice, were detailing the possibility of additional charges in pending criminal cases and an ongoing criminal investigation."

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Mehta added that he would consider imposing a gag order if the public disclosures continue.

John Crabb, the head of the criminal division for the D.C. U.S. attorney's office, told the judge that both of the media disclosures violated DOJ policy and had been referred to the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal watchdog.

It's unclear whether the incident will affect the case against the group, which includes Jessica Marie Watkins, Thomas Caldwell and Donovan Crowl. Some of the defendants are facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if they are convicted of obstructing a government proceeding.