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Sen. Mike Lee says DOJ treating Capitol rioters more harshly than violent summer protesters

In this Jan. 6 photo, Rioters, including Dominic Pezzola, center with police shield, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers.
Rioters, including Dominic Pezzola, center with police shield, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Utah Sen. Mike Lee wants to know why the Department of Justice appears to be meting out harsher punishments to rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January than those who took part in violent protests across the country last spring and summer.

Lee joined four other Republican senators in a letter to the Justice Department on Monday demanding answers to a long list of questions to compare and contrast the two investigations.

Despite numerous examples of violence during the protests last year, it appears that people charged with crimes at those events may benefit from infrequent prosecutions and minimal, if any, penalties, according to the senators’ letter first reported in The Daily Caller.

“DOJ’s apparent unwillingness to punish these individuals who allegedly committed crimes during the spring and summer 2020 protests stands in stark contrast to the harsher treatment of the individuals charged in connection with the January 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.,” the letter says.

In addition to Lee, Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Ted Cruz of Texas; Tommy Tuberville of Alabama; and Rick Scott of Florida signed the letter.

To date, the DOJ has charged 510 people, including five Utahns, stemming from the attack on the Capitol.

The senators note the agency maintains and updates a website that lists the names of people charged in the Capitol riot but doesn’t do the same for those arrested in the protests.

Americans have the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances, according to the senators.

“Violence, property damage and vandalism of any kind should not be tolerated and individuals that break the law should be prosecuted,” the letter says. “However, the potential unequal administration of justice with respect to certain protesters is particularly concerning.”

Among the questions the senators pose is whether federal investigators used geolocation data from rioters’ cellphones to track them down.

Lee suggested in a Senate hearing in March that the FBI might be inappropriately interviewing people who were in Washington on Jan. 6 but didn’t enter the Capitol or participate in the violence. He said he had heard a number of accounts of people who were in the city that day but didn’t go near the Capitol who were “inexplicably” contacted by FBI agents who apparently were aware of their presence.

Other questions raised in the letter include:

  • How many individuals who may have committed crimes associated with protests in the spring and summer of 2020 were arrested by law enforcement using pre-dawn raids and SWAT teams?
  • How many individuals were incarcerated for allegedly committing crimes associated with protests in the spring and summer of 2020?
  • How many of these individuals are or were placed in solitary confinement?
  • How many DOJ prosecutors were assigned to work on cases involving defendants who allegedly committed crimes associated with protests in the spring and summer of 2020?
  • How many FBI personnel were assigned to work on cases involving defendants who allegedly committed crimes associated with protests in the spring and summer of 2020?