In a blow to the drive by liberal Democrats and President Joe Biden’s Justice Department to prosecute and imprison hundreds for their part in the Jan. 6, 2021, “breach” of the Capitol, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols dismissed a key “Obstruction of an Official Proceeding” felony count on constitutional grounds in one of the cases he is overseeing.
The March 7 ruling helps expose that this government witch hunt — to make participants pay for their “insurrection” — has nothing to do with “defending democracy.” Instead, it is aimed at preventing former President Donald Trump from running again in 2024 and to undermine democratic and political rights, especially of working people who the capitalist rulers view as “deplorables” and dangerous.
While for now the ruling applies only to the cases Nichols is handling, it opens the door to appeals by at least 280 other defendants who pled guilty, were convicted, or are still facing the same felony charge — punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Two other judges handling these cases — appointees of former President Barack Obama — had raised similar concerns as Judge Nichols, but ultimately decided to join eight other judges in allowing the questionable charges to stand.
The Justice Department boasts that the “investigation” and prosecution of Jan. 6 is the largest in U.S. history. As of March 6, 775 people have been arrested from nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The crusade stems from the aftermath of a Jan. 6 public rally where Donald Trump claimed the election had been “stolen” from him. He encouraged participants to protest at the Capitol, where Congress was counting electoral votes to certify the presidential election.
A number of demonstrators got into physical confrontations with police, who were blocking them from entering the Capitol. Some broke windows and a door. In at least another instance cops stood aside and allowed them to enter the building. Some are charged with the heinous felony of sitting in Vice President Kamala Harris’ chair. The counting of the electoral vote was delayed by a few hours.
The overwhelming majority of the some 2,000 to 2,500 people who entered the Capitol — mostly peaceful protesters who carefully stayed between the velvet ropes, mixed in with handfuls of conspiracy theorists, rightists and wannabe paramilitaries — simply wandered around. A small number carried out vandalism or tried to walk off with “mementos.”
Dozens of those whose only “crime” was going into the Capitol are being pressured to accept plea bargains on misdemeanor charges of illegally “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building.” Some 195 people have felt pressured to cop such pleas.
Some face efforts by prosecutors to have them sentenced to “split sentences.” For instance, prosecutors demand Micajah Joel Jackson, who pled guilty to “parading,” be split sentenced to 60 days in jail followed by three years of probation. Why the long probation? He spoke out publicly about his beliefs and wasn’t contrite.
The “Obstruction of Justice” statute the prosecutors are using was passed after a 2002 corruption scandal at Enron. It made it a felony to destroy, mutilate, shred or conceal documents to “impede” an official proceeding. But no one accused for the “breach” of the Capitol touched any official document related to the counting of electoral votes. In his ruling dismissing the charge, Nichols pointed out that the Justice Department’s interpretation of the law was “extraordinarily broad.”
Prosecutors originally hoped to bring charges of sedition or even “enhanced” charges of abetting terrorism against many of the defendants. But with absolutely no evidence that anything like this was involved, they decided it was too risky politically and that their whole crusade could fall apart.
As part of efforts to crucify Trump, the Democrat-run House of Representatives appointed yet another special committee made up of seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans. They are in charge of new forays in the never-ending “investigation” of Jan. 6.
The liberals view the Nichols’ decision as dangerous because they want to use the “obstruction” charge against Trump. The new committee, which includes anti-Trump Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, has said this is exactly what they intend to do.
Working people need to pay attention to these developments. Moves like this always end up as precedents to be used by the government to frame up and imprison working-class militants and other opponents of capitalist rule.