Will prosecutors throw the book at inauguration rioters?

The women’s protest march on the day after the inauguration of President Trump was a peaceful affair. The protesters I encountered were mostly good-natured, especially given how disappointed they must have been.

Inauguration day was a different story. Rioting left six police officers injured and caused tens of thousands of dollars in property damage to vehicles and store windows.

Police arrested 230 people in connection with the riot. So far, according to the Washington Post, charges have been dropped against nine of them, including four journalists who say they were simply covering the festivities.

To date, 63 of those arrested have been indicted on felony charges. Prosecutors are still sifting through the evidence, including photos, video, and accounts by undercover officers, to see whether additional felony indictments are warranted and whether more charges should be dropped.

In addition, and this is very good news, federal prosecutors are trying to identify rioters who were not arrested. Assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Kerkoff says:

We are continuing to get new information every day. In the next week or two, we expect to bring in more defendants.

Prosecutors reportedly have even subpoenaed Facebook for information from the accounts of suspects. Great work!

Sifting through photos, videos and Facebook accounts is painstaking work. Many rioters wore goggles, hats, and/or black scarves to prevent identification.

After recent rioting in Portland, Oregon, local prosecutors decided not to undertake such a review, even for people who had already been arrested. They ended up dropping around 80 of 120 cases and charged only two people with rioting.

It’s heartening to see the Justice Department being more aggressive.

Felony rioting carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. It would be great if the Justice Department could put a goodly portion of the inauguration day rioters behind bars for a even a few years. Otherwise, we can expect the same people to injure police officers and destroy property in cities and towns throughout America.

Naturally, the defense bar is doing what it can to achieve that result. According to the Post, one of the arguments is that the U.S. attorney’s office should recuse itself from prosecuting these cases because the president selects and nominates the U.S. Attorney.

The current U.S. attorney wasn’t nominated by the man against whom the rioting ostensibly was directed. The theory, perhaps, is that President Trump will decide whether the incumbent stays in that position, and that this provides an extra incentive to prosecute.

It’s a creative but specious argument — one that would preclude federal prosecution of violent anarchists and revolutionaries, and perhaps many other federal criminals. The president has a duty to defend the country against those who seek through violence to overthrow or undermine the government. Federal prosecutors have a duty to help the president accomplish this.

A president might move to dismiss a prosecutor who doesn’t vigorously fulfill this duty (or any other of his prosecutorial duties), but this prospect provides no basis for recusal. If prosecutors become overzealous for whatever reason, courts are there to protect the rights of defendants.

The problem I foresee is that courts in the District of Columbia may be “underzealous” when it comes to sentencing the thugs who rioted on inauguration day. Many of the judges here are liberal Obama appointees. Perhaps they should recuse themselves (just kidding).

The handling of the inauguration day rioters will be a good test for both the U.S. attorneys office and the courts. With violent left-wing rioting spreading throughout America, the stakes are high.

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