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Where the cases stand for the 1,000 people charged for the Capitol riot

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This month saw a new milestone in the effort to prosecute the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. More than a thousand people have now been charged in one of the largest criminal probes in U.S. history, and NPR's investigations team has been tracking every one of those cases. We've got Meg Anderson from the team here to tell us more. Hi, Meg.

MEG ANDERSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hey. So can you just give us more of a sense of the kind of work that has been involved for the Justice Department to bring these 1,000-plus charges?

ANDERSON: Yeah. I mean, to put it briefly, it's been a ton of work. Across the country, every U.S. attorney's office and every FBI field office has been involved. For the past two years, they've been reviewing literally millions of pieces of evidence, including police body camera footage, surveillance footage from the building and all of the many photos and videos that were posted to social media and on people's cellphones. At one point, the FBI said that if you watched all the footage back to back without taking any breaks, it would take almost an entire year to get through it.

CHANG: Wow.

ANDERSON: And I should say we're likely not even halfway done. The Justice Department has said it thinks around 2,000 people were involved in the attack.

CHANG: Oh, so we're just barely halfway. OK. So how are these cases so far being resolved? Like, what kinds of different outcomes are you seeing?

ANDERSON: Yeah. So around 75 people have gone to trial, but most people have not gone that route. About half of the defendants have pleaded guilty. And so far, nearly 450 people have been sentenced. Mostly, those are the people who entered plea deals. And the consequences at sentencing have varied widely. A little more than half of those people have gotten some jail time, and that's ranged from seven days to 10 years. But on the whole, in about two-thirds of the cases, we found that the judges are actually giving less prison time than what prosecutors asked for. And now nearly all of these cases have been heard in a single federal district in D.C. And the judges there have been appointed by presidents from both parties, from Reagan all the way up to Biden.

CHANG: These judges that you say are giving less prison time in general than prosecutors are asking for, I mean, when they're handing down these sentences, what kinds of things are they saying to the defendants?

ANDERSON: Obviously, it varies. Every case is different.

CHANG: Sure.

ANDERSON: But there are themes in what they've been saying. For one, the judges aren't looking at these crimes in isolation. It's not just that someone walked through the Capitol and they weren't supposed to. The significance of January 6 as an attempt to undermine the peaceful transition of power is playing a part. Judge John Bates told one man that he was, quote, "an active participant in a mob assault on our core Democratic values." And speaking of that mob, they also emphasize that being swept up in it is not an excuse. Judge Amy Berman Jackson told one defendant that, quote, "no one was swept away to the Capitol. No one was carried. The rioters were adults." And another thing I've noticed is that they do seem to take into account whether or not someone shows remorse. And that seems to be in part because the judges do seem to worry that this type of thing could happen again. Judge Reggie Walton told a defendant that if people get the impression that there's no real consequence for this, they'll say, why not do it again?

CHANG: Well, what actions is the government taking now to prevent a repeat of what we saw on January 6?

ANDERSON: I spoke to Jon Lewis about this. He's a researcher at George Washington University. And he said that looking at who's responsible for getting all those people to the Capitol in the first place is really important.

JON LEWIS: I think a lot of it now does come down to the special counsel and to DOJ more broadly to recognize that if you're just going to keep arresting the 925th guy who just walked into the Capitol, took some photos and walked out, it risks missing the forest for the trees.

ANDERSON: And the government has been working toward that accountability. Late last year, the House committee issued its final report, which concluded that President Trump was responsible, and recommended him for prosecution.

CHANG: That is NPR's Meg Anderson. Thank you, Meg.

ANDERSON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Meg Anderson is an editor on NPR's Investigations team, where she shapes the team's groundbreaking work for radio, digital and social platforms. She served as a producer on the Peabody Award-winning series Lost Mothers, which investigated the high rate of maternal mortality in the United States. She also does her own original reporting for the team, including the series Heat and Health in American Cities, which won multiple awards, and the story of a COVID-19 outbreak in a Black community and the systemic factors at play. She also completed a fellowship as a local reporter for WAMU, the public radio station for Washington, D.C. Before joining the Investigations team, she worked on NPR's politics desk, education desk and on Morning Edition. Her roots are in the Midwest, where she graduated with a Master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.