Cathy Lukasko, auxiliary chair of the Trumbull County Republican Party, who had worked to organize a privately sponsored Trumbull County bus trip to the Capitol on Jan. 6, said “everybody knows” the violence at the Capitol was wrong. But she doesn’t feel all Trump supporters deserve that rap.
WASHINGTON — In the six days since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, federal authorities have opened more than 170 files on suspected criminals and charged about 70 cases — and that’s “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Prosecutors expect hundreds more opened files and charged cases in the coming weeks, Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said during a Tuesday afternoon briefing.
Though many of the existing cases currently include only simple charges — many misdemeanors, like trespassing — Sherwin said federal authorities are reviewing more serious felony charges of sedition and conspiracy in the deadly riot that exploded at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the day Congress met to certify Joe Biden as president-elect.
Sherwin said once more information on the investigations is revealed, “people are going to be shocked with some of the egregious contact that happened in the Capitol,” citing reported instances of “open-handed combat” between police and rioters and volleys of tear gas exchanged by both sides.
Sherwin said prosecutors sought to file charges as quickly as possible to get suspects in custody, intending to investigate and bring more serious charges before a grand jury.
Prosecutors have already presented felony charges of civil disorder and possession of semi-automatic weapons, which is illegal in the district. But other potential charges range from theft of mail and digital devices and excessive force complaints to felony murder and theft of national security information, he said.
“The Capitol grounds, outside and inside, are essentially a crime scene,” Sherwin said. “The enormity of this investigation is going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort.
“This is not gonna be solved overnight. This is going to be a long-term investigation. The (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the Department of Justice — everyone is in for the long haul.”
Steven D’Antuono, director of the FBI’s Washington field office, during the Tuesday briefing said investigators are “scouring” more than 1,000 pieces of digital media from that day that the public has since sent to authorities.
The FBI has also offered a $50,000 reward for information on the person believed to have left pipe bombs outside the offices of the Democratic and Republican national committees on Jan. 6, as seen in surveillance footage, D’Antuono said.
Sherwin said Tuesday the devices were real — they had explosive igniters and timers — but authorities aren’t sure why they were never detonated. Authorities are considering whether the devices were simply a “diversionary tactic” by rioters, he said.
To submit a tip relating to the U.S. Capitol attack, call 800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324). To submit a piece of media, visit FBI.gov/USCapitol.
What did authorities know before Jan. 6?
The Washington Post on Tuesday reported the FBI’s Norfolk, Va., office warned of intelligence suggesting extremists were planning “war” at the Capitol, and that they even had maps of the Capitol complex’s underground tunnels and designated rally points.
The development appears to contradict officials’ statements that the bureau had no prior knowledge of a coordinated attack, the Post reported.
“There was an epic fail on preparation, an epic fail on intelligence,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said Friday following the attack, adding though initial intelligence may have underestimated the threat, authorities should have prepared for the “worst-case scenario.”
Ryan is chairman of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the Capitol Police.
“They should have been absolutely prepared for the absolute worst. We were told they were. They obviously weren’t,” he said. “The intelligence and threat assessment piece is going to be a big part of the oversight we’re doing now and in the days to come.”
D’Antuono on Tuesday appeared to address the Post report, which was published hours before the joint briefing, saying the bureau used its normal mechanism for disseminating information on threats to joint terrorism task forces and “all levels of law enforcement.”
“The FBI receives enormous amounts of information and intelligence, and our job is to interpret the credibility and viability of it under the laws that govern investigations,” he said — whether online posters are merely flexing “keyboard bravado or have the intent to do harm.”
In the case of the purported Jan. 6 plot, that intent couldn’t be attributed to any single person, D’Antuono said.
“As offensive as a statement can be, the FBI cannot open an investigation without a threat of violence or criminal activity,” he said. “In this case, we had no indication the information was linked to any specific person, but (that) this was a matter of an online discussion.
“All the information was shared with our partners, and we went from there.”
Protesters came from Mahoning, Trumbull counties
More than 350 Northeast Ohioans were bused to the Capitol for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally organized by President Donald Trump’s supporters. Two of those buses reportedly departed from Austintown Professional Building early that morning, according to Protect the Results Mahoning Valley, a nonpartisan group pledged to upholding respect for the integrity of the election.
“How hot does your fire burn inside?” reads a Jan. 2 Facebook post from a coordinator of the Austintown bus trip. “Mine is at an all-time high!”
The post decries the “obvious fraudulent and corrupt election” and calls for ousting legislators on both sides of the aisle.
“Let’s go to D.C. and make it known that we the people are sick of the fraud, corruption, censorship and lies! We will do what needs to be done within our constitutional rights as civilians to save the America that was founded years ago based on Christian principles entitling us to our rights and freedoms!” the coordinator wrote.
“The enemy surely has another thing coming!”
Protect the Results in a statement Tuesday called for the Valley Republican leadership to denounce the Jan. 6 violence.
“We ask the local GOP and its leaders to publicly condemn the violent occupation, disrespect to law enforcement and destruction of property we witnessed in the Capitol,” reads the release. “Further we ask them to officially separate themselves from those that refuse to accept the official Presidential election results.
“Right now, their silence is tacit acceptance of the violence, racism and insurrection that were on display this week at the pro-Donald Trump and Republican-supported event.”
Though Mahoning Matters has attempted to reach Mahoning County Republican Party chairman Tom McCabe since the Jan. 6 riots, he has not returned calls for comment.
Cathy Lukasko, auxiliary chair of the Trumbull County Republican Party, who had worked to organize a privately sponsored Trumbull County bus trip to the Capitol for Trump’s Jan. 6 rally, told Mahoning Matters she saw a different scene at the Capitol that day.
After her plans for a Trumbull County bus trip fell through, she and about a dozen other Trumbull Republicans joined up with a bus from Ashland County, she said. She watched Trump’s rally the morning of Jan. 6 and joined in the mile-long walk from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building.
“Outside, it was completely peaceful,” Lukasko wrote in a statement she shared with Mahoning Matters. “A girl was playing the harp. A man was preaching from the Bible. Someone else was singing. People were laughing and smiling and waving American flags.
“No violence. I repeat, no violence.”
Of the 2 million people Lukasko estimated descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6, she believed only a couple hundred were bad actors. She blamed the mainstream media for blowing the scene out of proportion, and said reports of insurrection at the Capitol are part of a Democratic narrative.
“The mainstream media lies. I repeat, the mainstream media is a lying, brainwashing propaganda machine,” she wrote. “What you saw on the news is not an accurate representation of the events that took place Jan. 6, 2021.”
Lukasko said she believes the breach of the Capitol was led by members of Antifa, which she categorized as a paid domestic terrorist organization. They didn’t look like the other Trump supporters, she said — “they were on a mission.”
But the FBI has yet to produce any evidence of Antifa involvement in the Jan. 6 riots. Protect the Results, in its Tuesday statement, called that refrain commonly heard from the right a deflection of responsibility.
“Thousands of fact-checked news media pieces — and the social media accounts of thousands of protestors themselves, including those of people in our Valley — support the truth that the day’s election-challenging activities were organized and enacted by those who support President Donald Trump, rank-and-file Republicans, with Mahoning Valley voters among them. It is time to accept responsibility for this,” reads the statement.
Lukasko in a Tuesday interview with Mahoning Matters said her belief in Antifa’s involvement was based on hearsay from other Trump supporters and photos from articles she claimed link known agitators to other protests. She added, however, she didn’t doubt Trump supporters took part in the violence inside the Capitol.
Lukasko said she didn’t get too close to the Capitol Building itself, but others in her group were close enough to breathe in the pepper spray, she said. Citing reports of Capitol Police stepping aside to allow rioters inside the Capitol and her own claim that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser “shut off” cellphone communications to disorganize protesters, she claimed the breach was “a setup.”
“Yes, some patriots went inside. I have seen footage. There was tear gas, rubber bullets and more. Some patriots encouraged them not to engage in violence,” she wrote in her statement. “I am aware a woman was shot and killed, and I am sickened over it. I was not an eyewitness to what transpired inside the Capitol, but I will say this:
“Outside, it was so peaceful that I had no idea what was going on until we returned to Union Station and saw I had over 20 texts from friends asking if I was OK because they had seen the news footage making it look like World War III.”
Ryan, speaking to CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday night, said the Capitol Police’s response was so inept that it “brings about these ideas that, yes, it was an inside job — it was a setup.”
Ending her written account on Jan. 6, Lukasko said she, too, is sick of division in the country. Speaking with Mahoning Matters, she specifically called out Democrats like Ryan for branding Trump supporters as “thugs, Nazis and domestic terrorists.”
“Everybody knows” the violence Jan. 6 at the Capitol was wrong, she said. But she doesn’t feel all Trump supporters deserve that rap.
“I’d like to see the Democrats tone down their rhetoric,” Lukasko said. “(Biden) should come forward and say, ‘Impeachment is off the table. We should move forward as a country.'”
Trumbull County Republicans on Saturday accepted the resignation of county party chairman Kevin Wyndham, the Tribune Chronicle reported Tuesday — though his reasons for stepping down were not reported.
In Columbus, an NBC News report that robocalls urging protesters to march on the Capitol came from the Republican Attorneys General Association drew the ire of Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Dave Yost.
“I am shocked and angered by this unauthorized act by a rogue staffer, which I found out about through a press report,” Yost Tweeted Saturday after the attack. “It is the opposite of the rule of law and contrary to what I stand for.”
The association has since issued a statement condemning the violence.
Ohio National Guard to defend D.C., Columbus on Inauguration Day
In preparation for unrest expected in the Capitol and Columbus during President-elect Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday he is activating 580 National Guard members to be available for use in Washington, D.C., and Ohio.
The number pales in comparison to the nearly 1,200 National Guard members activated to respond to Black Lives Matter protests in Columbus and Cleveland during the summer.
When asked about the comparison, DeWine said, “This is step one. I’m following the advice of (Ohio National Guard Adjutant General John Harris), as far as the number of National Guard at this point. Maybe more to come — we’ll see.”
Of the 580 members, 200 will go to Washington, D.C. By contrast, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf sent 1,000 guards to the nation’s capital to stay through Jan. 20.
While it’s not unusual for Ohio to send National Guard members to inaugurations, DeWine said Tuesday that it’s certainly unusual to activate National Guard members to be used in Columbus ahead of an inauguration in Washington, D.C.
Fights broke out between Trump supporters and opponents at the Ohio Statehouse on the day of the Capitol riots. Pro-Trump rallies are expected to take place Sunday at the Ohio Statehouse.
When asked Tuesday about potential unrest in Columbus over the coming weekend, DeWine said, “This is a disturbing thing. We have people who, for whatever reason, want to commit violence. We cannot allow that, and we’re not going to allow that.”
As of Monday, there were no plans to close the Ohio Statehouse this weekend or on Inauguration Day, according to Mike Rupert, a spokesman for the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.
The Ohio contingent in Washington, D.C., will be joined by National Guard members from all over the country.
Up to 15,000 National Guard members are expected to be deployed to Washington, D.C., during the inauguration, senior Defense officials said Monday.
More than 300 D.C. National Guard members were activated during the Jan. 6 riots, but the members were unarmed and mostly on traffic duty in other parts of the city.
Ryan told Cuomo Tuesday night he expects the Jan. 20 inauguration to be “small” and with far enhanced security features like unscaleable fencing throughout the district.
Capitol Police, whose use of force was restrained by leadership during the Jan. 6 riots, are expected to have broader rules of engagement, “so they can protect themselves,” Ryan said.
Mahoning Matters reporter Jess Hardin contributed to this report.