A United States attorney has flatly denied a report in the New York Times that claimed Attorney General William Barr suggested exploring criminal charges against the Seattle Mayor over the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) that formed over the summer, reported Fox News. The same New York Times report claimed Barr also suggested bringing sedition charges against rioters and looters.
Brian T. Moran, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, which includes Seattle, strongly refuted the Times’ story. Despite being in frequent contact with Department of Justice leadership, “at no time has anyone at the Department communicated to me that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is, was or should be charged with any federal crime.” He continued, “As U.S. Attorney I would be aware of such an investigation.”
Durkan, a Democrat, took no action this summer when Seattle police were forced to abandon a precinct building leading to the formation of a “police-free zone” in the city. For weeks the situation continued. President Donald Trump referred to the people inside the zone as “domestic terrorists” and tweeted to Seattle and Washington state officials to regain control of the area. “If you don’t do it, I will,” the president wrote. “This is not a game.” It proved not to be a game when escalating violence in CHOP led to two people being murdered in shooting incidents. Only then did Durkan put an end to the CHOP experiment.
In regards to charging rioters and looters, A.G. Barr had previously taken a position of aggressively charging those responsible for violence and damage and trying the defendants in federal, rather than state, courts. According to MyNorthwest.com so far this has led to over 300 people being arrested and charged with federal crimes resulting from the nationwide demonstrations that began in June after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The suggestion of bringing federal sedition charges against defendants appears to be a viable one, despite the denial of any such plans by Moran. According to 18 U.S. Code § 2384 Seditious Conspiracy, such charges may be applied, “If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.” The actions of persons with the CHOP zone could be considered to fall under this category of crime. Defendants convicted on sedition charges face up to 20 years in prison.
The New York Times’ story cited only “anonymous sources” supposedly familiar with the situation. A Department of Justice spokesman also denied the Times’ allegations concerning charging Durkan, stating that the Attorney General “did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea.”