Summary List Placement
A Trump-appointed prosecutor overseeing the Capitol riot cases blindsided top Justice Department officials last week in agreeing to sit for a high-profile television interview that some fear has jeopardized proceedings related to the violent insurrection, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Michael Sherwin, a veteran prosecutor who was named acting US attorney in Washington last year, immediately drew criticism after CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired an interview in which he raised the prospect of bringing sedition charges against participants in the January 6 riot. The interview was taped on Wednesday and aired Sunday.
Justice Department leaders were infuriated upon learning of the interview, which they had not authorized. A federal judge handling one of the January 6 cases also appears to have taken notice of Sherwin’s high-profile media appearance and has scheduled a 4:30 p.m. hearing Tuesday in Washington with federal prosecutors and defense attorneys to discuss the fallout.
Sherwin had been in communication with CBS in January during the final weeks of the Trump administration for an interview about the Justice Department’s sweeping investigation into the insurrection. But in that instance, Sherwin consulted with Justice Department leaders working under then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who decided not to grant him permission to participate in a “60 Minutes” interview, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
Rosen, who stepped down in January as acting attorney general, deferred to a Justice Department spokesperson when asked for comment Monday. A different Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
CNN previously reported that Sherwin took part in the interview without authorization from top Justice Department officials. The prior denial of permission, under the Trump administration, has not been previously reported.
Sherwin could not be reached for comment about his “60 Minutes” interview.
DOJ official’s comments ‘improper’
In his interview with “60 Minutes,” Sherwin said evidence collected in the investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol likely supported rarely used sedition charges.
“I believe the facts do support those charges,” Sherwin said. “And I think that as we go forward, more facts will support that.”
Sherwin, reiterating comments he made in the immediate aftermath of the riot, also said prosecutors were examining the conduct of former President Donald Trump, whose public comments were seen as encouraging supporters to storm the Capitol.
In the weeks since the rioting, more than 300 participants in the pro-Trump mob have been charged in connection with the Capitol attack. Some of their defense lawyers have said they were acting on the instructions of Trump.
“It’s unequivocal that Trump was the magnet that brought the people to DC on the 6th. Now the question is: Is he criminally culpable for everything that happened during the siege, during the breach?” Sherwin told CBS’s Scott Pelley.
Sherwin’s remarks immediately raised questions about whether he violated Justice Department policies and rules in Washington’s federal trial court prohibiting public comments about pending cases.
On Twitter, Andrew Weissmann, a former top Justice Department official who served on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, said Sherwin’s comments were “improper” and would “hurt the success” of the riot prosecutions.
“And it violates local DC court rules about preserving a fair trial for defendants,” he wrote on Twitter.
The DC US Attorney needs to be replaced ASAP. His speaking about pending cases and investigations is improper and will hurt the success of those matters. And it violates local DC court rules about preserving a fair trial for defendants.
— Andrew Weissmann (@AWeissmann_) March 22, 2021
David Laufman, a former top official in the Justice Department’s national security division, also raised concerns about Sherwin’s statements.
“Notwithstanding the atrocity of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, federal prosecutors should not be discussing the merits of potential charges in the news media; the place to do that is in court filings and arguments,” Laufman tweeted.
US District Court Judge Amit Mehta appears to have taken notice of Sherwin’s remarks as he presides over the Justice Department’s conspiracy cases against three members of the far-right Oath Keepers group. The judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has scheduled a Tuesday afternoon hearing “concerning recent statements to the media about these proceedings.”
Sherwin’s interview came just as he was preparing to leave Washington and return to Miami, where he has long served as a federal prosecutor. In 2019, Sherwin took a temporary assignment to work at the Justice Department headquarters, known as Main Justice, and impressed then-Attorney General William Barr with his handling of the investigation into the shooting at a naval base in Florida.
Sherwin was named in May the acting US attorney in Washington, leaving him in charge of the largest federal prosecutor’s office in the country. Earlier this month, he was replaced in that role by Channing Phillips, a veteran prosecutor in Washington who previously led the office under the Obama administration.
This story was originally published on March 22. It’s been updated to include recent developments.