ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
And now to the Capitol insurrection investigation. 2021 was just six days old when a mob of Trump supporters forced their way through police lines and stormed the U.S. Capitol.
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SHAPIRO: The deadly attack shocked the nation and made the storied halls of the Capitol a crime scene. And it set off an unparalleled federal investigation. Six months on, NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas brings us this report.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: It is hard to understate how big the federal investigation into the Capitol riot is. Prosecutors have said it's likely to be one of the largest in American history. On Capitol Hill last month, FBI director Christopher Wray, a man prone to understatement, put it this way.
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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: We have all of our field offices fully engaged, and the amount of manpower devoted to it is extremely significant for one attack, absolutely.
LUCAS: The number of arrests has climbed now above the 500 mark, with investigators arresting and charging people every week. The FBI's Washington field office and the U.S. attorney's office for Washington, D.C., have brought in agents and prosecutors from elsewhere to help handle the caseload.
PAUL BUTLER: The fact that 500 people have been arrested for federal crimes all related to one event is unprecedented.
LUCAS: That's Paul Butler, a law professor at Georgetown and a former federal prosecutor. He says the Justice Department has had to find a way to differentiate the so-called MAGA tourists, those who illegally entered the Capitol but didn't do more, from those who stole and looted and then from the folks who organized and instigated the violence.
BUTLER: There are not really any guidelines that are a good fit for how you prosecute people who participated in a violent attack on Congress designed to overthrow the election.
LUCAS: So far, more than a half dozen people have pleaded guilty, and those plea bargains provide a blueprint for where hundreds of other riot prosecutions are likely to go. Take the case of Anna Morgan Lloyd, a 49-year-old grandmother from Indiana. She spent around 10 minutes in the hallways of the Capitol on January 6, a day she described as, quote, "the best day ever." She pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of picketing, parading or demonstrating in the Capitol. And she's the only riot defendant so far to be sentenced. She received three years of probation and 120 hours of community service, but no jail time, an outcome that her attorney, Heather Shaner, says was fair.
HEATHER SHANER: I mean, I think 120 hours of community service and a long period of probation will do a whole lot more for the community where she lives than putting her in jail for six months.
LUCAS: Another defendant who's pleaded guilty is Paul Hodgkins, a crane operator from Florida. According to court papers, on January 6, Hodgkins entered the Capitol carrying a red Trump 2020 flag and walked onto the floor of the U.S. Senate. He did not engage in violence and spent a total of around 15 minutes in the Capitol. Hodgkins' lawyer, Patrick Leduc, says he went back and forth with Justice Department attorneys over a possible plea.
PATRICK LEDUC: And they looked at Paul's case, and it was tough for them. I mean, do we want to give a misdemeanor? Do we want to make him take the felony? And so in Paul's case, it came down to where they wanted him to take a felony because he was on the floor of the Senate.
LUCAS: Butler, the Georgetown law professor, says that so far, he thinks the Justice Department has handled a tricky and unique investigation judiciously.
BUTLER: Well, I think they're using their vast discretion as prosecutors appropriately.
LUCAS: If the so-called MAGA tourists are on one side of the January 6 spectrum, alleged members of extremist groups charged with conspiracy are on the other. The biggest case charges 16 defendants with ties to the Oath Keepers anti-government group of conspiring to stop Congress' certification of the Electoral College count. One defendant has pleaded guilty, as has another individual tied to the alleged conspiracy. Both have agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Six months after January 6, it is clear that there were people who were prepared for violence that day. What is still not clear, though, is whether the attack on the Capitol was preplanned or a spontaneous event or some combination of the two. And here's one more thing. Investigators are still seeking information about who planted the two pipe bombs near the Capitol that didn't go off that day.
Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF CASISDEAD SONG, "WALKIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.