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Justice Department racks up some important victories in Jan. 6 cases

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Justice Department is racking up some important court victories related to its January 6 investigation. On Monday, a federal jury in Washington, D.C., convicted four members of the far-right Oath Keepers of seditious conspiracy for their role in the Capitol attack. And a separate jury convicted a man whose picture went viral during the riot. NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been spending a lot of time at the courthouse, and she's here now to talk through these developments. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with the Oath Keepers case. How big a deal are these convictions?

JOHNSON: This is a big deal. History is unfolding every day in the courthouse as the Justice Department tries to hold the people responsible for January 6 to account and demonstrate that the legal system can work for all its flaws and challenges.

FADEL: And remind us what seditious conspiracy is, what it means in connection to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

JOHNSON: It involves an attempt to overthrow the government by using force. And it's one of the more serious charges the Justice Department can bring. Historically, it's pretty hard to win these cases, but a jury in D.C. just convicted several more Oath Keepers leaders and associates. And Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the verdict yesterday.

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MERRICK GARLAND: All four defendants were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, as well as conspiracy to obstruct the certification of the Electoral College vote and to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties.

JOHNSON: Now, when the defendants are sentenced later this year, they could face many years in prison. But the judge has allowed them to remain free for now on 24-hour home confinement. And these are the second batch of Oath Keepers to be convicted. The group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, was found guilty last November.

FADEL: Now, not too long before those convictions, there was another verdict in that federal courthouse just down the street from the Capitol building. Tell us more about that case.

JOHNSON: Sure. One of the lasting images from January 6 was the photo of an Arkansas man with his feet up on a desk in Nancy Pelosi's office.

FADEL: Yeah.

JOHNSON: His name is Richard Barnett. And he testified in the trial, but the jury didn't buy his account. They took only about two hours to find him guilty of eight charges that include obstruction of an official proceeding and carrying a dangerous weapon. Barnett's lawyer says they didn't get a fair trial because D.C. is so heavily Democratic. But that argument hasn't gotten much momentum in the courts, at least not yet, partly because January 6 made headlines not just here in D.C. but across the country and the world.

FADEL: Now, we've got the Oath Keepers, this rioter who put his feet up on Nancy Pelosi's desk, but there's also another big case moving through the court related to the attack on the Capitol. What's happening there?

JOHNSON: This is the trial of Enrique Tarrio and several members of another far-right group, the Proud Boys. They're all charged with sedition, as well. That case is moving in stops and starts. The jury's heard from Capitol Police inspector and a filmmaker who's spent a lot of time with Tarrio. Two other defendants in that case are pretty noteworthy. One's Joe Biggs, who used to work for the conspiracy-peddling site Infowars and played a role in recent congressional hearings.

And the other is Dominic Pezzola. People might remember him because he allegedly busted out windows in the Capitol on January 6 and allowed hundreds of other people to pour into the building. Prosecutors say the Proud Boys took aim at the heart of democracy and that they allegedly conspired to use other people in the crowd as a weapon to target Congress. Of course, the defendants say there was no plan to assault the Capitol. And they say that prosecutors are using Tarrio as a scapegoat because he's a lot easier to charge than the former president, Donald Trump.

FADEL: Speaking of Donald Trump, what is the latest on the investigation into him? What more do we know?

JOHNSON: The Justice Department's been tightlipped, but there's been a lot of action before the grand jury. The special counsel's investigating that, of course, and also the documents discovered at Trump's resort Mar-a-Lago and documents discovered at the current president, Joe Biden's, home, as well.

FADEL: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.