By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors on Tuesday defended their decision to file a felony “obstruction” charge for actions during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot against a former U.S. Marine who served in a presidential helicopter squad when George W. Bush and Barack Obama were in the White House.
At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Kelley said that video found on the cellphone of former Marine John Andries “was central” to a decision by prosecutors to add a felony charge to misdemeanor riot-related charges they had initially filed against him.
Andries’ phone video “certainly showed the defendant’s intent that day,” Kelley said. But she added that prosecutors had not “closed off all hope” of a plea deal in the case.
Public defender Maria Jacob, representing Andries, said the felony for which her client was charged was vague and that “many” riot defendants only faced misdemeanor charges for the same Jan. 6 behavior.
Jacob said that while Andries was “captured on video saying certain phrases,” these phrases did not show his intent to “obstruct the vote” by Congress confirming Joe Biden as the next U.S. president.
The riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump broke out as Congress met to certify Biden’s November presidential election victory. Prosecutors have said that more than 600 defendants had been arrested on riot-related charges.
More than 50 individuals have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges – over 40 to misdemeanors and nine to felonies – many of whom will face incarceration at sentencing, prosecutors said in a news release.
At least 260 defendants have been charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.
In court documents, prosecutors cited YouTube video they said showed Andries on Capitol Building steps in a crowd that was “attempting to break down the metal barriers to the buildings, as police offices try to hold them back.”
Once inside the Capitol, prosecutors allege Andries entered the building’s crypt, that “he waved in more rioters” and that “within minutes, the crypt was full of rioters.”
They said “officers had to physically drag” Andries from an outside ledge to get him to leave the Capitol grounds.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bill Berkrot)