A Day To Remember At The Capitol
January 12, 2021
It is no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world turned this week to events seventy miles south of Pennsylvania as rioters stormed the United States Capitol to demonstrate their loyalty to Donald Trump and protest the election they had been informed, despite a complete lack of evidence, was somehow fraudulent.
All three federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania were quick to note that the not inconsiderable resources of their offices would be devoted to punishing those involved from Pennsylvania.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro weighed in as well, although it is far from clear what charges even the most publicity-hungry state prosecutor might bring for crimes committed on federal property in another state.
None of this is good news for the rioters. One former prosecutor described the situation simply: “this is what our office dreamt about—a high profile case that reflects well on us, with defendants who committed crimes on camera and bragged about them on social media? No lawyer in their right mind would bother taking that to court, so no need to waste time with a trial as their lawyers shoot for the shortest possible sentence.”
A longtime criminal defense lawyer echoed that, saying “it is easier to rattle off the offenses for which they might not be charged.”
Inevitably, the event drew some of the most outspoken figures in Pennsylvania politics. Former state Representative Rick Saccone, a favorite of many conservatives, demonstrated what seems questionable judgement by posting a video as he prepared to storm the Capitol and found himself the following day eased out of his teaching job at a local college.
State Senator Doug Mastriano, mentioned—admittedly largely by himself—as a potential candidate for Governor, appeared in the same video but mustered the good sense to avoid a speaking role in it.
Both fared better than the state legislator from neighboring West Virginia taken away in handcuffs by the FBI the evening after the episode.
A few hours after the riot, as Republicans in Washington and around the country generally struck a chastened tone, eight of Pennsylvania’s nine Republican Congressman voted to reject the state’s electoral votes in a move that one top state Republican described me as “incredibly tone-deaf.”
The legal consequences for those involved are easy enough to predict. Much harder to call is the lasting political impact: will the shock and horror soon be forgotten, or will this prove a step toward defining the post-Trump Republican party? Expect Democrats to make a real effort to keep it alive as Republicans bet on short memories.