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House GOP investigates treatment of Jan. 6 defendants at D.C. jail

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) attends the CPAC conference on March 3. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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House Republicans have launched an investigation into how those charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol have been treated in jail — as some in the party try to portray the insurrection as a peaceful gathering while casting defendants as victims.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and other Republicans announced the inquiry in a letter Thursday to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), as they scrutinize the city’s prison facilities where some people charged in the attack on the Capitol are jailed.

In the letter, members of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee allege “inhumane treatment” of Jan. 6 defendants and claim they are being treated differently from other prisoners, “violating detainees’ constitutional and human rights.” The Republicans claim the defendants have been subjected to a lack of medical care, unsanitary living conditions and difficulty accessing their lawyers.

Greene also contends that some of those incarcerated had been “denied access to a Bible,” suggesting such treatment was discrimination for their beliefs and constituted potential “human rights abuses.”

The members of Congress asked for full access to the District jails so they can review the facilities, interview employees and speak to those incarcerated. They also requested documents relating to the defendants’ cases and jail complaints, along with documents about the jails’ “covid-19 policies since January 7, 2021.”

The letter was signed by Greene as well as Reps. Clay Higgins (La.) and James Comer (Ky.), the committee chair.

Bowser’s office said Friday: “We received the letter. We will review and respond accordingly.”

The investigation is part of Republicans’ broader effort to rewrite the narrative of Jan. 6 and claim those charged with crimes in connection with the insurrection are being mistreated because of their political leanings. They formed a House committee to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives, seeking to prove that the FBI has manipulated or mishandled Jan. 6 case files. House Democrats say the committee has found no evidence of that.

The Justice Department said this week that more than 999 people who were at the riot on Jan. 6 have been arrested in nearly all 50 states and D.C. on charges such as assault, entering a restricted federal building, destruction of government property and conspiracy. About half have pleaded guilty; about 220 have been sentenced to jail and 100 to home detention, according to a government statement on the insurrection.

“The Department of Justice’s resolve to hold accountable those who committed crimes on January 6, 2021, has not, and will not, wane,” the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington wrote.

A mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win, a riot that the bipartisan House committee firmly blamed on former president Donald Trump.

Five people died as a result of the attack, about 140 law enforcement officers were assaulted — 80 from the U.S. Capitol Police and 60 from D.C. police — and the Capitol building and grounds were damaged.

The Justice Department said that “as of October 14, 2022, the approximate losses suffered as a result of the siege at the Capitol totaled $2,881,360.20. That amount reflects, among other things, damage to the Capitol building and grounds and certain costs borne by the U.S. Capitol Police.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) promised far-right members of Congress — as he made concessions to them to win the speakership — to investigate those who investigated the insurrection on the Jan. 6 committee. Last month, McCarthy also gave Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to more than 40,000 hours of security footage from the attack. Airing some this week, Carlson falsely claimed the rioters were overwhelmingly peaceful, describing them as “sightseers.” Carlson’s claims — though Senate Republicans denounced them — aided efforts to recast Jan. 6 with a false narrative.

Greene, Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) and other House Republicans have zeroed in on the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants, whom Gosar has cast as “political prisoners,” and showed up at a D.C. jail in July 2021. They had previously complained to Bowser in April 2021 about “various violations of detainees’ civil rights,” including unsanitary conditions.

According to the committee’s letter to Bowser, some of the inmates held in the District told Greene they had not been included in a seminar about how to handle their court cases, had been denied access to their lawyers or had been “given the choice of either taking a shower, speaking with their families, or speaking with counsel.”

“If the allegations made to Rep. Greene are true, these represent serious abuses by DC [Department of Corrections] of these detainees’ constitutional rights,” the members wrote.

The District’s jails have long been criticized for poor conditions and other failures, but critics have noted that little attention was paid to the complaints of the mainly Black prison population until Greene and her colleagues denounced the conditions for people accused in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

“The treatment of detained individuals in facilities across the country is an important subject for Congressional oversight,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said in a statement. “Our GOP colleagues’ sudden and selective sympathy for January 6 insurrectionists reflects their continuing effort to lionize the violent attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.”

The members’ claim that people arrested in connection with the insurrection at the Capitol are being treated differently appears to partially rest on Greene’s comparison between general prisoners and a special program at the jail for men ages 18 to 25. The program, known as D.C.’s Young Men Emerging Unit, is an effort to provide mentorship and intervention for young incarcerated people, often disproportionately men of color serving long prison terms, according to the Justice Policy Institute.

“Rep. Greene did not see any January 6-detainee being allowed to participate in this program,” the lawmakers wrote.

Trump has consistently sided with those in the mob who overran the U.S. Capitol, resisting hours of pleas to stop the rioters on the day of the attack, eventually telling them they were loved and “very special.” He has since vowed to pardon the defendants if he is elected to another term in 2024.

Last week, Trump took his support for those who stormed the Capitol to another level, collaborating on a new song with a group of inmates imprisoned in Washington on charges related to the attack.

Amy B Wang and Azi Paybarah contributed to this report.