U.S. prosecutors in plea talks with Oath Keepers on Capitol riot

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in Washington
Police release tear gas into a crowd of pro-Trump protesters during clashes at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

WASHINGTON, June 1 (Reuters) - U.S. federal prosecutors have opened talks about plea deals with members of the far-right Oath Keepers group charged with joining the deadly attack on the Capitol, and hope to make offers in the next two months, a Justice Department lawyer said on Tuesday.

Justice Department lawyer Kathryn Rakoczy said during a court hearing that prosecutors hoping "over next month or two" to make plea offers to members and associates of the group.

Rakoczy spoke during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who is overseeing a sprawling criminal case now accusing 16 Oath Keepers members and associates of planning and coordinating ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

Hundreds of people fought their way into the Capitol that day, smashing windows, sending lawmakers running for safety and injuring dozens of police officers. The violence left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

The number of defendants in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case rose to 16 after four more associates were indicted in recent days. The conspiracy case against the Oath Keepers is the largest and most complex of the hundreds brought by the Justice Department in the months since the attack.

Just one defendant has pleaded guilty so far to charges related to the siege and lawyers for more than a dozen defendants last month told Reuters they had rejected plea offers because they believed the terms were excessive.

In March, U.S. prosecutors said they had new evidence that Oath Keepers members planned violence when Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, including text messages tying the group’s leader to the plot.

"We're going to defend the president, the duly elected president," Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers said, during a November conference call, according to a court filing unsealed on Sunday.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that his election defeat was the result of fraud. Multiple courts, as well as state election officials and his own administration, rejected that claim.

"So our posture's gonna be that we're posted outside of DC, um, awaiting the president's orders," Rhodes said, according to the Justice Department's court filing. "We hope he will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as militia."

Mehta has not yet set trial dates for the Oath Keepers defendants. He said during Tuesday's hearing that it may not be possible to try all the co-defendants in the same case.

"I don't know if in the history of this courthouse we've had a 16-plus defendant trial," Mehta said.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe in Washington; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

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