Prosecutor explains investigation into January 6 Capitol attack

"You are charged strictly upon your conduct and what happened that day, divorced of any politics," Prosecutor Michael Sherwin told 60 Minutes.

Prosecuting the Capitol rioters
Prosecuting the Capitol rioters 13:16

Prosecutor Michael Sherwin described what he saw at the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol as "the dark side of human nature." 

Wearing running clothes and a baseball cap, the then-Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia accompanied the D.C. Metropolitan Police to President Donald Trump's rally on the Ellipse. He described seeing a "carnival environment" that quickly turned angry. Then a mob of protesters, some wearing military-grade tactical gear, headed toward the U.S. Capitol.

By day's end, Sherwin would launch the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history.

In his first television interview about the attack on the Capitol, Sherwin, an appointee of former Attorney General William Barr, told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that over 400 criminal cases have been filed and he expects at least 100 more people will be charged.

"What makes this case so monumental, there are hundreds of defendants in a limited area, dispersing," Sherwin told 60 Minutes. "And a variety of crimes being investigated, everything from murder to assaults to theft of government property, the theft of art."

In unaired portions of the interview, Sherwin addressed why many who breached the Capitol left without being arrested, debunked claims about left-wing extremists posing as Trump supporters, and discussed tours of the building that took place before January 6.

Sherwin made clear throughout the interview that he was referencing information that is already in the public record.

Why rioters left the capitol without being arrested 

Capitol reconnaissance tours? 03:07

Michael Sherwin described federal buildings as "mazes" and said they are "not easy to navigate." He told Scott Pelley that the government is investigating whether suspects who toured the Capitol in the days leading up to the attack were on reconnaissance runs. 

"They may have been casing or doing reconnaissance runs," Sherwin said to Pelley. "Or they were on a basic tour. But, yes, I mean, that's troubling. If that happens, god, that's troubling."

Sherwin said he did not want to play "Monday morning quarterback" on why hundreds of people who breached the Capitol grounds were able to leave that day without being apprehended by law enforcement. 

Using Trump rhetoric as a defense strategy

Using Trump rhetoric as a defense strategy 01:26

In some instances, those who were charged with crimes related to their role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol have invoked former President Trump in their defense, saying that he told them to go to the Capitol. 

"That's not a valid defense under the law," Sherwin told Pelley. "And if they want to roll the dice and say that in front of a jury, they can."

Prior to the interruption of the Electoral College vote count, in his speech on the Ellipse, Mr. Trump encouraged his supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue saying, "We're going to walk down to the Capitol and we're going to cheer on our brave Senators and Congressmen and women. And we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong."

Did Capitol attackers intend to harm Pence, members of Congress?

Investigating intent of Capitol riot 01:46

Sherwin said the government is still investigating the objective of some of those who breached the Capitol, including whether there was intent to capture or kill members of Congress and former Vice President Mike Pence.

It is a "critical and a scary fact" that gallows were erected outside the Capitol on January 6, Sherwin said to 60 Minutes.

The videos above were produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. They were edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.