FBI Director Christopher Wray on Monday defended the bureau against right-wing claims that it is pursuing cases against people who participated in the January 6, 2021, insurrection more aggressively than it is for rioters who attacked private and public buildings during racial justice protests in 2020.
Wray, noting that the FBI has opened hundreds of investigations in connection to both the US Capitol attack and the riots that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in 2020, said that “there are some differences, though,” in how the bureau has been able to investigate the events..
“In the January 6 instance, it happened in broad daylight and it’s been photographed extensively, people’s faces eminently visible, and involved a fairly unmistakable breach and entry into the Congress while they were in the middle of conducting one of their most sacred responsibilities,” Wray said during an event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
The Justice Department has charged more than 700 people in connection with the attack on the Capitol meant to disrupt the confirmation of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election on behalf of then-President Donald Trump
However, at least half of the charges have been misdemeanors, the lowest-level petty offenses available to the department.
The riots in spurred by protests to Floyd’s murder largely involved protesters attacking empty federal buildings and private business in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis.
Wray noted that in the 2020 riots, there is less federal jurisdiction that would have allowed the Justice Department to bring charges for attacks on private property and many rioters have simply been harder to find because they concealed themselves.
“We are aggressively pursuing both,” he said. “We have one standard, which is you don’t get to commit violence. ”
The comments come as some people on the right, including several January 6 defendants, have claimed that the administration has created two justice systems for the separate incidents, charging that their conservative politics are fueling a more intense response compared to how left-leaning rioters are being treated.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican and one Trump’s strongest allies in Congress, told reporters Monday that there should not be a “double standard” in how the different rioters are treated by the courts.
“The rule of law is blind, right? So when you commit a crime, you should pay for that crime, wherever it was done,” he said.
Some of the claims raised against the government by January 6 defendants have been rejected in court by at least two Trump-appointed federal judges.
In December, Judges Trevor McFadden and Carl Nichols both said the Capitol riot defendants’ arguments didn’t have enough evidence to show discrimination.
In one case, McFadden refused defendant David Lee Judd’s request for the judge to dig into Justice Department records about prosecution decisions in Portland and DC, claiming he was being treated unfairly compared with similar defendants on the West Coast.
McFadden explained that the Portland riots didn’t have the same severe consequences as the attempted coup on January 6, pointing out that although the Portland rioters attacked federal buildings, they “primarily attacked at night, meaning that they raged against a largely vacant courthouse,” while the Capitol rioters jeopardized the safety of members of Congress and their staff.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.