An ex-Capitol Police officer charged with obstructing the January 6 investigation just got a tentative plea offer from the Justice Department

·3 min read
Michael Riley
Former Capitol Police officer Michael Riley received a tentative plea deal to resolve charges he obstructed the January 6 investigation.Tom Williams/Roll Call
  • A Capitol Police officer resigned after being charged with obstructing the January 6 investigation.

  • Prosecutors have made a tentative plea offer to begin negotiations to resolve the criminal case.

  • The former officer, Michael Riley, is due back in court in January.

The Justice Department has extended a "tentative plea offer" to Michael Riley, the former Capitol Police officer charged with obstructing the federal investigation into the January 6 attack, a prosecutor said Monday.

In a brief court hearing, assistant US Attorney Molly Gaston said the federal prosecutor's office in Washington had outlined the "broad confines" of a plea deal to begin negotiations with Riley, who resigned from the Capitol Police force after his indictment last month.

Gaston also pressed for a trial date for Riley, but Judge Amy Berman Jackson declined to set one. With pandemic-related backlogs, Jackson said that there's "a lot of competition for trial dates" among defendants who are not detained and stand "a little bit ahead of Mr. Riley in the queue."

Riley's defense lawyer, Christopher Macchiaroli, pushed back against setting a trial date. Among other things, he said that Riley's defense team has received more than 3,000 pages of discovery and has not yet had the opportunity to review the preliminary plea offer with the former Capitol Police officer.

Macchiaroli said the US attorney's office in Washington extended the offer just before Thanksgiving.

The judge set another hearing for January 14 but acknowledged the prosecutor's argument that the allegations against Riley are relatively straightforward.

"I agree with you, Ms. Gaston, this case is relatively circumscribed in terms of what the charges are and may be one that I will be ready to move forward with sooner rather than later," Jackson said.

A high-profile January 6 defendant

Riley immediately emerged as one of the highest-profile January 6 defendants after his indictment last month on charges he obstructed the Capitol breach investigation.

Prosecutors alleged that Riley instructed a participant in the January 6 attack to scrub his Facebook account of photographs and posts placing him inside the Capitol during the breach.

Identifying himself as a Capitol police officer who "agrees with your political stance," Riley wrote the Capitol rioter: "Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to charged. Just looking out!"

Riley and the rioter bonded over a shared interest in fishing and continued to exchange messages about January 6, according to court records. At one point, the unidentified rioter shared a photo and video showing him smoking inside the Capitol. After the rioter was charged in connection with the Capitol riot, he spoke on the phone with Riley for 23 minutes, prosecutors said.

The rioter later turned himself in to the FBI on January 20 — the day of President Joe Biden's inauguration — and told Riley that he had discussed their communications. Riley then deleted his Facebook direct messages with the accused rioter, prosecutors said.

The next day, Riley cut off contact, saying he was "shocked and dumbfounded" by a video that showed him "smoking weed and acting like a moron."

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