The US Capitol is still closed to visitors, but attorneys for dozens of the defendants accused in the January 6 attack are getting the chance to walk through what remains a crime scene.
The restrictions on each tour are spelled out in court filings: no guests, no cameras, no special parking permits. But the access is vast: Each attorney is given maps of the Capitol grounds with attached floor plans.
They’re promised up-close looks into the locations that became ground zero on January 6: the House and Senate chambers, where people wearing combat gear forced lawmakers into hiding; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, where recently released rioter Richard Barnett famously put his feet up on a desk; and the Speaker’s Lobby, outside of which Air Force veteran and avid Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt was shot trying to enter.
The Capitol tours are the latest step in a long process of criminal proceedings following the riot. Before most of the more than 400 federal criminal defendants can choose to make deals to plead guilty or go to trial, their lawyers get to review all the details they can.
The first scheduled tour happened Monday, and four subsequent tours are scheduled throughout this month and into the next.
On Monday, Capitol Police Inspector Thomas Loyd led the tour of about a dozen attorneys for the rioters, according to a person present.
Loyd saw it all unfold firsthand on January 6. He was praised in a memo from members of the department’s Capitol Division, written days after the attack, for fighting “shoulder to shoulder” with the rank and file, and refusing to “retreat inside the building to attempt to ‘lead’ from his office.” According to the memo, reported by The New York Times, Loyd even “pulled officers off the line and took their place so they could receive medical attention.”
The tours are part of the typical process where defense teams are given access to evidence and other information that can help them prepare their cases. If any of the defendants go to trial, the tours could help attorneys build out crucial scenes for the jury.
Though court proceedings have revealed that plea deals are nearing, many of the cases are still in the phase where prosecutors give defense teams access to evidence.
“Typically a defense lawyer has the right to inspect the crime scene after the fact to prepare a defense,” said former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst.
“Of course, the Capitol is a unique crime scene because it is a secure government building,” he added. “It’s a better course for prosecutors to give access to those lawyers, under proper supervision, to guard against any eventual appeal argument that the defense was denied its right to prepare for trial.”
Loyd also pointed out some of the artwork and sculptures within the Capitol during the tour, according to the person present. The firsthand glimpse could provide attorneys with a point of reference, or provide avenues for dispute, for the clients who are charged with damaging parts of the Capitol.
Some alleged rioters face charges for more minor amounts of damage to the Capitol; though some are charged with damage that cost more than $1,000, namely when they broke windows.
More than 50 are charged with destruction or theft of property during the insurrection.
In February, Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton told lawmakers the cost of repairing damage from the attack and related security expenses topped $30 million and was expected to keep rising.
As for the artwork, a curator in the House of Representatives’ Office of History and Preservation, Farar Elliott, told lawmakers in prepared testimony that eight pieces — six sculptures and two paintings — had been vandalized in the attack. House curators requested $25,000 in emergency funding by the end of February to cover the costs of restoration and repair.
Elliott’s prepared testimony noted that the granite busts, the portraits of James Madison and John Quincy Adams, and the statue of Thomas Jefferson were covered in a fine powder, concluded to be “likely residue from a chemical spray,” like from a fire extinguisher or pepper or bear spray.