During Howell’s first public court session in a riot-related case since the Jan. 6 unrest, the judge — a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel — appeared to be brimming with anger over the assault on the Capitol. She repeatedly emphasized that the rioters not only disrespected the historic building, but were also engaged in an attempt to undermine the Constitution.
“His entitled behavior that he exhibited in videos and photographs when inside the Capitol show a total disregard for the law, a total disregard for the U.S. Constitution,” said Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “This violence disrupted a constitutional function of Congress.”
Howell commented that the events at the Capitol three weeks ago struck fear into the hearts of lawmakers, staff and members of the media. She also said the rioters had transformed life in Washington, leading to the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops and the placement of crowd-control fencing cutting off much of the downtown.
“What happened on that day in the U.S. Capitol was criminal activity that is destined to go down in the history books of our country. … This was not a peaceful protest,” the judge declared. “We’re still living here in Washington, D.C., with the consequences of the violence in which this defendant is accused to have participated.”
The judge seemed particularly provoked by Barnett’s brash, ostentatious behavior, describing as evidence that he was likely to defy any court order about how to behave while on release.
“He not only entered the Capitol without authorization, but he strutted into the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,” Howell said. “He felt so entitled, he put his feet on the desk. He felt so entitled, he picked up her mail and walked off with a piece of mail.”
While the judge called the charges against Barnett “gravely serious,” they are actually relatively modest. Others who took part in the riot face a slew of charges, including assaulting police with a dangerous weapon, obstruction of Congress and interfering with police during civil disorder. Prosecutors say they’re also considering filing sedition charges against some rioters.
Howell also let loose on Barnett’s attorney, Anthony Siano, over a letter he sent the court earlier this month complaining about the actions of prosecutors relating to their appeal of the ruling by the magistrate in Fayetteville, Ark., that allowed Barnett to be released into the custody of his longtime partner.
Siano accused prosecutors of not disclosing that they planned to request that Barnett be transported from Arkansas to Washington and of not telling the court here that Barnett had hired counsel. The lawyer, based in White Plains, N.Y., also complained that he was not sent a copy of the filings related to the appeal until after Howell granted a stay and ordered Barnett brought to D.C.
The judge, however, said those complaints were unjustified.
“I don’t know how you practice in other jurisdictions, Mr. Siano, but I am telling you right now: throwing around accusations of misconduct by opposing counsel is not acceptable here, when it is without merit,” Howell said. “That accusation is both frivolous and without merit. … If you’re going to continue in this case, I caution you about how you conduct yourself, because that letter was wholly inappropriate.”
During the 90-minute hearing, which the participants joined by video and journalists listened to by telephone, the judge also noted — disapprovingly — a vulgar remark Barnett allegedly made about his actions in Pelosi’s office and a sexist slur he directed at the speaker.
Siano downplayed that as overheated political talk. “He had a political hostility to the speaker,” the defense attorney said.
Barnett appears in photos to have been wearing a stun-gun walking stick while in Pelosi’s office, but Siano stressed that there was no evidence Barnett was violent with anyone during the events at the Capitol. He also said an envelope Barnett allegedly took from Pelosi’s desk was empty.
“And that is supposed to make it better?” the judge responded skeptically.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Dohrmann called the evidence against Barnett “truly incontrovertible.”
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” she said.
Perhaps fortunately for Barnett, future proceedings in his case are unlikely to take place before Howell. If he is indicted or pleads guilty to a felony in the case, it will be put up for random assignment.