A man facing federal charges over his alleged role in the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol has claimed the charges should be dropped because Congress certifying President Joe Biden's election win was not "an official proceeding."
Ethan Nordean was arrested for his alleged crimes in early February and indicted by a federal grand jury the following month. He was charged with conspiracy, obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, aiding and abetting injury or depredation of federal property, knowingly entering or remaining in restricted building or grounds and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Nordean pleaded not guilty to the charges and could face a maximum combined prison sentence exceeding three decades if convicted on all counts. Multiple photos and videos appear to show him both outside the Capitol and inside the building after it was breached on January 6. Nordean, also known by the alias Rufio Panman, is a prominent Washington state leader of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys.
During a court hearing on Tuesday, attorney Nicholas Smith argued that charges against Nordean and three co-defendants, all of whom are also Proud Boys leaders, should be dismissed because the joint session of Congress that was meeting to certify the 2020 presidential election results as rioters breached the Capitol was not really an "official proceeding," according to The Seattle Times. Smith said that to be an official proceeding, according to case law, it would need to involve an investigation or truth-finding inquiry.
Nordean's lawyer reportedly argued that his claim represented a "massive presentment problem" for the prosecution, while Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James I. Pearce responded by arguing that Congress was clearly involved in an official proceeding, as evidenced by "a presiding official gaveling in" the joint session of elected officials.
Norden and his co-defendants—Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe—are currently in federal custody awaiting trial. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly set a tentative trial start date of May 18, 2022, during Tuesday's hearing. In discussions with defense attorneys, the judge indicated that the trial could last between four and six weeks, according to Reuters.
Attorneys for the men have previously made unsuccessful arguments that they should be granted bail ahead of their trial. Smith reportedly argued that the court should consider releasing Nordean due to a prosecutor's "improper" attempt to convince Rehl to cooperate with the prosecution by wearing a wire and gathering evidence that could be used against the other defendants.
The Capitol was breached by supporters of former President Donald Trump who were attempting to interrupt the proceedings and overturn the presidential election results, apparently fueled by false claims that the election had been "stolen." Over 600 have been charged for their alleged participation. Biden was officially certified the election winner within hours of the insurrection.
Newsweek reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.