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FBI did not issue statement clearing Trump for Capitol insurrection

January 15, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: The FBI has cleared President Donald Trump “of any guilt, any connection” to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. There is no record of the federal law enforcement agency making such a statement.

THE FACTS: On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection.”

President Donald Trump had urged his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to protest election results on the day Congress was set to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. At a rally that day, Trump told his supporters, “We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” As he was speaking, his supporters began storming the Capitol in what became a deadly siege.

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On a Jan. 7 press call with reporters, federal law enforcement made clear that they are looking into everyone who might have been involved with the attack on the Capitol.

“Yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington told reporters, adding they could also look at anyone who may have played an ancillary role. “We will look at every actor and all criminal charges.”

While some legal experts have said in recent days that Trump may have violated federal laws, the legal bar for such a prosecution is high. On Jan. 8, a prosecutor in Sherwin’s office told reporters he did not expect criminal charges for inciting the riot to be filed against Trump or others who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally, though he did say prosecutors will follow the evidence. 

Yet social media users are spreading false information that the FBI has definitively exonerated Trump from any responsibility.

“The FBI has just cleared President Donald Trump of any guilt, any connection to the Jan. 6 attack on our state Capitol,” says a man in a video that has been viewed more than 80,000 times since it first posted to YouTube on Wednesday.

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“The FBI has just released their findings that this was pre-planned and had nothing to do with President Donald John Trump,” he says. He later adds, “He was partially impeached on this bull nonsense.” 

But there is no record of the FBI making such a statement as is described in the video.

In response to an inquiry from The Associated Press, a spokesperson for FBI wrote: “We will direct you tohttps://www.fbi.gov/wanted/capitol-violence for relevant information and statements made by the FBI.” An AP review of the site did not yield any FBI statements that match the one quoted in the video.

Legal experts say it would be highly unusual for the FBI to make such a definitive declaration so early into an investigation.

“It is not how the FBI works, it is not plausible that they completed their investigation,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. 

Within six days of the Capitol breach, the FBI announced it had opened 170 criminal cases.

“Every time they arrest one of these people, they are interviewing them, they are finding out how they were influenced,” Levenson said. “They are in the midst of a huge investigation.”

The man who made the false claim in the video about FBI statements credits the information to One America News Network, a conservative news network. 

Charles Herring of One America News Network told the AP he was not aware of an OAN story that had reported on “a definitive statement from the FBI that the President will NOT be charged.” Herring did point out stories from ABC and CNBC that reported on the Jan. 8 comment from a federal prosecutor saying charges against Trump for inciting the riot were unlikely at this point.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536