A federal judge in Washington on Friday denied a Department of Justice request to hire a private contractor to create a database of the evidence of the Capitol breach on Jan. 6.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the DOJ request to provide grand jury material to Deloitte Financial Advisory Services because federal rules prohibit the disclosure of such material to all but public government entities.
“Undoubtedly, the government has a genuine need for the highly technical expertise offered by Deloitte to provide litigation support and process efficiently the cumbersome myriad forms of electronic data collected in investigating the Capitol attack,” the judge wrote in a 54-page opinion (pdf).
The DOJ had pointed to certain exceptions in the prohibitions to argue that Deloitte could be considered government personnel. The department explained that the lack of a centralized entity to handle all the evidence would threaten “to slow the discovery process, delay contemplated trial proceedings, and undermine the considerable benefits of having a single, secure, searchable database for discovery materials.”
Howell concurred that the government’s need for Deloitte’s help is genuine but ruled that the definition of what a public government entity “cannot be stretched to include a private contractor such as Deloitte, no matter how compelling the need for disclosure may be.”
More than 500 people across the United States have been charged with crimes and misdemeanors in connection to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. The government described the volume of evidence collected as part of the investigation as “the largest in American history, both in terms of the number of defendants prosecuted and the nature and volume of the evidence.”
The evidence includes video footage, social media posts, device location history and cellphone tower data for hundreds of devices located at the Capitol at the time of the breach. To handle the massive data trove as part of its responsibility to produce exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys, DOJ hired Deloitte on May 28, 2021.
The department argued that the private firm’s expertise “is vital to the United States’ ability to review large data/document productions and is essential to [the government’s] ability to prosecute these cases effectively” and “to ensure that all defendants obtain meaningful access to voluminous information that may contain exculpatory material” while “adequately protecting the privacy and security interests of witnesses and subjects from whom those materials were derived.”
The firm’s involvement was complicated by the fact that grand jury material was used in the prosecutions of some 200 people, including information obtained using more than 6,000 grand jury subpoenas.