By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Capitol Police officer on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to charges that he obstructed a probe into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol complex by supporters of then-President Donald Trump by urging a participant to destroy Facebook posts showing him inside, warning that he could be prosecuted.
At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, Michael Riley, who served on the Capitol Police force for 25 years, formally entered not guilty pleas to two obstruction charges filed against him last week, according to court records.
A status conference was scheduled on the case for Nov. 29. The court docket notes that if the Nov. 29 hearing "is to be converted to a disposition" then "the parties must email the draft plea paperwork" to a court clerk by Nov. 24.
A lawyer for Riley could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a six-page indictment, prosecutors alleged Riley became a Facebook friend with a suspect identified as "Person 1" on Jan. 1 and then direct messaged the individual on Jan. 7.
"Hey (Person 1), im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance," Riley said in the message. "Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charged."
Prosecutors say Riley exchanged "dozens more" direct messages with the riot suspect on Jan. 7, including one in which he wrote "Im glad you got out of there unscathed. We had over 50 officers hurt, some pretty bad."
Each of two obstruction charges Riley faces carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though judges often impose sentences below the maximum.
More than 650 people have been charged with taking part in the attack, an unsuccessful attempt to stop Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's election victory, which Trump falsely claimed was the result of widespread fraud.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bill Berkrot)