On the Missing Inspector General Report[s] about Wilbur Ross’ Lies

There was a big news blitz yesterday on the news that the Commerce Department’s Inspector General had concluded Wilbur Ross twice misled Congress about the rationale for including a citizenship question in last year’s census.

The claim was based off a letter from Inspector General Peggy Gustafsonwho was nominated under President Obama — explaining what had become of a 2019 request to investigate whether Ross had lied. In her letter, which was publicly released, Gustafson revealed the outcome of her investigation.

Our investigation established that the then-Secretary misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question during his March 20, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations and again in his March 22, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means. During Congressional testimony, the then-Secretary stated his decision to reinstate the citizenship question was based solely on a DOJ request. That request memorandum was signed by the DOJ on December 12, 2017. However, evidence shows there were significant communications related to the citizenship question among the then-Secretary, his staff, and other government officials between March 2017 and September 2017, which was well before the DOJ request memorandum. Evidence also suggests the Department requested and played a part in drafting the DOJ memorandum. Further, the then-Secretary sent a memorandum to the Department on June 21, 2018, clarifying his deliberations regarding adding a citizenship question to the Decennial Census. In this memorandum, the then-Secretary stated he began considering the content of the 2020 Census, to include reinstating the citizenship question, soon after his appointment to Secretary.

This investigation was presented to and declined for prosecution by the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ’s Criminal Division.

She sent the report to Congress along with her letter. But the report itself has not been released publicly or, best as I can tell, even leaked with those who wrote stories on the letter.

Reports on DOJ’s declination created a great deal of outrage that Merrick Garland had declined to prosecute the case. Only, as an AP correction revealed, Garland’s DOJ hadn’t declined prosecution. Barr’s DOJ did.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the decision not to prosecute Ross was made by the Department of Justice during the Trump administration, not the Biden administration.

But corners of the media blitz left out a lot more details about the context of the original request. It came after a Republican strategist, Thomas Hofeller, died, leaving his Democratic daughter to go through his papers, only to discover he, and very racist plans for gerrymandering, were behind the census question. After that smoking gun was discovered, House Oversight (starting under Elijah Cummings before he died) did more investigation and then a bunch of Senators asked for an investigation.

And after DOJ kept appealing a District Court ruling on the question in NY, even the Supreme Court found that Commerce had misrepresented the reason for the question.

Finally, we have recognized a narrow exception to the general rule against inquiring into “the mental processes of administrative decision-makers.” Overton Park, 401 U. S., at 420.

On a “strong showing of bad faith or improper behavior,” such an inquiry may be warranted and may justify extra-record discovery. Ibid. The District Court invoked that exception in ordering extra-record discovery here. Although that order was premature, we think it was ultimately justified in light of the expanded administrative record. Recall that shortly after this litigation began, the Secretary, prodded by DOJ, filed a supplemental memo that added new, pertinent information to the administrative record. The memo disclosed that the Secretary had been considering the citizenship question for some time and that Commerce had inquired whether DOJ would formally request reinstatement of the question. That supplemental memo prompted respondents to move for both completion of the administrative record and extra-record discovery. The District Court granted both requests at the same hearing, agreeing with respondents that the Government had submitted an incomplete administrative record and that the existing evidence supported a prima facie showing that the VRA rationale was pretextual.

[snip]

That evidence showed that the Secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process. In the District Court’s view, this evidence established that the Secretary had made up his mind to reinstate a citizenship question “well before” receiving DOJ’s request, and did so for reasons unknown but unrelated to the VRA. 351 F. Supp. 3d, at 660.

John Roberts laid out the evidence that Commerce’s IG must also have relied on.

[I]t was not until the Secretary contacted the Attorney General directly that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division expressed interest in acquiring census-based citizenship data to better enforce the VRA. And even then, the record suggests that DOJ’s interest was directed more to helping the Commerce Department than to securing the data. The December 2017 letter from DOJ drew heavily on contributions from Commerce staff and advisors. Their influence may explain why the letter went beyond a simple entreaty for better citizenship data—what one might expect of a typical request from another agency—to a specific request that Commerce collect the data by means of reinstating a citizenship question on the census. Finally, after sending the letter, DOJ declined the Census Bureau’s offer to discuss alternative ways to meet DOJ’s stated need for improved citizenship data, further suggesting a lack of interest on DOJ’s part.

Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency). And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.

After SCOTUS ruled Commerce could not include a citizenship question in the census, the plaintiffs asked the judge to sanction DOJ and Commerce officials who made misrepresentations to the court. Judge Jesse Furman made the government pay fees but did not further sanction the government witnesses in question.

That is, the underlying record has been known for some time. The only thing new in the record, as far as we know, is that — after a bunch of Senators asked for an investigation into this — the Commerce IG agreed with John Roberts and referred Ross for prosecution, only to have Barr’s hyper-politicized DOJ — a DOJ that was itself caught making untrue statements to the District Judge in the NY case — decline prosecution.

Which makes it all the more curious that Commerce didn’t publicly release the report along with the letter. The report is done. Why not release it publicly, as past derogatory reports about Ross were released?

One more detail that may explain DOJ’s silence in response to this news. The original letter from a bunch of Senators requesting the investigation wasn’t addressed just to Commerce. It was also addressed to Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s Inspector General. There’s no sign of such an investigation on their site (and I have thus far gotten no response to a question about this from them) — but they don’t include all their investigations.

But these stories are only about what the result of the Commerce Inspector General investigation was, and how Bill Barr’s DOJ responded. They’re not about whether there was an investigation at DOJ, and what happened if that investigation ended under Merrick Garland. They’re not about what a DOJ that has put great emphasis on voting rights has done with all this.

On the Upcoming Sentencing for the First January 6 Felony Defendant, Paul Hodgkins

On Monday, Paul Hodgkins will become the first felony defendant to be sentenced for his role in the January 6 riot.

Before I explain what the parties have said about that sentencing, some background is in order. The government has used obstruction, 18 USC §1512(c)(2), to charge virtually every January 6 defendant who in one way or another (often on social media before and after the riot), expressed the intent to prevent the certification of the vote, as distinct from simply wandering into the Capitol to express some support for Trump. Such an approach has a lot of upsides: it (thus far) avoids the inflammatory step of charging defendants with seditious conspiracy or insurrection (though that remains a possibility, particularly for militia defendants), while accessing the same kind of steep sentences for the most serious defendants. Because of sentencing enhancements built into obstruction, including “substantial interference,” “extensive scope or planning,” and “threatening injury or violence,” using it allows DOJ to make clear distinctions even among the defendants found guilty of obstruction. Just as an example, while Hodgkins’ sentencing range treated his occupation of the Senate Chamber as substantial interference (which resulted in a sentencing range of 15-21 months), he did not get dinged with enhancements that Graydon Young did for all his pre-planning, the Oath Keepers’ threats of violence, and Young’s attempt to destroy his Facebook account (which resulted in a sentencing range, for obstruction and conspiracy, of 63-78 months).

That said, it is an unprecedented application of the obstruction statute (of course, the January 6 insurrection was an unprecedented event). And a number of defendants have active, non-frivolous challenges to that application, some of which I explained here. Hodgkins pled guilty before all that litigation plays out, giving DOJ a significant first endorsement of this charging approach (which may be why Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco sat in on Hodgkins’ guilty plea).

But Monday will be overdetermined because Hodgkins’ sentence, whatever it is, will be taken as setting some kind of standard that over a hundred defendants may be able to point to when it comes to their own sentencing (if DOJ’s application of 1512 is upheld through what is sure to be a number of decisions and appeals). Just as three hypotheticals, Judge Randolph Moss might explain that he finds Hodgkins’ behavior to be a grave threat to democracy and say that with any other similarly situated defendant, he would sentence him to the maximum sentence in his guideline, 21 months, but because Hodgkins went first, Moss will give him a significant downward variance; that would allow him and all other DC judges to sentence hold-outs more severely than Hodgkins. Alternately, Moss might decide that the “significant interference” enhancement shouldn’t apply to Hodgkins and on that basis sentence Hodgkins using a lower guideline (it would give Hodgkins a sentencing range of 8 to 14 months), a judgment that would likely be invoked by a wide range of similar defendants and so would be more binding to other judges and Moss himself in the future. Finally, Moss might rule that what Hodgkins did is barely distinguishable from what he is seeing in some of the trespass cases before him, and so sentence Hodgkins to what would be the max range for one of those trespass charges, six months; such a decision might or might not extend to other obstruction defendants based on factors like whether they told the truth about their actions. Again, those are all just hypotheticals intended to illustrate that why Moss sentences Hodgkins to a particular sentence will be as important going forward as what he sentences him to.

The possibility that Moss might be thinking about what distinguishes Hodgkins from misdemeanor trespass defendants or other defendants charged with obstruction would not be surprising. Because all DC judges have a bunch of January 6 cases, they often express a comparative understanding of them in hearings. So, as Moss prepares to sentence Hodgkins, he might be comparing Hodgkins’ conduct with what has been charged against other defendants over whose cases he is presiding. Moss has a wide range of defendants before him (the Klein brothers, who have ties to the Proud Boys, are his only militia defendants), but the most useful comparisons with other defendants charged with obstruction include:

  • Brady Knowlton and Patrick Montgomery, who were also in the Senate Chamber and who are among the defendants challenging the application of 1512; Montgomery was charged with resisting a police officer after having claimed on Facebook not to have stormed the Capitol violently
  • Bruno Cua, who was charged with assault and civil disorder on top of obstruction and sat in Pence’s chair in the Senate Chamber even as others there told him not to
  • Ryan Suleski, who is also charged with stealing some papers from a member of Congress, who hinted at more to come in an interview after the riot, and who may not have been entirely forthright when interviewed by the FBI
  • Melody Steele-Smith, who boasted of entering Nancy Pelosi’s office and storming the Capitol on Facebook before she deleted those posts

In other words, Judge Moss’ sentencing decision may be as influenced by what he thinks of Knowlton’s similar conduct and fully-briefed challenge to 1512 as it will be by the memoranda before him. It may be influenced by a belief that Hodgkins didn’t do what other defendants did — including misrepresenting their own behaviors either to the FBI or in his own courtroom — while getting charged for the same crime.

That comparative approach may be Hodgkins’ best argument for a lenient sentence. Hodgkins’ sentencing memo makes a sustained and not very convincing pitch for the effort to forgive sedition after the Civil War and throws in some bullshit language about “cancel” culture, then asks for probation (as most defense attorneys do for obstruction). But it then argues that, given how little separates Hodgkins from defendants charged with misdemeanor trespass (significantly, that he entered the Senate Chamber itself), he should benefit from a minimal participation variance.

We contend that when one’s role is similar to the several hundred Defendant’s found inside the same building as Mr. HODGKINS who are being offered misdemeanors, and whose conduct is the same as the totality of the misconduct that is alleged in the instant case, as noted in the PSR paragraphs 10-19, that Mr. HODGKINS’ role was only minimal and deserving of a variance. Because Mr. HODGKINS is accepting a felony, giving him the minimal role variance creates a just result for sentencing purposes. Importantly, this argument is about sentencing. The Defendant has pled to a felony offense because of his presence on the Senate floor. Those being offered misdemeanors offense for being inside the Capitol could also arguably have been compelled to plead to the same felony count as Mr. HODGKINS, but for the distinction of their location within the building. While for findings purposes, Mr. HODGKINS presence inside the Senate chambers vice the Rotunda is an important consideration, for purposes of sentencing there is zero space between Mr. HODGKINS conduct and that of the several hundred others who entered the United States Capitol who are being sentenced for a misdemeanor offense. Mr. HODGKINS should be treated likewise. One surmises that had Mr. HODGKINS simply stopped at the Senate door, he also would be facing a misdemeanor charge rather than this felony offense.

This is a fairly convincing argument, not least because of the defendants who were in the Senate Chamber (notably including Cua), Hodgkins engaged in far less obstructive behavior while there.

The government, meanwhile, seems to have taken an approach that hopes to leave itself maximal flexibility after this first January 6 obstruction sentencing, one that really doesn’t credit Hodgkins all that much for being the first to plead guilty.

The defendant, Paul Hodgkins, participated in the January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol—a violent attack that forced an interruption of the certification of the 2020 Electoral College vote count, threatened the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 Presidential election, injured more than one hundred law enforcement officers, and resulted in more than a million dollars’ worth of property damage. Hodgkins entered the Capitol wearing a backpack containing protective eye goggles, rope, and white latex gloves, among other items. He made his way to the heart of the proceeding that he has pleaded guilty to obstructing – the Senate chamber – where he took “selfie-style” photographs and saluted others who were shouting and cheering from a nearby raised platform in the well of the chamber. The government nonetheless recognizes that Hodgkins did not personally engage in or espouse violence or property destruction, he accepted responsibility early and in a fulsome manner, and he has taken significant steps toward his rehabilitation. Accordingly, the government recommends that the Court sentence Hodgkins to 18 months in custody, which is the mid-point of the Sentencing Guidelines as calculated by the U.S. Probation Office and as contemplated in the parties’ plea agreement. An 18-month, within Guidelines sentence is also supported by the U.S. Probation Office’s conclusion that neither a downward departure nor a downward variance is warranted in this case.

[snip]

The government recognizes that Hodgkins did not personally destroy property or engage in any violence against law enforcement officers. But he was surrounded by others who were doing both, and he entered the Capitol as others had paved the way with destruction and violence. Time and time again, rather than turn around and retreat, Hodgkins pressed forward until he walked all the way down to the well of the Senate chamber. Hodgkins came to D.C. preparing to encounter violence around him. He was a rioter, not a protester, and his conduct shows that he was determined to interfere with the vote count and the peaceful transition of power in the 2020 Presidential election. Hodgkins entered the Senate chamber, where he joined the chanting and ranting at the dais. This was precisely where, only 40 minutes earlier, the Vice President had been sitting at the desk on the elevated platform, surrounded by Senators who were considering a procedural issue related to the certification of the Electoral College vote.

In the end, Hodgkins, like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy, physical safety, emotional well-being, and property on January 6, 2021.

Keep in mind, the same way defense attorneys always ask for probation, prosecutors always ask for harsh sentences, knowing the judge will usually find some happy medium, and in doing so here, they’re not starting at the top of the sentencing range. But ultimately, by asking Judge Moss to apply a medium range sentence to a defendant facing a range that a large number of defendants might likewise face, they’re trying to set a standard sentence and have it start reasonably high. They’re really not fully accounting for what it took Hodgkins to decide to be the first to plead guilty; they seem to be thinking as much about the over a hundred defendants coming down the pike and so trying to frame how they’re conceiving of this obstruction crime generally as they’re thinking about Hodgkins himself.

Curiously, Judge Moss (possibly with the input of other DC District judges) afforded himself an extra range of flexibility by inviting the Sentencing Commission to review average sentences for the sentencing guidelines that Hodgkins faces. Significantly, the Sentencing Commission found that of those facing the same guidelines sentence as Hodgkins, almost a quarter — 22.6% — got a probation sentence, though it appears all but one of those probation sentences involved a defendant who provided prosecutors “substantial assistance,” and a goodly number got closer to six months after variances below range.

MINUTE ORDER as to PAUL ALLARD HODGKINS (1): In connection with the sentencing of Defendant, the Court has requested and obtained, via email, from the U.S. Sentencing Commission the following information regarding the sentencing of offenders with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct to Defendant in this case. The Sentencing Commission reports as follows:

“In the case before you the defendant pled guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). The guideline that applies is USSG 2J1.2. Your Probation Office has calculated the guideline range as follows: BOL 14, a 3-level increase for substantial interference with the administration of justice, and a 3-level adjustment for acceptance of responsibility, resulting in a final offense level (FOL) of 14. The offender is assigned to Criminal History Category I. The applicable guideline range is 15-21 months.

“We examined our records from fiscal year 2014 through 2020, and found 31 cases that match this guideline calculation. None of these cases were reported from the District of Columbia. In only nine cases was 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) a statute of conviction.

“For the 31 cases matching the guideline calculation under USSG § 2J1.2, in 16 cases (51.6%) the offender received a prison only sentence, in six cases (19.4%) the offender received prison with an alternative, in two cases (6.4 %) the sentences was probation with some condition of confinement, and in seven cases (22.6%) the sentence was probation only.

“Of the 31 cases, in seven (22.6%) the sentence was within the guideline range. The average sentence in those cases was 19 months (median = 21 months). Two cases (6.5%) were above range: one upward departure to 36 months and one upward variance to 48 months. The remaining 21 cases (71.0%) were below range. Thirteen cases were below range variances. The average sentence in those cases was seven months (median = six months). One case was downward departure to 14 months, another was a government departure to probation, and the remaining case was a government variance to six months. The remaining six cases were substantial assistance cases.

“In order to provide a more narrowly-tailored analysis, we then limited our analysis to the nine cases in which section 1512(c)(2) was one of the statutes (or the only statute) of conviction. Of those nine cases, in two the sentence was within the guideline range. The sentences were 15 and 21 months. There was one upward departure to 36 months. Three cases were below range variances. The average sentence in those cases was 10 months (median = 12 months). One case was a downward departure to 14 months. The remaining two cases were substantial assistance cases.” Signed by Judge Randolph D. Moss on 07/13/2021. (lcrdm3)

While this table is a rough estimation of what this language says, basically it says a group of people were sentenced to a guidelines sentence, another bigger group were sentenced to around six months, and a third group were sentenced to probation — but never without government agreement (either for a departure or for cooperation).

What Moss has done by obtaining this information and publishing it was, first, to go into Monday’s sentencing hearing with proof that whatever he does will be fair as compared to what has happened to others. Obtaining the guidelines also gives Moss some flexibility. He could, to recognize Hodgkins’ first guilty plea, give him a significant downward variance (and/or sentence him to some alternative to prison, such as weekend confinement), pointing out that the largest group of defendants similarly situated to him got around six months. Alternately, he could explain why he wasn’t giving Hodgkins the probation he requested by pointing out that almost everyone who got a probation sentence in recent history cooperated with prosecutors against others.

Whatever Judge Moss decides (I would be unsurprised by a four to six month sentence, possibly with the opportunity to serve it on weekends or something similar), Hodgkins went first because he has a legitimate argument to make that, aside from his presence on the Senate floor, his behavior really was less culpable than many of the defendants charged with the same crime. Which means — again assuming this novel application of obstruction is upheld going forward — this is just the beginning of a long series of similar horse trading over sentences going forward.

Update: Josh Gerstein reminded me that Judge Moss used a similar approach to George Papadopoulos’ sentencing and — believing that Papadopoulos felt remorse — sentenced him to fourteen days rather than the thirty days he had been considering. Papadopoulos’ guidelines were 0 to 6 months.

Minority Report: Putin’s Programma Destabilizatsii Began Much Earlier

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. / ~Rayne]

By now you should have read Marcy’s post, The Guardian “Scoop” Would Shift the Timeline and Bureaucracy of the Known 2016 Russian Operation which compares much of The Guardian’s article to known details leading up and into 2016 election.

The primary problem with the material journalists Harding, Borger and Sabbagh obtained is the new timeline it offers as well as its attempt to limit Russian interference in the election to a narrow window. In my opinion there are at least two more critical problem.

The reported description of Trump as “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex” is problematic. This implies with treatment — like ADD medications and psychotherapy — Trump might be able overcome this challenge. But far too many professionals in psychology and psychiatry have already indicated Trump is a narcissist; this is not a treatable mental illness but a personality disorder. There’s limited treatment for this which may or may not work, including talk therapy. Such therapy poses an inherent national security risk.

Should Trump suffer from dementia worsening with age, his disorder will only worsen, his increasing boldness, meanness, and disinhibition making him even more unfit for any public office. He should never have access to the power of the executive office again.

But that’s one reason why the subtle disinformation has been planted. If Putin’s goal is to destabilize the U.S. and make it both ungovernable and unable to focus its collective will, encouraging the U.S.’s right-wing to reseat Trump under the misguided belief he will improve over time serves his purpose.

The second problem with The Guardian’s report and the underlying materials is that it treats the 2016 election interference to seat Trump as discrete, an end in itself, when the truth is that it was a single project inside a larger framework — a program of destabilization which predates Trump’s candidacy for presidency in 2015.

You’ll recall the case of three Russian spies arrested in January 2015, a date which in itself may not suggest there was a longer destabilization program, only spying. Even the role of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in the three spies case is not a solid indicator of a longer program.

In the indictment of the spies, however, there was a bit of recorded conversation which has troubled me since I first read it, which I noted in early 2017 when revisiting the three spies case:

“And then Putin even tried to justify that they weren’t even tasked to work, they were sleeper cells in case of martial law,” Victor Podobnyy remarked in a conversation about the Illegals Program sleeper cells. What did he mean by, “in case of martial law”? Is this a continuing concern with regard to any remaining undetected sleeper cells?

Emphasis mine, and on the part which has haunted me.

Was the January 6 insurrection always part of the end goal along with the continuing obstruction by the now thoroughly compromised Republican Party? Was Trump supposed to have invoked the Insurrection Act and martial law with it as part of a longer destabilization program?

That same program, then, would have extended beyond 2015, before the FBI began surveillance of the three spies, before one of the three spies, Evgeny Buryakov, began work in New York City.

The program would have predated the expulsion of the identified Illegals Program sleeper cells in June 2010, if the intent was to use them during civil strife in the U.S. resulting in martial law.

The presence of some of the Illegals Program spies pre-dated Putin’s ascension to Russia’s presidency in December 1999 and his role as Director of the Federal Security Service from 1998-1999, but it’s not clear whether Putin co-opted the program to plan for destabilization, or if the program had always been intended for destabilization but thwarted in 2010.

What’s clear, though, is that the U.S. paid little heed to Putin’s preparedness for conditions in the U.S. leading to martial law, going back at least as far as 2010.

The Illegals Program revealed to the American public the presence of sleeper cells. The general public has assumed all sleeper cells were rolled up in 2010; the use of the program as fiction fodder in cable network series The Americans marginalizes sleeper cells as entertainment. There’s nowhere near the level of concern about white persons with Russian accents as there is about Asian Americans of any heritage, the latter becoming the subject of hate crimes while the presence of Russians and Russian Americans is treated as no big deal. How would Florida’s Sunny Isles municipality function without the presence of Russian and Russian Americans’ money, after all?

This is part of the same umbrella program of destabilization: Putin knows the U.S. has a deep schism which goes to its foundation and he’s placed pressure on it to force it to open more widely. We know this from the documented efforts of Russia’s Internet Research Agency in 2016. Racist Americans have been encouraged to focus on an “Other” with the help of Trump whose repeated remarks about the “China flu.” With this redirection of attention, it’s too easy for any other remaining or new sleeper cells to be created undetected.

Some of these cells may not need to be Russians any longer. They can be loosely organized anarchic groups which are united by their preference for white supremacy and theocratic government. They could include peripherally-connected but influential individuals like David Duke who moved to Russia and lived there for a handful of years, to return to the U.S. to foment more racist tension.

Duke moved to Moscow in 1999 — the same year Putin was FSB Director. Did Duke have an invitation?

Does Putin’s Programma destabilizatsii go back that far?

I won’t even go into the much larger possibility that the umbrella destabilization program was meant to end NATO — which may mean Brexit was not a proof-of-concept linked to the interference in the 2016 election by the use of Cambridge Analytica/SCL, but wholly meant to work hand-in-glove to sustain an attack on NATO.

If this is the case, of course Putin would want to wall off interference into the 2016 election as a discrete, isolated event. Why would NATO continue to tolerate multiple sustained attacks using hybrid warfare on its member nations jointly and separately and not invoke Article 5?

Thomas Webster’s Opening Electronic Communication: A Glimpse at How FBI Sees This Terror Attack, Not a Debunking of Christopher Wray

There’s an NBC story making the rounds — “FBI agent acknowledges in court filing that Trump backers discussed ‘revolution’ before Jan. 6” — which has been taken to suggest that an FBI Agent submitted a declaration contradicting FBI Director Christopher Wray’s claims to Congress that open source intelligence didn’t tip off the Bureau to the January 6 attack before it happened.

The FBI director and other senior officials have consistently downplayed the intelligence value of social media posts by Trump supporters prior to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, suggesting the bureau had no “actionable” warning that the Capitol would be targeted by a mob.

But according to a document entered into court records last week, an FBI agent acknowledged in a February investigative report that angry Trump supporters were talking openly in the days before the riot about bringing guns to the Capitol to start a “revolution.”

The rest of the article is correct. Wray (who doesn’t have firsthand knowledge) has repeatedly suggested that the FBI did not have Open Source intelligence that should have led it to predict the January 6 riot. Democrats have recently focused on why FBI didn’t respond more aggressively to repeated warnings of violence from Parler. The famous Norfolk memo was based on a post from TheDonald, which is where a great deal of more explicit operational planning for the riot took place. And in addition to the existing extremists whom FBI warned not to show up on January 6 (Wray has suggested this includes Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio), there were at least three other January 6 defendants — the most dangerous of whom is Guy Reffitt — on whom the FBI had open investigations before the insurrection (though in Reffitt’s case they may not have regarded the warning from his son as enough to fully predicate an investigation).

There are very good reasons to ask why the FBI missed the large numbers of threads branded as Donald Trump support sites planning insurrection in plain sight (though the question, phrased that way, might answer itself).

That said, I’d like to look at the document on which this story is based, because it is not well described in the story and it provides interesting insight into the larger January 6 investigation.

The document in question is the opening Electronic Communication for Thomas Webster, the former NYPD cop accused of assaulting an officer at the Capitol (Webster’s attorney, Jim Monroe, redacted his own phone numbers in the document but not any of the more sensitive information relating to his client before uploading it to the docket). This is a piece of internal FBI paperwork necessary to document why, when, and how the investigation into Webster was first opened. For comparison, here are the opening ECs for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and the Crossfire Razor investigation focused on Mike Flynn.

The paragraph of interest (which NBC only quoted in part) shows up at the end of a long section of boilerplate and is almost certainly itself boilerplate.

Social media and video footage of the event show rioters making statements consistent with Anti-Authority/Anti-Government (AA/AG) Extremism. A review of open source and social media posts leading up to and during the event indicates that individuals participating on the “Stop the Steal,” rally were angered about the results of the 2020 presidential election and felt that Joseph Biden had unlawfully been declared ‘President-Elect. Users in multiple online groups and platforms discussed traveling to the Capitol armed or making plans to start a “revolution” on that day. Participants in the riot used violence, which resulted in injuries to multiple law enforcement officers and damage to the United States Capitol building, all with the intent to subvert the certification of the electoral election ballots and thereby disrupt the election of the President of the United States in furtherance of their AA/AG ideology.

I say this is boilerplate because everything up to this paragraph in the “Summary of Predication” section shows up in most of the arrest warrants used in this investigation (much of it shows up in search warrant affidavits, though those include an even more complete story of the riot, including pictures). The paragraph immediately after this one describes why the FBI is opening a full investigation into Thomas Webster — because his lawyer called the FBI and said Webster was the person identified in BOLO 145 depicting someone assaulting a cop and Webster wanted to turn himself in. This, then, is probably the last paragraph used as boilerplate, not any reflection of investigative work its author, FBI Agent Patricia Norden, has done herself.

There’s no reason to believe that Agent Norden is calling out her boss for being less than forthcoming (while she took the lead in Webster’s interview, she’s not the FBI-based Agent who wrote Webster’s arrest affidavit). Rather, this is almost certainly something the FBI as a whole uses to describe the investigation. The introductory sentence that NBC left out — describing the statements of those at the riot — makes it clearer that the discovery of the social media claims was retrospective, a historical review of the speech that led up to a violent speeches and acts discovered after those violent acts (largely assisted by the FBI’s seizure and search of the phones of most of the arrestees). It is utterly consistent with what Wray has said about the investigation. By all appearances, then, this is not a debunking of the Director, but rather a final paragraph the FBI uses internally to explain why it is treating the January 6 attack as Domestic Terrorism.

Several other parts of the EC provide some insight into the investigation (and may hint at why this particular paragraph isn’t included in the standard arrest warrant boilerplate). This investigation came in as a counterterrorism investigation. Webster’s alleged assault is not even mentioned among the suspect crimes. Civil disorder is mentioned and Trespass in the Capitol are mentioned, both of which Webster was charged with. Rioting is mentioned, with which no one has been charged. The restricted building trespass count charged against virtually all January 6 defendants (18 U.S.C. § 1752), tied to the presence of Secret Service protectees Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, is mentioned in the introduction to the EC but not the later list of suspected crimes. The classification code used for the investigation — 176 — ties to anti-riot law, which in turn cites 18 U.S.C §245, attempting to interfere with a federally protected activity like voting, which also hasn’t been charged (though these codes are infuriatingly non-specific). The whole package is labeled here under Domestic Terrorism. This is a story told in bureaucratic code describing that the terrorism on January 6 was meant to intimidate people.

In other words, while NBC is correct that this paragraph shows that the FBI as a whole (and not just Agent Norden) recognizes, in retrospect, that the insurrectionists planned revolution in plain sight, this paragraph and the related EC is as interesting as much for the snapshot it gives about what kind of terrorism the FBI believes this was. The FBI as a whole, while clearly acknowledging that this is being treated as a terrorism attack, has been loath to get into the details about what — besides some damage to the Capitol itself — makes it a terrorist attack. This presumed boilerplate paragraph describes that some of the planners of the terrorist attack planned to use violence and the riot to disrupt the election of the lawfully elected President of the United States.

There are a few more incidentally interesting details. Since his arrest, Webster has made much of the fact that he worked a detail for then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg. This EC reveals that FBI already knew that Webster served in a “uniformed security position at City Hall” even before Webster told them that in an interview three days later. NYPD delayed in its response to Webster’s subpoena for his own NYPD record and what has been released (which is not properly redacted so I won’t link to it) may not fully reflect that detail. But neither that detail nor the tie to the election makes Webster’s own investigative file a Sensitive Investigative Matter. Webster’s status as a former Marine decades ago, however, did trigger a DOD nexus out of concern that he might have access to DOD facilities.

We don’t normally get to see ECs from investigations, particularly not in mostly-unredacted form as Webster’s lawyer docketed it. This one is in no way a debunking of the FBI Director, but it is an interesting snapshot of how the FBI viewed this investigation four months ago.

Update: The site where everything was planned was The Donald Dot Win, not r/TheDonald.

Update: I should add one more detail. The FBI Agent uses Webster’s participation in the insurrection to recommend him for watchlisting. Contra claims by insurrectionists themselves, that’s different than the No Fly list (and there’s no evidence anyone has been put on the No Fly list). And while it’s not clear what became of this recommendation, it suggests similar watchlisting may have been used against other subjects of Full Investigations associated with the attack.

A New Emphasis on Threats of Violence in the Latest January 6 Conspiracy Indictment

As I laid out the other day, the government charged six Three Percenters from California — American Phoenix Project founder Alan Hostetter, Russell Taylor, Erik Warner, Tony Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and Ronald Mele — with conspiracy. As I described, the indictment was notable in that just one of the men, Warner, actually entered the Capitol. But it was also notable for the way it tied Donald Trump’s December 19 call for a big protest on January 6 with their own public calls for violence, including executions, as well as an explicit premeditated plan to “surround the capital” [sic].

That’s one reason I find the slight difference in the way this conspiracy got charged to be of interest.

As I’ve been tracking over time, the now-seven militia conspiracies are structured very similarly, with each including coordinated plans to get to DC, some kind of plans to kit out for war, and some coordinated effort to participate in the assault on the Capitol. These conspiracies intersect in multiple ways we know of:

  • Thomas Caldwell’s communication with multiple militia to coordinate plans
  • Kelly Meggs’ formation of an alliance between Florida militias
  • Joe Biggs’ decision to exit the Capitol after the first breach, walk around it, and breach it again with two other Proud Boys in tow just ahead of the Oath Keeper stack
  • The attendance of James Breheny (thus far only charged individually), apparently with Stewart Rhodes (thus far not charged), at a leadership meeting of “multiple patriot groups” in Quarryville, PA on January 3, which Breheny described as “the day we get our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups”

All three militias mingled in interactions they’ve had with Roger Stone, as well, but thus far Stone only shows up in the Oath Keepers’ conspiracy.

In other words, while these represent seven different conspiracies (along with around maybe 15 to 20 identified militia members not charged in a conspiracy), they’re really one networked conspiracy that had the purpose of preventing the democratic replacement of Donald Trump.

Of particular note, what is probably the most serious case of assault charged against a militia member, that charged against Proud Boy Christopher Worrell, has not been included in any conspiracy. So while individual members of these conspiracies — including Joshua James, Dominic Pezzola, and William Isaacs, have been charged for their own physical resistance to cops — the conspiracies as a whole don’t yet hold conspirators accountable for the violence of their co-conspirators. The conspiracies only allege shared responsibility for damage to the Capitol, not violence against cops.

That said, the purpose and structure of the Three Percenter conspiracy is slightly different than the other six. The other six (Oath Keeper, Proud Boy Media, Proud Boy Leadership, Proud Boy Kansas City, Proud Boy North Door, Proud Boy Front Door) are all charged under 18 U.S.C. §371, conspiracy against the US. While the timeline of each conspiracy varies and while some of the Proud Boy conspiracies also include the goal of impeding the police, all six include language alleging the conspirators,

did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown, to commit an offense against the United States, namely, to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, the Certification of the Electoral College vote, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512(c)(2).

The purpose of the conspiracy was to stop, delay, and hinder the Certification of the Electoral College vote.

That is, those six conspiracies are charged (at least) as a conspiracy to violate the obstruction statute.

The Three Percenter SoCal conspiracy, however, is charged under the obstruction itself, 18 U.S.C. §1512(k).

Between December 19, 2020 and January 6, 2021, within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants … together with others, did conspire to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit: the Certification of the Electoral College vote.

The object is the same — to impede the vote certification. But it is charged differently.

I’m still thinking through what the difference might mean. It might mean nothing, it might reflect the preference of the prosecutors, or it may reflect a rethinking at DOJ.

Nick Smith claims there’s no evidence Ethan Nordean corruptly influenced anyone else to violate their duty

But there are two things that may factor into it. First, since the government first started structuring its conspiracies this way, some defense attorneys have started challenging the applicability of the obstruction statute to the vote certification at all. For this discussion, I’ll focus on the argument as Nick Smith laid it out in a motion to throw out the entire indictment against Ethan Nordean. Smith makes two arguments regarding the conspiracy charge.

First, Smith argues that Congress only intended the obstruction statute to apply to proceedings that involve making factual findings, and so poor Ethan Nordean had no way of knowing that trying to prevent the vote certification might be illegal.

As indicated above, § 1512(c)(2) has never been used to prosecute a defendant for the obstruction of an “official proceeding” unrelated to the administration of justice, i.e., a proceeding not charged with hearing evidence and making factual findings. Moreover, there is no notice, much less fair notice, in § 1512(c)(2) or in any statute in Chapter 73 that a person may be held federally liable for interference with a proceeding that does not resemble a legal tribunal.

Of course, that argument ignores that Ted Cruz and the other members who challenged the vote claim they were making factual findings — so Nordean’s co-conspirators may sink this legal challenge.

Smith also argues that the obstruction charge fails under the findings of US v. Poindexter, in which John Poindexter’s prosecution for lying to Congress about his role in Iran-Contra was reversed, in part, because the word “corruptly” as then defined in the obstruction statute was too vague to apply to Poindexter’s corrupt failure to do his duty. Smith argues that the language remains too vague based on his claim that the government is trying to prosecute Nordean for his “sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided,” which prosecutors have no business weighing.

Here, the FSI’s construction on § 1512(c)’s adverb “corruptly” fails this Circuit’s Poindexter test. First, the FSI does not allege that Nordean obstructed the January 6 joint session “to obtain an improper advantage for himself or someone else. . .” Poindexter, 951 F.2d at 386. Instead, it contends he allegedly obstructed the session in support of the sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided. Such an interpretation of § 1512(c) is unconstitutionally vague because it leaves to judges and prosecutors to decide which sincerely held political beliefs are to be criminalized on an ad hoc basis. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. at 1223-24. Second, the FSI neither alleges that Nordean influenced another person to obstruct the January 6 proceeding in violation of their legal duty, nor that Nordean himself violated any legal duty by virtue of his mere presence that day.

As I noted in my post on this challenge, this might be a nifty argument for a defendant who hadn’t — as Nordean had — started calling for revolution on November 27,  well before the state votes were counted. But Nordean had already made his intent clear even before the votes were counted, so Smith’s claims that Nordean was reacting to the election outcome is fairly easily disproven. (As with this entire challenge, it might work well for other defendants, but for a long list of reasons, it is far less likely to work with Nordean.)

There’s another, far more important, aspect to this part of the argument though. Smith claims, without any discussion, that Nordean didn’t “influence” any other person to violate their legal duty. Smith wants Judge Timothy Kelly to believe that Nordean did not mean to intimidate Congress by assembling a violent mob and storming the Capitol and as a result of intimidation to fail to fulfill their duty as laid out in the Constitution, whether by refusing to certify Joe Biden as President, or by running away in terror and simply failing to complete the task.

Unlike conspiracy, obstruction has a threat of violence enhancement

As I understand it (and I invite actual lawyers to correct me on this), the other difference between charging this conspiracy under 18 USC 371 and charging it under 1512(k) is the potential sentence. While defendants can be sentenced to 20 years under their individual obstruction charges (the actual sentence is more likely to be around 40 months, or less if the defendant pleads out), 18 USC 371 has a maximum sentence of five years.

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

But 18 USC 1512(k) says that those who conspire to obstruct shall be subject to the same penalty as they’d face for the actual commission of the offense.

(k)Whoever conspires to commit any offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

And obstruction has special penalties tied to murder, attempted murder, and the threat of physical force.

(3) The punishment for an offense under this subsection is—
(A) in the case of a killing, the punishment provided in sections 1111 and 1112;
(B) in the case of—
(i) an attempt to murder; or
(ii) the use or attempted use of physical force against any person;
imprisonment for not more than 30 years; and
(C) in the case of the threat of use of physical force against any person, imprisonment for not more than 20 years.

Thus, anyone charged along with a co-conspirator who threatened to kill someone may be exposed to twenty or even thirty years in prison rather than just five years.

As noted, there are several things about the overt acts charged in the Three Percenter conspiracy that differentiate it from the other militia conspiracies. They were even more explicit about their intent to come armed to the Capitol than the Oath Keepers were with their QRF (and their stated excuses to be armed relied even less on what I call the Antifa foil, the claim they had to come armed to defend against people they fully planned to incite).

And Hostetter twice publicly threatened to execute people. He posted a YouTube on November 27 in which he said, “some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.” And he gave a speech on December 12 in which he demanded, “There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of the coup.”

In other words, I think by charging this conspiracy under the obstruction statute rather than the conspiracy one, the government has exposed all of Hostetter’s co-conspirators, along with Hostetter himself, to far longer sentences because he repeatedly threatened to execute people.

The Three Percenter conspiracy makes threats to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress an object of the conspiracy

My guess is that the government is going to argue that, of course, Nordean was trying to corruptly influence others to violate their legal duty to certify the electoral results. Every single militia includes at least one member who made explicit threats against Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, and the Proud Boys, especially, have no recourse by claiming they showed up to listen to Donald Trump, since instead of attending his speech, they were assembling a violent mob to march on the place where Mike Pence was going to enact his official duties.

The Proud Boys were there to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress in hopes they would fail to fulfill their duty as laid out in the Constitution. If these charges make it to trial, I think prosecutors will be able to make a very compelling argument that assembling a mob in anticipation of Pence’s official acts was designed to intimidate him corruptly.

But, if I’m right about the criminal penalties, with the Three Percenter conspiracy, the government is going one step further. This conspiracy is structured to hold each member of the conspiracy accountable for the threats of murder made by Hostetter, the threat posed by planning to be armed at the Capitol, as well as the violence of others in their networked conspiracy. And even for those who didn’t enter the Capitol but instead egged on violence from some rally stage or behind some bullhorn, this conspiracy seems to aspire to expose co-conspirators accountable to a twenty year sentence for their (unsuccessful) efforts to intimidate Mike Pence to renege on his duty.

Update: I should add that someone with no prior convictions who goes to trial and is found guilty would face closer to 7-9 years with a full threats of violence enhancement. It would not be the full 20 years.

Update: Thanks to harpie for helping me count to seven (I had the wrong total number originally).

The Hybrid Hatchet Conspiracy: A Premeditated Plan to Surround the Capitol on January 6

Contrary to what you might read on Twitter, I have not been predicting that Trump will be held accountable for January 6. Rather, I am observing–based on actual court filings and the evidence in them–that if he or his associates were to be held accountable, that would happen via conspiracy indictments, indictments that have already reached within two degrees of Trump’s closest associates. In a hearing yesterday, Christopher Wray answered one after another question about holding Trump accountable by talking about conspiracy indictments, so it seems he may agree with me.

Just the other day, for example, I suggested we might see prosecutions of those involved in the rallies, as opposed to busting into the Capitol.

Together, those posts argue that if any kingpins will be held accountable, it will be through a conspiracy prosecution. I note that one of the conspiracies has already reached back to the Willard Hotel, where Roger Stone was staying and where the call patterns suggest possible consultation with people present at the hotel. And I suggest that not only will there will be further conspiracies (I’m pretty confident about that prediction) but there may be more complex prosecutions tied to people who were involved in the rallies rather than the riot or who were discussed explicitly with Rudy Giuliani (I’m far less confident about that possibility).

That doesn’t mean Donald Trump, or even Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani, are going to prison. It’s not clear what kind of evidence is out there. It’s not clear how loyal these famously paranoid people will be without the constant dangle of pardons that Trump used to buy silence during the Mueller investigation.

Earlier in the week, I noted that DOJ had already charged one of the speakers on January 5, Brandon Straka, and has been holding him in a kind of limbo awaiting what look like possible charges of obstruction and civil disorder.

Then there’s the case of Brandon Straka. He’s the head of the Walkaway campaign, and was a speaker on January 5. There’s no allegation he entered the door of the Capitol, though at a time when he was on the stairs, he was involved in attempting to take a shield from an officer and for that got charged with civil disorder (in addition to the standard trespass crimes). He obviously could be charged with obstruction, but that hasn’t been charged yet.

Last night, DOJ rolled out a conspiracy indictment that alleges that Alan Hostetter, another of the speakers on January 5, conspired with five other Three Percenters to “corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit: the Certification of the Electoral College vote.”

The indictment is slightly different than the other conspiracies charged against militias thus far (and therefore may be yet another degree more vulnerable to challenge), insofar as it charges 18 U.S.C. § 1512(k), the conspiracy charge tied to obstruction, rather than conspiracy itself 18 U.S.C. §371. Plus, just one of the accused defendants — Erik Warner — managed to enter the Capitol (another, Russell Taylor, chose not to enter because he didn’t want to do so while armed), so even the trespassing charges may be more vulnerable to challenge. Two of the men — Derek Kinnison and Warner — are also charged with obstruction for trying to delete the Telegram chat they used for organizational purposes.

But if this indictment withstands legal challenge, it is in some ways far more provocative than the existing militia conspiracies. That’s because it’s not just a militia conspiracy indictment.

The indictment is a hybrid: one that charges a group that is both a militia, the Three Percenters, but also men who played an organizational role in the larger event via an anti-mask turned into election conspiracy group, the American Phoenix Project. The conspiracy language of the indictment repeatedly describes the men flashing their Three Percenter signs or otherwise identifying themselves as such.

KINNISON attached a picture of himself, MARTINEZ, and WARNER with the following message: “From left to right, I’m Derek aka midnightrider the short guy, Tony aka blue collar patriot, Erik aka silvir surfer…. We are 3 percent so cal. Also coming with us is redline Ron [MELE].” In the photo, all three are flashing a hand signal that designates affiliation with a Three Percenter group.

[snip]

On January 2, 2021, KINNISON, MELE, WARNER, and MARTINEZ met at MELE’S house in Temecula, California. Before leaving in the SUV, the four men posed for a photograph in which they all made a hand gesture signaling affiliation with a Three Percenter group.

[snip]

MELE, MARTINEZ, KINNISON, and WARNER also congregated on the National Mall and posed for a photo there. In the photo, MARTINEZ, KINNISON, and WARNER made a hand signal showing affiliation with a Three Percenter group.

But the indictment also describes how Hostetter formed the Phoenix Project as an anti-mask group and then used it to sow violence against those who supported the democratic result of the 2020 election.

In Spring, 2020, ALAN HOSTETTER (“HOSTETTER”) founded the American Phoenix Project to oppose government-mandated restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. After the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, HOSTETTER, RUSSELL TAYLOR (“TAYLOR”), and PERSON ONE used the American Phoenix Project to support former President Donald J. Trump and protest what they asserted was a stolen or fraudulent election result. TAYLOR and PERSON ONE became directors of the American Phoenix Project in the Fall of 2020.

From at least in and around November 2020, HOSTETTER used the American Phoenix Project as a platform to advocate violence against certain groups and individuals that supported the 2020 presidential election results.

It describes how in a post on November 27, Hostetter demanded that “tyrants and traitors need to be executed.” It explains that at a rally in Huntington Beach on December 12, Hostetter gave a speech calling for executions.

The enemies and traitors of America both foreign and domestic must be held accountable. And they will. There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of this coup.

This demand for long prison terms may come back to haunt Hostetter if he is ever sentenced for his attack on America.

Because of its hybrid structure, I suspect this indictment may serve as a node to connect other conspiracies together. Obviously, we should expect to see parallel Three Percenter conspiracies. Given how Guy Reffitt’s known actions that day parallel those of these conspirators, and given what prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said in a status hearing for Reffitt the other day, I would be unsurprised if the superseding indictment Nestler said was imminent was a conspiracy of the Texas Three Percenters Reffitt was organizing.

I also expect that some of the 30 other people described to have taken part in the The California-DC Brigade Telegram chat described in this indictment to be charged in their own conspiracy indictment.

This group will serve as the Comms for able bodied individuals that are going to DC on Jan 6. Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight. We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.

The indictment makes it clear that these Three Percenter defendants coordinated with other members of the DC Brigade using a coordinated radio channel, 142.422 on the day of the insurrection; they were conspiring with others, in addition to each other.

On the Telegram chat, Taylor explicitly talked about coming to DC armed.

I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing and plates as well.

Importantly, some of these other people from SoCal did engage in assault, and given Hostetter’s public statements plus the mention of “willing[ness] to fight” in this Telegram description and Taylor’s mention of weapons, the Three Percenter conspirators may be implicated by association in their violence (which, along with weapons charges that have not been charged, could serve as inducements for members of this conspiracy to flip).

So I believe this indictment will link in conspiracies with other Three Percenters and with other Southern Californian anti-maskers.

But the role of the rallies in the indictment is even more intriguing.

Hostetter set up an earlier organizational Telegram chat on November 10. It was used to plan travel to DC for the November Million MAGA March as well as the January 6 insurrection. In the language describing the overt acts in this conspiracy, the indictment focuses closely on posts and other events starting on December 19. It linked Trump’s Tweet calling for “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th.” It describes an Instagram post Hostetter posted under the Phoenix Project moniker the same day, calling for people to join him. It describes that Hostetter and Taylor reserved rooms in a Kimpton Hotel on December 20, earlier planning than many of the Oath Keepers. It describes how Taylor renamed the Telegram chat to “The Californian Patriots–Answer the Call Jan 6” on December 20.

Then, having tied the travel of these organizers of a network of radicalized Southern California Trump supporters to Trump’s call on December 20, the indictment describes that this group got booked to speak at the January 5 rally.

On December 30, 2020, KINNISON sent a text message to MELE, WARNER, and MARTINEZ in which he attached a flyer advertising the January 5, 2021 rally outside the Supreme Court, at which TAYLOR, HOSTETTER, and PERSON ONE were named speakers for the American Phoenix Project.

The indictment doesn’t describe how this happened, though the government obviously has enough comms to have some insight into it.

Then, that same day, December 30, Taylor posted his plans for the days of January 5 and 6. His post stated a clear plan to work with Stop the Steal to surround the Capitol.

Spread the word to other CALIFORNIA Patriots to join us as we March into the Capitol Jan 6. The Plan right now is to meet up at two occasions and locations: 1. Jan 5th 2pm at the Supreme Court steps for a rally. (Myself, Alan, [and others] will be speaking) 2. Jan 6th early 7am meet in front of the Kimpton George Hotel…we will leave at 7:30am shart and March (15 mins) to the Capital [sic] to meet up with the stop the steal organization and surround the capital. [sic] There will be speakers there and we will be part of the large effort for the “Wild Rally” that Trump has asked us all to be part of. [my emphasis]

This plan is structurally the foundation in the indictment for the leadership role these men played in the SoCal contingent of anti-maskers. For example, the next section describes how just after this post, the men created the DC Brigade chat, including its calls for anti-maskers from Southern California to come to DC armed to and expecting a fight.

DOJ has been working on this indictment for six months. That’s still lightning fast for a conspiracy indictment, but unlike the other militia conspiracies, it has not been jury-rigged together as one after another co-conspirators’ phones get exploited.

And what it does, at a minimum, is to tie the anti-mask community in Southern California into a network with the Three Percenters.

More importantly, it suggests the organizing surrounding the rally on January 5 included a premeditated plan to surround the Capitol on January 6.

Tea Leaves on the Garland-Monaco DOJ and the Stay in Andrew McCabe’s Lawsuit

The effort to figure out precisely why moderate Merrick Garland and career DOJ employee Lisa Monaco are having the Department of Justice sustain shitty positions adopted under Bill Barr has reached a fever pitch. In my piece on Monaco, I noted one thing — her presumed approval, on her first day in the job, of a raid on Rudy Giuliani — that suggests some people are mistaking a likely effort to sustain DOJ as an institution for an effort to protect Trump.

I’d like to point to another tea leaf — something that happened (perhaps coincidentally) on Monaco’s third full day on the job. That’s when the two sides in Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit moved to stay discovery pending an effort to settle the case.

The parties jointly move this Court to stay all discovery in this proceeding, for 45 days after this motion is granted, and to extend all previously set case deadlines and events by 45 days. The parties request this relief so that they may explore the possibility of settlement.

Good cause exists for the requested relief, because the stay and extension would allow the parties to focus their efforts on discussing settlement expeditiously, free from any competing obligations and ongoing disputes related to discovery, and without burdening the Court with potentially unnecessary discovery disputes. The parties propose to update the Court two business days before the stay’s expiration about whether a further stay and extension is warranted.

On its face, a settlement with McCabe would look like a stark reversal of a Trump policy. Top levels of Trump’s DOJ signed declarations swearing that McCabe’s firing was for cause. At that level, the interest in settling the lawsuit looks like a pretty serious reversal.

That said, depending on how broadly Judge Randolph Moss ruled discovery must extend (an issue that is still pending), McCabe’s lawsuit could seriously embarrass DOJ. Even just his case in chief, in which DOJ IG and OPR ignored the testimony of key witness, FBI press person Michael Kortan (with whom McCabe’s office worked on the story that DOJ claims he was trying to hide), full discovery could badly embarrass DOJ. Still more so if the extent to which DOJ pushed to indict McCabe, allegedly after the grand jury rejected charges against him, became public. By the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ had altered a McCabe document and submitted it to Emmet Sullivan, another potentially damaging revelation (though one probably outside any imaginable scope of discovery).

And that’s just what we know about. In the weeks leading up to McCabe’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, DOJ was refusing to share documents that McCabe needed to adequately prep for his appearance.

I’m not sure what this particular move suggests about DOJ. But I know that full exposure of the witch hunt against McCabe would badly damage DOJ, including some career employees who served Barr’s whims. But a settlement would also damage the Trump DOJ, because it would prove that Trump politicized his entire DOJ to take out perceived enemies.

That is, amid all the other tea leaves, what happens with the McCabe suit may indicate which damage to DOJ the Garland-Monaco DOJ seems most intent on avoiding.

Update: The two sides just filed an update: No settlement has been reached, but they remain in talks.

Consistent with their April 23, 2021 Joint Motion to Stay Discovery and Extend All Case Deadlines (Dkt. 56), the parties submit this joint notice regarding the current stay of litigation.

On April 27, 2021, this Court granted the parties’ joint motion for a 45-day stay of all discovery so that the Parties could focus on exploring the possibility of settlement. No settlement has been reached, but the parties are continuing their discussions. In the event that they agree that a further stay is warranted, they will so notify the Court by filing another joint motion to extend the stay and related deadlines.

Barbara Jones’ Special Mastery of Releasing Donald Trump’s Lawyers’ Crime-Fraud Excepted Communications

I knew Rudy Giuliani was in trouble when I read him — along with his lawyer Robert Costello, who allegedly tried to bribe Michael Cohen with a pardon in the wake of an SDNY seizure of his phones — claim that SDNY had first accessed Michael Cohen’s communications after SDNY seized Cohen’s phones in a search of his house and office.

In April 2018, the Government was in this exact same position it is in now in dealing with seizures made from the personal attorney to the President. This is now the second dawn raid of the office and home of an attorney for then President Trump. A year before they searched Giuliani’s iCloud account in November 2019, they were dealing with the raid of Michael Cohen’s home and law office. In Cohen v. United States, 18-mj-3161 (KMW), after conducting a search of President Trump’s personal lawyer’s home and law office, the Government opposed the appointment of a Special Master in a letter to the Court dated April 18, 2018. Counsel for Michael Cohen and intervening counsel for President Trump both requested that a Special Master be appointed and that the Special Master review the evidence, but only after counsel for the respective parties had reviewed the evidence and made their own claims of privilege. On the day of a scheduled conference to decide the issue, the Government, in a letter to Judge Wood, withdrew their opposition to the Special Master, but requested that the Special Master, and not defense counsel, review all the evidence and make the initial determinations of privilege. Judge Wood adopted the compromise and appointed a Special Master to review all materials. One of the Government’s counsel that signed that letter is counsel on this matter as well.

As a result, the Government was well aware that it had agreed to a Special Master in a case involving claims of attorney-client and executive privilege regarding the search and seizure of an attorney’s home and office when that attorney was the personal attorney for the President of the United States. Here, when faced with the exact same situation in November 2019, the Government decided on its own, to use its own Taint Team to sift through all of the evidence gathered and decide what materials were privileged. To make matters worse, not only was Giuliani not informed about this practice, but the Government also continued to keep him, the President and his counsel in the dark for 18 months while Giuliani cooperated with another office of the United States Attorney. Based on its experience in the Cohen case, the Government knew better, or should have known better, that it should not make unilateral, uninformed secret decisions about privilege, but clearly threw caution to the wind in its attempt in this investigation in search of a crime.

Was it really possible, I asked myself, that the President’s own lawyer, as well as the President’s lawyer’s lawyer, had no idea that Mueller’s team had obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization emails from Microsoft with an August 1, 2017 warrant, content which they later shared with SDNY?  Was it really possible, I wondered, that Rudy and Costello didn’t know that Mueller also obtained Cohen’s Google and iCloud content, obtained a non-disclosure order for it, and then later passed it on to SDNY, which obtained a separate warrant to access it? Did they not know that that process started 8 months before SDNY raided Cohen’s home and office and took his devices, which then led to the appointment of Special Master Barbara Jones? Did they really not know that SDNY first obtained Cohen’s content with some covert warrants, reviewed that information with the use of a filter team, and only after that got some of the very same information by seizing Cohen’s phones, only with the later seizure, used a Special Master to sort out what was privileged and what was not?

After the government’s reply, I thought for sure they’d start to cop on. I figured Rudy and Costello — who collectively, allegedly tried to bribe Cohen’s silence about the crimes he had committed while purportedly providing legal representation for Donald Trump — would understand the significance of this passage of the government reply:

Giuliani also analogizes this case to Cohen, suggesting that the Government should have known to use a special master because it had just agreed to use one in that case. (Giuliani Ltr. at 11). But Cohen favors an opposite conclusion: there, as here, the Government first obtained covert search warrants for accounts belonging to the subject. The returns of those covert warrants were reviewed by a filter team—a process which was not challenged. Although Judge Wood ultimately appointed a special master in Cohen, she repeatedly made clear her view that the use of a filter team was acceptable and was consistent with the substantial body of law in this Circuit. (See, e.g., Cohen, Dkt. 38 at 8). However, based on the unique circumstances of the case—Cohen’s principal and perhaps only client was then the President, and the case was subject to significant public attention—Judge Wood believed, and the Government agreed, that the use of a special master was needed for the “perception of fairness, not fairness itself.” (Cohen, Dkt. 104 at 88). But even after appointing a special master, Judge Wood continued to recognize the appropriateness of the use of a filter team: at the end of the special master’s review, there was one cellphone that had not been decrypted, and Judge Wood ordered that the if the cellphone was ultimately extracted, the privilege review could be conducted by the Government’s filter team. (Cohen, Dkt. 103 at 6). Thus, following Cohen, it was entirely appropriate for the Government to use a filter team during the covert phase of its investigation, but in light of the intense public interest in this matter following the overt execution of the 2021 Warrants, the Government agrees that while the appointment of a special master is not necessary for fairness, it is in the interest of ensuring that the privilege review process is perceived as fair.

But I didn’t write up the implications of that yet, because I figured there was still something that might save Rudy and Victoria Toensing. Maybe they’d pick a Special Master who would apply dramatically different rules than Special Master Barbara Jones had with Cohen, particularly an approach that said Cohen and Trump could claim privilege and hide the content, but any legal argument about that privilege had to be public. Surely they would be smart enough not to pick Jones, right? Surely, I thought, Rudy and Costello wouldn’t be dumb enough to be lulled into agreeing to appoint Jones herself, perhaps based on a false sense of confidence that since she works at Rudy’s former firm, she’ll go easy on the Mayor?

And yet, yesterday the government wrote to inform Judge Paul Oetken that the parties had agreed on a single choice to serve as Special Master: Barbara Jones.

The Government writes on behalf of the parties to propose the appointment of the Honorable Barbara S. Jones, a retired federal judge with the law firm of Bracewell LLP, to serve as the court-appointed special master for this matter.

They further asked that Oetken write up an order applying the same approach as Jones used with Cohen with Rudy.

The Government respectfully requests that the Court appoint Judge Jones to serve as the special master in this matter because her background and the resources available to her at her law firm will allow her to complete a privilege review in a fair and efficient manner. Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Toensing, through counsel, have both agreed to the appointment of Judge Jones. The Government has conferred with Judge Jones and she is available to accept this appointment. The Government respectfully suggests that the Court issue an Order of Appointment similar to the one issued by Judge Wood in the Cohen matter, setting forth the duties of the special master, the reporting and judicial review requirements, terms of compensation, terms of engagement of other professionals, and other relevant provisions. Cohen, No. 18 Misc. 3161 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 27, 2018) (Dkt. 30). Judge Jones is available to speak with the Court directly should the Court have any questions about her potential appointment.

Understand, the government has now gotten Rudy on the record begging that he get the same treatment as Michael Cohen. It has gotten Rudy on the record saying he prefers to have a Special Master rifle through his potentially privileged communications than a filter team.

Had this been done overtly, or through the Government’s less onerous subpoena powers, we would have requested that a Special Master to be appointed at the time.

It has also gotten Victoria Toensing to agree on the value of a Special Master (even though she requested she get first shot at reviewing her content).

Appoint a Special Master from the list of candidates proposed by the parties or another suitable candidate identified by the Court to oversee the process and resolve any disputes that may arise;

When former SDNY US Attorney Rudy Giuliani and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Victoria Toensing made those comments, though, they probably didn’t think through the implication of filter team protocols that both presumably know or once knew, but which the government was kind enough to spell out in their reply to the lawyers’ letters:

As is its practice, the filter team did not release any potentially privileged materials based on the possible application of waiver or crime fraud principles, even if the applicability of those exceptions was apparent on the face of the document.

SDNY filter teams will not pass on potentially privileged materials seized from an attorney even if there is an obvious crime-fraud exception. By description, SDNY suggests that “the applicability of [such] exceptions was apparent on the face of” some of the communications — new copies of which SDNY seized last month — SDNY’s filter team reviewed already. But they couldn’t pass them on because that’s not how SDNY filter team protocols work.

And yet, as a result of Barbara Jones’ review of material seized from Donald Trump’s attorney’s devices, SDNY obtained evidence — of Michael Cohen negotiating hush payments with two women — that might otherwise have been privileged, but that was clearly evidence of a crime. In fact, Trump thought about fighting the release, except after Judge Kimba Wood ruled that legal disputes have to be public, Trump decided not to challenge its release.

An SDNY filter team cannot share evidence that shows a lawyer breaking the law in the service of doing Donald Trump’s dirty work.

But Special Masters can. And Barbara Jones already has.

When I first read these filings — especially SDNY’s very generous offer to pick up the tab for a Special Master — I thought it was just about timeliness, about getting Rudy’s evidence in hand as quickly as possible. But it’s not. It’s the only way that they can obtain materials that they know exist that show Rudy committing a crime in the guise of serving as a lawyer. Admittedly, it might just be materials implicating Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. But, as happened to Cohen, it might also cover things Rudy did while allegedly doing lawyer stuff for Donald Trump.

Remember, this whole process started when John Dowd claimed that Parnas and Fruman helped Rudy represent Trump, Rudy represented Parnas and Fruman, and they also helped Toensing represent Dmitro Firtash.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

John Dowd made an absurd claim that, even then, was a transparent attempt to hide real dirt behind attorney-client privilege. That’s precisely the material that SDNY is asking Barbara Jones to review to see whether it’s really privileged.

Update: Lev Parnas renewed his bid to force DOJ to go look for materials that help him at trial and support his selective prosecution claim. Along with describing some communications that he believes to exist that would be in Rudy’s files (such as proof of Rudy saying that one of their mutual Fraud Guarantee victims did no due diligence), Parnas outlines the evidence that he was prosecuted to shut him up. The Dowd actions are central to that.

The Government argues that, since Parnas was not yet attempting to cooperate with Congress at the time he was arrested, his selective prosecution claim is without merit. However, by the time of Parnas and Fruman’s arrest, Parnas had received a demand letter seeking evidence from the House Intelligence Committee, and been referred by Giuliani and Toensing to Attorney John Dowd—who had previously represented former President Trump. Attorney Dowd then secured a conflict waiver from Trump—who claimed not to know Parnas—by e-mail through the President’s chief impeachment counsel, Jay Sekulow. Next, Dowd met with Parnas and took custody of materials that he believed were responsive to Parnas’ demand letter. Then, Dowd informed the Intelligence Committee that Parnas would not be appearing as requested, and the evening before Parnas and Fruman were arrested wrote an e-mail to Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, Toensing, and others assuring that Parnas and Fruman would not be appearing to give a deposition or evidence against the former President. Giuliani then backed out of a planned trip to Vienna with Parnas and Fruman, and they were arrested as they boarded their flight. The following day, then-Attorney General William P. Barr made a “routine” visit to the SDNY, and, in the following months, sought the removal of SDNY U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman under still-undisclosed circumstances that may well have related to prosecutorial decisions made in Parnas and his co-defendants’ case.

Update: Oetken has indeed appointed Jones.

The [Thus Far] Missing Seth DuCharme Emails Pertaining to Rudy Giuliani’s Russian Disinformation

As I’ve been harping of late, Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen went to great lengths to protect Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to obtain and disseminate what the Intelligence Community already knew was Russian-backed disinformation laundered through Andrii Derkach. That effort included the following:

  • For whatever reason, not warning Rudy that the Intelligence Community knew Russia was targeting him for an information operation before he traveled to his December 2019 meeting with Derkach
  • Prohibiting SDNY from expanding its existing investigation into Rudy’s foreign influence peddling to include his efforts with Derkach by making EDNY a gate-keeper for any such decisions
  • Asking Pittsburgh USA Attorney Scott Brady to accept the information that the IC already knew was Russian disinformation from Rudy
  • Doing nothing while Rudy continued to share information the IC already knew was Russian disinformation during an election
  • After belatedly opening an investigation into the Derkach effort that the IC had known was Russian disinformation for a year, opening it at EDNY and scoping it to ensure that Rudy’s own actions would not be a subject of the investigation

As a result of this remarkable effort, led by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, to protect Russian disinformation, DOJ willingly ingested a bunch of Russian disinformation and used it to conduct an investigation into the son of the President’s opponent.

Last year, when it was disclosed that Barr had directed Brady to willingly accept this Russian disinformation, American Oversight FOIAed and then sued for the paper trail of the effort, submitted as four separate FOIAs:

  1. [To OIP and USAPAW] “Brady Order and Written Approval” — which specifically asked for “two readily-identifiable, specific documents” — described as:
    • The written approval of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General authorizing U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania (USAPAW) to create and/or administer a process for receiving purported investigatory information from Rudy Giuliani concerning matters that relate to former Vice President Biden
    • A copy of the Attorney General’s order directing USAPAW to conduct an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation
  2. [To OIP and USAPAW] “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications,” described as:
    • All directives or guidance provided to USAPAW regarding an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani, including information that may concern former Vice President Biden
    • All records reflecting communications between (1) the Office of the Attorney General or the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and (2) USAPAW regarding an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani
    • All records reflecting communications within the OAG or the ODAG regarding any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani, including information which may concern former Vice President Biden
  3. [To USAPAW] “Brady-Giuliani Communications,”described as all records reflecting communications between (1) USAPAW in the course of any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani and (2) Rudy Giuliani, or any of Mr. Giuliani’s personal assistants or others communicating on his behalf, including but not limited to Jo Ann Zafonte, Christianne Allen, or Beau Wagner
  4.  [To USAPAW] “Brady-White House Communications,” described as any communications between (1) USAPAW in the course of any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani and (2) anyone at the White House Office

Before American Oversight filed the lawsuit, the Trump Admin did two things that will have an effect on what we’re seeing. First, DOJ combined requests one and two above; as we’ll see, that had the effect of hiding that Barr didn’t put anything in writing. In addition, USAPAW told American Oversight that they were going to refer the request for such an order to Main Justice for referral.

While the lawsuit was filed under the Trump Administration, the substantive response to it started in February. The FOIA is a way to understand more about this effort — both how willing Barr’s DOJ was to put this scheme in writing, as well as the volume of paper trail that it generated.

The first status report, submitted on February 22, revealed the following based on an initial search:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ: 8,851 items
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW: 1,400 pages
  3. “Brady-White House Communications:” none

The second status report, submitted on April 1, reported that of the initial search, the following was deemed potentially responsive:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ: 30 pages referred
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW, of 272 pages reviewed so far:
    • 3 pages released in full
    • 189 pages referred to other agencies for consultation
    • 83 duplicates or non-responsive

Here is the USAPAW production.

The third status report, submitted on May 3, reported the following:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ:
    • 18 pages released in partly redacted form
    • 4 pages withheld entirely under b5 deliberative exemption
    • 6 pages awaiting a response from some other component
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW, of 263 pages reviewed this month:
    • 5 pages released, 3 of which include b6, b7A and b7C redactions
    • 14 pages referred to another component
    • 244 pages non-responsive or duplicates

Here is the USAPAW production and here is the Main DOJ production.

Here’s what has currently been provided to American Oversight (go here for live links).

Note, this may be clarified in upcoming dumps, but for now, there appears to be something very irregular with the OIP response. At first, DOJ said there were up to 8,851 items that were responsive to American Oversight’s request. But with the next status report, DOJ said there were just 30 pages. The most recent release claimed to account for 28 of those 30 pages.

In the second joint status report, OIP stated that it had completed its search and its initial responsiveness and deduplication review of potentially responsive documents and identified approximately 30 pages of material likely responsive to Plaintiff’s request. See ECF No.7, ¶ 2. OIP further stated that it had sent these records out for consultation pursuant to the Department’s regulations, 28 C.F.R. § 16.4(d), and expected to be able to provide its first response to Plaintiff on or around April 29, 2021. Id. On April 29, 2021, OIP made its first interim response. It released 18 pages in part with portions redacted pursuant to Exemptions 5 and/or 6 and withheld four pages in full pursuant to Exemption 5. OIP is awaiting responses from other components on the remaining six pages.

The math looks like this:

18 pages released

4 pages withheld under b5 exemption*

6 pages referred to another component

Total: 28 pages

Remaining: 2 pages

That’s a problem because there are at least two pages of emails that were part of the USAPAW response that must have had a counterpart at DOJ, as well as one missing from both (though USAPAW has 1000 pages to release):

  • A January 3, 2020 email from Seth DuCharme to Scott Brady asking, “Scott do you have time for a quick call today in re a possible discreet assignment from OAG and ODAG?” (Brady’s response, which includes DuCharme’s original, is included in both, but the copy released by OIP was printed out from Brady’s account, not DuCharme’s).
  • A February 11, 2020 email from Brady to DuCharme, asking “Seth, do you have a few minutes to catch up today?” The email should exist in both accounts, and should be included in both OIP and USAPAW’s response.
  • A March 5, 2020 email from Brady to DuCharme, asking “Seth: do you have 5 minutes to talk today?”

Brady resigned effective February 26 and DuCharme resigned effective March 19. At the time he resigned, DuCharme was supervising an investigation into this Derkach stuff, one that excluded Rudy as a subject.

I assume this will become more clear with further releases (indeed, American Oversight may have the next installment already). Perhaps there’s a sound explanation. But thus far, it looks like only the Brady side of exchanges between him and DuCharme have been provided in response.

* The response letter to Jerry Nadler was two pages long, and the draft was sent twice (or there were two drafts), so those probably account for the 4 pages withheld on b5 exemptions.

Crystalizing Conspiracies: Fourth Superseding, James Breheny, Puma’s GoPro, [Redacted], and the Willard Hotel

Since I’ve acquired new readers with my January 6 coverage and since the financial stress of COVID is abating for many, it seems like a good time to remind people this is not a hobby: it is my day job, and I’d be grateful if you support my work.

In this post, I used the imminent guilty plea of Paul Allard Hodgkins to illustrate that we really don’t know what evidence of conspiracy prosecutors are looking at, which means that we can’t really say whether the January 6 investigation will ultimately hold those who incited the violence accountable. I explained how a PhD in Comp Lit might be useful training to see the gaps in prosecution filings that show what secrets they’re holding in abeyance. And, as I further explained, if those most responsible for January 6 are going to be held accountable, it will likely be (at least in part) via conspiracies with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, including the multiple ties Roger Stone has with both militias.

This post is meant to be read in tandem with that one.

This one will look at four developments in the case against the Oath Keepers in the last week or so.

The superseding indictment turns the screws

Most spectacularly, the government rolled out a fourth superseding Oath Keeper indictment yesterday. The ostensible purpose of it was to add four new defendants: Joseph Hackett, Jason Dolan, and William Isaacs, all from Florida, along with a fourth, accused of just three crimes, whose name is redacted.

The indictment broadens the kinds of communications used to communicate during the conspiracy, including Signal along with Zello, as well as orders to write key details in cursive, then send them via Proton Mail.

It adds a comment Stewart Rhodes made on November 9 laying out what I’ll call the “Antifa foil” — an affirmative plan, laid out months before the insurrection, to use the “threat” of Antifa as the excuse to come armed and a means to foment violence.

At a GoToMeeting5 held on November 9, 2020, PERSON ONE told those attending the meeting, “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don’t guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody – you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight.” PERSON ONE called upon his followers to go to Washington, D.C., to let the President know “that the people are behind him.” PERSON ONE told his followers they needed to be prepared to fight Antifa, which he characterized as a group of individuals with whom “if the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa – if they go kinetic on us, then we’ll go kinetic back on them. I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the fight start there. That will give President Trump what he needs, frankly. If things go kinetic, good. If they throw bombs at us and shoot us, great, because that brings the president his reason and rationale for dropping the Insurrection Act.” PERSON ONE continued, “I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside, and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in armed, if they have to . . . . So our posture’s gonna be that we’re posted outside of DC, um, awaiting the President’s orders. . . . We hope he will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia.” WATKINS, KELLY MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, PERSON THREE, PERSON TEN, and others known and unknown attended this GoToMeeting. After PERSON ONE finished speaking, WATKINS and KELLY MEGGS asked questions and made comments about what types of weapons were legal in the District of Columbia.

The indictment provides more evidence of a plan to have Oath Keepers from North Carolina stationed as a Quick Reaction Force to pick up weapons from one of two locations in DC and deliver them to others already there (a recent filing arguing Thomas Caldwell needs to keep informing pretrial services of his movements included surveillance video from the Ballston Comfort Inn of the conspirators carrying around presumed guns draped in sheets).

On the evening of January 2, 2021, at about 5:43 p.m., KELLY MEGGS posted a map of Washington, D.C., in the Leadership Signal Chat, along with the message, “1 if by land[,] North side of Lincoln Memorial[,] 2 if by sea[,] Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!” KELLY MEGGS continued, “QRF rally points[.] Water of the bridges get closed.”

[snip]

On January 4, 2021, CALDWELL emailed PERSON THREE several maps along with the message, “These maps walk you from the hotel into D.C. and east toward the target area on multiple roads running west to east including M street and P street, two of my favorites . . . .”

[snip]

On January 4, 2021, WATKINS wrote in the Florida Signal Chat, “Where can we drop off weapons to the QRF team? I’d like to have the weapons secured prior to the Op tomorrow.”

On the morning of January 5, 2021, HARRELSON asked in the Florida Signal Chat for the location of the “QRF hotel,” and KELLY MEGGS responded by asking for a direct message.

It provides more details about what the Oath Keepers did in the Capitol (including descriptions of how the kitted out veterans folded — retreated — as soon as they were hit with some tear gas).

When officers responded by deploying a chemical spray, the mob—including CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, YOUNG, and ISAACS—retreated.

[snip]

JAMES briefly breached the Rotunda but was expelled by at least one officer who aimed chemical spray directly at JAMES, and multiple officers who pushed him out from behind.

Importantly, the superseding indictment adds civil disorder charges against six of the Oath Keepers for interactions they had with cops inside the Capitol. It adds an assault charge against Joshua James for his physical interaction with cops. It adds obstruction charges against Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and James for deleting comms. Some of these charges were expected; it’s just that adding four new defendants was a convenient time to add them.

As these defendants are sitting here, though, their legal jeopardy is getting worse. Which is likely part of the point. They might stave off any further charges if they decide to cooperate with prosecutors.

When the government first charged this conspiracy, they were way over their skis, with detention requests and claims of danger that they did not yet have (or were not yet willing to show) evidence to support. That’s no longer true, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the government tries to detain a few more of these defendants when they are arraigned on the new charges this week.

James Breheny’s inter-militia network

One of the interesting details of this indictment is the exclusion of Oath Keeper James Breheny from it. Unlike the Proud Boys, all the Oath Keepers have been charged on one conspiracy indictment. The sole exception is Jon Schaffer, who from very early on was cultivated to flip, which he did on April 16. Remarkably, it’s not clear that Schaffer’s cooperation shows up in the new superseding indictment.

Now Breheny joins Schaffer in being charged (at least for now) on his own, which means, as of now, he’s only on the hook for his own crimes, not those of 16 co-conspirators. Breheny is an Oath Keeper from New Jersey who self-surrendered (suggesting ongoing discussions involving a lawyer) on May 20.

Breheny’s charging documents are interesting on several points. First, the affidavit excerpts a post Stewart Rhodes published on December 14, calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, including this paragraph:

You must act NOW as a wartime President, pursuant to your oath to defend the Constitution, which is very similar to the oath all of us veterans swore. We are already in a fight. It’s better to wage it with you as Commander-in-Chief than to have you comply with a fraudulent election, leave office, and leave the White House in the hands of illegitimate usurpers and Chinese puppets. Please don’t do it. Do NOT concede, and do NOT wait until January 20, 2021. Strike now.

This Rhodes post doesn’t appear in the Oath Keeper conspiracies, though it is a continuation of the November 9 comment from Rhodes also calling for insurrection, and it provides context for a comment he made on January 6 about what he expected Trump to do.

Then, Breheny’s complaint describes him inviting Rhodes to “a leadership meeting of ‘multiple patriot groups'” in Quarryville, PA on January 3, 2021. His invite directed Rhodes not to bring a phone and explained,

This will be the day we get our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups, share rally points etc. This one is important and I believe this is our last chance to organize before the show. This meeting will be for leaders only.

Breheny’s complaint also explains that Rhodes only added Breheny to the leadership list for the Oath Keepers on January 6. In explaining that detail, a footnote explains,

numerous individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers who have been alleged to have participated in the riots participated in this chat and have been indicted in US v. Caldwell et al, 21-cr-28-APM.

It’s a neat way of saying that Breheny conspired with those charged in the main Oath Keepers conspiracy and they conspired with him, without charging him in that conspiracy.

The rest of the complaint explains how Breheny lied to the FBI about what he did on January 6, but after the government got a warrant for his phone, they obtained pictures and texts showing he had done far more on January 6 than he admitted to cops, including fighting his way in the East Doors that all the other Oath Keepers entered.

The government has been selective about whom they’re charging with obstruction for lying and deleting evidence, but their case that Breheny deliberately attempted to obstruct the investigation is quite strong.

Anthony Puma’s GoPro is arrested

On May 27, a guy from Michigan named Anthony Puma was arrested, more than four months after the FBI interviewed him on January 14 and after, on January 17, he shared the SD card from the GoPro he wore on January 6.

On April 23, the government obtained Puma’s Facebook account, which provided video and text evidence that, in his January 14 interview, Puma dramatically downplayed his knowledge of events on January 6. Most notably, they found texts he posted on January 5, knowing that, and precisely when, “we are storming” the Capitol the next day.

Tomorrow is the big day. Rig for Red. War is coming

We are here. What time do we storm the House of Representatives?

Hopefully, we are storming the House of Representatives tomorrow at 100 pm.

There’s no hint in his charging documents that Puma has association with the Oath Keepers. Assuming he does not, it seems likely he was arrested, as I believe a number of other recent defendants were, so he can be forced to authenticate the important video evidence he shot on the day of the insurrection.

As a Comp Lit PhD who had to read a fuck-ton of postmodern theory, my favorite picture from his GoPro shows him filming himself shooting a video on his phone as he approached the Capitol.

But there are two other clips that I suspect are more important — one, showing what I believe to be a second stack of likely Oath Keepers preparing to breach the Capitol.

And another, showing presumed Oath Keepers on their golf cart race from the Willard Hotel to reinforce the Capitol, calling out, “We are inside, they need help, we’ve breached the Capitol.”

So whether or not Puma has a tie to the Oath Keepers, he now has reason to cooperate with prosecutors on making this video available for any trial.

[Redacted]

As noted, there were four people added to the Oath Keepers conspiracy indictment, but the name of one remains redacted.

It can’t be Roger Stone, as a lot of people are wishing, because Stone’s not an Oath Keeper.

But whoever [redacted] is, he almost certainly traveled with Roberto Minuta and Joshua James from the Willard Hotel where they were “guarding” Roger Stone and others to the Capitol.

I say that because of four paragraphs from the third superseding indictment describing the golf cart race to the Capitol, three are redacted in the fourth.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that [redacted] has had a child with Roger Stone or anything as exciting as that. It does mean that someone who was a likely witness to what happened on the Willard Hotel side of phone calls between Person Ten (who was the ground commander for the Oath Keepers that day) and James has been added to the conspiracy.

[redacted] appears to have entered the Capitol with Minuta and James, as what had been ¶104 describing their entrance “together with others known and unknown” in the third superseding is redacted as ¶154 in the fourth.

But the potentially more interesting actions of [redacted] appear in ¶¶76 and 77, which explain pre-insurrection communications and planning, as well as ¶99, which must explain what [redacted] did the morning of the insurrection, probably with James and Minuta. And ¶102 likely describes what the three of them were doing at the Willard Hotel while everyone else started breaching the Capitol.

As I said in this post, it takes more than four months to charge a complex conspiracy. But these four developments together add a December call for insurrection (in tandem with events that day in DC), places the Oath Keepers — including Stewart Rhodes — in a January 3 meeting coordinating with other militias, and it seemingly adds a third witness to what went on in the Willard Hotel the morning of the insurrection.

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