Reporting on the January 6 Investigation: emptywheel Brings Receipts

I spend a lot of time complaining about what “TV lawyers” claim on TV and Twitter. In response, people often say that Harvard professors or former AUSAs of course must know better than me what the investigation looks like.

So I thought I’d bring receipts. I just got my quarterly bill for PACER, the shitty system via which one obtains court records for $.10 a page. Here’s what it looks like:

The reason I’m posting it is not to ask for donations — though as a reminder, this is my day job and we rely entirely on reader support to pay the bills; if you’d like to chip in I would love the support.

It’s to provide a sense of how big the January 6 investigation is and how much journalistic labor it takes to understand it. While January 6 is not the only case I’m following closely, it obviously dwarfs everything else.

According to PACER I paid to download 8,906 pages in the last three months; I downloaded a ton more (for free) from RECAP. While there’s a lot of boilerplate in the January 6 filings, I read most of them fairly closely, some of them very very closely. I did all that while also following a goodly number of the court hearings in the investigation (because of COVID protocols, I can do that from Ireland).

There are only a handful of journalists who are covering the investigation with this kind of attention — though I imagine Zoe Tillman, Seamus Hughes, Ryan Reilly, Politico collectively, and the rest of that handful have had huge PACER bills for the last year (Hughes always has huge PACER bills, because he spends hours extracting amazing stories from it, on all topics).

When TV lawyers tell you what there is or is not evidence in the January 6 investigation, you might ask them how many thousands of pages of court filings they read before they came to that conclusion. Because chances are very good they’ve read almost none of it.

Key January 6 posts

The Structure of the January 6 Assault: “I will settle with seeing [normies] smash some pigs to dust”

DOJ Is Treating January 6 as an Act of Terrorism, But Not All January 6 Defendants Are Terrorists

While TV Lawyers Wailed Impotently, DOJ Was Acquiring the Communications of Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and (Probably) Mark Meadows

Why to Delay a Mark Meadows Indictment: Bannon Is Using His Contempt Prosecution to Monitor the Ongoing January 6 Investigation

The Eight Trump Associates Whom DOJ Is Investigating

January 6 Is Unknowable

“I’m Just There to Open the Envelopes:” The Select Committee and DOJ Investigations Converge at Mike Pence

Why It Would Be Counterproductive To Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate January 6

DOJ’s Approximate January 6 Conspiracies

Easy Cases: Why Austin Sarat’s Argument That Trump Should Not Be Prosecuted Is Wrong

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

Judge Mehta’s Ruling that Donald Trump May Have Aided and Abetted Assaults on Cops Is More Important Than His Conspiracy Decision

“Fill the Silence:” On Obstruction, Listen to DOJ and Merrick Garland

74 replies
  1. Duke says:

    Thanks for the work you do and have been doing for years. Thanks also goes to those who support you in anyway.

    • John Colvin says:

      PACER does not have a free page cutoff. Users pay for every page, though orders/opinions are normally free. There have been recommendations that the federal court system reduce or eliminate charges (which do not seem necessary to providing access) and periodic efforts in Congress to make changes, but these seem to have stalled. There has also been some litigation about how the federal court system uses PACER revenue.

      • Chirrut Imwe says:

        This is probably what FraudGuy is referring to (from the PACER FAQ):

        “NOTE: If you accrue $30 or less of charges in a quarter, fees are waived for that period. 75 percent of PACER users do not pay a fee in a given quarter.”

        • harpie says:

          So [I’m terrible with numbers], does that mean that Marcy could have the 8906 pages for free if about 31 of us each download 295 pages from Pacer and transfer them to Marcy?

        • bmaz says:

          Heh, nice idea, but would be about impossible to pull off in practice. Many pleadings are well over 100 pages with appendixes. So, for each one, you’d have to break it up between multiple people and then get them all to Marcy at or about the same time. Unlikely that could work out at all. Plus Marcy is quite good at using alternative things like RECAP that are free or extremely cheap.

          Also, if you are not used to PACER, you would want to kill it on sight. One of the more frustrating and inconsistent database platforms ever.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          So much for free access to public records. PACER is an evil virtual monopoly. Access to the records should be free.

        • bmaz says:

          Oh, completely agreed. I have been bitching about PACER since it was .07 or .08 per page, and before this blog even existed. To no avail. I get my own case access for free, and normally can keep the PACER fee to a reasonable amount, though not always. Occasionally they are still outrageous, though much less often anymore. Plus I write it off as a business expense, so it bites a little less. It would all be easier if it wasn’t one of the worst web interfaces ever.

        • bmaz says:

          No, not at all, unless you want a comprehensive single go to place, then maybe. As to copyright, no. They are all out there, for instance see the free Cornell database.

        • scribe says:

          WestLaw does claim copyright in their headnotes and in the Key system. The Key system is way they break down and organize the concepts in the opinions, so as to make them more or less searchable across the many opinions out there. Of course, their copyrights on the headnotes and Key system are on West’s work product, which their contractors/employees created for them, so it’s perfectly legitimate for them to claim copyright in that.
          The legal publishers claiming copyrights on state statutes, OTOH, were on much less solid ground, since (in short) they were claiming copyright over the text while really only dealing with the arrangement, and even a lot of the arrangement was done by the government and they were just more-or-less copying and pasting.
          I don’t recall anyone trying to claim copyright over federal statutes. Again, that would be the US Code. West produces the US Code Annotated, which has all the caselaw interpreting or applying the statutes in the notes after the statutory text. Again, taking the annotations (which correlate to the headnotes on the opinions themselves), those are West’s work product and therefore perfectly legitimate to copyright.

        • puzzled scottish person says:

          The law.
          It affects every one of us and so few of us know anything about it.
          Ignorance of the law is famously no defence to being found guilty.
          In all fairness, access to legal decisions should be free so we could all know what we have to contend with.
          On the other hand, if you haven’t studied law for years, how can you make sense of the sensible arguments versus the insane ones? Most people haven’t the time or the OCD to study law reports every day after work.
          I used to work with a young-earth creationist who got me looking into Kent Hovind and the freemen of the soil and suchlike nutters.
          In that world, the typography and colour of your legal documents makes all the difference.
          How on earth do we sane people counter that sort of madness?

        • foggycoast says:

          if it’s ok i’m gonna throw in a plug for which hosts and serves all the Recap files at no charge to free law. it’s fantastic that marcy can make good use of that archive.

        • scribe says:

          Creating a 100 page pleading isn’t even going to get the lawyer doing it breathing hard, let alone breaking a sweat.

        • Inwoods says:

          That’s what RECAP does. After someone has paid to access the first time, it’s a way for them to pass round their copy.

        • Rayne says:

          Probably wouldn’t work that way since some documents may be more than 295 pages. What she probably needs is a list of volunteers she can roll through each month for an assist — or simple donations of cash since we’re on very different time zones and her needs might be immediate at any given time.

        • John Colvin says:

          For most types of documents, the maximum PACER will bill is 30 pages – the pages above that are free. Technically, a person could download at least nine documents per quarter (perhaps more if some of the documents were less than 30 pages) without being charged a fee.
          While PACER can be annoying, paying $0.10/page for documents is far better than the US Tax Court, where filings must be orally requested from the clerk’s office at the low low price of $0.50/page.

        • Rugger9 says:

          I’m a trustee that raids PACER for the occasional filing and this 30-dollar limit is correct as described by Chirrut. I also concur with the observations about the system by the team here.

          As EW has discovered, the key nuggets are often fairly deep inside the legal filings but to mix the metaphors (looking around for an English teacher with a ruler… safe for now) it’s like having to dig through the cereal box to get the prize. That takes some time but can be very important indeed especially when observing how many cut-and-paste errors surface.

          The real legal beagles can provide much more on this topic, but let’s remember that most if not all of these filings will have a statement about filing as correct information to the best of their knowledge under penalty of perjury. Courts have to operate with facts (SCOTUS notwithstanding) which come from the docket filings, exhibits and trial evidence, etc. but I’ve never seen many prosecutions for attorneys that lie in their filings unless it’s habitual or really bad press. Popehat had a hobbyhorse case about Prenda Law which demonstrates how far it can go before judges put the hammer down.

          These filings are the “official” statements that the lawyer is willing to defend in court, note for example how many times in the post-election campaign litigation that DJT’s legal team refused to claim fraud even when asked directly by the judge. It becomes much harder to walk adverse statements back without consequences, as opposed to a Faux News interview.

        • bmaz says:

          By the way Rugger, if you are a named trustee on something, you should be able to get scheduled on any such case to where access is free.

        • scribe says:

          It might surprise many, but most lawyers are pretty honest people. Not necessarily because they fear the Ethics Police, but rather because they know that getting a reputation as fast and loose with the truth, or your word not being good, is a good way to do extra work without pay because your adversaries will (at a minimum) take it out on you. That’s on the light end of the scale. On the heavier end, people will avoid dealing with you, judges won’t believe you even when you tell the truth, and life will generally be difficult. Some of the worst (most fulsome) gossips in the world are trial court judges, who will go on among themselves about what kind of bullshit so-and-so brought into their courtroom today.

  2. Badger Robert says:

    The DofJ disclosures are in the documents. The fewer leaks that occur, the more serious is the investigation. Those suspects that defy the committee and haven’t been interviewed by the Justice Dept. are probably the targets.
    Ms. Wheeler tries to keep us informed. We do the best we can to keep up. Thanks again.

  3. joel fisher says:

    Absolutely the best information source. I think it’s because you start out deeply informed and accurate, and then invite criticism. This kind of give and take is neither welcome nor possible
    on any other news platform. Keep it up.

  4. christopher rocco says:

    I am a very appreciative lurker who has learned an inestimable amount of important information here. Thank you, Dr. Wheeler, for your tremendously important efforts. By the way, is it anything more than coincidence that RECAP is PACER spelled backwards?

  5. dejavuagain says:

    Thanks. I have dropped a few bucks on Pacer as well for these cases – a fraction of what you have spent which is why I say “few”. But, for the public good, it is useful to remind those on this list of RECAP, a project of the Free Law Project A plug-in is available for Chrome and other browsers – when one accesses PACER-ECF and pays for a document, the document is captured by the Free Law Project and the document is then available to anyone for FREE on the Court LIstener site, another Freel Law Project site. Court Listener also stores the docket when accessed using RECAP. One may also go from Court Listener directly to PACER-ECF to purchase a document not previous downloaded through RECAP. So, look at this docket for Rhodes: . Someone has already downloaded the indictment and it is now free to anyone even without a PACER/ECF account. I encourage all with Pacer-ECF accounts to load the RECAP plug-in. Also, I encourage using the Court LIstener site when discussing US cases. For example, here is a direct link to the Rhodes indictment through Court Listener: Indeed, I frequently complain to WaPo and NYT for discussing court activity without linking to the source file or docket using Court Listener – or at the very least listing the Court and the docket number of the case. It would be nice if these “journalists” also used RECAP.

    • dejavuagain says:

      Sorry – missed reference to RECAP in messages above, which were posted while I was writing this message. But, important to install RECAP in browser and then access through Court Listener. I am amazed at number of lawyers I know that do not use RECAP.

  6. OrienteerOz says:

    Thank you Dr Wheeler and all the commenters for supporting my mental health through my late sixties and now half-way through my seventies. This post kicked me into subscription gear today with a monthly commitment loaded with my own emotional gain from time spent at your knee.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Someone get the J6 Select Committee an advance copy, so they can compare to their evidence and haul Barr in for a chat. As noted before in earlier threads, it gets very hard to claim privilege when being asked if the stuff written in the book is accurate.

  7. Bruce Fuentes says:

    PACER is a way to check on bankruptcies too, I use it to check on friend’s and family members’ potential partners. It is a shit show of a system but the only game in town.
    Found out a good friend was lying about a lot of stuff by just checking out PACER.

  8. WilliamOckham says:

    Somehow I missed the fact that you had a Patreon. I try to minimize the number of sites that have my credit card data and Patreon makes the cut. Subscription established.

    • YinzerInExile says:

      Wish I’d read this one before I just went through the “PayPal Guest” function to subscribe monthly via credit card. I share your view on limiting the number of sites that have my data, and also your view on Patreon making the cut (since that’s where I support Lawfare). Still and all, I’m subscribed here now, which is long overdue. Thanks for the reminder.

      . . . and as someone who lawyered my way through M&A transactions in about a dozen and a half bankruptcy cases, I’m completely on board with loathing PACER. No thanks for that reminder, though. :-(

  9. Peacerme says:

    Not sure what I just did. Patron was taking out 25 a month. I thought maybe you switched payouts so I signed up with pay pal as a guest. So is patron still gonna be taking out too? Big wedding this summer. You are worth every penny!!

    • punaise says:

      My modest recurring donations go to EW, digby, and DailyKos, and I subscribe to TPM for myself and a couple others. And Charles P. Pierce Esquire. Good investments, all!

      I’ve long since lost my Firedoglake T-shirt, but I still have an FDL ceramic tile somewhere…

    • bg says:

      While the NM SOS has declined to call the actions of the fake NM electors “criminal,” NM AG Hector Balderas has referred the matter to the feds, per local news.

  10. obsessed says:

    Since not all TV lawyers are created equal, it might be good to have an EW ranking system so we can best focus our cynicism.

    TV LAWYERS: Rosenberg, Vance, Honig, McQuade, Litman, Wine-Banks, Kirschner, Goldman, Cynthia Alksne, Maya Wiley, Toobin, Benner (I guess non-lawyer reporters need their own rankings), Weissmann, Melber, Mystal, Wittes, Pete Williams, Lithwick, Quinta Jurecic, Katyal,Tribe, Bazelon, Flannery, Kelly (former SDNY). Bmaz once said Rosenberg was the best and Tribe & Mystal have been called out by name. What about all the others? Oops … I left out Giuliani and Avenatti.

    • bmaz says:

      Chuck Rosenberg is extremely reserved and measured, but for my money, the best. Harry Litman fairly good. Goldman not bad. Weissman when he appeared was not bad, haven’t seen him lately. Bazelon is good, though her sister, who I know and do not see on TV, is even better. As to most of the rest, meh. Do kind of like Flannery a bit.

    • Dopey-o says:

      Because IANAL, a lot of what I read here goes right over my head. I would pay good money to see the Good Doctor and 5 of the sharpest TV lawyers explain what they think is the big picture.

      I know that by mid-2024, we may have a full understanding of all the coup pieces – funders, useful idiots, homicidal rat-fsckers – but I want to know the extent of the rot, and what sabotage is going on in the darkness, right under our noses.

  11. Nigel Senna says:

    PACER got me out of a jam, finding papers from a 20 year old bankruptcy, Emptywheel is worth the five bucks a month I donate, if the forty plus people who replied do the same, it keeps this wheel rolling….

  12. Leoghann says:

    More OT, CBS reported this morning that Matt Gaetz’ XGF is now cooperating with DOJ under an immunity agreement.

    • Chirrut Imwe says:

      I’ve been wondering what has been going on with Gaetz – things have definitely fallen off the radar.

      • P J Evans says:

        He resigned from the GOP club in DC because they’re now requiring masks. (DC regulation.)
        Did it with words about freedom and the like, but doesn’t seem to get that it’s a public health thing.

        • Rayne says:

          I was a co-op intern at GM when these fugly inverted tubs were popular; a friend owned one of these embarrassments which was the color of butterscotch pudding. I remember one young hot shot design engineer leaving GM for AMC at the time and wondered what the hell was he thinking that he wanted to go to a company which would proudly market these bathtubs on wheels.

        • bmaz says:

          I’d like to point out that AMC also had the hideous Gremlin. A good friend in high school’s family had a Pacer, so he very rarely drove.

        • Troutwaxer says:

          They’re great to drive; the “fishbowl” effect means there’s less metal between you and seeing another vehicle than any car I know about, and they’re also larger inside than they look. For me the problem isn’t that they’re fugly; from inside the car everything that looks like a weakness is a strength. The problem is that AMC made them.

  13. Xboxershorts says:

    I got no problem passing funds to Marcy. Her work keeps hope alive that the hijackers of America’s representative republic will be brought to justice. And hope….is priceless.

  14. Alan Charbonneau says:

    Supreme Court tells Trump to ESAD
    ·Supreme Court denies Trump’s request to block release of White House records to Jan 6th Committee, delivering a massive blow to Trump’s attempt to hide information from the committee

    “The ruling, which came in an unsigned, one-paragraph order, effectively kills Trump’s pending appeal in the case that centered on keeping the documents secret. Justice Clarence Thomas, a staunch conservative, was alone in indicating that he would have granted Trump’s request.”

  15. Winslow2 says:

    I’ve been reading your legal analyses since Firedoglake days, and it’s long past time for me to contribute to the cause. Thank you so much for your and the team’s amazing work.

Comments are closed.