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Prep for the January 6 Committee Hearings: Focus on 18 USC 372

I’ve got some potentially unwelcome news for you: Given the time zone differential, I think it unlikely I’ll stay up to watch tonight’s prime time hearing of the January 6 Committee. Hopefully, though, I’ll have reviewed it and posted on it by the time most of you wake up tomorrow.

That said, there seems to be a requirement somewhere that everyone do a big prep post of what to expect.

For example, Brookings did legal analysis of Trump’s legal exposure, laying out the evidence and legal background for charging him under 18 USC 371 and/or 1512(c)(2) and (k). I did a (actually, several) versions of that post too. But I posted it back on August 19, 2021.

The Brookings analysis misses a number of things, however. While it cites Judge Amit Mehta’s decision finding it plausible that Trump entered into a conspiracy with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys (this is a much lower standard than the one DOJ would need to charge Trump), it doesn’t mention Mehta’s decision that Trump may have liability for aiding and abetting the assaults at the Capitol. Similarly, neither Brookings nor anyone else I’ve seen have noticed DOJ’s recent addition, in the same indictments in which they charged the militias for seditious conspiracy (Oath Keeper, Proud Boys), of 18 USC 372 charges, which is a conspiracy to prevent by force or intimidation any person from discharging his duties.

If two or more persons in any State, Territory, Possession, or District conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof, or to induce by like means any officer of the United States to leave the place, where his duties as an officer are required to be performed, or to injure him in his person or property on account of his lawful discharge of the duties of his office, or while engaged in the lawful discharge thereof, or to injure his property so as to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties, each of such persons shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six years, or both.

As I’ve noted of late, the only other January 6 defendants charged with a 372 conspiracy are George Tanios and Julian Khater, for the alleged attack on Brian Sicknick and others. In the same way I was screaming in August that TV lawyers need to pay attention to how DOJ was using 1512(c)(2) (which they’ve finally started doing), I’m going to start screaming about 372 now. I think the 372 charges are designed to do more than backstop the showier conspiracy charges. Insofar as Mike Pence was acting in his role as President of the Senate on January 6 (and so would be included in the language about preventing by intimidation Members of Congress from carrying out their duties), it might be easier to charge people like John Eastman or Peter Navarro with 372 than with 1512. That’s because parts of this conspiracy didn’t rely on obstructing the vote certification, it relied on preventing Pence from doing his job.

Plus, Brookings remains, as virtually all such analysis does, far too focused on the events in the Willard, and far too little focused on the Capitol. It’s as if they don’t believe, or can’t conceive, how closely Trump is tied to the violence at the Capitol.

Hopefully, tonight’s hearing will change that focus. As the NYT first reported, documentarian Nick Quested and officer Carolyn Edwards will testify tonight.

When the committee on Thursday evening holds the first in a series of public hearings scheduled for this month, the two people said, it intends to present live testimony from Nick Quested, a British documentarian who was filming the group with its permission during the riot, and from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who was injured, according to videotape of the incident, by a rioter who had been in a conversation moments earlier with one of the Proud Boys indicted on the sedition charge.

Mr. Quested spent a good deal of the postelection period filming members of the Proud Boys, including Mr. Tarrio, and is considered by the committee likely to have been a witness to their conversations planning for Jan. 6. Mr. Quested had accompanied the Proud Boys to pro-Trump rallies in Washington in both November and December 2020, and was on the ground with members of the group on Jan. 6 when several played a crucial role in breaching the Capitol.

Mr. Quested was also present with a camera crew on the day before the attack, when Mr. Tarrio met in an underground parking garage near the Capitol with a small group of pro-Trump activists, including Mr. Rhodes of the Oath Keepers. Late in the day on Jan. 6, Mr. Quested and his crew were with Mr. Tarrio in Baltimore, filming him as he responded in real time to news about the riot.

Ms. Edwards, a well-respected Capitol Police officer, is believed to be the first officer injured in the attack, and suffered a concussion during the assault.

Such testimony will explain how the Proud Boys kicked off the entire riot before Trump even finished. Edwards’ assault figures in language added to the Proud Boys indictment when Tarrio was added.

Seconds before 12:53 p.m., BIGGS was approached by an individual whose identity is known to the grand jury. The individual put one arm around BIGGS’s shoulder and spoke to him. Approximately one minute later, this individual crossed the barrier that restricted access to the Capitol grounds. This was the first barrier protecting the Capitol grounds to be breached on January 6, 2021, and the point of entry for NORDEAN, BIGGS, REHL, Donohoe, and PEZZOLA.

This assault — one implicating the Proud Boys in that exchange with Samsel — is the kind of thing covered by 372. A victim impact statement was read in a detention hearing for Samsel, which focused on how much lasting damage the assault had done to Edwards health and ability to work.

With Edwards and Quested’s testimony, I expect the Committee will show that the attack was far more than a disorganized mob, but instead was coordinated, almost like a dance. That coordination includes Alex Jones and his entourage, the Pied Pipers of insurrection, ordered to lead thousands to the attack on the Capitol.

The coordinated events at the Capitol are why another point missed by the legal analysis I’ve seen so far is so important. The Willard is actually the wrong place to start a prosecution of Trump. You can’t hold Trump responsible for the attack on the Capitol unless you first show that he was instrumental in mobilizing the people there — whether by inciting them at the rally, advertising the riot itself in ways rioters took to be orders, or coordination with the militias. All the other stuff just broadens the conspiracy to include the legal talent.

Trump wielded the mob as his weapon. There are witnesses to his premeditated plan to do that in the White House. But to show that those mobilized by Trump responded to his orders, you need to rely on their testimony.

And abundant testimony already shows that thousands would not have rioted except for Trump’s orders or his promises to meet supporters at the Capitol (and Alex Jones’ similar promises, used to move bodies around to form a second front of attack).

Enrique Tarrio thinks this focus is all being coordinated with DOJ. In the wake of the sedition indictment rolled out on Monday, Zach Rehl’s attorney Carmen Hernandez moved for permission to issue a press release responding to the indictment. Hernandez wants to note that Rehl is not, himself, accused of any violence.

Without adding a single factual allegation concerning Mr. Rehl, the government today filed the Third Superseding Indictment in the instant case, nearly 1-1/2 years after Mr. Rehl was first indicted and detained pretrial and just two months before he is scheduled to begin trial. Mr. Rehl is now charged with seditious conspiracy, an offense that requires the government to prove that Mr. Rehl “conspire[d] to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States.” Yet, the Third Superseding Indictment does not allege that Mr. Rehl used force at any time nor encouraged anyone to do so.

I think Rehl’s problem is not so much the conspiracy indictment, it’s that he’s the least culpable of the remaining defendants, on the hook for actions that Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, and Enrique Tarrio are alleged to have taken, and arguably included in the Leader indictment when others (like Ron Loehrke, who remains charged by complaint with civil disorder) were more instrumental to the success of the assault on January 6.

Tarrio has a different problem, however. Thus far, he’s the only one to have joined, in part, in Hernandez’ motion. He wants to issue a press release claiming that the only reason DOJ charged him with sedition is to make a big stink with the January 6 investigation.

The government filed the Third Superseding Indictment on June 6, 2022 to coincide with the January 6th Select Committee Hearings which are scheduled to commence on June 9, 2022 on prime-time TV. Additionally, the select Committee has announced that the hearings will commence immediately and with the central focus of Enrique Tarrio and the Proud Boys. Documentary producer, Nick Quested who was “imbedded” documented via video recording the events on January 6, 2022 which Mr. Tarrio was not present for. This suspiciously seems orchestrated at the highest levels of government. This Honorable Court should raise caution as to the true intent of why the Government filed a Third Superseding with trumped up allegations with no new supporting facts on the eve of the January 6th Select Committee Hearings.

As the Court is aware, Mr. Tarrio has always been cooperative with law enforcement and has always complied with judicial orders in the past. Mr. Tarrio even voluntarily appeared before the January 6 Select Committee and answered questions honestly without invoking his right to remain silent. In accordance with Local Criminal Rules 57.7, Undersigned seeks the authority of this Honorable Court to make a press release with full compliance of the Protective Order entered by the Honorable Court [D.E.82]

It’s not true that there are no new supporting facts. The sedition indictment added the Tarrio reference to the Winter Palace, seemingly evidence that he intended to occupy the Capitol thereby making it impossible for members of Congress to do their jobs (again implicating 18 USC 372).

At 7:39 pm, PERSON-1 sent two text messages to TARRIO that read, “Brother. ‘You know we made this happen,” and “I’m so proud of my country today.” TARRIO responded, “I know” At 7:44 pm. the conversation continued, with PERSON-1 texting, “1776 motherfuckers.” TARRIO responded, “The Winter Palace.” PERSON-1 texted, “Dude. Did we just influence history?” TARRIO responded, “Let’s first see how this plays out.” PERSON-1 stated, “They HAVE to certify today! Or it’s invalid.” These messages were exchanged before the Senate returned to its chamber at approximately 8:00 p.m. to resume certifying the Electoral College vote.

But as I noted the other day, the discovery index the government provided as of last Thursday did not yet reflect the cooperation of Charles Donohoe and may not reflect the cooperation of Louis Colon.

Tarrio may not be entirely wrong about some coordination, however — but it may work in the opposite direction.

Multiple reports on the January 6 Committee have indicated that they’re packaging their public hearings up with an eye towards making admissible evidence available to DOJ and other law enforcement investigations. Along with speech and debate and executive privileged testimony, the January 6 Committee has greater ability than DOJ to obtain the testimony of journalists than (under Merrick Garland’s media guidelines) prosecutors at DOJ can.

That’s why the prominent inclusion of Quested is of particular interest. As of last Thursday, there was just one reference to Quested in the Proud Boy Leaders discovery index (though his work is included in open source videos). But whatever testimony he provides tonight will become accessible to prosecutors, who have just one more week before deadlines on discovery start kicking in.

There’s one more detail that I expect the Committee to include that has gotten too little focus: the other bodies.

Because QAnon mobilized bodies in less direct ways than the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers, that effort is in some ways more accessible to Congress than to DOJ (because Congress doesn’t need to show probable cause to obtain evidence). And thus far, at least, the Committee’s efforts at understanding the role of the 1st Amendment Praetorian — militia associated more closely with Mike Flynn — have been more public than those of DOJ.

Sedition Is the Foundation on Which the Trump Associate Investigation Builds

As I laid out in this post, I’m impatient with those who claim the government has taken a new direction in the January 6 investigation with subpoenas to people like — most audibly — Ali Alexander. Alexander got a number of journalists who know better to repeat his claim that he was “cooperating” with the investigation rather than merely “complying” with a subpoena. Few of those journalists pointed out real holes in his cover story — including his silence about Roger Stone and Alex Jones, his disavowal of communications with militias before he arrived at the Capitol, his use of cover organizations to get his permits, and his seeming message to co-conspirators that if he once had evidence, it is no longer in his possession.

In his statement, Alexander sought to separate himself from the substance of the investigation, saying he did not coordinate with the Proud Boys and suggesting his contact with the Oath Keepers was limited to accepting an offer for them to act as ushers at an event that never took place: his own permitted event near the Capitol, which didn’t occur because of the mob attack on the Capitol. The Oath Keepers are the subject of conspiracy charges for their roles in breaching the Capitol that day.

“I did not finance the Ellipse equipment. I did not ever talk with the White House about security groups. Any militia working security at the Ellipse belonged to “Women for America First,” not us,” Alexander said. “I did not coordinate any movements with the Proud Boys or even see them that day. I did take Oath Keepers offer to act as ushers for the Area 8 event but all of that was lost in the chaos. I wasn’t in communication with any of the aforementioned groups while I was near the Capitol working to get people away from the building. Lastly, I’m not willing to presume anyone’s guilt.”

“I did nothing wrong and I am not in possession of evidence that anyone else had plans to commit unlawful acts,” Alexander said. “I denounce anyone who planned to subvert my permitted event and the other permitted events of that day on Capitol grounds to stage any counterproductive activities.”

This is classic Roger Stone-schooled disinformation and should be treated as such.

Reporters have, undoubtedly based on really good sourcing, emphasized the existence of a new grand jury focusing on Trump’s associates, and from that, argued it’s a new direction — though as I’ve documented, DOJ has availed themselves of at least six grand juries thus far in this investigation.

But how could an investigation of Alexander’s actions be new if DOJ successfully debunked much of his current cover story — that he was “working to get people away from the building” — last November? Alexander co-traveler Owen Shroyer attempted to offer the same false claim in an attempt to throw out charges — filed in August — against him, but Judge Tim Kelly rejected that attempt on January 20. How could this be a totally new direction if prosecutors would have obtained Alexander’s Stop the Steal listserv as a result of Brandon Straka’s “cooperation” in early 2021? How could it be a new direction if DOJ has gotten guilty pleas from those who went first to the Capitol, then to the East front, and finally breached the building in response to lies about Alexander’s rally permits told by Alex Jones? DOJ has, demonstrably, been laying the groundwork for a subpoena to Alexander for over year.

And it’s not just Alexander. Steps DOJ took over the past year were undoubtedly necessary preconditions to going after Trump’s close associates. Those include:

These are efforts that started in January 2021. Some of the most important — the way DOJ seized Rudy’s comms and got a privilege review without revealing a January 6 warrant — started on Lisa Monaco’s first day in office.

But there’s a more important thing that DOJ probably believed they needed before going after Trump and his close associates: compelling proof that Trump wielded the mob in his effort to obstruct the vote count, obtaining the proof in the yellow boxes, below. That was one of the things I was trying to lay out in this post.

While there are specific things Trump and his associates did that were illegal — the call to Brad Raffensperger, the fake elector certificates, the illegal demand of Mike Pence — many of the rest are only illegal (at least under the framework DOJ is using) if they are tied to Trump’s successful effort to target the mob at American democracy. You first have to prove that Trump fired the murder weapon, and once you’ve established that proof, you can investigate who helped Trump buy the weapon, who helped him aim it, who loaded the gun for him, who was standing behind him with four more weapons to fire if his own shot failed to work.

And this is why I’m interested in the apparent two month process it appears to have taken DOJ to shift its main focus from the work of the January 8, 2021 grand jury, whose work culminated in the January 12, 2022 seditious conspiracy indictment against Stewart Rhodes, and the February 14, 2022 grand jury, the foundational overt act of which was the March 7 conspiracy charge against Enrique Tarrio.

The first grand jury proved that the vast majority of the rioters, whether trespassers or assault defendants, got there via one of three methods:

  • Responding to Trump and Alex Jones’ lies about Trump accompanying the marchers and giving a second speech
  • Acting directly on Trump’s “orders,” especially his December 19 tweet, often bypassing the Ellipse rally altogether
  • Coordinating with one of the militias, especially the Proud Boys

Judge Amit Mehta also seems to believe that the grand jury developed proof that many of those who assaulted cops were aided and abetted by Donald Trump. The first grand jury also proved that of those who — having been led to believe false claims about vote fraud based on over three months of propaganda — had the intent of obstructing the vote count, a great number had the specific goal of pressuring or punishing Mike Pence. While the intent of pressuring Pence came, for some rioters, from militia hierarchies, for most others, it came directly from Trump.

This is my hypothesis about the seeming shift from using the January 8 grand jury as the primary investigative grand jury to launching a new one on February 14. The January 8 grand jury has largely completed its investigation into what caused the riot, how it was orchestrated, who participated; the remaining prosecutions that don’t require and affect the larger picture will be and have been charged via the November 10 grand jury. But by indicting Tarrio and showing, with Charles Donohoe’s cooperation, that everything the Proud Boys did emanated from Tarrio’s orders and, by association, from whatever understanding Tarrio had about the purpose of the riot from his communications with people close to Trump, DOJ and the Valentine’s Day grand jury will move onto the next level of the conspiracy to obstruct the vote count. Again, that’s just a hypothesis — we’ll see whether that’s an accurate read in the weeks ahead. But it’s not a new direction at all. It is the direction that the investigation has demonstrably been headed for over a year.

Update: In a statement pretending the stories about his cooperation were leaked by DOJ, Alexander insists he is not cooperating, but complying.

After consultation with counsel, we provided a statement that established that I was not a target of this grand jury; I haven’t been accused of any criminal wrongdoing; and that I was complying, as required by law, with their probe.

[snip]

Useful idiots on the right, clinging to a New York Times headline that sensationalizes my compliance with a subpoena, will empower the Deep State which planted these stories to give their political investigation more legs to hurt our election integrity movement and Trump’s 2024 prospects. [my emphasis]

The rest of the statement should convince anyone that this is a replay of the same bullshit we saw from Stone and Jerome Corsi in the Mueller investigation.

The Evidence Needed for a Trump Prosecution

It would be easier to prosecute Trump for January 6 than Peter Navarro. I say that (in advance of today’s debate about referring Navarro and Dan Scavino for contempt) because it is far easier to tie Trump’s actions directly to the successful obstruction of the vote certification on January 6 than it would Navarro’s, and Navarro’s actions are fairly tangential to the proof that Trump’s actions met the elements of obstruction of the vote certification.

Months ago, I laid out how to prosecute Trump using the framework that DOJ has already used with hundreds of January 6 defendants. But in this post, I will show how much evidence DOJ has already collected proving the case against Trump by using the framework for Trump’s criminal exposure laid out by Judges Amit Mehta and David Carter, incorporating a key point made by Judge Reggie Walton.

In his opinion upholding the lawsuits against Trump, Amit Mehta found that it was plausible Trump conspired with the militias and also that he bore aid-and-abet liability for assaults at the Capitol (see this post and this post). He found that:

  • Trump and the militias jointly pursued an effort to disrupt the vote certification
  • Trump planned the unpermitted march to the Capitol
  • Trump encouraged the use of force and threats to thwart the certification from proceeding
  • Trump knew supporters would respond to his calls to come to DC and march on the Capitol
  • Trump called for collective action
  • Trump intended his “fight like hell” comment to be taken literally and rioters did take it literally
  • Trump ratified the riot

In his opinion finding that one email from John Eastman must be turned over to the January 6 Committee on a crime-fraud exception (see this post), Carter laid out the following proof that Trump obstructed the vote certification:

  • Trump tried to persuade Pence to disrupt the vote certification
  • He publicly appealed to Pence to do so
  • He called on his followers to walk to Congress to pressure Pence and Congress

Carter laid out this evidence that Trump had corrupt intent:

  • Proof that he had been told the vote fraud claims were false and his own request of Brad Raffensperger showed he knew he had lost
  • Trump had been told the Eastman’s plan was not legal

Carter laid out this evidence he had entered into a conspiracy:

  • Trump held lots of meetings to talk about plans to obstruct the vote count
  • Trump ratified Eastman’s plan in his Ellipse speech

To those two frameworks finding that Trump probably conspired to obstruct the vote certification, Judge Walton held that you cannot point to back-room plotting to get to the intentions of the actual rioters; you can only look at what the rioters themselves accessed, Trump’s public speech and Tweets (see this post).

This table (which is still very much a work in progress) lays out what evidence would be needed to prosecute Trump. The horizontal Elements of 1512(c)(2)/Relevant to Motive and Co-Conspirators sections show what is necessary given the elements of the offense as laid out by the judges and in DOJ filings, versus what might provide evidence of a broader conspiracy. The Must Have/Nice to Have columns show that for each kind of proof, there’s what is necessary and what would be really useful before indicting a former President.

In other words, the things in the yellow boxes are the things that would be necessary to show that Trump obstructed the vote certification. They basically amount to proof that things that Trump did brought the rioters to DC and to the Capitol and that he had the corrupt mens rea to charge with obstruction. I include there proof that Trump conspired with the militias, which I consider necessary because the Proud Boys, especially, took the bodies that Trump sent them and made those bodies tactically effective.

While prosecutors are still working on tying Roger Stone to both militias and tying Alex Jones and Ali Alexander into the crimes at the Capitol, much of the rest of this evidence has already been collected and rolled out in charging papers. For example, I showed some of the proof that rioters responded to Trump’s attacks on Pence by targeting their own attacks on Pence. There are a number of Trump comments that directly led hundreds of rioters to start making plans to come to DC, including arming themselves; NYT recently laid out the most central communication, a Tweet on December 19, 2020, though not only is that focus not new, it’s the tweet and response to which Arieh Kovler predicted the attack on the Capitol in real time.

A number of the other things you’d want to have before you charged Trump are available to DOJ:

  • Details of how the march to the Capitol happened and why it — and Ali Alexander’s permitted rallies at the Capitol — made a riot more likely
  • Explanations why Ellipse rally organizers balked at including people like Ali Alexander and Roger Stone
  • Testimony from Pence’s aides about how Trump pressured his Vice President in private

It is true that the testimony of several people — those involved in selling the Big Lie and Scavino’s coordination of the riot (including a particular focus on The Donald) — would be really useful. But that testimony is as important to proving that they were part of the conspiracy along with Trump.

Pat Cipollone’s tesitmony would be incredibly useful to that case, too. Normally, he could invoke privilege, but Trump already waived some of that privilege by sharing details about his conversations with Cipollone with Sean Hannity. If Cipollone did cooperate with DOJ, I don’t think he would leak that.

Similarly, the Relevant to Motive and Co-Conspirators rows — showing Trump’s coordination with Congress or his prior planning of it — would be really useful to have in prosecuting Trump. But ultimately, as Judge Walton held, what Trump did in private could not have influenced most of the rioters, because they never knew those details. As such, some of that information — precisely the kinds of stuff that TV lawyers say would be the first overt signs that Trump was a subject of the investigation — is more useful for including others in the conspiracy.

The most important of this evidence — communications from the December 18 meeting and comms during the day of the riot — are already in DOJ’s possession from Rudy’s seized phones, whether or not they obtained a warrant for that content yet.

Update: I’ve tweaked the horizontal headings on the table to clarify that the top half of the table stems from the elements of offense for 1512(c)(2), whereas the bottom half is clearly related and may help prove mens rea or incorporate other co-conspirators, but is not necessary (in my opinion) to meeting the elements of obstruction.

A White Board of the Sedition-Curious

Contrary to what a lot of people imagine, I don’t keep visual representations — like some cork board with a bunch of strings attached — of the investigations I follow, not even the sprawling January 6 investigation. Instead, I just try to capture important developments here, where I can refer back to them. There are several such relationships unpacked in recent weeks.

Roger Stone and Stewart Rhodes bug out at the same time after insurrection

For example, a bunch of people have asked me what I make of the WaPo report based on video taken by some Danish journalists who were filming a documentary of Roger Stone on January 6.

As you read it, keep in mind that the Get Me Roger Stone video team was following Roger Stone during key periods of 2016, including at the RNC.

Mueller at least attempted — as Stone feared Mueller would in real time — to mine the video for clues about Stone’s activities. For example, in one of the same email chains where Stone told Randy Credico to “do a [Frank] Panta[n]gel[i],” he and Credico were panicking about what Get Me Roger Stone writer Morgan Pehme was saying about 2016.

So even assuming Roger Stone wasn’t engaged in his everyday type of performance when being filmed for these film-makers, he would be acutely aware of the legal hazards of having a documentary team following around while crimes were being committed.

That’s why the report is most interesting for the times when Stone made sure to ditch the camera team: at precisely the time of a key Proud Boy planning meeting, during a meeting that Joshua James may have reported in on, and as the riot unfolded at the Capitol.

For example, the videographers did not track Stone when he left the hotel at 9PM on January 5 with Sal Greco.

At about 8:50 p.m. on Jan. 5, after the Danish filmmakers had left him, Stone exited the Willard again with his bodyguard, off-duty New York City police officer Sal Greco, a live-stream video shows. Their destination was unclear, though Stone had said he had a 9 p.m. appointment to have his hair dyed.

Just minutes after that — just before 9:17 PM — Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean were meeting with as-yet unidentified people putting together their plan for the riot.

Then there was a meeting with Bernie Kerik at 10AM at the Willard; hotel staff prevented videographers from watching that meeting.

The filmmakers told The Post that Stone appeared to change his plans after an encounter in the Willard lobby around 10 a.m. with Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner working in Giuliani’s command center at the hotel. The filmmakers began recording their conversation but were forced to leave by hotel staff. It is unclear what was said.

There’s good evidence that Joshua James checked in with Michael Simmons before and after that meeting.

Finally, Stone blew off the videographers from just before the Proud Boys kicked off a riot until almost the moment both Stone-related militias stood down.

At about 12:40 p.m., some ofStone’s guests left his suite. Stone’s team and the filmmakers agreed to separate for lunch and then reconvene two hours later. Stone planned to speak at a smaller rally near the Capitol later that afternoon.

But as the filmmakers ate in their hotel room, they saw news footage of a riot escalating at the Capitol. Around 2:30 p.m., Guldbrandsen headed out to capture the scene while Frederik Marbell, the director of photography, rushed to Stone’s room.

“Kristin Davis opened the door and said that Roger was taking a nap, so I couldn’t film,” Marbelltold The Post.

Outside the room, Marbell attempted to reach Stone by text message starting at 3:03 p.m. The messages went unanswered for 24 minutes, when Stone responded and offered to go to Marbell’s room.

By about 4 p.m., with the Capitol in chaos, Stone had still not arrived at Marbell’s room. Marbell returned to Stone’s room and began knocking. About five minutes later, room service arrived and Marbell snuck inside, he said.

“Roger was not taking a nap. He was on the phone with someone,” Marbell said.

Stone condemned the riot to the filmmakers at 4:18 p.m., saying: “I think it’s really bad for the movement. It hurts, it doesn’t help. I’m not sure what they thought they were going to achieve.

These are like Stone’s July 2016 meeting with Nigel Farage at the RNC: The stuff he knew well to and did hide from the camera. That’s where the sweet spot of Stone’s interactions are.

All that said, the report shows that key Stone actions the camera team captured exactly map the known central events of the planning for the insurrection.

For example, Stone put together a Friends of Stone Signal list, including Enrique Tarrio, once it became clear Trump had lost. That fed Flynn’s efforts.

He told them to monitor a group chat on the app Signal titled “F.O.S.” — friends of Stone. Tarrio of the Proud Boys was among the group’s members, a later shot of Stone’s phone showed.

[snip]

On Nov. 5, Stone drew up a Stop the Steal action plan that was visible on Alejandro’s laptop in footage captured by the filmmakers. As protesters were mobilized, the plan said, state lawmakers would be lobbied to reject official results. That tactic later proved central to Trump’s efforts.

Also that day, Stone had a 15-minute call with Flynn, the video shows. He told Flynn they could “document an overwhelming and compelling fraud” in each battleground state and urged him to spread the word on social media. That day, Flynn, Trump’s campaign and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric began using #StopTheSteal on Twitter.

Just after this mobilization, both Tarrio and Biggs started calling for civil war.

Later that month, Stone was coordinating with Mike Flynn and Ali Alexander.

Stone moved quickly after Trump’s defeat to help mobilize the protest movement that drew thousands to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, The Post found. He privately strategized with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and rally organizer Ali Alexander, who visited Stone’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in late November 2020 for a dinner where Stone served pasta and martinis.

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (when Flynn would be pardoned and Sidney Powell would, like Stone, start grifting off claims of a stolen election), Flynn and Powell were at Lin Wood’s properties in South Carolina, plotting away.

I was most struck, however, by the unsurprising news that in addition to Tarrio, Stone also used Signal messages with Stewart Rhodes.

Stone used an encrypted messaging app later in January to communicate with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who is also charged with seditious conspiracy, and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, the footage shows.

When I saw the description in James’ statement of offense of the way Rhodes bugged out of town immediately after the riot, I suspected that someone had instructed Rhodes that they were going to be hunted.

At Rhodes’s instruction, James, Vallejo, and others met Rhodes that evening at a restaurant in Vienna, Virginia. Rhodes discussed saving “the Republic” by stopping the transfer of presidential power and began to make plans to oppose the Inauguration on January 20, 2021, including by having people open-carry firearms at state capitols around the country.

While at the restaurant, Rhodes and James came to believe that law enforcement was searching for Rhodes and others after their attack on the Capitol. The group immediately returned to their hotel, collected their belongings, and met at a nearby gas station. There, James saw what he estimated to be thousands of dollars’ worth of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment in Rhodes’s vehicle. Rhodes divvied up various firearms and other gear among James and others who occupied a total of three cars. Rhodes left his mobile phone with one person and departed with another person in that person’s car so that law enforcement could not locate and arrest him. The three cars departed in separate directions.

James returned to Alabama with some of Rhodes’s gear, including firearms and other tactical equipment.

According to the videographers, Stone bugged out at about the same time and in the same frantic manner as Rhodes did.

As a mob ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, hurried to pack a suitcase inside his elegant suite on the fifth floor of the Willard hotel. He wrapped his tailored suits in trash bags, reversed his black face mask so its “Free Roger Stone” logo was hidden, then slipped out of town for a hastily arranged private flight from Dulles International Airport.

“I really want to get out of here,” Stone told an aide, as they were filmed at the hotel by a Danish camera crew for a documentary on the veteran Republican operative. Stone said he feared prosecution by the incoming attorney general, Merrick Garland. “He is not a friend,” Stone said.

I would, at this point, be shocked if Rhodes and Stone hadn’t communally decided they needed to bolt. The remaining question I have, though, is whether someone in government — like Mark Meadows — alerted Stone or someone close to him that the FBI had switched immediately into investigative mode.

Sidney Powell springs for the sedition gaslight defense

In the same way that the Danish videographers confirm that Roger Stone and Mike Flynn were conspiring early in the post-election process, a recent BuzzFeed report reveals that Sidney Powell is now using her hard-won grift to pay for the defense of some Oath Keepers.

Since October, the organization, Defending the Republic, has been making monthly payments to the defense attorney for Kelly Meggs, a member of the militant group the Oath Keepers who is charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In an interview, the attorney, Jonathon Moseley, said he was aware of “at least three or four other defendants who have that arrangement” as well. The Oath Keepers’ general counsel, Kellye SoRelle, said that one of those others is the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes. Offered the chance to deny that, his lawyers said they don’t discuss funding.

The revelation, which has not been previously reported, sheds new light on the activities of Powell’s organization, which was incorporated in December 2020 “to defend the constitutional rights of all Americans.” By last August, the group had raised nearly $15 million, according to its audited financial statements, and since then has raked in untold cash in donations and sales of merchandise, including T-shirts, drink coasters, and highball glasses adorned with the organization’s logo. Yet despite mounting legal scrutiny from federal and state investigators, Defending the Republic has disclosed almost nothing about where that money has been going.

[snip]

Powell’s involvement in the Oath Keepers case helps explain how some of the defendants, most of whom are far from wealthy, have been able to work with private attorneys who charge hundreds of dollars an hour rather than court-appointed lawyers. But it also raises questions as to who is dictating their defense strategy. In recent months, defense attorneys have raised many of the same far-flung conspiracies about COVID-19, antifa, and the deep state that appeared in lawsuits against the federal government filed by Powell herself.

As Ken Bensinger notes and I have traced, Jonathon Moseley has chosen to use court filings to engage in conspiracy theorizing rather than a more typical defense.

But on top of the futility of such an approach to actually obtain an optimal outcome, it serves to undermine rule of law more generally. Moseley’s approach is not all that different from the one that Powell herself used with Mike Flynn in attempting to blow up his prosecution by inventing false claims about the government. There was no evidence to support it, but it fed the frothers.

Tellingly, Powell’s efforts did nothing but make Flynn’s outcome worse. Thus, the defense plan, such as it existed, served to undermine rule of law and then make it all go away with a Presidential pardon. I’ve long assumed that that was the hope for Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson (who has adopted a similarly conspiratorial defense approach): that they could stall through 2025 in hopes a Republican would pardon them for their alleged sedition.

On March 4, Judge Amit Mehta appointed Andrew Wise of Miller Chevalier as conflict counsel to inquire into conflicts between Moseley’s representation of Meggs and (at least in the civil suit) Stewart Rhodes). That’s likely to bring a review of compensation arrangements, which may lead to inquiries about what Powell is paying Moseley to do.

Interestingly, BuzzFeed suggests that Juli Haller, who represents Meggs’ wife Connie, but also Ryan Samsel, may be on this dole. There was a time when Samsel looked like he might have considered flipping but that time is long gone.

Roger Stone’s pardon grift

And now, having covered Roger Stone’s Stop the Steal grift and Sidney Powell’s Defending the Republic grift, we come to Stone’s pardon-selling.

The Daily Beast adds to the earlier WaPo report (the first item here) that addressed all the pardons Roger Stone pitched Trump to make in the days between when he bolted from DC quickly and the day any such power expired. It notes that in mid-January 2021, Stone was playing all sides of the Florida scandal that engulfs Matt Gaetz.

It’s already known that Stone lobbied for pardons for both Gaetz and Greenberg in the waning days of the Trump administration. But it wasn’t known that Stone also advocated for a pardon for this third man connected to Gaetz and Greenberg: Stephen Alford, a serial fraudster from the Florida panhandle.

That development was first revealed by The Washington Post in a draft memo published earlier this month. But the Post report didn’t mention Alford—his name only appears in a document the Post obtained and uploaded online—and the link hasn’t been explored.

Two months after Stone advocated for Alford’s absolution, that allegiance dissolved when Alford became Gaetz’s scapegoat for the investigation. (Stone also eventually blasted Alford as part of the “deep state.”)

Just weeks before, however, Stone was in Alford’s corner, lobbying for a pardon.

Much of this is just scammy Florida politics. I’m interested in two details of this.

First, one of the ties TDB did find between Alford — the guy who attempted to extort Gaetz’s dad — and Stone goes through Oleg Deripaska.

According to a person with direct knowledge of the events, however, Alford had one powerful friend: A Republican lobbyist close to Stone.

Weeks after Alford’s pardon request was declined, that lobbyist shared some more information: Matt Gaetz was in trouble. And the lobbyist, this person said, had the details, including images of Gaetz with young women at a sex party.

While it’s unclear how the lobbyist—an associate of Oleg Deripaska—came into this information, Stone had by that time known about the Gaetz allegations for months; Greenberg had told Stone all about their involvement with a 17-year-old, both over text messages and in a confession he drafted at Stone’s request, as part of the pardon process.

It didn’t take long for Alford to cobble together a plan—and it was a doozy: He would secure Gaetz a presidential pardon in exchange for $25 million, which Alford would supposedly use to repatriate an FBI agent taken hostage in Iran who has long been considered dead.

TDB then describes how this plan, involving a lobbyist with ties to Deripaska, was behind the campaign against the NYT story on Gaetz’ legal woes.

When The New York Times broke the investigation in late March last year, Gaetz used Alford’s ploy as ammo. He fired off a tweetstorm, claiming the Times report was a “planted leak” designed to torpedo an investigation into “criminal extortion” plot “to smear my name.”

The central figure in Gaetz’s narrative, however, wasn’t Alford; it was Alford’s lawyer, whose role was limited to holding the money in an escrow account while Alford negotiated the release.

That lawyer had one special characteristic: Three decades ago, he served as a DOJ prosecutor. And that fact equipped the narrative with a “deep state” hook—a Roger Stone special.

Gaetz doubled down that night on Tucker Carlson’s late-night Fox News talk show, explaining the convoluted “leaking” and “smearing” plot to a befuddled Carlson, who remarked that it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

The next day, Stone piped up to defend Gaetz, using the same language.

And I’m interested in that because Glenn Greenwald was another key player in this anti-NYT campaign, including as recently as December.

Click through for the details on Gaetz paying Stone until he stopped paying Stone.

Update: One more note about Stone’s plan for pardons. Unsurprisingly he pushed for pardons for Assange and Stone, and unsurprisingly he did so in the same terms that Greenwald did — as the best way to get back at the Deep State.

Hell yes ,I would pardon Julian Assange and Edward Snowden- they are persecuted because they exposed the same people who attempted the Russia Collusion Hoax, the Ukraine hoax the last phony impeachment and are now pushing you’re their new phony impeachment.

The plan is a telling document of how Stone exploited Trump’s narcissism and grievances to get things done. The UK Supreme Court just rejected Assange’s bid to appeal, so the initial extradition request will go to Priti Patel for approval (though he still has several avenues of appeal).

The Error that Betrays Insufficient Attention to the Obstruction Standard in the January 6 Eastman Filing

There’s a telling error in the January 6 Committee’s filing aiming to overcome John Eastman’s claims his emails are covered by Attorney-Client privilege. In the section asserting that Trump had probably violated 118 USC 1512(c)(2) — the same obstruction statute used to charge over 200 of the other January 6 defendants — the filing asserts that six judges “to date” have “refused to dismiss charges against defendants under the section.”

That number is incorrect. As of March 2, at least ten judges had upheld DOJ’s application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2), and a few more have as much as said they would.

  1. Dabney Friedrich, December 10, 2021, Sandlin*
  2. Amit Mehta, December 20, 2021, Caldwell*
  3. James Boasberg, December 21, 2021, Mostofsky
  4. Tim Kelly, December 28, 2021, Nordean*
  5. Randolph Moss, December 28, 2021, Montgomery
  6. Beryl Howell, January 21, 2022, DeCarlo
  7. John Bates, February 1, 2022, McHugh
  8. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, February 9, 2022, Grider
  9. Richard Leon (by minute order), February 24, 2022, Costianes
  10. Christopher Cooper, February 25, 2022, Robertson

When I first made this observation, I thought I was being a bit churlish in making it. But on reflection (and after reading the quotes from lawyers in this Charlie Savage article), I think it’s an important point. All the more so given how TV lawyers have claimed that, because the January 6 Committee has claimed Trump could be charged with obstruction, then damnit DOJ should already have done so.

The fact that the Jan 6 Committee isn’t even aware of all the obstruction rulings suggests they’ve been insufficiently attentive to what the rulings actually say, aside from the baseline holding of all of them that the vote certification was an official proceeding.

While ten judges have upheld the application, there are some differences between these opinions, particularly with regards to their formulation of the corrupt mens rea required by the statute. The most important differences from my review (but I’m not a constitutional lawyer and so I should not be the one doing this analysis!!!!!), are:

  • Whether “corrupt” intent requires otherwise illegal action
  • Whether such corruption would be transitive (an attempt to get someone else to act improperly) or intransitive (whether it would require only corruption of oneself)

Dabney Friedrich argued (and I laid out briefly here) — and has repeatedly warned in pretrial hearings for Guy Reffitt — that as she understand this application it must involve otherwise illegal actions. Amit Mehta ruled (as I wrote up here) that, at least for the Oath Keepers, this corruption may be just intransitive.

On both these issues, the Jan 6 Committee’s argument is a bit muddled. Here’s how they argue that Trump’s actions (and, less aggressively, Eastman’s) demonstrate that corrupt intent.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 provides for objections by House and Senate members, and a process to resolve such objections through votes in each separate chamber. 3 U.S.C. §§ 5, 6, 15. Nothing in the Twelfth Amendment or the Electoral Count Act provides a basis for the presiding officer of the Senate to unilaterally refuse to count electoral votes — for any reason. Any such effort by the presiding officer would violate hte law. This is exactly what the Vice President’s counsel explained at length to Plaintiff and President Trump before January 6. Plaintiff acknowledge that the Supreme Court would reject such an effort 9-0. And the Vice President made this crystal clear in writing on January 6: [1] any attempt by the Vice President to take the course of action the President insisted he take would have been illegal

Nevertheless, pursuant to the Plaintiff’s plan, the President repeatedly asked the Vice President to exercise unilateral authority illegally, as presiding officer of the Joint Session of Congress, to refuse to count electoral votes. See supra at 11-13. In service of this effort, he and Plaintiff met with the Vice President and his staff several times to advocate that he universally reject and refuse to count or prevent the counting of certified electoral votes, and both also engaged in a public campaign to pressure the Vice President. See supra at 3-17.

The President and Plaintiff also took steps to alter the certification of electors from various states.

[snip]

The evidence supports an inference that President Trump and members of his campaign knew he had not won enough legitimate state electoral votes to be declared the winner of the 2020 Presidential election during the January 6 Joint Session of Congress, but [2] the President nevertheless sought to use the Vice President to manipulate the results in his favor.

[snip]

[T]he President and the Plaintiff engaged in an extensive public and private campaign to convince the Vice President to reject certain Biden electors or delay the proceedings, without basis, so that the President and his associates would have additional time to manipulate the results. [3] Had this effort succeeded, the electoral count would have been obstructed, impeded, influenced, and (at the very least) delayed, all without any genuine legal justification and based on the false pretense that the election had been stolen. There is no genuine question that the President and Plaintiff attempted to accomplish this specific illegal result. [numbering and bold mine]

As I said, I think this is a bit of a muddle. For starters, the Jan 6 Committee is not arguing that the delay actually caused by Trump’s mob amounted to obstruction. Rather, they’re arguing (at [3]) that had Eastman’s efforts to get Pence to himself impose a delay would be obstruction.

They make that argument even though they have evidence to more closely align their argument to the fact pattern ten judges have already approved. The emails included with this filing show Pence Counsel Greg Jacob twice accusing Eastman of convincing Trump of a theory that Trump then shared with his followers, which in turn caused the riot.

[T]hanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.

[snip]

[I]t was gravely, gravely irresponsible of you to entice the President of with an academic theory that had no legal viability, and that you well know we would lose before any judge who heard and decided the case. And if the courts declined to hear it, I suppose it could only be decided in the streets. The knowing amplification of that theory through numerous surrogates, whipping large numbers of people into a frenzy over something with no chance of ever attaining legal force through actual process of law, has led us to where we are.

That is, Jacob argued, in real time, that Eastman’s knowingly impossible theory, amplified by the President, caused the riot that ended up putting Pence’s life at risk and delaying the vote certification. But the Jan 6 Committee argues instead that the attempted persuasion of Pence the was the obstructive act.

Perhaps as a result, the agency (transitive versus intransitive) involved in this obstructive act is likewise muddled. In one place (at [1]), the Jan 6 Committee argues that the obstructive act was a failed attempt to persuade Pence to take an illegal action. I’m not sure any of the failed attempts to persuade people to do something illegal (to persuade Pence to do something he couldn’t do, to persuade members of Congress to challenge the vote with either good faith or cynical challenges, to persuade Jeffrey Clark to serve as Acting Attorney General) would sustain legal challenges.

If the Commander in Chief ordered his Vice President to take an illegal act, that would be a bit different, but that’s not what the Jan 6 Committee argues happened here.

Elsewhere, this filing (and other attempts to apply obstruction to Trump) point to Trump’s awareness (at [2]) that he lost the election, and so his attempts to win anyway exhibit an intransitive corrupt intent.

As Charlie Savage noted in his story and a thread on same, to some degree the Jan 6 Committee doesn’t need to do any better. They’re not indicting Trump, they’re just trying to get emails they will likely get via other means anyway (and as such, the inclusion of this argument is significantly PR).

But to the extent that this filing — and not, say, the opinion issued by Judge Mehta after he had approved obstruction, in which he both ruled it was plausible that Trump had conspired with two militias and, more importantly (and to me, at least, shockingly), said it was also plausible that Trump may be liable under an aid and abet standard — is being used as the model for applying obstruction to Trump, it is encouraging a lot of unicorn thinking and, more importantly, a lot of really sloppy thinking. There are so many ways to charge Trump with obstruction that don’t require an inquiry into his beliefs about losing the election, and those are the ones DOJ has laid a groundwork for.

Plus, there are a few more realities that TV lawyers who want to talk about obstruction should consider.

First, it is virtually guaranteed that Friedrich’s opinion — the one that holds that “corrupt” must involve otherwise illegal actions — will be the first one appealed. That’s because whatever happens with the Guy Reffitt trial this week and next, it’s likely it will be appealed. And Reffitt has been building in an appeal of Friedrich’s obstruction decision from the start. First trial, first appeal. So TV lawyers need to study up what she has said about otherwise illegal action and lay out some rebuttals if their theory of Trump’s liability involves mere persuasion.

Second, while ultimately all 22 judges are likely to weigh in on this obstruction application (and there are only two or three judges remaining who might conceivably rule differently than their colleagues), there are just a handful of judges who might face this obstruction application with Trump or a close associate like Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani. Judge Mehta (by dint of presiding over the Oath Keeper cases) or Judge Kelly (by dint of ruling over the most important Proud Boy cases) might see charges against Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, or Alex Jones. Chief Judge Howell might take a higher profile case herself. Or she might give it to either Mehta (who is already presiding over closely related cases, including the January 6 lawsuits of Trump) or one of the two judges who has dealt with issues of Presidential accountability, either former OLC head Moss or Carl Nichols. Notably, Judge Nichols, who might also get related cases based on presiding over the Steve Bannon case, has not yet (as far as I’m aware) issued a ruling upholding 1512(c)(2); I imagine he would uphold it, but don’t know how his opinion might differ from his colleagues.

The application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to January 6 is not, as the TV lawyers only now discovering it, an abstract concept. It is something that has been heavily litigated already. There are eight substantive opinions out there, with some nuances between them. The universe of judges who might preside over a Trump case is likewise finite and with the notable exception of Judge Nichols, the two groups largely overlap.

So if TV lawyers with time on their hands want to understand how obstruction would apply to Trump, it’d do well — and it is long overdue — to look at what the judges have actually said and how those opinions differ from the theory of liability being thrown around on TV.

I’m convinced not just that Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction, but that DOJ has been working towards that for some time. But I’m not convinced the current January 6 Committee theory would survive.

The Half of Trump’s Conspiracy to Obstruct JustSecurity Left Out: Inciting an Insurrection

Two days after Judge Amit Mehta ruled that it was plausible that Trump conspired with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, JustSecurity has posted an imagined prosecutor’s memo laying out the case that Trump, John Eastman, and Rudy Giuliani (and others known and unknown) conspired to obstruct the vote count that almost entirely leaves out the militias.

It has gotten a lot of attention among the TV lawyer set, who imagine that it would save Merrick Garland time.

With this obnoxious tweet, Laurence Tribe betrays (yet again) that he has completely missed what DOJ has been doing for the past year. What Barb McQuade did is lay out the theory of prosecution that DOJ has long been working on — as I laid out in August. Except that McQuade (of whom I’m a great fan both personally and professionally) misses great swaths of public evidence, and in so doing, makes her case far weaker than it would need to be to prosecute a former President.

Start with McQuade’s argument substantiating that Trump corruptly tried to obstruct the vote count.

Here, attempting to prevent the certification of the votes for president is illegal only it is wrongful or for an improper purpose. It would be wrongful or improper for Trump to seek to retain the presidency if he knew that he had been defeated in the November election. His public statements suggest that he genuinely believed that he had won the election, but, as discussed above, by Jan. 6, it was apparent that there was a complete absence of any evidence whatsoever to support his belief, which at this point had become merely a wish. The statements from Krebs, Barr, Rosen, Donoghue, Ratcliffe, and Raffensperger, and the memo from his own campaign team all permit a fair inference that Trump knew that there was no election fraud, and that his efforts to obstruct the certification was therefore corrupt.

Independently, regardless of his knowledge or belief in election fraud, it was an improper purpose to hold into power after the 50 states had certified their election results, the Electoral College had voted, and litigation had been exhausted after an across-the-board rejection by the federal courts.

This is the theory of prosecution where an obstruction case against Trump would succeed or fail. And I’m not sure it meets the understanding of obstruction already laid out by the judges who would preside over the case.

Defendants have been challenging DOJ’s application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the vote certification since at least April, and so there’s a great deal of background and seven written, one oral, and one minute opinions on the topic:

  1. Dabney Friedrich (my post on it and the obstruction application generally)
  2. Amit Mehta (my post on his intransitive application of it to the Oath Keepers)
  3. Tim Kelly (my post on its application to the Proud Boys)
  4. Randolph Moss (my post situating his application with his past OLC opinion on charging a President)
  5. John Bates
  6. James Boasberg
  7. My livetweet of Beryl Howell’s oral opinion
  8. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
  9. Richard Leon by minute order
  10. Christopher Cooper

One of the central issues addressed in these — and something any prosecution of Trump under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) would need to address — is how you establish that the effort to obstruct the vote count is “corrupt.” While thus far all judges have upheld the application, there’s some differentiation in their understanding of corruption (something that a site like JustSecurity might productively lay out).

Two key issues are whether corruption, under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) must be transitive (meaning someone tried to coerce another to do something improper) or intransitive (meaning someone exhibited corruption with their own actions), and the extent to which corruption is proven by doing acts that are otherwise illegal.

Importantly, Judge Friedrich’s opinion, and so the first jury instructions, only extends to illegal actions. In a recent hearing, she warned the Guy Reffitt prosecutors (both of whom also happen to be prosecuting cases charged as a conspiracy) that they will not prove him guilty of obstruction without first proving him guilty of other crimes at the riot.

Trump acted both transitively and intransitively corruptly

McQuade’s formulation is unnecessarily weak on the transitive/intransitive issue. There are at least two things that are missing.

First, citing some tax precedents, defendants wanted the application of obstruction to apply only to those who were obtaining an unfair personal advantage. That’s not the standard adopted in the opinions thus far, but it is a standard that some Justices one day might try to uphold. And while that standard was doable for the charged rioters (because they were attempting to make their own votes count more than the votes of the 81 million people who voted for Biden), it is a slam dunk for Trump. It’s not just that Trump was trying to win an election he knew he lost, he was trying to retain the power of the Presidency for himself. My complaint here, though, is mostly stylistic. McQuade could rewrite this paragraph easily to take advantage of the fact that, for Trump, obstruction of the vote count really was an attempt to gain personal advantage.

It’s in leaving out Trump’s transitive obstruction — even in a piece that focuses closely on the pressure of Pence — where McQuade’s memo could and I think might need to, to pass muster given the existing opinions on it — be vastly improved. That’s because it’s in Trump’s corruption of others where he clearly conspired in illegal acts.

Trump didn’t just do things an ethical President shouldn’t do (intransitive corruption). He carried out an extended campaign to pressure Pence to do something that violated Pence’s Constitutional obligations. That is, he tried to corrupt Pence (transitive corruption).

Trump transitively corrupted by conspiring with people who committed crimes

And it’s in the means by which Trump’s tried to corrupt Pence on the day of the insurrection that McQuade largely leaves out, and in the process forgoes an easy way to meet Friedrich’s current requirement (that those charged with obstruction commit a crime in attempting to obstruct the vote count).

Bizarrely, McQuade’s overt acts on January 6 are focused largely on John Eastman.

T. Trump Speaks at the Ellipse

On Jan. 6, 2021, Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters at approximately 1 p.m. on the Ellipse outside the White House.[129] During his remarks, Trump said, “If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election.”[130] He explained, “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”[131] Trump then spoke directly to Pence: “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories.’”[132]

Giuliani, a former United States Attorney, also spoke at the rally. He declared that it would be “perfectly appropriate” for the Vice President to “cast [] aside” the laws governing the counting of electoral votes, and “decide on the validity of these crooked ballots or he can send it back to the state legislators, give them five to ten days to finally finish the work.”[133]

Another speaker at the rally was Eastman. “All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o’clock he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!” Eastman told the crowd. [134] “We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question!”[135]

According to reports, Trump was directly involved in planning the speaker lineup.[136]

U. Pence Issues Public Letter Rejecting Eastman’s Theory

On Jan. 6, at 1:02 p.m., Pence posted to Twitter a letter stating that as Vice President, he lacked “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the Joint Session of Congress.”[137] His duties, the letter stated, were “merely ministerial,” and were limited to counting the votes. The letter further stated that he would instead follow the Electoral Count Act, permitting members of Congress, as “the people’s representatives,” to resolve any disputes.[138] The letter had been drafted with the help of two conservative legal experts — former federal Judge J. Michael Luttig and former Justice Department official John Yoo.[139] Both have confirmed that they advised Pence’s staff and outside counsel that there was no basis for the vice president to intervene in the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6. “I advised that there was no factual basis for Mike Pence to intervene and overturn the results of the election,” said Yoo, who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley. “There are certain limited situations where I thought the Vice President does have a role, for example in the event that a state sends two different electoral results. . . . But none of those were present here.”[140]

Luttig wrote subsequently that “Professor Eastman was incorrect at every turn of the analysis,” including his suggestion that the vice president could delay the electoral vote count.[141]

V. U.S. Capitol Attack Begins

At about 2 p.m., protestors broke a window at the U.S. Capitol and climbed inside.[142] The Senate and House of Representatives soon went into recess and members evacuated the two chambers.[143] At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”[144] The Capitol would not be secured again until about 6 p.m.[145]

Her discussion here doesn’t explicitly mention a single one of the 750 people already being prosecuted for crimes for their actions on January 6. She mentions neither Alex Jones (whom Trump ordered to take the mob on an unpermitted march to the Capitol and two of whose employees are already among those 750 being prosecuted) nor Roger Stone (who has ties to the two militias that orchestrated events that day and who has been a subject in the Oath Keeper investigation from its early days).

It’s not just or even primarily that Trump grasped John Eastman’s crackpot theory and used it to pressure Pence (which is not  itself a crime). It’s that he incited thousands of people to take an unpermitted walk to the Capitol to physically threaten Pence and other members of Congress directly.

As I laid out last month, DOJ has already collected a great deal of evidence that those who did break the law at the Capitol did so in response to Trump’s incitement with the motive of pressuring Pence.

Trump led his mob to believe only Pence could help them, and if Pence did, Trump falsely led many of them to believe, it would amount to following the Constitution (precisely the opposite of what his White House Counsel appears to have had told him).

Pennsylvania has now seen all of this. They didn’t know because it was so quick. They had a vote. They voted. But now they see all this stuff, it’s all come to light. Doesn’t happen that fast. And they want to recertify their votes. They want to recertify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back. Mike Pence has to agree to send it back.

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

And think of what you’re doing. Let’s say you don’t do it. Somebody says, “Well, we have to obey the Constitution.” And you are, because you’re protecting our country and you’re protecting the Constitution. So you are.

That’s what Trump left his mob with as he falsely promised he would walk to the Capitol with them.

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Already, at that moment, the Proud Boys had kicked off the attack. Moments later, Pence released his letter stating he would certify the vote. “Four years ago, surrounded by my family, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which ended with the words, ‘So help me God.’”

And Trump’s Tweets and speech had the direct and desired effect. When Trump called out, “I hope Pence is going to do the right thing,” Gina Bisignano responded, “I hope so. He’s a deep state.” When she set off to the Capitol, Bisignano explained, “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence.” After declaring, “I’m going to break into Congress,” Bisignano rallied some of the mobsters by talking about “what Pence has done.” She cheered through a blowhorn as mobsters made a renewed assault on the Capitol. “Break the window! she cheered, as she ultimately helped another break a window, an act amounting to a team act of terrorism.

Josiah Colt and his co-conspirators learned that Pence would not prevent the vote certification as Trump demanded. In response, they aimed to “breach the building.” Colt set out to where Pence was presiding. “We’re making it to the main room. The Senate room.” Where they’re meeting.” His co-conspirators Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave are accused of assaulting a cop to get into the Senate.

Jacob Chansley mounted the dais where Pence should have been overseeing the vote count and declared, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor,” and left him a note, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Matthew Greene never went to listen to Trump speak. Instead, he was following orders from top Proud Boys, a bit player in an orchestrated attack to surround and breach the Capitol. His goal in doing so was to pressure Pence.

Greene’s intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President KePence. Greene knew he lawmakers and the Vice President were inside the Capitol building conducting the certification of the Electoral College Vote at the time the riot occurred. Green hoped that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral Vote than they would have otherwise. Greene believed that by unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds, he and other rioters outside the building would send a stronger message to lawmakers and the Vice President inside the building, than if Green and others had stayed outside the restricted area.

There is a direct line of corrupt intent from the moment where Trump asked Pence, “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to [exercise it]?” and efforts that his mobsters — both those who planned this in advance and those who reacted to Trump’s incitement — made at the Capitol. Some of the most central players in the attack on the Capitol have testified under oath that they understood their goal to be pressuring Mike Pence. In pursuit of that, they broke into the Capitol, they assaulted cops, they occupied the Mike Pence’s seat.

I would add (because Amit Mehta did in his oral ruling that Stewart Rhodes should be detained pre-trial), in addition to the explicit attempt by Kelly Meggs to hunt down Nancy Pelosi, the other group of Oath Keepers appears to have tried to find those in the Senate, presumably including Mike Pence. If prosecutors can prove that, then, the militia that was checking in with Stone the day of the riot took overt steps to physically threaten Mike Pence.

Importantly, with the exception of QAnoner Chansley, all of the January 6 defendants I’ve laid out here were part of a conspiracy (Colt and Bisignano, because they flipped on co-conspirators, are not charged with one). All of these Jan6ers are accused of conspiring with others to carry out Trump’s will to transitively corrupt Pence by physically pressuring him to violate his Constitutional duty.

And Judge Mehta has now ruled it plausible (though he was careful to note he was addressing the lower standard of a civil suit) that Trump’s incitement amounts to entering into a conspiracy with all of these people who acted on his incitement to pressure and in some cases physically hunt down Pence.

McQuade’s theory of corruption may not meet Judge Friedrich’s standard for corruption (which we should assume as a baseline of one that Brett Kavanaugh might find palatable).

Which is why you cannot ignore the other half of the conspiracy: Trump entering into an agreement with Roger Stone to coordinate with the militias, entering into an agreement with Alex Jones to lead the mob to the Capitol, and Trump entering into an agreement with those he incited to directly pressure Pence to violate his Constitutional duty.

750 people have been charged with committing crimes at the Capitol. And the easy way to demonstrate that Trump employed illegal means in his effort to obstruct the vote certification is to point to the mountains of evidence that he conspired both via his close associates Stone and Jones but more directly via incitement with a vast number of those 750 people who allegedly broke the law.

Update: One thing McQuade does focus on (she’s a Michigander who does a lot of work on voter protection) are the fake electors. That’s another illegal act that probably should be brought in any statement of corrupt intent for the same reason Trump’s ties to the rioters should be.

Update, 2/25: Added link to Kollar-Kotelly’s opinion and noted that Leon and Cooper have now ruled.

Judge Mehta Observes that Roger Stone’s Role on January 6 “May Prove Significant in Discovery”

Bennie Thompson filed his original lawsuit against Donald Trump on February 16, 2021. He amended it on April 7, 2021 to account for the legal dissolution of the Proud Boys, to add plaintiffs, and to add more details.

That means the allegations addressed in Judge Amit Mehta’s order rejecting Trump’s motion to dismiss are over ten months old and entirely predate the foundation of the January 6 Select Committee. The amended complaint was filed just days after DOJ arrested Joe Biggs’ co-travelers (providing the first documentary visibility on his second breach of the building) and similarly shortly after the first Oath Keepers superseding indictment to incorporate the Grand Theft Golf Cart chase by those who had been at the Willard the morning of the attack. In other words, the allegations addressed in Friday’s opinion were laid out an eternity ago in our understanding of the insurrection.

As Trump described it in his response to the amendment complaint, the only new things added pertained to Roger Stone and a public report that the FBI had found communications between a Trump associate and the Proud Boys.

The Amended Complaint added little in the way of additional material allegations. In paragraphs 70 and 71, Plaintiffs cryptically claim that someone associated with the White House communicated with the Proud Boys, without specifying who. They also try guilt by association. They claim to show a conspiracy to incite the January 6 riot by suggesting that at the “end of December” President Trump communicated with Roger Stone, who they then allege also communicated with members of the Proud Boys. Am. Compl. ¶ 71. Of course, they do not allege what conspiratorial statements were supposedly exchanged between any of the parties, other than to say that Mr. Stone met with Mr. Trump to ensure he “continues as our president.” Plaintiffs incredibly and without any detail also claim that Mr. Trump “knew” of the planning of the violence at the U.S. Capitol because of statements by supporters found on the dark corners of the Internet, seeking to implausibly impute his awareness of those statements. Id. at ¶¶ 66, 56-62.

Here’s that language from the amended complaint.

70. The White House was also in contact with the Proud Boys. An FBI review of phone records showed that, in the days leading up to the rally, a person associated with the Trump White House communicated with a member of the Proud Boys by phone.

71. At the same time, Defendant Trump was in contact with long-time associate Roger Stone, who was in contact with both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Mr. Stone posted on the social media website Parler that, at the end of December, he met with Defendant Trump to “ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president.” Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio confirmed that he called Roger Stone in early January. Members of the Oath Keepers agreed to serve as Mr. Stone’s security detail during the January 6 protests.

Judge Mehta, of course, has had front row seats as DOJ has continued to supersede the Oath Keeper indictments. That’s why his treatment of this exchange bears close notice.

The President also dismisses two allegations as weak and speculative that purport to tie him to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. The court relies on neither at this juncture but thinks one may prove significant in discovery. The first is an allegation that “a person associated with the Trump White House communicated with a member of the Proud Boys by phone.” Thompson Compl. ¶ 70. The court agrees that this is a speculative allegation and has not considered it. The other concerns the President’s confidant, Roger Stone. Stone posted on Parler in late December that he had met with the President “to ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president.” Shortly thereafter, Stone spoke with Tarrio, and later he used the Oath Keepers as his security detail for the January 6 Rally. The court does not rely on these allegations to establish the President’s knowledge of the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers. Other alleged facts make that inference plausible. That said, Stone’s connections to both the President and these groups in the days leading up to January 6th is a well-pleaded fact. Discovery might prove that connection to be an important one.

He’s not relying on either of these allegations, and doesn’t think much of the first one.

I have always suspected that was a reference to Rudy Giuliani, who posted then immediately deleted and reposted newly-cropped communications with Proud Boy affiliate James Sullivan a week after the riot. In it, Sullivan proposed blaming the entire riot on his brother John. But Sullivan also spoke of at least five people who had participated in the riot (an “agent,” three Utahns, and Kash Kelly).

Kash Kelly remains charged by complaint over 13 months after his arrest. And other judges (Emmet Sullivan for John Sullivan, and possibly Randolph Moss for the most likely Utahns) are presiding over the cases in which this exchange might have shown up in some manner.

So unless Landon Copeland (also from Utah) is one of Sullivan’s Utahns, then Mehta would have little separate means to understand this reference, if it is even the one that came up in FBI toll records.

But even the public record of the Oath Keeper case has shown how close the ties between Stone and the Oath Keepers are, both in the weeks leading up to the insurrection in Florida and in the repeated calls from the Willard Hotel that morning. Indeed, Mehta may be persuaded of the plausibility of a conspiracy between the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys because of what he has seen of Stone’s role linked to the two, including in Kelly Meggs’ claims to have brokered a Florida-based alliance in December 2020.

And Mehta has almost certainly seen more of Stone’s role than what can be read through the redactions, particularly now that DOJ has spun off the part of the Oath Keeper conspiracy that most closely implicates Stone’s actions that day.

Judge Mehta didn’t rely on what he may know of Stone’s role in this conspiracy. But as the person with more familiarity about what the evidence is than anyone else, he suggested there’s a there there.

Update: Fixed “Utahan,” which is a misspelling I adopted from Sullivan before and which as someone who loved Utah when I lived there I really regret.

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

As I laid out here, Judge Amit Mehta rejected Trump’s motion to dismiss three lawsuits against him last week. Click through for my explanation of why it matters that Judge Mehta — among the most respected of DC judges — issued this decision.

But there’s another reason why it matters that Mehta issued this ruling.

I was, frankly, unsurprised that Mehta ruled for plaintiffs on their claims that Trump entered into a conspiracy with two militias to attempt to prevent the vote certification. I’ve been laying out all the evidence Trump could be included in a conspiracy with the militias to obstruct the vote count for some time. And on a motion to dismiss, the judge must  assume all the alleged facts were true and only tests those claims for plausibility. Mehta didn’t rule that Trump did so; he ruled that plaintiffs will have a chance to make that case.

I was far more surprised that Judge Mehta also ruled it plausible that Trump aided and abetted the actual and threatened physical assaults committed by the rioters. Here’s how Eric Swalwell’s suit argued that Trump abetted the threatened attacks on Members of Congress, including Speaker Pelosi:

240. Many individuals in the mob either carried weapons or used objects such as poles and fire extinguishers as weapons before and after entering the building. Some individuals in the mob also carried restraints such as plastic handcuffs and rope.

241. The mob also unlawfully and intentionally entered non-public areas of the Capitol building, including the members’ private offices. Members of the mob damaged and vandalized personal and public property and stole documents, electronics, and other items from some members’ offices.

242. As the mob made its way through the Capitol looking for Members, participants threatened to kill numerous individuals, including, but not limited to, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The mob terrorized and injured scores of people inside and outside of the Capitol, including the Plaintiff.

[snip]

248. Before directing the mob to the Capitol, the Defendants instructed them to “fight like hell,” “start taking down names and kicking ass,” and that it was time for “trial by combat.”

249. The Defendants intended these words to be taken literally.

250. For several hours after the mob had stormed the Capitol, the Defendants refused to communicate anything to the mob that might discourage continued unlawful action.

251. The Defendants knowingly and substantially assisted in the assault that was perpetrated upon the Plaintiff. The Defendants riled up the crowd and directed and encouraged the mob to attack the Capitol and seek out members of Congress and assault them.

Here’s how Capitol Police officer Sidney Hemby, described being assaulted while trying to protect the East doors of the Capitol in his lawsuit with James Blassingame.

63. Officer Hemby ran to the East Front stairs to try to stop the crowd, but it was too late, and the crowd was too large and aggressive.

64. The crowd chased him and his fellow officers to the top of the stairs and forced them against the doors.

65. At 1:49 p.m. 1 , after Trump had returned to the White House, and was reportedly watching on TV as events were unfolding at the Capitol, he tweeted out the entirety of his speech:

66. At 1:59 p.m., insurrectionists pushed Capitol Police to the top of the east Capitol steps, and by 2:10 p.m., insurrectionists began attempting to break into the building through windows on the west side.

67. Officer Hemby was crushed against the doors on the east side trying to hold the insurrectionists back. Over and over, he tried to tell the insurrectionists that the doors opened outward and that pressing him into the door would do no good.

68. But the insurrectionists continued to scream, “Fight for Trump,” “Stop the Steal,” and various other slogans, as they struck him with their fists and whatever they had in their hands. Things were being thrown at him, and he was sprayed with chemicals that irritated his eyes, skin, and throat.

Judge Mehta rejected Trump’s bid to dismiss those arguments.

Next, the court takes up Plaintiffs’ common law assault claims based on an aiding-andabetting theory of liability. Swalwell Compl. ¶¶ 237–252; Blassingame Compl. ¶¶ 163–168. President Trump’s motion in Swalwell does not separately address the aiding-and-abetting-assault claim, but he extensively addresses it in his Blassingame motion. See generally Swalwell Trump Mot.; Blassingame Trump Mot. at 33–40. The court will exercise its discretion and consider those arguments in both cases.39

Halberstam v. Welch remains the high-water mark of the D.C. Circuit’s explanation of aiding-and-abetting liability. The court there articulated two particular principles pertinent to this case. It observed that “the fact of encouragement was enough to create joint liability” under an aiding-and-abetting theory, but “[m]ere presence . . . would not be sufficient.” 705 F.2d at 481. It also said that “[s]uggestive words may also be enough to create joint liability when they plant the seeds of action and are spoken by a person in an apparent position of authority.” Id. at 481–82. A “position of authority” gives a “suggestion extra weight.” Id. at 482.

Applying those principles here, Plaintiffs have plausibly pleaded a common law claim of assault based on an aiding-and-abetting theory of liability. A focus just on the January 6 Rally Speech—without discounting Plaintiffs’ other allegations—gets Plaintiffs there at this stage. President Trump’s January 6 Speech is alleged to have included “suggestive words” that “plant[ed] the seeds of action” and were “spoken by a person in an apparent position of authority.” He was not “merely present.” Additionally, Plaintiffs have plausibly established that had the President not urged rally-goers to march to the Capitol, an assault on the Capitol building would not have occurred, at least not on the scale that it did. That is enough to make out a theory of aiding-and-abetting liability at the pleadings stage.

39 President Trump contends for the first time in his Swalwell reply brief that aiding and abetting a tort is not a recognized cause of action under District of Columbia law. Swalwell Trump Reply at 25–26. That argument comes too late, and the court declines to consider it.

Again, this is just the first step. It will be appealed. This is not a final ruling. But Mehta’s decision means that both sets of plaintiffs may get a chance to hold Trump accountable for the violence attempted or committed by people who responded to the President’s command to, “fight like hell.”

This part of Mehta’s ruling is far more important than the conspiracy side. To understand why, consider some of the cases over which Judge Mehta is presiding, which would be what he might have in mind when he thinks of what it means that Trump may have abetted assaults.

Landon Copeland

Landon Copeland is an Iraq War veteran with PTSD that has contributed to some epic meltdowns in court hearings. He traveled to DC on January 6 from the Four Corners region of Utah, taking a full week off work. He said he made the trip, he told the FBI, because President Trump ordered him to be there.

The defendant said that he traveled to the Capitol in part because former President Trump ordered him and others to be there.

Copeland went to Trump’s rally, then went with the crowd to the Capitol. He’s a really big guy and is accused of several assaults at the first barricades.

At the front of this crowd, the defendant shouted at the officers; he was visibly angry. Shortly thereafter, another rioter approached a police officer, began shouting at the officer, and put his hands on or around the officer’s neck. Copeland pushed that other rioter, from behind, into the officer, causing that officer to fall to the ground. After this, other officers stepped forward in an apparent attempt to protect the fallen officer. Copeland grappled with and pushed them, grabbing onto one officer’s riot shield, another officer’s jacket, and then pushing against the riot shields of two other officers.

Thomas Webster

Thomas Webster is a former Marine and retired NYPD cop who traveled to DC from New York with a revolver, a bullet-proof vest, and some MREs. While he claims he left the revolver in his hotel room, he wore his bullet proof vest to the rally at the Ellipse, then walked to the Capitol, carrying a Marine flag. After verbally attacking one of the cops at a barricade, he pushed over it, wrestled the cop to the ground, and grabbed his helmet, seemingly (though not in fact) gouging the cop’s eyes.

Shane Woods

Shane Woods drove to DC from Illinois on January 5. Like the others, Woods went to the Trump rally and then walked with the crowd to the Capitol.  In some of the early fighting at the west side of the Capitol he is accused of tripping a female cop.

Then, a few hours later, Woods was involved in a group attack on some media, allegedly tackling a cameraman in similar fashion to the attack on the cop.

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a violent felon who traveled to DC while out on release from prison because of COVID. Schwartz is accused (along with a woman I believe to be his partner) of involvement in a range of assaults on cops protecting the Lower West Terrace and the Tunnel on January 6, including stealing mace from and then using it on cops and throwing a chair.

On January 7 he described his actions as being part of “What happened yesterday was the opening of a war. I was there and whether people will acknowledge it or not we are now at war.”

The Oath Keepers

As I’ve noted repeatedly, Mehta is also presiding over the Oath Keepers, who all entered the East door and therefore would be among those kitted out people who violently pushed past Sidney Hemby. A few of the Oath Keepers are individually accused of assault. For example, video shows veteran Joshua James fighting with a cop in the Rotunda, screaming, “Get out! … This is my fucking Capitol!”

But members of the Stack who pushed past Hemby as he was protecting that door are suspected of far more serious plans for assault. As Mehta noted in ruling for the pre-trial detention of Stewart Rhodes on Friday — the same day he issued this ruling — once the Stack broke into the Capitol, they split up, with part of the group trying to make it to the Senate and the other part going to Nancy Pelosi’s office.

The latter is of particular concern because, on Election Day, Kelly Meggs told his wife and kid he was “gonna go on a killing spree … Pelosi first.”

Then after he had gone to her office, he told someone (probably his kid again), that “we looked for[] her.”

Judge Mehta has good reason to suspect (and likely knows far more about how serious this plot was) that the Oath Keepers, after busting into the Capitol past Hemby, took steps to hunt down Nancy Pelosi, and possibly someone in the Senate, like Pence.

When Judge Mehta says he thinks it is plausible that Donald Trump abetted assaults and threatened assaults at the Capitol, he’s not speaking abstractly. Judge Mehta has a very specific understanding of the kinds of assaults that happened that day. Those were  violent attacks on cops — several allegedly committed by military veterans and one by a retired NYPD cop. Those include a gratuitous attack on the media. It includes an attempt to hunt down the Speaker of the House.

With this ruling, Trump may be on the hook for such assaults civilly.

But given that the judge presiding over some spectacularly violent assaults that day has judged that Trump’s actions may rise to an aid and abet standard, it may make DOJ more seriously consider Trump’s exposure for such acts criminally.

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How Judge Amit Mehta Argued It Plausible that Trump Conspired with Two Militias

As I noted and you’ve no doubt heard elsewhere, on Friday, Judge Amit Mehta rejected Trump’s motion to dismiss three lawsuits against him, along with those of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. This is just the first step in an effort by police and some members of Congress to hold the former President civilly accountable for conspiring to prevent them from certifying the electoral vote on January 6. All he did was rule that the claims, as alleged, were plausible; this is not a ruling that Trump did conspire with two militias.

Judge Mehta’s decision will undoubtedly be appealed, by plaintiffs, the militias, and Trump.

But the decision matters because it lays out a framework to understand Trump’s actions on January 6 as a conspiracy between himself and two militias that played key roles in the insurrection on January 6.

It matters, too, because Mehta is not just any judge. He is well-respected by all involved (indeed, some Oath Keeper defendants have explicitly suggested that retaining Mehta as the presiding judge might worth more than challenging venue). Mehta’s order will carry a good deal of weight with any of his colleagues who might preside over a Trump criminal case, and with the DC Circuit. Plus, as the judge presiding over the Oath Keeper conspiracy and a number of other high profile January 6 cases, he has a far greater understanding of how the day’s events unfolded than, say, Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who is presiding over a disproportionate number of trespassing cases. As I’ll show in a follow-up, his opinion reflects a far greater understanding of January 6 (including, possibly, non-public information) than most others have.

So while this decision is nowhere near the last word on whether Trump conspired with two militias to attack the Capitol, it is a really important first word.

It is plausible that Donald Trump entered into a conspiracy with two militias

As Judge Mehta laid out, accepting the claims alleged as true (which one must do on motions to dismiss), there were five things Trump did that made the plaintiffs’ claims of a conspiracy plausible, which is the standard required to reject the motion to dismiss:

  • They agreed to pursue the goal of disrupting the vote certification: “The President, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and others “pursu[ed] the same goal”: to disrupt Congress from completing the Electoral College certification on January 6th.”
  • Trump encouraged means of obstructing the vote count and the militias (and others) carried them out: “He knew the respective roles of the conspirators: his was to encourage the use of force, intimidation, or threats to thwart the Certification from proceeding, and organized groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers would carry out the required acts.”
  • Trump incited law-breaking: “Based on these allegations, it is reasonable to infer that before January 6th the President would have known about the power of his words and that, when asked, some of his supporters would do as he wished. On January 6th they did so. When he called on them to march to the Capitol, some responded, “Storm the Capitol.” Thousands marched down Pennsylvania Avenue as directed. And, when some were inside the Capitol, they told officers, “We were invited here by the President of the United States.”
  • Trump called for collective action: “Fourth, the President’s January 6 Rally Speech can reasonably be viewed as a call for collective action. The President’s regular use of the word “we” is notable.”
  • Trump ratified the riot: “And then, around 6:00 p.m., after law enforcement had cleared the building, the President issued the following tweet: ‘These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!’ A reasonable observer could read that tweet as ratifying the violence and other illegal acts that took place at the Capitol only hours earlier.”

Laying out the conspiracy like this is the easy part.

The hard part is finding that the sitting President could be sued, and could be sued substantially for his speech.

The President has no role in certifying the vote count

Mehta got there in three key moves.

The first was dismissing Trump’s claim that his actions amounted to fulfilling his duty to Take Care that election laws were faithfully executed.

President Trump argues that these acts fall into two presidential “functions”: (1) the constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” U.S. Const., art. II, § 3,

[snip]

President Trump says that he “had an ever-present duty to ensure that the election laws were followed, including the certification process.” Thompson Trump Reply at 3. Quoting from a law review student note, he says that enforcing election laws is “at the core of the executive branch’s duty to faithfully execute the law.” Id.

As Mehta notes, Trump’s law review student note sees the President’s role in enforcing election law to be litigation, not intervening to prevent the actual vote certification.

What President Trump omits from that quote, however, makes his citation grossly misleading. The full quote reads: “However, enforcing election laws through litigation [strikes] at the core of the executive branch’s duty to faithfully execute the law. It must therefore belong solely to the executive.” Lightsey, supra, at 573 (emphasis added). Including “through litigation” completely changes the meaning of the sentence. The President can enforce election laws through litigation initiated by the Department of Justice or the Federal Election Commission, agencies over which he has appointment authority. The case the Lightsey note cites, Buckley v. Valeo, makes that clear: “A lawsuit is the ultimate remedy for a breach of the law, and it is to the President, and not to the Congress, that the Constitution entrusts the responsibility to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’” 424 U.S. 1, 138 (1976). This case, of course, does not involve litigation to enforce federal election laws, and so the President’s reliance on the Lightsey note is inapt.

This comment has further implications, both because Trump’s campaign personally tried to sue to overturn the election results, but failed in spectacular fashion, and because Trump’s efforts to force DOJ to launch such suits failed. Mehta mentions neither of these details, but they do matter in understanding Trump’s actions.

Outside of such litigation, Mehta notes, the Constitution assigns the President no role in certifying the vote count.

[A] sitting President has no expressly identified duty to faithfully execute the laws surrounding the Certification of the Electoral College. So, perhaps it is not surprising that President Trump does not identify any law relating to the Certification that he was purportedly executing through his tweets and the January 6 Rally Speech.

The other legal duties involved in certifying election results are explicitly assigned to other parties, including a co-equal branch of government.

President Trump cites no constitutional provision or federal statute that grants or vests in the President (or the Executive Branch) any power or duty with respect to the Certification of the Electoral College vote, at least in the manner in which he conceives it. That is because there is none. The Constitution spells out the respective responsibilities of various actors in the election of the President.11 The Constitution provides that States are to select Electors who will cast votes for President and Vice President, and the Electors transmit a tally of those votes to the President of the Senate. U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 3; id. amend. XII. The President of the Senate “in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives” shall “open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” Id. amend. XII. A sitting President is prescribed no role.

The Electoral Count Act, Pub. L. No. 49-90, 24 Stat. 373 (1887), fills in procedural details not addressed in the Constitution. It, too, prescribes no role for a sitting President.

This language closely models language that DOJ is using in obstruction cases to establish that the vote certification was an official proceeding.

Then-President Trump was not speaking, as President, about matters of public concern

Mehta then dismisses Trump’s claim that he is immune from suit because his January 6 speech simply amounted to him, in the role of President, commenting on matters of public concern.

He bases his approach on a DC Circuit case that ruled that any claim of immunity must be rooted in the actual duties of the office.

Rather than apply the parties’ proffered categorial rules to the immunity question, the court thinks the better course is to evaluate the defense on the specific facts alleged and, based on those facts, determine whether President Trump’s words were spoken in furtherance of a presidential function. That is the approach that the D.C. Circuit took in Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, a case in which then–Board Member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) Jim Graham asserted absolute immunity from a suit accusing him of improperly interfering with a developer’s ultimately unsuccessful project negotiations with WMATA.

[snip]

“The appropriate focus,” the court wrote, “is on the relationship between ‘the act complained of’ and the corresponding ‘matters committed by law to [the official’s] control or supervision.’” Id. (quoting Barr, 360 U.S. at 573). The court noted that “[o]ne way that an official acts manifestly beyond his authority is through the use of ‘manifestly excessive means,’ even if he does so in the conduct of duties otherwise within his official purview.” Id. at 1141 (citation omitted). The court emphasized that the burden of establishing immunity rests on the official claiming it. Id. at 1140.

Using that as a framework (and spending a paragraph admitting that consideration of a President’s role is a far more weighty matter), Mehta holds that it is not within the scope of the President’s duties to ensure his own incumbency.

In undertaking this analysis, the court starts from the following premise, as to which there should be no dispute: The Office of the President has no preference for who occupies it. Article II of the Constitution, which defines the powers and duties of the President, is agnostic as to whether a sitting President is elected to a new term. So, too, is federal statutory law. A function of the presidency therefore is not to secure or perpetuate incumbency.

He goes allegation by allegation showing that Trump’s alleged actions served to ensure his own incumbency, including this key paragraph laying out the purpose of the Rally itself.

That, too, was the purpose of the January 6 Rally. President Trump invited people to Washington, D.C., for the event. Id. ¶ 32. In a tweet referencing the January 6 Rally, he encouraged his followers to “Never give up.” Swalwell Compl. ¶ 56. On the eve of the January 6 Rally, the President’s tweets turned to Vice President Pence. Blassingame Compl. ¶ 38. The President expressed the view that the Vice President had the power, as President of the Senate, to reject states’ Electoral College certifications and return them to be recertified. Id. The clear purpose of such recertification would be to allow Electoral College votes to be recast in his favor: “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN.” Id. These tweets were not official acts but issued to help him “win.”

Via this approach, then, Mehta arrives precisely where DOJ did — in making a Hatch Act argument that campaigning is not among the duties of any federal employee — via different means. It is not the duty of the President to remain President, but that’s what Trump was doing in all the alleged acts.

Trump incited violence (and also ordered his followers to do something unauthorized)

Mehta ultimately judges that Trump’s speech on January 6 meets the Brandenberg test for incitement.

But before he gets there, he makes another important point. It was Trump’s campaign’s idea — and he was personally involved in — sending people on an unpermitted march to the Capitol.

President Trump also allegedly participated directly in the planning. He was involved in decisionmaking about the speaking lineup and music selection. Thompson Compl. ¶ 69. And, critically, to the surprise of rally organizers, President “Trump and his campaign proposed that the rally include a march to the Capitol,” even though the permit they had obtained did not allow for one. Id. ¶¶ 69, 90 (alleging that the permit expressly provided: “This permit does not authorize a march from the Ellipse”).

[snip]

[T]he President ended his speech by telling the crowd that “we fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Almost immediately after these words, he called on rally-goers to march to the Capitol to give “pride and boldness” to reluctant lawmakers “to take back our country.” Importantly, it was the President and his campaign’s idea to send thousands to the Capitol while the Certification was underway. It was not a planned part of the rally. In fact, the permit expressly stated that it did “not authorize a march from the Ellipse.”

After a good deal of legal analysis, Mehta conducts a detailed analysis of Trump’s speech, focusing closely on how his call for non-violence come long before an airing of Trump’s false grievances and attacks on Mike Pence, leading up to calls to fight and to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Having considered the President’s January 6 Rally Speech in its entirety and in context, the court concludes that the President’s statements that, “[W]e fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” and “[W]e’re going to try to and give [weak Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” immediately before exhorting rally-goers to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” are plausibly words of incitement not protected by the First Amendment. It is plausible that those words were implicitly “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and [were] likely to produce such action.” Brandenburg, 395 U.S. at 447.

[snip]

That is why the court determines, as discussed below, that Giuliani’s and Trump Jr.’s words are protected speech. But what is lacking in their words is present in the President’s: an implicit call for imminent violence or lawlessness. He called for thousands “to fight like hell” immediately before directing an unpermitted march to the Capitol, where the targets of their ire were at work, knowing that militia groups and others among the crowd were prone to violence.

It’s not just the call for violence and Trump’s awareness (because of the threats leading up to January 6) that violence was likely to result. It’s also the call for a march that was not permitted.

That is, it’s not even just speech, or just incitement to violence. It’s also the call for a march that the campaign knew was not permitted.

While Mehta obviously returns to the unpermitted march over and over, he doesn’t dwell on the significance of it. That’s not the task before him. Moreover, though he alludes in passing to Alex Jones’ role (which I may return to), that likewise is not a developed part of the complaints before him.

The alleged complaints — the most recent of which was filed in March, an eternity ago in our understanding of January 6 — primarily focus on a theory of incitement.

But Trump did more than that. After riling up his supporters, he told them to do something he could have permitted but did not: march to the Capitol, to confront lawmakers directly.

Related Posts

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

Judge Mehta Observes that Roger Stone’s Role on January 6 “May Prove Significant in Discovery”

 

The Green Bay Sweep Is Inextricably Tied to the Violent Mob

Between yesterday’s hearing in the January 6 lawsuits — where Judge Amit Mehta noted that,”The conspiracy to sow distrust in the election is not illegal, no[] matter what we think about conduct,” — and something I’m working on, I’ve been thinking about all the stuff that happened between November and January, which the Select Committee is working aggressively on.

I’ve said that I believe the phone call to Brad Raffensperger is illegal on its own right. The Fulton County DA says she’s getting closer to a charging decision on it, and whatever she decides she can likely share her findings with DOJ. Politico reported on some of the other damning information that the Select Committee has received, including other calls to pressure Georgia officials.

I’ve laid out how Trump’s pressure on Mike Pence is already a key focus of both investigations (which the NYT wrote about yesterday).

But as to the rest of it, thus far, the vast majority of what has been made public is — as Judge Mehta qualified it — a legal conspiracy to undermine trust in elections. As I noted, the reason why Peter Navarro’s confessions aren’t enough to charge him with sedition is because as confessed, the coordinated effort to get Republicans to raise bad faith challenges to the vote certification is not illegal.

But there are two ways to think about these events leading up to the mob. The first, which I’ll lay out in more depth later, is as proof of mens rea. When Trump called up Raffensperger and asked for the precise number of votes he needed to win, it was a (recorded) admission that he knew he had lost the state.

To the extent DOJ and the Select Committee can substantiate that Trump knew the request was illegal, Trump’s sustained demands that Pence reject the legal vote count is also proof of kind of corrupt purpose that would be necessary to charge him with obstruction (as DOJ’s expert on this approach himself said fairly explicitly).

I’d like to go back to what I believe to be the third most compelling proof of corrupt mens rea. As I noted, when — in the wake of state certifications — Trump told Richard Donoghue to just say the election was corrupt and “leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen,” he effectively admitted he was asking DOJ to claim there were problems with the election when they were telling him there weren’t.

On December 27, Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue took notes from a call where Trump laid out the alleged fraud that merited DOJ involvement. Donoghue noted Trump saying, “You guys may not be following the Internet the way I do.” Donoghue recorded multiple times that DOJ officials told Trump his election claims were wrong, detailing the investigations that DOJ had already done into the allegations. He recorded Trump’s intimation that he might start replacing people with Jeffrey Bossert Clark if they didn’t back his claims of fraud.

At one point, Trump demanded, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”

At the time I wrote that post in August, I believed it proved the mens rea that DOJ would need to show Trump was acting with corrupt intent.

But I look at it differently given Peter Navarro’s cover story about the subsequent effort. Navarro claims that he and Steve Bannon rolled out an (entirely legal) effort to provide members of Congress with enough election disinformation to sustain 24 hours of debate.

“The Green Bay Sweep was very well thought out. It was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings,” he said. “But we thought that we could bypass the corporate media by getting this stuff televised.”

Navarro’s part in this ploy was to provide the raw materials, he said in an interview on Thursday. That came in the form of a three-part White House report he put together during his final weeks in the Trump administration with volume titles like, “The Immaculate Deception” and “The Art of the Steal.”

“My role was to provide the receipts for the 100 congressmen or so who would make their cases… who could rely in part on the body of evidence I’d collected,” he told The Daily Beast. “To lay the legal predicate for the actions to be taken.” (Ultimately, states have not found any evidence of electoral fraud above the norm, which is exceedingly small.)

The next phase of the plan was up to Bannon, Navarro describes in his memoir, In Trump Time.

“Steve Bannon’s role was to figure out how to use this information—what he called ‘receipts’—to overturn the election result. That’s how Steve had come up with the Green Bay Sweep idea,” he wrote.

“The political and legal beauty of the strategy was this: by law, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must spend up to two hours of debate per state on each requested challenge. For the six battleground states, that would add up to as much as twenty-four hours of nationally televised hearings across the two chambers of Congress.”

The plan, as laid out in Navarro’s cover story, is entirely legal so long as you believe two key claims he makes: that he doesn’t know when this effort started and doesn’t remember Trump being personally involved.

Although Navarro told The Daily Beast he doesn’t remember when “Brother Bannon” came up with the plan, he said it started taking shape as Trump’s “Stop the Steal” legal challenges to election results in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin fizzled out. Courts wouldn’t side with Trump, thanks to what Navarro describes in his book as “the highly counterproductive antics” of Sydney Powell and her Kraken lawsuits. So instead, they came up with a never-before-seen scheme through the legislative branch.

Navarro starts off his book’s chapter about the strategy by mentioning how “Stephen K. Bannon, myself, and President Donald John Trump” were “the last three people on God’s good Earth who want to see violence erupt on Capitol Hill,” as it would disrupt their plans.

When asked if Trump himself was involved in the strategy, Navarro said, “I never spoke directly to him about it. But he was certainly on board with the strategy. Just listen to his speech that day. He’d been briefed on the law, and how Mike [Pence] had the authority to it.”

“Leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.” Navarro (claims he) doesn’t remember when this plan started.

But Trump already told DOJ (the people conducting this investigation, the ones that got a privilege waiver for this material back in the summer) when it started, all the way back in 2020. By December 27, he had a plan that required DOJ to claim fraud, so that Trump and Republican Congressmen could implement what would ultimately be called the Green Bay Sweep.

But even before he had done that, on December 19, he sent out the Tweet that insurrectionists great and small took as their cue to start planning to attend a riot.

Trump tweets: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election” and “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

DOJ has had, since before January 6, the proof that these two efforts worked in conjunction.

And that’s what changes the (as Judge Mehta described it) legal conspiracy to sow distrust in the election into an illegal conspiracy, with demonstrated mens rea of corrupt intent, to obstruct the vote count.

This is why DOJ has been pursuing a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count and not incitement. Because only the former can reach to those who helped Trump commit his crime.