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A Tale of Three January 6 Misdemeanors: Steve Bannon, Baked Alaska, and Hatchet Speed

After pundits have spent 18 months complaining (falsely) that DOJ was only pursuing misdemeanor cases against January 6 culprits, at least a dozen media outlets assigned reporters to cover the week-long misdemeanor contempt trial for Steve Bannon. The triumphal coverage of Bannon’s guilty verdict will, I fear, continue to misinform viewers about the impact of this guilty verdict.

Bannon’s was almost certainly not the most important development in a January 6 misdemeanor case last week.

That’s true, first of all, because Bannon won’t go to prison anytime soon. After Judge Carl Nichols excluded most defenses Bannon would pursue, Bannon’s attorneys spent their time laying a record on issues they’ll raise in an appeal. Some are frivolous — about the make-up of the committee, about whether Bennie Thompson signed Bannon’s subpoena, about Bannon’s last-minute stunt to pretend he was cooperating. But one of the grounds on which Bannon will appeal, on whether he could rely on his attorney’s advice in blowing off the subpoena, is one about which Nichols agrees with Bannon — indeed, Nichols stated that he agreed over and over, as Josh Gerstein laid out.

Perhaps the most central figure in Bannon’s conviction Friday and the key to his potential victory in any appeal is a long-dead Detroit mobster and bootlegger, Peter “Horseface” Licavoli.

Licavoli died almost four decades ago and spent time in federal prison on a colorful variety of charges, including tax evasion, bribery and trafficking in stolen art. However, it was his refusal to testify to Sen. Estes Kefauver’s 1951 hearings on organized crime that produced a legal precedent central to Bannon’s case.

A decade later, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a contempt-of-Congress conviction against Licavoli, ruling that he could not rely on his lawyer’s legal advice as a defense.

While the precedent was set 61 years ago, U.S. District Court Carl Nichols concluded it is still good law and, as a result, Bannon could not use the advice-of-counsel defense. The ruling also undercut Bannon’s ability to argue that executive privilege excused him from showing up in response to the subpoena.

However, Nichols said on several occasions before and during the trial that he thinks the Licavoli case may well be wrong under modern legal standards, but he was compelled to apply it anyway.

“I was bound by D.C. Circuit precedent that I’m not even sure is right,” the Trump-appointed judge said Thursday.

Now, Bannon’s lawyers will face the task of trying to get the decision overturned or deemed irrelevant, something that may require getting Bannon’s case in front of the full bench of the appeals court or even taking it to the Supreme Court.

In reality, Bannon’s attorney told him — BEWARE — that his failure to comply would get him referred for prosecution. Bannon was warned he’d go to jail for blowing off this subpoena.

But the facts of whether Bannon really relied on his attorney’s advice would not get adjudicated until after the DC Circuit — and after it, SCOTUS — have a chance to review the precedent. And since Nichols agrees with Bannon that the precedent stinks (and since Bannon is a white collar criminal), he’s virtually certain to let Bannon stay out of jail for his appeal.

So Bannon is probably not going to jail for at least a year. And the precedent of this conviction — showing that the legal system allows a well-lawyered defendant all sorts of ways to stall a misdemeanor sentence — is not one that’s likely to persuade the few remaining people whom it would cover, most notably Peter Navarro and Ginni Thomas, to plead out or cooperate (members of Congress defying subpoenas will have entirely different reasons to challenge one, and people like Tony Ornato have already cooperated, in limited form, with the January 6 Committee).

Meanwhile, there were two other misdemeanor cases of probable greater significance to holding the perpetrators of January 6 accountable.

The first is Friday’s guilty plea of Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet for the standard parading charge most other misdemeanants plead to.

Gionet won’t be going to jail anytime soon, either: his sentencing is set for January 12. Though, given Gionet’s difficulties of late staying out of legal trouble, it is noteworthy that his plea includes the standard condition that committing a crime while his sentencing is pending could void the entire plea.

As noted, Gionet’s plea is just the standard misdemeanor plea that hundreds of other January 6 rioters have already pled to. But both Gionet’s public claims that the government was threatening Gionet with an obstruction charge if he did not cooperate, and the discussion at his aborted plea hearing in May, make it clear that this was one of the misdemeanor pleas in which the government obtains limited cooperation on the front end, in Gionet’s case, probably in the form of sharing communications that would otherwise require decryption (Brandon Straka, whose sentencing memo included reference to a sealed cooperation description, is the most notable of these pleas, but Proud Boy Jeff Finley also seems to have gotten one; a continuation in Finley’s sentencing “to fully evaluate the nature and seriousness of the defendant’s misconduct” suggests he may not be as cooperative as the government expected). Gionet’s plea was originally offered in December with a deadline of January 7, 2022. It seems to have taken some months to fulfill the terms of the deal. Gionet got cute at his first change of plea hearing in May, and proclaimed his own innocence, which almost got him in a place where the government could use the information he proffered in his own felony charges. Publicly, then, Gionet’s plea only means we’re deprived of the amusement of watching him continue to fuck himself, as he did in May; but behind the scenes, DOJ seems to believe he helped the overall investigation, likely by providing evidence against other movement extremists who made the attack on the Capitol successful but who did not enter it.

These misdemeanor plea deals offer less public hint at what the government got in exchange (which may be one reason DOJ likes them). Gionet’s statement of offense focuses mostly on the abundant evidence to prove that he knew he shouldn’t be in the Capitol, as well as the evidence DOJ would have used to prove an obstruction charge against him (which they would now have sworn allocution to if Gionet tries to renege again).

Unsurprisingly for an asshole like Gionet, it is full of the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has really offended Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over Gionet’s case, when sentencing other January 6 trespassers. Among other things, Gionet admitted to saying:

  • “Let’s go, 1776”
  • “We are the Kraken, unleash the Kraken … trust the fucking plan, let’s go.”
  • “This was a fraudulent election, we’re standing up for the truth, God’s truth.”
  • [Speaking through a broken window to other rioters] “Come in, let’s go, come on in, make yourselves at home.”
  • [Speaking into the phone in a Senator’s office] “We need to get our boy, Donald J. Trump, into office. … America First is inevitable, let’s go, fuck globalists, let’s go.”
  • [In another Senator’s office, probably Jeff Merkley’s] “Occupy the Capitol, let’s go, we ain’t leaving this bitch.”
  • [To the cops telling him to leave] “You’re a fucking oathbreaker, you piece of shit, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you piece of shit, you broke your oath to the Constitution, fuck you.”

With both Gionet and Straka before him, DOJ seemed to have abundant evidence to prove an obstruction case, and the pundits complaining about the misdemeanor pleas might be better served asking whether DOJ is getting enough value from these misdemeanor pleas to justify not charging someone as toxic as Gionet with a felony.

I wrote more about the various ways DOJ is using misdemeanor pleas to advance the investigation here.

But we won’t be able to weigh that soon, if ever. For now, though, DOJ seems to believe they got enough cooperation from a key influencer to let him avoid a felony conviction (though I would be shocked if Sullivan let him avoid prison altogether).

The way DOJ has been using misdemeanor prosecutions to advance the overall investigation is important background to something that happened in the case of Hatchet Speed last week. Until his arrest, Speed was a Naval petty officer and cleared defense contractor for National Reconnaissance Office.

The investigative steps described in Speed’s arrest affidavit suggest that after FBI identified him via the Google GeoFence (he was usually masked when in the Capitol), they used an undercover FBI officer to meet with him, during which meetings he provided contradictory but damning explanations for his actions on January 6, including that he went to insurrection with some Proud Boys.

During this meeting, SPEED admitted that he entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and that he “made it to the Rotunda down below.” SPEED told UCE-1 that going to the Capitol on January 6 “was always the plan.” He explained, “We would listen to Donald Trump then all of us would go to the Capitol. Now the reason we were going to the Capitol was to protest what was going on in the Capitol… what they were doing was counting the ballots.”

On March 22, 2022, SPEED met with UCE-1 again. During that meeting, SPEED provided further details about his activities at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. SPEED stated that he went to the Capitol on January 6 with friends who were members of the Proud Boys, with whom he keeps in contact. 1 SPEED blamed “Antifa” for breaking windows and entering off-limit areas of the Capitol, and he blamed the police for using tear gas in a manner to force the crowd into the off-limit areas.

SPEED also blamed Antifa for knocking down fencing around the Capitol. He described walking over fencing and worrying about tripping, but not knowing that he was trespassing at the time.

SPEED claimed that he and the others initially did not intend to enter the Capitol. He said that his plan was to be outside the Capitol and listen to speeches “for the 12 hours it would take to do the 2-hour rebuttal for each of the 6 contested states.” However, SPEED explained, “what the FBI did in advance is they arrested or threatened all the people they knew were going to be the speakers so that there would be no leadership. They wanted to make sure there was no one there…they wanted to maximize the possibility of violence.”

[snip]

SPEED further told UCE-1 that “there was this staircase leading up to the Senate side, where like we knew it was ‘off limits’ because that was, also the staircase was covered by the structure they’d set up the inauguration…and so, we were like we don’t need to go up there. We’re not here to go in the building. We’re just here to make a statement ‘we are here and we are paying attention’…but, the ANTIFA kept sending people up the staircase and trying to get people to come and we’re all like ‘no, we’re not going to follow you’…”

SPEED decided to go up the staircase because he was “tired of getting tear gassed.” Once up the staircase, SPEED claimed he intended to stay outside the Capitol Building at “this huge portico porch thing which can hold a couple thousand people.” However, SPEED said, he got tear gassed again. He also heard that Vice President Mike Pence had “validated” certain ballots they considered “invalid.”

SPEED described Pence’s act as a betrayal. SPEED stated that, at that point, he “was like, ‘I’m going in there. Like I have no respect for people in this building. They have no respect for me. I have no respect for them.’” SPEED stated, “[S]o we all went in and we took control. Like, when you have that many thousands of people, like there’s nothing the cops can do…it’s impressive.” [my emphasis]

The visual confirmation of Speed’s presence in the Capitol — from a moment when he let down the mask he had gotten on Amazon on December 3 — relies on video that Gionet took (though that’s fairly common).

This is the kind of guy — a cleared defense contractor who went to the insurrection with some Proud Boys “with whom he keeps in contact” — whose cooperation DOJ has used fruitfully in the past. He’s also the kind of guy who presents the ongoing urgent concern about our Deep State being riddled with militia sympathizers.

Perhaps because of the ambivalence of Speed’s comments to the undercover officer, though, he was charged just with trespassing. His case was assigned to Trevor McFadden, the Trump appointed judge who has long suggested, evidence to the contrary, that DOJ was treating January 6 rioters unfairly as compared to lefty protestors.

McFadden has long criticized DOJ’s continued charging of misdemeanor cases, partly because he thinks it treats January 6 trespassers unfairly, partly because it means he has to work hard. Presumably in response and possibly in an attempt to force DOJ to stop, McFadden issued a standing order for misdemeanor cases before him that requires — on threat of sanctions — an immediate plea offer and all defendant-specific discovery within a week of the initial status hearing.

The Government is required to provide all “defendant-specific” discovery information to the Defense by the Initial Status Conference or within one week of the Defense request for reciprocal discovery under Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(b)(1), whichever is later. Regardless of any Defense request, the deadline for disclosure of any information covered by LCrR 5.1 is the Initial Status Conference. 1 Failure to strictly follow these timelines may result in sanctions, including likely Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute. The Government is also expected to provide any plea offer that it intends to make no later than the Initial Status Conference.

This makes it impossible for DOJ to use misdemeanor charges as an investigative tool. And the deadlines McFadden imposes, plus his explicit statements making it clear he will let misdemeanants off easy, makes it virtually impossible to use misdemeanors to obtain cooperation, too.

In a hearing on Thursday, McFadden made it clear that he does intend to impose sanctions if DOJ fails to meet the discovery deadline, even in spite of two specific characteristics of this case: that it involves classified discovery (which is not surprising given that Hatchet had clearance) and that DOJ seized 22 devices when they arrested Hatchet, some of which are encrypted. To add to the near impossibility that DOJ can comply with McFadden’s orders, the AUSA in this case, Alexis Loeb (who is prosecuting a number of Proud Boy and Proud Boy adjacent cases) is in San Francisco, so it’s not like she can go sit in Quantico to speed up the exploitation of Hatchet’s devices.

There’s a bit of a loophole here, in that even the standard misdemeanor pleas require sharing ones devices with the FBI, so to take advantage of what would surely be a punishment free plea deal, Hatchet might be required to open his devices for the FBI.

McFadden has, in the past, rewarded a January 6 defendant for espousing civil war. Here, he seems set to ensure that a Naval petty officer with ties to the militia that led the attack on the Capitol likewise escapes accountability.

If that happens, it may lead DOJ to rethink its charging patterns accordingly.

Update: Corrected Speed’s rank.

Brandon Fellows Gets a CIPA Notice

In a truly curious development, Brandon Fellows — the guy on the left in the picture, who is currently accused only of obstruction and trespassing in the January 6 riot — just got a CIPA notice. The Classified Information Procedures Act provides a way for the government to prosecute people using classified information while limiting how much information must be shared with the defendant or made public. Effectively, the government gets to show the judge classified information and argue that it is not helpful to the defense or ask to substitute something more innocuous for the classified information to be used at trial.

It’s not yet clear what kind of classified information the government wants to use against Fellows.

But one thing I’ve been tracking is DOJ’s thus far fruitless attempt to figure out who stole Jeff Merkley’s laptop.

Fellows was one of the people who was in his office during the riot and his arrest affidavit mentions the laptop, but admits that at that point (in January) they had no evidence he stole it.

On January 6, 2021, a live stream video on the DLive platform was broadcasted to the public from user “Baked Alaska” and a portion was later posted on Twitter. In the video, several people were observed in an office that appeared to be within the Capitol. The video showed a person who appeared to be FELLOWS, sitting at a table with his feet propped up on a table, as shown in the still shot below. The chairs, table, drapes, and wall art appeared to be consistent with those in the office posted by Senator Merkley. The conference room in which FELLOWS is present appears to be Senate room S140, the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley within the U.S. Capitol. The artwork visible on the walls of the conference room in the video is also visible on a video that Senator Merkley posted to Twitter on January 6, 2021, at 11:36pm, documenting some of the damage to his office, as described above. At this time, there is no evidence that FELLOWS was involved in any of the theft, damage, or destruction – other than being a part of the group that occupied the office for some period of time.

Fellows’ discovery shows they obtained a Pen Register on him (which would allow the government to track his contacts). But it doesn’t show that he received what the guy with whom he was pictured with in Merkley’s office, Justin McAuliffe, received: a picture of the stolen laptop.

In a letter describing the discovery provided to McAuliffe, DOJ included a picture of Merkley’s stolen laptop, among other items.

Since I first started tracking this question — and all the defendants arrested because they were filming in Merkley’s office — in May, several more people who were in Merkley’s office have been arrested.

A (surely partial) list of those who were in Merkley’s office, with their arrest date and current status, includes:

  • Anthime Gionet (Baked Alaska): Arrested January 15, still charged (with just trespassing) on original arrest affidavit
  • Brandon Fellows (upstate NY): Arrested January 16, indicted (with obstruction) February 2, jailed for being an asshole to pre-trial services July 15
  • Justin McAuliffe (Long Island): Arrested January 28 and still charged on arrest affidavit, finalizing plea deal as soon as he recovers from a recent car accident
  • Zach Rehl (Philly): Arrested in the Proud Boys Leadership conspiracy indictment on March 19, charged with conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, among other crimes
  • Felipe Marquez (Miami): Arrested January 19 then later charged with obstruction, only to plead guilty to a misdemeanor on September 10
  • Karol Chwiesiuk (a cop from Chicago who did recon the night before the attack): Arrested June 11, still charged with just trespassing on original arrest affidavit
  • Anton Lunyk (NY): Arrested May 11, charged with trespassing on June 17
  • Antonio Ferrigno and Francis Connor (NY): Buddies of Lunyk arrested on trespass charges on August 31
  • Oliver Sarko (OH): Arrested April 30, still charged with just trespassing on original arrest affidavit
  • Jody Tagaris (FL): Arrested around May 14, charged with trespassing on May 19, change of plea scheduled for October 15
  • Gary Edwards (PA): Arrested May 4, charged with trespassing on May 18
  • Nathan Entrekin (the guy from AZ who dressed like Captain Moroni): Arrested July 15, still charged on original affidavit

Some of these people — like Entrekin and Edwards — were probably arrested to get to video they took, including of what happened in Merkley’s office. Gionet, too, took video, but I would be shocked if he weren’t eventually charged with (at least) obstruction. There’s three buddies from Brooklyn (Lunyk, Ferrigno, and Connor) who realized they were in trouble when they showed up in pictures with Gionet.

Fellows is currently the only one of these people charged with a felony, obstruction.

But given that people with ties to the far right who were in Nancy Pelosi’s office stole a laptop and offered it to Russia, I do wonder whether someone also tried to share Merkley’s laptop with Russia.

That’s the kind of thing that might require classified information to charge.

Update: h/t Eureka for reminding me Rehl was pictured smoking in Merkley’s office.

Update (9/10): I neglected to include Felipe Marquez in this list. He just pled guilty. I’ve added him.

On January 6, Look to the Continuances

Riley June Williams — the woman with ties to the far right who was shown on video directing people around the Capitol and is accused of abetting the theft of Nancy Pelosi’s laptop — has not yet been indicted. Normally, the Speedy Trial Act gives prosecutors a limit of time — roughly 30 days — to formally charge you after you’re arrested. But with Williams, the government has been using a series of motions to extend this timeline. They currently have until July 21 to indict Williams.

That, by itself, isn’t all that unusual. But amid an ongoing conversation about whether the January 6 investigation will hold the most powerful accountable for the insurrection, I want to point to the existing long unindicted defendants to suggest, again, we don’t really know where this investigation is going.

Tracking which January 6 defendants haven’t been indicted is one way to identify cases that might be more interesting than others. Jon Schaffer’s case got continued for months leading up to his entry into a cooperation agreement on April 16. And Christopher Kelly’s case got continued for months before the government moved to dismiss it on June 1. At least some of these weren’t the boilerplate unopposed motions for a continuance, citing the unprecedented challenge of assembling all the evidence in this case, that have been used in most defendants cases; they were more specific requests for more time to conduct the investigation. As the disparate fate of these two men suggests, you can’t really tell what is interesting about a case if the formal charging is delayed.

But such non-boilerplate continuances are one thing I track (and I know other journalists do too) for potentially interesting cases. They happen in formally charged cases, too (for example, QAnoner Doug Jensen’s case got continued until tomorrow in such a fashion after prosecutors enhanced his own legal exposure). But it is easier to track the especially interesting delays in cases, like Williams’, where the defendant hasn’t been indicted yet.

To be sure, such continuances don’t guarantee a case will be interesting. A number of these cases end up in delayed felony charges (though that’s true of the boilerplate continuances as well). Sometimes these delays are attributable to delays in attorneys getting approved to represent defendants in the DC District. In several cases, such continuances were used when either the defendant or their lawyer got COVID. Sometimes, it even seems like the system has lost defendants (with just a handful of exceptions, thankfully not those being detained). There are a couple of defense attorneys and a couple of prosecutors who just seem to like doing it this way.

Often, lawyers attribute the delay to plea discussions (though that’s generally the reason for the unopposed continuances, as well as the consent ones).

Sometimes something else seems to be going on. For example, Prosecutor Brandi Harden has twice gotten continuances in the case of Emanuel Jackson, the developmentally challenged homeless man who walked into the middle of the insurrection off the street and was handed a baseball bat which he used to assault cops, with the explanation, “There are outstanding issues related to Mr. Jackson’s case, that the parties are continuing to address.”

In several cases, such continuances seem to tie to a defendant’s other existing legal problems. For example, Bryan Betancur violated probation by lying about his purposes for going to DC on January 6, and so has been thrown back in jail because of it (though Betancur’s friend, Britney Dillon, was recently charged in the riot). In another example, when the FBI searched Adam Honeycutt’s home in association with this January 6 arrest warrant, they found guns and marijuana that exposed him to charges in Florida; DC prosecutors are delaying his January 6 prosecution until after a trial this week on the possession charges in Florida. But in at least one of those cases — that of Kash Kelly, charged with just misdemeanor trespassing — the delay comes with a defendant who was discussed in a conversation involving Rudy Giuliani and who cooperated against his fellow gang members in his drug-related prosecution in Illinois. The fact that Ryan Samsel’s then girlfriend, Raechel Genco, has had her own trespassing case continued, makes his more intriguing, though there’s a long list of reasons that readily explain why Samsel’s prosecution has been delayed, not least that he was brutally beaten by someone yet to be determined while he in the DC jail.

All that said, I wanted to point to some clusters that may suggest future developments. An easy one are the cases of Emily Hernandez, her uncle William Merry, and their friend Paul Westover all of which have been delayed with continuances. They traveled to insurrection together and show up in pictures showing off the piece of a sign from Nancy Pelosi’s office they stole.

It would be unsurprising to see these cases get combined into a conspiracy, possibly with others from St. Louis.

That said, a goodly number of defendants awaiting formal charges were in Pelosi’s office, including Williams.

Along with Williams, there are others, like Anthime Gionet, who have known ties with America First or were in the vicinity of others self-identifying as America First who are also awaiting their charges.

Then there’s the case of Brandon Straka. He’s the head of the Walkaway campaign, and was a speaker on January 5. There’s no allegation he entered the door of the Capitol, though at a time when he was on the stairs, he was involved in attempting to take a shield from an officer and for that got charged with civil disorder (in addition to the standard trespass crimes). He obviously could be charged with obstruction, but that hasn’t been charged yet. On May 24, the parties asked for a continuance and excludable delay until August, but Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather hasn’t yet issued an order approving that. (There’s one other person that engaged in higher level organizing, but I suspect it’s the choice of her attorney.)

Update: This morning Judge Meriweather signed the Straka continuance.

Update: Doug Jensen wants to go work while he awaits resolution of his case (specifically mentioning self-surrender) so he settle his affairs and take care of his family.

DOJ Moves to Label John Sullivan a Professional Provocateur

Yesterday, the government released a superseding indictment for John Earle Sullivan, the guy who filmed video of the insurrection and then sold it to CNN and other media outlets. In addition to adding two crimes for his possession of a knife he boasted of having in his own video but then allegedly lied to the FBI about, the government moved to seize almost $90,000 in forfeiture. The move is an aggressive step that may be justifiable for Sullivan, but has implications for the five or so other propagandists arrested as part of the riot.

Sullivan was first charged, with civil disorder and trespassing, on January 13, after several FBI interviews. His arrest affidavit described how, repeatedly during the video he filmed of the riot, he made comments egging on the rioters. At the moment he caught Ashli Babbitt’s shooting on film, he had pushed himself to the front of that mob by calling out that he had a knife.

When the government first indicted Sullivan on February 3, the added obstruction and abetting charges to the civil disorder and trespass charges. That happened at virtually the same time the government moved to revoke his bail, based off several violations of the limits imposed on his use of social media. Sullivan responded by arguing that all that media contact was his job; his lawyer even provided evidence of the funds CNN have paid him to obtain his video of the insurrection. In response, Sullivan remained on bail with more explicit limits to his Internet access.

The one public discovery notice provided to Sullivan so far includes:

  • Earlier publications showing his efforts as a provocateur, including “Let’s start a riot” and “How to Take Down a Monument”
  • His criminal arrest record that includes association with past outbreaks of violence at protests
  • An interview he did on Infowars after the riot
  • Subpoenas to CenturyLink and Beehive Broadband, suggesting they were tracking traffic on Sullivan’s website

Then things went quiet in his case until, on May 7, his lawyer filed a motion to get funds in a Utah bank released he said had been seized without warning. It argued that Sullivan is entitled to a hearing at which he can contest that he committed a crime and the funds being seized came from the crime.

Accordingly, the federal courts have held that when the government restrains a criminal defendant’s assets before trial on the assertion that they may be subject to forfeiture, due process requires that the defendant be afforded a post-deprivation, pretrial hearing to challenge the restraint. If certain minimal conditions are satisfied, “[t]he wholesale use of…forfeiture proceedings [should cause] grave concern when the Government has clearly focused its law enforcement energies and resources upon a person and attempts to restrain his property….” United States v. $39,000 in Canadian Currency.” 801 F.2d 1210, 1219 n.7 (10th Cir. 1986).

The United States Supreme Court has made clear that pretrial seizure, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Sec. 853 (f) requires two probable cause findings: (1) that the defendant committed an offense permitting forfeiture and (2) that the property at issue has the requisite connection to that crime.” Kaley v. United States, 134 S. Ct 1090,1095 (2014).

At the outset, defendant notes that he needs the funds in the seized bank account in order to pay his rent and household necessities. Additionally, the proceeds of the seized bank account are not the product of criminal activity alleged in the indictment.

Thus the new indictment, I guess.

The indictment ties the forfeiture not to Sullivan’s civil disorder charge, which would seem to make sense given Sullivan’s past history of profiting off inciting violence at peaceful protests, but instead to Sullivan’s obstruction charge. That seems to argue that Sullivan’s filming of the insurrection, in which he cajoled police to step down (including from the confrontation before Babbitt was shot) and cheered on the seizure of the Capitol, was part of the successful obstruction of the vote count.

Given Sullivan’s past incitement (which, ironically, was well-documented by leftist activists months before Trump supporters and Sullivan’s own brother tried to base an Antifa false flag claim on Sullivan’s presence), this may be a reasonable argument for Sullivan.

But there are at least five other right wing propagandists who were present at the insurrection for whom that might be a really troubling precedent (an InfoWars video editor Sam Montoya also witnessed and magnified Babbitt’s death).

Again, this may all be merited. And perhaps DOJ is tying Sullivan’s new charges for his knife to the seizure. But it seems an important development to track.

Update: Sullivan’s motion for a hearing on the seizures alluded to more discovery. This letter may describe that discovery. It describes a slew of subpoenas, including Square, JP Morgan, Venmo, Discover, Amazon, and others. In other words, the letter reflects a concerted effort to figure out how Sullivan’s finances work.

But the more interesting detail is item 21, reflecting the HIGHLY SENSITIVE estimate from the Architect of the Capitol estimating the cost of replacing a window. Sullivan’s own video strongly implies he broke that window. But he hasn’t been charged with it yet. That’s important, because he could be — and if he is, it could trigger terrorism enhancements.

It was harsh of the government to seize Sullivan’s funds. But what might come next will be far more harsh.

Update: Justin Rohrlich found and shared the seizure warrants. The logic behind this seizure is as follows:

¶31: The affidavit lays out evidence of Sullivan admitting he’s not a journalist, including hims saying on January 5 that he made that claim up “on the fly.”

¶32: A description of how after the riot, Sullivan changed his webpage description to incorporate a claim to be a journalist.

¶34: Citations to the hearing on his release violations in which he presented the contracts he got for the video.

¶35: A brag, right after he left the Capitol, saying, “Everybody’s gonna want this. Nobody has it. I’m selling it, I could make millions of dollars. … I brought my megaphone to instigate shit.”

¶36: A summary of the deposits paid for use of the video.

Last Month, Baked Alaska Got to Ditch His Ankle Bracelet

While I am probably missing a few examples, I can think of just two defendants that DOJ has voluntarily loosened release conditions for without some kind of purpose tied to employment: Jon Schaffer, when he entered into a cooperation agreement with the government, and far right propagandist Baked Alaska, AKA Anthime Gionet, last month.

A warrant for Gionet’s arrest was obtained on January 7 and he was arrested on January 15 on misdemeanor charges of trespassing. He was released on personal recognizance but, unlike many other trespassing defendants, he was outfitted with a GPS monitor to make sure he stayed in AZ.

He was sent away and has never since been charged via Information.

On March 23, DOJ added a second attorney to this simple trespassing case, Christopher Brown. On March 26, Gionet asked to lose the ankle bracelet, based (in part) on a claim that he is media and (in part) on a claim that other misdemeanors he faces in AZ won’t likely go to trial. On March 29, DOJ asked for a consent motion to continue the case for another month past March 29 saying they’re trying to “resolve” this issue; this is the same kind of motion to continue they used in the Schaffer case (as opposed to unopposed motions to continue, as they’ve used in most other January 6 cases). And on March 31, the government said that, while it doesn’t agree with Gionet’s claim to be media, they don’t mind if he ditches his ankle bracelet because he’s been a good little Nazi sympathizer while out on release.

The defendant has asked this Court to remove Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring from his release conditions. In his motion, the defendant argues that he is a member of the news media. The government disagrees. Nevertheless, because the defendant has been compliant with his release conditions to-date, the government does not oppose the instant motion.

On its face, it was an inexplicable move, particularly given the way the January 6 defendants have pointed to each other’s release conditions like 400 children complaining about unfair treatment to their mother.

When Larry Brock, also (currently) facing just trespass charges asked to change his release conditions, the government objected both to permitting Brock to travel freely in TX as well as access to the Internet. “The Defendant has not provided a change in circumstances to justify a change in release conditions,” the government argued. (John Bates overruled the government on the latter point.)

And when Felicia Konold, accused in a more serious Proud Boy conspiracy, made a similar argument about good behavior in a bid to lose her GPS monitor, the government argued that good behavior was insufficient reason to change release conditions. Indeed, in that case they pointed to her pending DUI case (like Gionet’s misdemeanor charges, in AZ), to suggest her behavior wasn’t all that great. “In sum, the defendant has not raised any novel issue that merits any meaningful change of her release conditions,” the government explained in opposing her request.

When Nicholas DeCarlo, functionally equivalent to Gionet as a right wing propagandist (albeit charged, in addition to trespassing, with conspiracy, obstruction, and for damaging the Capitol), asked to have his GPS removed, the government said nothing had changed to justify the change. “Finally, there have been no change in circumstances, other than the passage of time, that would justify these instant modifications.”

But in Gionet’s case, with no visible change in circumstances, and with pending state charges just like Konold, he ditched the ankle bracelet.

It’s certainly possible that the government, in the wake of the Eric Munchel decision (released the same day Gionet made his request), didn’t want to bother fighting this more aggressively. It’s possible they’re more sensitive to the claim that Gionet is a journalist than they let on — except that in the wake of this exchange, they’ve continued to arrest people making similar claims.

Or it’s possible something more interesting is going on. Ordinarily, a Nazi sympathizer facing a trespass charge wouldn’t have anything to deal to the government; nor would a trespass charge incent a defendant to make a deal.

Except that’s not the only exposure Gionet has or had.

On January 22, between the time Gionet was first charged and when he was arraigned, Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Douglas Mackey in a conspiracy to interfere with others’ right to vote, based off Mackey’s social media campaign encouraging Hillary voters to vote by hashtag rather than casting a legal vote. Mackey was the only of the co-conspirators charged, but according to Luke O’Brien — who first broke Mackey’s true identity — Gionet was one of the four other co-conspirators described in the complaint.

Another of Mackey’s co-conspirators is Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a pro-Trump white nationalist who was arrested on Jan. 16 for his involvement in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet also participated in the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (A New York Times story reported Wednesday afternoon that Gionet was a co-conspirator, citing a source close to the investigation, and HuffPost can confirm that reporting based on the Twitter ID cited in the complaint.)

HuffPost was able to link the Twitter IDs in the complaint to Gionet and Microchip through previously collected Twitter data, interviews and evidence left by both extremists on other websites. In direct messages with this reporter last year, Microchip also confirmed that he was using the Twitter account associated with the user ID listed in the complaint.

In the time that nothing has been happening in Gionet’s January 6 charge, Mackey has been indicted and his team has been reviewing evidence. On March 29 — just after DOJ added a second attorney to the Gionet case — DOJ added a third attorney to Mackey’s case.

With five prosecutors between the two cases, things are clearly more complex than the filings suggest.

And that may be the change in circumstances that allowed Gionet to ditch his ankle bracelet.

Update: Michael Daughtry, accused of trespassing, also got to ditch his ankle bracelet after wearing it for a week.

Whither the Douglass Mackey Investigation?

Yesterday, the FBI arrested Douglass Mackey, a far right activist who used the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn, for his efforts in 2016 to suppress Clinton voters. The complaint charges Mackey with a conspiracy against others’ Constitutional rights under 18 USC §241. I want to unpack what the complaint says about where this investigation came from and where it might head, if anywhere.

Mackey and others led almost 5,000 people to miscast their 2016 vote

There’s a lot of language in the complaint about Mackey’s social media efforts — which has a number of right wingers, including those who were tangentially involved in this effort, whining about their own First Amendment rights. Ultimately, though, the crime boils down to ads that Mackay made and popularized in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election encouraging Hillary voters to text their vote. If people did so, they would have thought their vote was cast, when in effect they would have texted it to a void.

The complaint notes that the text code Mackey used for the campaign got 4,900 responses.

According to iVisionMobile, the company that owned the Text Code listed in the two Deceptive Images distributed by MACKEY, at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted “[Candidate’s first name]” or some derivative to the Text Code on or about and before Election Day, including many belonging to individuals in the Eastern District of New York. Of the approximately 4,900 numbers that corresponded with the Text Code, approximately 4,850, or 99%, sent their texts after MACKEY first tweeted a Deceptive Image from MACKEY Account 2. [my emphasis]

Effectively, then, the complaint argues that Mackey tricked almost 5,000 people to miscast a Hillary vote, thereby depriving them of their right to cast a valid vote.

This investigation was started and finalized under a Trump US Attorney

Right wingers are also whining that the timing of this complaint shows that the Deep State is moving against Trump supporters immediately after his departure.

That makes no sense.

First, at least two key steps in this investigation, interviews of Paul Nehlen and filmmaker Loren Feldman, happened last fall.

On or about October 5, 2020, FBI agents conducted a voluntary interview with the Congressional Candidate. The Congressional Candidate confirmed that “Ricky Vaughn’s” true name was MACKEY, and that MACKEY had offered his services to his/her campaign. The Congressional Candidate added that, although s/he had never met MACKEY in person, s/he frequently communicated with MACKEY by telephone and via MACKEY’s personal email accounts.

On or about October 19, 2020, FBI agents conducted a voluntary interview of the Filmmaker who again confirmed that s/he had interviewed MACKEY in 2016 and that s/he knew MACKEY at that time by his Twitter name of “Rickey Vaughn.” The Filmmaker futher confirmed that s/he had subsequently been shown a photograph of MACKEY and confirmed that the individual in the photograph was the individual the Filmmaker had met as “Ricky Vaughn.”

In October 2020, as now, the Brooklyn US Attorney was Seth DuCharme. While DuCharme spent his career in EDNY, he was a key aide to Bill Barr, both as Counselor and then PADAG. In July, Barr effectively swapped DuCharme back into EDNY and moved the then US Attorney, Richard Donoghue, to PADAG.

In other words, the guy whose name will be on this indictment is among Barr’s most trusted aides.

DuCharme even issued a strong statement about this prosecution when it was announced.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” said Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes. They will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

I argued in this post that early indictments in the Biden Administration would (because he’s not immediately replacing all US Attorneys) be approved by Trump loyalists, and this is a perfect example of that.

Actions completed in 2016 are being charged in 2021

One of the most interesting questions about this complaint is why actions that were completed in 2016 and didn’t appear to take much investigation beyond some warrants to Twitter and two interviews were only charged in 2021.

It’s not entirely clear where this investigation came from, but the most likely is that when HuffPo originally exposed Mackey in 2018, someone at the FBI or DOJ took notice. That seems all the more likely given that the complaint relies on some of the research in that original story, including that Mackey had a reach on Twitter well outside his follower count.

There was no mistaking Ricky Vaughn’s influence. He had tens of thousands of followers, and his talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the “alt-right” white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails. The MIT Media Lab named him to its list of top 150 influencers on the election, based on news appearances and social media impact. He finished ahead of NBC News, Drudge Report and Stephen Colbert. Mainstream conservatives didn’t know they were retweeting an avowed racist and anti-Semite, but they liked what Ricky Vaughn had to say.

So the simplest explanation for the genesis of this investigation is that article.

There are other possibilities, though.

For example, as that original HuffPo story noted, Mackey magnified one of the Internet Research Agency’s most effective Twitter accounts, TEN_GOP, which many right wingers mistakenly believed was the official account of Tennessee’s Republican Party.

In the data set of significant accounts we looked at, Ricky Vaughn retweeted @TEN_GOP the most, by far. Although Twitter shut down his @Ricky_Vaughn99 handle in October 2016, another handle he possibly used, @RapinBill, took over and retweeted @TEN_GOP at least 162 times between early March and late August 2017. (@RapinBill also retweeted @Pamela_Moore13, another Kremlin-controlled account, at least 37 times during this period.)

Some far-right sources suggest that @RapinBill might be an account run by another anonymous bad actor, an assertion for which there is no proof, but the account has nevertheless capitalized on the Ricky Vaughn brand of far-right intolerance and fake news. We will update this story as we learn more.

Curiously, @RapinBill, which is still active and followed by Donald Trump Jr., does not appear to have received a single reciprocal retweet from @TEN_GOP during the time period we looked at, perhaps indicating an attempt to conceal the connection. @RapinBill retweeted @TEN_GOP until the end. When Twitter finally shut down @TEN_GOP last August, after having ignored numerous complaints about the Russian account, Ricky Vaughn did not take it well. He groused that @TEN_GOP had been “banned for supporting our president.” Within hours, he was steering traffic to the Kremlin’s backup account:

Another possibility is that this investigation arose out of Mueller’s investigation of Mike Flynn and Roger Stone’s focus on social media during the 2016 election. As Luke O’Brien (the reporter who first unmasked Mackey) noted in his coverage of the complaint, Mackey had ties to efforts involving Flynn and Stone in 2016.

Mackey and the three co-conspirators that HuffPost was able to identify are closely associated with a group of high-level pro-Trump political saboteurs known as “MAGA3X” that had ties to the Trump campaign and Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Presided over by far-right Twitter influencer Mike Cernovich, white nationalist funder Jeff Giesea, who is a disciple of billionaire Peter Thiel, and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec, who counts Roger Stone as a mentor, MAGA3X spearheaded the Pizzagate disinformation campaign on social media that targeted Hillary Clinton in the weeks before the 2016 election.

Mueller’s team focused closely on both Flynn and Stone’s involvement in social media in 2016. In August 2016, Stone pitched both Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon on how to win ugly using social media. The overt parts of Stone’s effort involved an Erik Prince-funded effort to suppress the black vote. One of the still-sealed warrants pertains to multiple Twitter accounts that don’t appear to be Stone’s. And Mueller interviewed several people who worked with Stone on social media campaigns (and asked Andrew Miller about Alex Jones’ campaigns, as well).

The biggest reason to doubt that this investigation comes out of Mueller’s is the venue. While Mackey has ties to Brooklyn, at the time of his actions, he was living in Manhattan, SDNY rather than EDNY. The complaint seems to claim venue based on victims who reside in EDNY, bolded in the blockquote above, not Mackey’s location at the time of his actions. If Mueller had referred this, he presumably would have referred it to where the actions took place, SDNY.

It’s also possible it comes out of the Intelligence Committees’ investigations into disinformation. As Quinta Jurecic noted last night, Mackey’s ads were among those Twitter shared with the committees in 2018, though not by name. But again, the logical place to pick that up would have been SDNY or even DC.

There’s one other possibility. Last fall, in an effort to feed Trump’s conspiracy theories, Barr affirmatively mobilized voter fraud investigations. If someone had been sitting on the evidence unveiled in 2018, Barr’s action would have provided the opportunity to wrap it up into an indictment, effectively using GOP claims of voter fraud as the excuse to prosecute GOP voter fraud.

DOJ charged just one member of a conspiracy

Perhaps the most enticing part of this complaint is that it explicitly includes four other people as co-conspirators.

It describes the actions of Mackey’s co-conspirators to include:

  • Discussing how best to optimize social media campaigns
  • Retweeting Mackey’s campaigns
  • Running several DM-based strategy groups called the Madman Group, the War Room, Fed Free Hatechat
  • Fine-tuning some of the ads used
  • Posting some of the actual ads
  • Adding Mackey’s new accounts back into the DM collaborations after Twitter shut down his accounts

It’s not entirely clear how EDNY chose to treat these four as co-conspirators as distinct from other Twitter users and DM collaboration participants.

O’Brien IDs three of the four co-conspirators:

The complaintlists four co-conspirators referred to only by Twitter “user IDs,” a unique string of numbers assigned to each Twitter account. HuffPost can report that one co-conspirator is a prominent alt-right botmaster who goes by “Microchip” and was instrumental in making pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton hashtags and content go viral on Twitter during the 2016 election. A fascist accelerationist who has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazism, Microchip claims to have been involved in the early spread of the QAnon conspiracy cult and repeatedly told this reporter that his goal was to destroy the United States.

Another of Mackey’s co-conspirators is Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a pro-Trump white nationalist who was arrested on Jan. 16 for his involvement in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet also participated in the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (A New York Times story reported Wednesday afternoon that Gionet was a co-conspirator, citing a source close to the investigation, and HuffPost can confirm that reporting based on the Twitter ID cited in the complaint.)

HuffPost was able to link the Twitter IDs in the complaint to Gionet and Microchip through previously collected Twitter data, interviews and evidence left by both extremists on other websites. In direct messages with this reporter last year, Microchip also confirmed that he was using the Twitter account associated with the user ID listed in the complaint.

The user ID for a third co-conspirator belongs to a pro-Trump far-right activist who goes by “Nia” and has a long history of spreading disinformation on Twitter. HuffPost has not yet been able to identify the fourth co-conspirator.

It’s unclear whether EDNY plans to add them in an indictment or not. It’s possible they just named them as co-conspirators so as to be able to use their DMs and other Tweets to build the case against Mackey (which would make it a matter of prosecutorial efficacy). It’s also possible they’ll get added when this is indicted.

Particularly given the inclusion of Baked Alaska in here, though, it’s possible that this is an effort to crack down on key far right propagandists as part of a larger crackdown in the wake of the January 6 insurrection.

There’s just one detail that suggests this might go further: the inclusion of a PIN prosecutor in the prosecution team.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erik Paulsen and Nathan Reilly of the Eastern District of New York, and Trial Attorney James Mann of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

Among the other cases James Mann is or was prosecuting are the Andy Khawaja case funneling money from the UAE to both 2016 candidates (though only the Hillary side was charged; George Nader is one of the defendants) and the Elliot Broidy case, whose pardon will close out that case.

While his inclusion by no means makes this a certainty, it raises the chances that this social media activity will either be considered in the scope of campaign donations or might even involve foreign partners.