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The January 6 Militia Witnesses Are Cooperating with DOJ, Probably Not the January 6 Committee

Liz Cheney made a comment in Thursday’s public hearing that has attracted some attention. As part of her explanation that the January 6 investigation is ongoing, she said,

As we present these initial findings, keep two points in mind. First, our investigation is still ongoing. So what we make public here will not be the complete set of information we will ultimately disclose. And second, the Department of Justice is currently working with cooperating witnesses and has disclosed to date only some of the information it has identified from encrypted communications and other sources.

Some have wondered whether this reflects some kind of insight into where the DOJ investigation is headed.

I doubt that Cheney’s comment reflects any greater insight into where DOJ is headed than I’ve gotten from tracking DOJ’s investigation closely, though as I’ll explain below, the Committee undoubtedly has non-public insight into how the militias coordinated with those close to Trump. (One possible — and important — exception to this assumption might be Joshua James, the Oath Keeper who is known to have testified in an NYPD inquiry targeting Roger Stone associate Sal Greco.)

While the Committee showed clips of depositions it had with Stewart Rhodes (pleading the Fifth in response to a question about arming members), Enrique Tarrio (expressing regret he didn’t monetize the Stand Back and Stand By comment), and Jeremy Bertino (who is Person-1 in the sedition indictment charging the Proud Boy leaders and who told the Committee that membership tripled in response to Trump’s comment), the more substantive claims about the militias on Thursday always cited the indictments against them, not evidence independently gathered by the Committee.

For example, Cheney described how Trump’s December 19, 2020 tweet, “initiated a chain of events. The tweet led to the planning for what occurred on January 6, including by the Proud Boys, who ultimately led the invasion of the Capitol and the violence on that day.” In his questioning of documentarian Nick Quested, Bennie Thompson likewise cited the indictment against the Proud Boys for claims about the lead-up to the attack.

To be sure, Thompson laid out details of the attack that are not generally known, but which are public: the Proud Boys skipped Trump’s speech and kicked off their attack to coincide with the Joint Session, not Trump’s speech; the Proud Boys first attacked at the site where the mob soon to be led by Alex Jones would arrive. I’ve laid out some of these dynamics in this post, and the Sedition Hunters have developed two detailed timelines that show how this worked, one describing the phases of the attack, and another capturing key communications of those implicated in it.

I’ve likewise noted what Cheney has: The Proud Boys — and virtually everyone else who organized in advance — responded to Trump’s tweet as if it was an order. I’ve also described — in a post called, “Back Was Stood, And By Was Stood: The Passive Voice Behind the Top Down Structure of the Charles Donohoe Statement of Offense” — how in cooperating witness Charles Donohoe’s Statement of Offense, DOJ for the first time used the passive voice to describe how the riot was announced.

[T]he foundation of that hierarchy that is so remarkable.

On December 19, 2020, plans were announced for a protest event in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, which protest would coincide with Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

On or before December 20, 2020, Tarrio approached Donohoe and solicited his interest in joining the leadership of a new chapter of the Proud Boys, called the Ministry of Self Defense (“MOSD”). Donohoe understood from Tarrio that the new chapter would be focused on the planning and execution of national rallies and would consist of hand-selected “rally” boys. Donohoe felt privileged to be included and agreed to participate.

Close to every other filing in the January 6 case that mentions the announcement of these plans actually cites what was taken as the formal announcement: Trump’s tweet, in response to which hundreds if not thousands of rioters began to make plans to come to DC.

Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump https://t.co/D8KrMHnFdK . A great report by Peter. Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

The import of that December 19 tweet was clear even in real time; the NYT and WaPo recently returned to the central role it plays in a great number of January 6 cases.

But this statement of offense instead presents what was viewed as an order from Trump in the passive voice: “Plans were announced.” Trump announced those plans, as every other charging document makes clear.

And the next day, in response to that announcement, Tarrio started building that top-down hierarchical structure that would go on to intentionally assault the Capitol and cops.

There are many things this statement of offense does with that masterful use of the passive voice. It implicates, without mentioning, people like Peter Navarro and Ali Alexander, the former because he was mentioned in the tweet and the latter because he was organizing it. The statement of offense makes clear that Tarrio told Donohoe and other Ministry of Self Defense leaders about what their plan was, but doesn’t reveal what he has shared, particularly what he shared about direct planning with people close to Trump. Indeed, the language of the statement of offense leaves open the possibility that Tarrio was moving on this even before the public launch of the riot by Trump.

But most importantly, without naming him, this structure puts Trump at the head of that hierarchy that bears top-down responsibility for the intentional violence and damage in the service of obstructing the vote certification.

The implication from the Statement of Offense is that Donohoe learned certain things starting on December 20 that he has shared with prosecutors. One reason I’m pretty sure that prosecutors haven’t shared it with the Committee, yet, is because Donohoe’s cooperation does not show up in the discovery index provided to the defendants themselves on May 12, over a month after Donohoe flipped, which prosecutors filed publicly last week. Similarly, prosecutors have not yet explicitly told defense attorneys the person who shared a plan with Tarrio talking about occupying the Capitol, though they have the returns for Tarrio’s phone that should help defense attorneys learn that person’s identity.

(I do wonder whether a challenge to a very recent call records subpoena from the Committee by Russian-American Kristina Malimon, discovered by Kyle Cheney, not to mention the high profile former Trump impeachment lawyers representing her, means the Committee thinks they’ve figured out the person’s identity, though.)

The schedule of upcoming January 6 hearings explains one reason why Cheney referenced the ongoing investigation when citing DOJ’s cooperating witnesses:

  • June 13: The Big Lie
  • June 15: Decapitate DOJ
  • June 16: Pressuring Pence
  • June 21: Pressuring the States
  • Hearing 6: Trump Assembles a Mob and Sics it on Congress
  • Hearing 7: Trump Does Nothing as Capitol Is Attacked

The dates for the last two hearings, hearings that will include details about how the Proud Boys paused their attack to await reinforcements brought by Alex Jones, opened a second front in seeming coordination with the Oath Keepers and Jones, and considered a second assault until learning the National Guard had finally been deployed, are not known yet. Whenever they are, though, they’ll come after June 21, and therefore after the June 17 discovery deadline in the Proud Boy Leaders case. DOJ has said they won’t supersede the Leaders indictment beyond what it currently is (meaning no more co-conspirators will be added to it). But the fates of Persons-1 (Bertino), -2, and -3 are up in the air right now, as well as a number of charged Proud Boys (like Ron Loehrke), who played key roles in the tactical success of the attack but who have not yet been indicted. Similarly, the fates of those known to coordinate most closely with the militias — Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander — remain uncertain.

Who knows? Their fates may be less uncertain between now and the last Committee hearing!

To be clear: as Chairman Thompson told Jake Tapper this week, the Committee does know of some of the coordination. I’ve heard of a communication implicating Stone that I believe the Committee has. Alex Jones complained about how many communications the Committee — specifically those of Cindy Chafian and Caroline Wren — had obtained, and one or both of them also communicated with Tarrio. A key focus of the testimony of Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence — and surely, Katrina Pierson, whom Stone and his associates have tried to blame for the attack — described their panic after Trump told his mob to walk to the Capitol. That testimony must explain why Pierson fought so hard to keep Wren’s chosen speakers, including Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Brandon Straka, and others, off the stage. This fight also shows up in Mark Meadows’ texts. And Ali Alexander testified for eight hours; we’ll see how successfully the Committee debunked his already-debunked cover story, but Alexander lost his shit during the hearing on Thursday. The role of the Stop the Steal effort in delivering bodies to the right places at the Capitol is the most important known coordination from the day of the attack.

Rudy Giuliani also had communications with Proud Boy associate James Sullivan, Mike Flynn had some ties to militias (especially the First Amendment Praetorians), and Sidney Powell was paying for the defense of a number of militia members.

The Committee knows a great deal about how Trump’s mob got directed to the Capitol. But I suspect they’re still waiting to learn all the details that cooperating witnesses have provided.


Known cooperating witnesses

Oath Keepers

Jon Schaffer: The substance of Schaffer’s cooperation against the Oath Keepers is still not clear (and could well extend beyond them).

Graydon Young: Young interacted with Roger Stone in the weeks leading up to the attack, may know details of the alliance struck between Proud Boys and Florida Oath Keepers, and was part of the First Stack to bust into the Capitol; he also implicated his sister.

Mark Grods: Grods was the first Oath Keeper who was present at the Willard the day of the attack to flip, and likely provided details of the QRF and implicated Joshua James.

Caleb Berry: Berry would provide more details of Oath Keeper activities, potentially implicating Stone, in Florida, and also was witness to the attempt to hunt down Nancy Pelosi.

Jason Dolan: Dolan would explain why he and Kenneth Harrelson were waiting at the top of the East Stairs when the First Stack, Joe Biggs and his co-travelers, and Alex Jones and Ali Alexander converged there before the door was opened from the inside.

Joshua James: James called in reports from someone who is almost certainly Stone the day of the attack, participated in key discussions with Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, and Mike Simpson during the attack, and was closely involved in Rhodes’ continued efforts after January 6.

Brian Ulrich: Ulrich would provide details of planning specific to Georgia Oath Keepers and the advance planning in December.

Todd Wilson:  Wilson would explain the mobilization of the North Carolina Oath Keepers; he also witnessed a call Rhodes made to someone close to Trump after the riot.

Proud Boys

Matthew Greene: Greene will explain details of the communications involved the day of the attack and the specific goal to pressure Mike Pence.

Charles Donohoe: Donohoe will provide prosecutors an inside understanding of how the leadership of the Proud Boys worked, including with whom Tarrio may have been working starting in December and details about Tarrio’s arrest, which led Donohoe to try to fill in.

Louis Colon: A Kansas City Proud Boy who received perhaps the most favorable deal will undoubtedly implicate his co-conspirators and describe how the cell structure of the Proud Boys worked on January 6; he may also provide important debunking of someone who had been an FBI informant the day of the attac.

Others

Gina Bisignano: Bisignano cooperated against her fellow SoCal anti-maskers, but in the light of Carl Nichols’ rejection of DOJ’s application of obstruction, is attempting to withdraw her guilty plea. A hearing on her attempt to withdraw her plea will be held on June 22. She has not withdrawn her stated intent, one directly influenced by Trump’s speech, to pressure Mike Pence.

Josiah Colt: Colt cooperated against his co-conspirators, Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave, describing how they armed themselves and helped open both the East Door and the Senate Gallery.

Klete Keller: The substance of Keller’s cooperation is not known.

Jacob Fracker: Fracker testified against fellow VA cop Thomas Robertson.

Robert Lyon: Lyon testified against his co-defendant, Dustin Thompson.

Misdemeanor cooperators

Virtually all plea deals require the defendant to share their social media and sit for an interview with the FBI. A handful of defendants are known to have convinced prosecutors to drop or hold off felony charges by providing limited cooperation (including sharing encrypted communications) in advance. They are believed to include:

Jeff Finley: Finley was a co-traveler of Proud Boy Zach Rehl on January 6.

Brandon Straka: Straka who was among those excluded from speaking on January 6,  was on Ali Alexander’s Stop the Steal listserv, and spent time with Mike Flynn before heading to the Capitol.

Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet: Baked Alaska could share communications involving white nationalists like Nick Fuentes. But Gionet fucked up his plea colloquy, so prosecutors can charge him with a felony incorporating his cooperation if he doesn’t plead by July 10 (not like I’m counting days but that’s less than a month away).

Jacob Hiles: Hiles cooperated against Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley and his buddy James Horning.

Father and son Proud Boy pair Jeffrey and Jeremy Grace likely also avoided felony exposure by cooperating (though Jeffrey’s plea just got pushed back two weeks); they spent much of January 6 with Ron Loehrke.

The Peaceful Transfer of Power: What President Reagan Called, “Nothing Less than a Miracle”

I’ve caught up to all of you in the States watching the first January 6 Committee hearing (my Twitter commentary while watching the video is here).

I think the hearing was an effective scene-setter, laying out information in a coherent narrative.

Perhaps the most striking part of the hearing was the degree to which, aside from the two live witnesses, Capitol Police Officer Carolyn Edwards and Nick Quested, the hearing relied exclusively on Republicans to make their case, with clips from:

  • Jason Miller
  • Alex Cannon
  • Matt Morgan
  • Bill Barr
  • Ivanka
  • Mike Pence (from a video appearance at the Federalist Society)
  • Greg Jacob
  • Steve Bannon
  • General Mark Milley
  • Sean Hannity and Kayleigh McEnany
  • Jared
  • Jeremy Bertino
  • Enrique Tarrio
  • Stewart Rhodes
  • A number of Jan 6 defendants, including Eric Barber

If I’m not mistaken, Thomas Jefferson was the only Democratic President named, but a slew of Republican Presidents were named (George W Bush was not, but Gerald Ford was).

There was plenty of shaming, including calling out Jeffrey Clark and Scott Perry for refusing to cooperate and noting that Kevin McCarthy was scared.

The clip of Jared accusing Pat Cipollone of “whining” when he threatened to quit may make it more likely to get the former White House Counsel’s testimony.

In short, this was directed at Republicans and relied on Republicans to make the case for democracy.

In that frame, I found the closing words of Liz Cheney’s opening statement to be the most effective messaging.

I ask you to think of the scene in our Capitol Rotunda on the night of January 6. There in a sacred space in our Constitutional Republic. The place where our Presidents lie in state. Watched over by statues of Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant, Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan. Against every wall that night encircling the room, there were SWAT teams. Men and women in tactical gear, with long guns, deployed inside our Capitol building. There in the Rotunda these brave men and women rested beneath paintings depicting the earliest scenes of our Republic, including one painted in 1824, depicting George Washington resigning his commission, voluntarily relinquishing power, handing control of the Continental Army back to Congress. With this noble act Washington set the indispensable example of the peaceful transfer of power, what President Reagan called, nothing less than a miracle. The sacred obligation to defend the peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American President, except one. As Americans, we all have a duty to ensure that what happened on January 6 never happens again. To set aside partisan battles. To stand together, to perpetuate and preserve our great Republic.

With this speech (and the imagery), Cheney attempted to invoke the mantle of Reagan, her party’s (and our shared generation’s) political icon. In doing so, she attempted to make democracy a religion again, something worth defending.

At the very least, she provided some mythology on which she will rebuild her party.

Members of Congress Subpoena Members of Congress

The January 6 Committee just issued subpoenas to five of their colleagues.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was in communication with President Trump before, during, and after the attack on January 6th. Mr. McCarthy was also in communication with other members of the White House staff during the attack and in the days before and after January 6th concerning the events at the Capitol. Mr. McCarthy also claimed to have had a discussion with the President in the immediate aftermath of the attack during which President Trump admitted some culpability for the attack.

Representative Scott Perry was directly involved with efforts to corrupt the Department of Justice and install Jeffrey Clark as acting Attorney General. In addition, Mr. Perry had various communications with the White House about a number of matters relevant to the Select Committee’s investigation, including allegations that Dominion voting machines had been corrupted.

Representative Jim Jordan was in communication with President Trump on January 6th and participated in meetings and discussions throughout late 2020 and early 2021 about strategies for overturning the 2020 election.

Representative Andy Biggs participated in meetings to plan various aspects of January 6th and was involved with plans to bring protestors to Washington for the counting of Electoral College votes. Mr. Biggs was involved in efforts to persuade state officials that the 2020 was stolen. Additionally, former White House personnel identified Mr. Biggs as potentially being involved in an effort to seek a presidential pardon for activities connected with the former President’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Representative Mo Brooks spoke at the rally on January 6th, encouraging rioters to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” In addition, Mr. Brooks has publicly described conversations in which the former President urged him to work to “rescind the election of 2020” and reinstall Mr. Trump as President. The Select Committee also has evidence that Mr. Brooks’s staff met with members of Vice President Pence’s staff before January 6th and conveyed the view that the Vice President does not have authority to unilaterally refuse to count certified electoral votes.

I suspect such a subpoena only conceivably has a chance in hell of working with Kevin McCarthy (or possibly Mo Brooks if he can do it quietly, given how Trump has targeted him). The rest of genuine criminal liability they’d like to use Speech and Debate to dodge.

But this provides a way for the January 6 Committee to package up what evidence they have against these five in such a way as to feed it to DOJ.

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.

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.

Related Posts

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

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

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”

 

American Patriots Deleting Presidential Records: Ivanka’s Destruction of Evidence about an Ongoing Conspiracy

Yesterday, the Archives sent House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney a letter on all the gaps in the production of social media records under Donald Trump’s White House. It describes that the efforts to capture the former President’s tweets were inadequate. It then explains that there was no effort to capture the deleted social media content from other White House staffers until 2018, and even then, some people were not enrolled until just before the end of the Administration.

The Trump White House did not take any steps to capture deleted content from any Trump Administration social media account other than @realDonaldTrump or @POTUS prior to enrolling them with ArchiveSocial. As with @realDonaldTrump, many other Trump Administration social media accounts were not enrolled until the summer or fall of 2018, even though these accounts were active for over a year prior to enrollment, during which time deleted or modified Presidential record content was not captured. Other accounts were not enrolled until just prior to the end of the administration.

It then lists seven people whose Twitter traffic was not captured by the White House. Ivanka was among those seven.

NARA identified seven Twitter accounts that we think contain presidential record information, but were not captured by the Trump Administration. These accounts belonged to Andrew Giuliani, Chad Gilmartin, Ivanka Trump, Kayleigh McEnany, Kellyanne Conway, Mark Meadows, and Peter Navarro. After the end of the administration, NARA obtained the publicly available tweets from these accounts in order to supplement its archival collection.

That’s important because Ivanka tweeted things on January 6 that are central to both the FBI and Select Committee investigations into that day, including a tweet in which she encouraged the rioters, but called on them to avoid violence.

This is the tweet she cited in a statement released after the Select Committee invited her to formally disavow the agreement her father entered into with multiple charged conspiracies.

Ivanka Trump just learned that the Jan. 6 Committee issued a public letter asking her to appear. As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally. As she publicly stated that day at 3:15pm, “any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.”

But as CNN reported the day of the riot, Ivanka deleted the tweet minutes after sending it, thereby violating the Presidential Records Act. (h/t SB for reminding me she had deleted tweets)

As the Guardian reported Thursday, the Select Committee is considering subpoenaing Ivanka.

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is considering issuing a subpoena to Ivanka Trump to force her cooperation with the inquiry into Donald Trump’s efforts to return himself to power on 6 January, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Any move to subpoena Ivanka Trump and, for the first time, force a member of Trump’s own family to testify against him, would mark a dramatic escalation in the 6 January inquiry that could amount to a treacherous legal and political moment for the former president.

The panel is not expected to take the crucial step for the time being, the source said, and the prospect of a subpoena to the former president’s daughter emerged in discussions about what options remained available after she appeared to refuse a request for voluntary cooperation.

But the fact that members on the select committee have started to discuss a subpoena suggests they believe it may ultimately take such a measure – and the threat of prosecution should she defy it – to ensure her appearance at a deposition on Capitol Hill.

If they subpoena her, she will be obligated, by law, to turn over all the records pertinent to that day, including that tweet she sent, hailing the rioters who had obstructed the vote certification, but disclaiming violence.

The Archives seems to believe she may be unable to produce an original copy of that tweet. (This would be the case if she was among the people whose tweets “were not enrolled [in the archiving system] until just prior to the end of the administration.”)

The Presidential Records Act has no legal teeth. Ivanka will not get in legal trouble for the act of deleting that tweet itself. But given that she (and the White House) had an affirmative obligation to ensure that did get archived, having deleted it may pose other kinds of legal jeopardy for her.

Relatedly, as you’ve likely heard, Judge Amit Mehta upheld part of the conspiracy lawsuits against the former President based, in part, on a reading that Trump’s later tweets encouraging rioters could be seen as ratifying the violence. Here’s that decision, which I’ll return to.

Updated to clarify that this may have automatically been archived, depending on whether and when her tweets were enrolled in the automatic archiving system.

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

In this post, I described that DOJ would be smarter to charge Mark Meadows with obstruction for his destruction of records relevant to an ongoing investigation than to charge him for misdemeanor criminal contempt of Congress. That’s because obstruction, a felony, would pose the risk of real jail time, which would be more likely to convince Meadows to cooperate with investigators and explain what he did as part of an attempt to steal the election.

On December 15, the House voted to send the Mark Meadows contempt referral to DOJ for prosecution. Much to the chagrin of the TV lawyers, DOJ has not taken overt action against Meadows on the criminal contempt of Congress referral.

But as I’ve repeatedly argued, that referral is better considered — and would be more useful to the pursuit of justice — as a referral of Mark Meadows for a violation of the Presidential Records Act and obstruction of the DOJ criminal investigation that he knew to be ongoing.

Among the things included in the referral are:

  • A link to this Politico report quoting “a source close to former President Donald Trump’s ex-chief of staff,” insisting that, “all necessary and appropriate steps either were or are being taken” to ensure that Meadows is not deemed to have violated the Presidential Records Act by failing to share Presidential communications he conducted on his personal email and phone
  • Repeated references to Jonathan Swan’s coverage of the December 18 meeting at which Powell and others discussed seizing the voting machines
  • Indication that Meadows received notice on his personal phone (and so among the records withheld in violation of the PRA) the rally might get violent
  • A citation of a message that Meadows turned over to the committee (but presumably not, originally, to the Archives) in which Alyssa Farah urged, “You guys have to say something. Even if the president’s not willing to put out a statement, you should go to the [cameras] and say, ‘We condemn this. Please stand down.’ If you don’t, people are going to die”
  • Citation of several communications Meadows had with state politicians involved in the fake elector scheme (which Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has confirmed they are investigating), including one where Meadows said, “I love it” and another where he said, “Have a team working on it;” Monaco’s confirmation puts Meadows on notice that his actions are the subject of a federal criminal investigation
  • A claim of election fraud sent to Meadows on his private email (and so among the materials he violated the PRA by withholding)
  • Citation of a tweet Meadows sent on December 21 reporting “‘Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President @realDonaldTrump, preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned”
  • Citation of this story describing that Meadows’ late December trip to Georgia to pressure election officials to find more votes could get him in legal trouble; when Fulton County DA Fannie Willis asked for increased protection in the wake of Trump’s calls for riots, she stated explicitly that she was criminally investigating, “former President Donald J. Trump and his associates,” putting Mark Meadows on notice that he’s under criminal investigation there, too

This entire process led Meadows and his attorney to make efforts to comply with the PRA, meaning they’ve been working to provide the communications cited here, as well as those Meadows intended to claim privilege over, to the Archives.

If they can’t comply — and some of the texts in question were sent via Signal, which is really hard to archive, and so may not have been preserved when Meadows sent his own phone back to his provider to be wiped and replaced — then Meadows will not just be in violation of the PRA (which is basically toothless) but also of obstructing the criminal investigation he knew was ongoing when he replaced his phone. Obstruction carries a far stiffer penalty than contempt of Congress does, and it serves as good evidence of involvement in a larger conspiracy.

As Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee presiding over the Steve Bannon criminal contempt case (and therefore likely to preside over one against Meadows if it were ever charged), criminal contempt is for someone from whom you’ve given up getting cooperation, not someone who still might offer useful cooperation.

Meanwhile if Meadows and his lawyer do belatedly comply with Meadows’ obligations under the PRA, it’s quite possible (particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling denying Trump’s attempt to override Joe Biden’s privilege waiver) that DOJ has to do no more to obtain these records than to send a warrant to the Archives. If not, Meadows is now on notice that he is the subject of several criminal investigations (the fake elector one and the Fulton County one), and he may think twice before trying to withhold communications that are already in possession of the Archives.

So whether or not DOJ has these documents in their possession right now, they have the means to get them very easily.

When I’ve pointed this explanation out to those wondering why DOJ has yet to (visibly) act on the Meadows contempt referral the January 6 Select Committee the House sent over on December 14, they ask why DOJ can’t just charge Meadows with contempt now and then follow up with obstruction charges later.

The answer is clear. Doing so will make any ongoing investigation far more difficult.

We can see why that’s true from the Bannon case. Bannon has already used his contempt prosecution as a means to obtain evidence about an ongoing obstruction investigation implicating Trump.

In these two posts, I described what we know about DOJ seizing the call records for Robert Costello, the lawyer for both Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, who is someone who has been at the center of Trump’s pardon dangling for years. There’s a full timeline here, but for the purposes of this post, the key details are:

  • On September 23, the House subpoenaed Bannon.
  • Around October 5, the lawyer for Bannon and Rudy started speaking with a lawyer for Trump, Justin Clark, about how to avoid responding on Bannon’s behalf.
  • Between then and Bannon’s deadlines, Costello twice invoked Trump to avoid complying (in an interview with DOJ, Costello admitted that, “CLARK would not identify for COSTELLO what would be covered under Executive Privilege” and “refused to reach out to the Committee on behalf of COSTELLO or BANNON,” though, “CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17” (involving communications Bannon had with Rudy, Sidney Powell, and Mike Flynn).
  • Costello claimed he did not know the lawsuit Trump filed on October 18 was coming and also claims he had a draft in process to blow off another October 19 contempt deadline, but on the evening of October 18, he told a J6 staffer that Bannon would not show up.
  • Over the next three days, the J6 Committee went through the process of holding Bannon in contempt, completing the process on October 21.
  • On November 3, Costello met with the investigative team, ostensibly to persuade them not to indict Bannon; in the process, Costello made claims about his communications with Trump’s lawyers (as well as those for Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel) that materially conflicted. In response, DOJ sought Costello’s call records, ultimately obtaining records dating back to the last act Costello did on Bannon’s behalf in the Build the Wall prosecution, March 5, 2021, thereby reflecting an interest in Costello’s actions that significantly precede the J6 Committee actions.
  • On November 12, DOJ indicted Bannon. At first, just Evan Corcoran and David Schoen (the latter of whom represented the former President in his January 6 related impeachment) filed notice as Bannon’s lawyers.
  • On December 2, Costello informed DOJ he would file a notice to join the Bannon defense team (he may have been tipped off by his firm that DOJ had asked for his call records for his business phone). DOJ noted that if Costello represented Bannon, it might impact Bannon’s ability to claim an Advice of Counsel defense. On December 8, Costello filed his notice of appearance on Bannon’s team.
  • On January 4, DOJ provided Bannon 790 pages of call records data pertaining to Costello (including from his law firm).

In the early appearances after Bannon’s indictment, DOJ said it wanted to go to trial immediately and believed the trial could take a matter of hours. Bannon, by contrast, wanted a fall trial, and believed the trial could take weeks. Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee who had a key role in the Harriet Miers contempt conflict who is presiding over the case, split the difference on time, and has otherwise seemed unconvinced by Bannon’s maximalist challenges to the indictment.

Nevertheless, because the trial did not happen immediately, until Bannon does go to trial (currently scheduled in July), then DOJ will be obliged to provide him a range of information that would be (as the Costello records clearly are) relevant to an ongoing obstruction investigation implicating Trump personally. And until DOJ has reason to claim a conflict has arisen between Costello’s representation of Rudy and Bannon (which would effectively tip Rudy off that he’s being investigated for January 6), anything shared with Bannon’s defense team will be shared with Rudy’s defense team (and probably, through Schoen, Trump’s).

Those wailing for immediate action got an indictment of Steve Bannon … which will, at most, lead to his jailing for a few months.

And in exchange, Bannon got records that suggest that DOJ treated his attorney as a suspect in a conspiracy to obstruct this (and the J6) investigation. Bannon got records that suggest that DOJ is investigating his lawyer’s activities going back at least to March 5. He was able to see some of the evidence DOJ has obtained in that ongoing investigation.

Until something resets the current status, the contempt prosecution of Bannon is far more useful to Bannon as a means to monitor the ongoing investigation into him and his co-conspirators than it is for DOJ. And DOJ is likely now limiting investigative steps into Bannon and Costello, accordingly, to avoid triggering a discovery obligation to share information with Bannon.

There are a whole lot of really good reasons why DOJ probably hasn’t acted on the Meadows referral yet — most notably that Judge Nichols, who would likely preside over a Meadows case as a related prosecution, has made it clear he believes criminal contempt is used only for those whom DOJ has no hope of coercing cooperation. If they charge Meadows with contempt, per Nichols, they have foresworn any hope of getting his cooperation.

Given what Meadows has already done, DOJ surely views the potential of Meadows’ cooperation as more useful than a time-consuming and restrictive contempt prosecution.

And that’s true, first and foremost, because charging Meadows with contempt now would further limit their ability to shield parts of their investigation from the suspected co-conspirators.

Update: Corrected the Build the Wall reference to mention Bannon, not Meadows.

Steve Bannon’s Lawyer Made Himself a Witness and Now Wants To Be Just a Lawyer

Last night, along with a previously scheduled Motion for Discovery, Steve Bannon filed a Motion to Compel disclosure regarding some records requests DOJ made targeting Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello. In it, he revealed that the government had obtained phone and Internet toll records (that is, metadata, not content) of his attorney spanning the period between the last event in Bannon’s prosecution in the Build the Wall fraud case, March 5, 2021, through the day he was indicted, November 11, 2021.

Predictably, the filing wails a lot about his lawyer being spied on and misrepresents what happened.

While Bannon included two exhibits with his Motion to Compel (a letter asking for information about the Costello material and the government response), Bannon included the most important information pertaining to the Costello records with his Motion for Discovery, not his Motion to Compel: reports of two interviews (302s) he did with DOJ and FBI, one on November 3 and the other on November 8, 2021.

At the time Costello gave the interviews, his representation of Bannon before the January 6 Select Committee was ended and Bannon had not yet been indicted. And as the first 302 notes, “there were no agreements or conditions governing the conversation between COSTELLO and representatives of USAO-DC or FBI.” Effectively, those interviews made Costello a voluntary fact-witness in the criminal case against Bannon, one exacerbated when Bannon belatedly added Costello to his criminal defense team and grew squishy about whether Bannon would invoke Costello’s advice in his own defense.

And Costello made so many contradictory claims in his 302s (to say nothing of providing evidence that Bannon knew well he had no privilege claim with which to refuse to testify entirely), that it is unsurprising that the FBI made records requests to test whether Costello lied in those interviews to the FBI. Among the claims Costello made about communications he had or did not have are:

  • J6 sent the subpoena to Costello (on September 23) before he had been able to consult with Bannon
  • Costello did not know who was representing the other people subpoenaed — Dan Scavino, Kash Patel, Mark Meadows, or Donald Trump — at the time of the subpoena
  • Through the entire subpoena response, Bannon and Costello have “operated independently of the others subpoenaed”
  • Costello was not told who was representing Trump, Meadows, or the others subpoenaed, but he found out on his own who represented Trump and Meadows
  • Costello sent the subpoena to Bannon to review
  • Costello’s advice to Bannon that he didn’t have to respond was verbal
  • Costello was sure he sent the J6 letters to Bannon; he wasn’t sure whether Bannon read the letters but Costello did quote lines from the letters to him
  • Costello sent Bannon an email that he ended with the word BEWARE because defying the subpoena could result in a referral to DOJ
  • Costello’s only contact with J6 Chief Counsel Kristin Amerling came the day before and the day of the subpoena service [the record shows she sent him at least one letter after that]
  • Costello tried to contact the attorney he believed was representing Trump (whom he didn’t name) but that attorney referred Costello to Justin Clark
  • Costello reached out to Clark a few days before October 6, though their first substantive conversation came when Clark responded
  • Costello did not provide any documents to attorneys for Trump for an Executive Privilege review
  • Justin Clark was vague but Costello was sure Trump asserted Executive Privilege with regards to Bannon
  • Clark would not ID for Costello what would be covered under Executive Privilege
  • In spite of Costello’s claims not to have consulted with any Trump lawyer, he also claimed that Clark told him not to respond to item 17 on the subpoena (covering Mike Flynn), because lawyers like Rudy Giuliani might have been present when Bannon communicated with Flynn
  • In spite of his admitted conversations with Justin Clark, Costello claimed he had not had communications with attorneys for Trump prior to October 18, 2021 (when Trump filed a lawsuit challenging the privilege waivers on materials from the Archives)
  • Costello had “an email or two” with Clark, who he believed filed the lawsuit, but he did not learn until later that Jesse Binnall filed the lawsuit
  • Costello sent copies of Bennie Thompson’s letters to the VA lawyer representing Trump (probably Binnall)
  • Costello had no advance knowledge of Trump’s lawsuit and would have handled things differently if he had
  • Attorneys representing Trump (Costello doesn’t name him or describe when this was) told him everyone who got a subpoena would get Executive Privilege
  • Costello did not talk about “disposing of any documents requested in the … subpoena with any attorneys who represented former President TRUMP”
  • Costello said he’d sent to USAO all memorializations of communications he had with the Committee, Clark, and Trump’s attorneys

Effectively, these claims only make any sense if he had extended discussions with an attorney who did not represent Donald Trump, on whose representation he advised Bannon that Trump wanted Bannon to invoke Executive Privilege. But even there, there are still all sorts of temporal problems with Costello’s claims (and probable inconsistencies regarding the timing of events on October 18, though I need to unpack what those are further).

Costello’s interviews were all over the map on other topics as well, topics that affect both Rudy Giuliani (whom Costello also represents) and Bannon: that he could and could not claim Executive or Attorney Client privilege over certain topics, that he advised or did not advise Bannon to do so, that he admits that Bannon provided no response about issues — most damningly, his public podcasts — that could in no way be covered by Executive Privilege.

But the key detail is that Costello’s claims about communications he had and did not have defy belief and (particularly with regards to Justin Clark) may be physically impossible.

So, in response to these interviews (and probably in possession of contradictory evidence from J6), DOJ obtained all the records they would need to test Costello’s claims.

As I’ve noted, Costello has played a key role in past obstruction efforts, going back to 2018. It’s certainly conceivable DOJ has an open investigation into Costello (and Rudy) for those activities.

Whether or not they already did, Costello gave them far more reason to question his role in obstructing investigations into Donald Trump in his two interviews.

Update: Here’s Bannon’s subpoena (h/t Kyle Cheney). It confirms that Item 17, which Clark told Costello to tell Bannon not to respond to, included Mike Flynn.

Timeline

March 5: Beginning date for Costello records request (last event involving Bannon and Costello in Kolfage)

September 22: First contact between J6 and Bannon

September 23: Bannon subpoena

September 24: Costello accepts service

October 6: Costello claims Clark invoked privilege

October 7, 10AM: Original deadline for document production

October 7, 5:05PM: Costello letter claiming Trump invoked privilege

October 8: Thompson letter to Bannon rejecting non-compliance

October 13: Second Costello letter, demanding accommodation with Trump

October 14, 10AM: Original date for Bannon testimony

October 15: Letter noticing failure to comply with subpoena, warning of contempt meeting, setting response deadline for October 18, 6PM

October 18: Thompson letter to Bannon with deadline; Trump sues Thompson and the Archives on privilege issues

October 19: Bannon claims they intended to respond; Amerling letter to Costello; J6 business meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 20: Rules committee meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 21 Bannon held in contempt

October 28: Matthew Graves confirmed as US Attorney

November 2: Kristin Amerling interview

November 3: First interview with Robert Costello

November 5: Matthew Graves sworn in as US Attorney

November 8: Second interview with Robert Costello

November 11: Subpoena to Internet provider

November 12: End date for Costello records request

November 12: Indictment

November 15: Bannon arrest; David Schoen and Evan Corcoran file notices of appearance

November 18: At status conference, government says there are just 200 documents of discovery

December 2: Costello moves to appear PHV; Government asks if Bannon intends to rely on advice of counsel defense

December 7: Returns on Internet provider (623 pages)

December 7 to 16: Bannon refuses to submit joint status report

January 4: DOJ turns over 790 pages of records from Costello

January 6: Bannon request for more information on Costello

January 7: Government response to Bannon request

January 14: Bannon discovery request letter; Bannon motion to compel regarding Costello

January 28: Government response to discovery demand

February 4: In guise of Motion to Compel, Bannon complains about “spying” on Robert Costello

Bennie Thompson to Ivanka: Come In from the Conspiracy

Even though you read this site, you may not recognize the names Brad Smith or Marshall Neefe. Even though I’ve focused some attention to his case, you may not remember the significance of Ronnie Sandlin. You might not even remember that the Oath Keeper conspiracy was named after retired Navy officer Thomas Caldwell before he was spun off into the sedition conspiracy named after Stewart Rhodes.

But those are all references of import to understand this footnote in the letter Bennie Thompson sent to Ivanka Trump, inviting her to testify voluntarily.

The Select Committee is aware of the motivation of many of the violent rioters from their posts on social media, from their contemporaneous statements on video, and from the hundreds of filings in federal court.11

11 For example, many defendants in pending criminal cases identified President Trump’s allegations about the “stolen election” as a motivation for their activities at the Capitol; a number also specifically cited President Trump’s tweets asking that supporters come to Washington, D.C. on January 6th. See, e.g., United States of America v. Ronald L. Sandlin https://www.justice.gov/opa/page/file/1362396/download: “I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon.” United States of America v. Marshall Neefe and Charles Bradford Smith https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/case-multi-defendant/file/1432686/download: “Trump is literally calling people to DC in a show of force. Militias will be there and if there’s enough people they may fucking storm the buildings and take out the trash right there.” United States of America v. Caldwell et al. https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/case-multi-defendant/file/1369071/download: “Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!! ! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your shit!!”

The Select Committee could have chosen any number of individual defendants to support the claim that Trump was the motivating force for the participants of the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

It did not.

Instead, without saying that it had, it cited three conspiracy indictments: a conspiracy that involved totally random guys who met online coming armed to DC and assaulting officers to break open the East doors and break into the Senate chamber, a conspiracy where guys armed themselves to come to DC based on a motivation that, “Why shouldn’t we be the ones” to kick off war, and a conspiracy that has now officially been charged as sedition.

What the Select Committee just said to Ivanka, very subtly (and without the hotlinks to these court filings to make it easy) is that multiple organizers across multiple conspiracies — all involving arming themselves before traveling to DC — acted on Trump’s comments in December and January as instructions.

What the Select Committee has laid out in this footnote is that key members of conspiracies that led to violent assaults on January 6 entered into an agreement with Donald Trump to engage in violence.

Other coverage of this letter has focused on the many other scathing details included in it:

  • Proof that Trump knew he was making an illegal request of Mike Pence (and that Ivanka knew such pressure was wrong)
  • Proof that multiple people attempted to get Trump to call off the violence (and that staffers repeatedly asked Ivanka to intercede to get him to do so)
  • Proof that advisors including Kaleigh McEnany and Sean Hannity attempted to get Trump to disavow these efforts

In response to the letter, Ivanka issued a statement making it clear that on January 6 she disavowed the violence caused by her father.

Ivanka Trump just learned that the Jan. 6 Committee issued a public letter asking her to appear. As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally. As she publicly stated that day at 3:15pm, “any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.”

But that doesn’t account for another detail of the letter that has gotten far less attention than the eye-popping new details about Trump’s actions: Chairman Thompson reminded Ivanka (in a paragraph that seemingly addresses another topic) not just of the requirements of the Presidential Records Act, but also that she got formal notice of those requirements in 2017.

The Select Committee would like to discuss this effort after January 6th to persuade President Trump not to associate himself with certain people, and to avoid further discussion regarding election fraud allegations. We also wish to share with you a memorandum from former White House Counsel Donald McGahn (attached), regarding the legal requirements on White House personnel to turn over to the National Archives any work-related messages from personal devices. We wish to be certain that former White House staff are fully aware of these obligations.

Ivanka, of course, is not just the former President’s daughter. She’s also someone legally obliged to share all the communications conducted while performing whatever role it is she played in the White House — up to and including begging her Daddy to call off a violent mob — with the National Archives.

Thompson would not have mentioned this if the committee had been able to obtain Ivanka’s side of many of these communications from the Archives (or at least seen them in documents Trump was attempting to claim privilege over). Thompson seems to know that Ivanka is not in compliance with the Presidential Records Act specifically as it pertains to her role on January 6.

Here’s the thing about conspiracies. Once you join them, you’re in them — you’re on the hook for what all other co-conspirators do, from acquiring weapons to bring to DC, to assaulting cops, to planning to overthrow the government — unless you make an affirmative effort to leave the conspiracy.

Ivanka might well point to that comment in her statement — The violence must stop immediately — as an effort to leave a conspiracy.

Except if she is covering up some of the things she knows by withholding records from the Archives, she’s going to have a hard time arguing that she didn’t remain in the conspiracy with all those people plotting violence by helping to cover it up.