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Felipe Marquez’ Plugged-In Misdemeanor Guilty Plea

Seven January 6 defendants are known to have pled guilty on Friday:

  • (Reportedly, though it hasn’t been docketed yet) Terry Brown, the last of a group of people arrested in the Capitol Visitor’s Center the day of the riot to plead out
  • Brandon Harrison and Douglas Wangler, who traveled to DC from Illinois together and, after Trump’s rally, walked to the Capitol and entered the East door after the Oath Keepers had already done so; they saw a pile of wood on the floor when they entered
  • Brandon and Stephanie Miller, an Ohio couple who bragged about witnessing history on Facebook
  • Cleveland Meredith Jr, who showed up — armed, but late — to insurrection but made credible threats against Nancy Pelosi (and did something else that remains sealed)
  • Felipe Marquez, who drove his Tesla Model 3 from Miami and claimed while inside the Capitol that, “we only broke some windows”

The Meredith plea — the only one that wasn’t a misdemeanor trespassing plea — was pretty interesting because his prosecutors still haven’t revealed the substance of some sealed filings that will be taken into consideration at sentencing. Plus, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was threatened by Roger Stone and some Proud Boys two years before they teamed up to set off an attack on the Capitol, seemed unimpressed with Meredith’s claims that his threats against Pelosi weren’t all that serious.

But the Marquez plea may be more interesting over time. At the very least, that’s because he may mark a decision by DOJ to let edge obstruction defendants plead down to 18 USC 1752, the more serious of the two misdemeanor trespassing charges.

As I’ve laid out repeatedly, DOJ has used 18 USC 1512(c)(2), part of the crime of obstruction, to charge those who allegedly expressed the clear intent to prevent the vote certification with a felony. Upwards of 200 people, total, have been charged with obstruction, including Marquez. But among those charged with obstruction, there’s a great range of actions taken on January 6. Those charged include those who participated in a conspiracy — like Graydon Young and Josiah Colt, Jacob Chansley, who left ominous comments for Mike Pence on his dais seat and blew off repeated orders to vacate the Senate Chamber, and Paul Hodgkins, who brought his Trump flag to the Senate floor but left when the cops instructed him to.

I laid out here how Hodgkins, after he was the first to plead guilty, was sentenced to 8 months in prison after getting a three level enhancement for significantly obstructing the vote certification. But since that happened, at least ten different defendants have challenged this application of obstruction, posing difficult decisions for a number of judges.

Indeed, in the last several days, a number of defendants charged with obstruction have explicitly waived Speedy Trial rights to await the outcome of these challenges. That’s going to create a backlog in the already enormous logjam of January 6 defendants.

So I wonder whether DOJ will begin let the edge 1512 cases plead down to 1752. Particularly given judges’ apparent willingness to jail the misdemeanor defendants, for defendants not given a “significant obstruction” enhancement like Hodgkins got, the sentencing guideline is not that different, with up to a year available under 1752 (and probation after that), versus a range of 8 to 14 months on obstruction (that in reality might be closer to 3 to 8 months). The primary (but nevertheless significant) difference would be the felony conviction.

To be clear, Marquez is not the first to plead down like this. Eliel Rosa pled to the less serious trespass charge, 40 USC 5104 after being charged with obstruction, but there may have been evidentiary reasons DOJ agreed to do that, and as an immigrant from Brazil, he risks deportation after his sentence in any case. Karl Dresch was charged with obstruction but pled to 5104 after serving six months in pre-trial confinement. Kevin Cordon, who was charged with obstruction but pled guilty at the same time as his brother — who was charged only with trespassing — pled to 1752 instead of obstruction, just like Marquez did.

In other words, in cases where there are other circumstances that make such a plea worthwhile to DOJ, they’re certainly willing to consider it.

Still, it’s possible that Marquez represents a shift on DOJ’s part to do that for more defendants, as part of an effort to avoid a big backlog pending the review of the 1512 charge.

Or, maybe not.

There were several other details of Marquez’ plea hearing of interest. The hearing started by talking about some kind of pretrial violation (possibly some kind of non-arrest run-in with law enforcement), which led to two new conditions being added to Marquez’s release, a mental health evaluation and a specific requirement to alert the government of any contact with law enforcement. That’s not how plea hearings usually start, but AUSA Jeffrey Nestler reaffirmed that DOJ wanted to go forward anyway. Judge Rudolph Contreras even asked whether the request for mental health evaluation raised questions about Marquez’ competency to plead guilty, though neither his attorney, Cara Halverson, nor Nestler, had any concerns about that.

Nestler, by the way, is one of the key prosecutors on the omnibus Oath Keeper case, and ably defended DOJ’s application of obstruction in that case in a hearing on Wednesday. Aside from that large group and cooperating Oath Keeper witness Caleb Berry, the only other January 6 case, besides Marquez’, that he is prosecuting is that of Guy Reffitt, who has ties to the 3%ers.

In addition to the oddities in Marquez’ plea hearing, there’s something not in his plea agreement that is standard boilerplate for all the plea agreements thus far: a cooperation paragraph. That paragraph is not a full cooperation agreement; rather, it simply requires the defendant to agree to be debriefed by the FBI. Here’s how it appears in Cordon’s plea agreement down from obstruction to 1752.

Your client agrees to allow law enforcement agents to review any social media accounts operated by your client for statements and postings in and around January 6, 2021, and conduct an interview of your client regarding the events in and around January 6, 2021 prior to sentencing.

Its absence suggests that Marquez has already been debriefed. Indeed, an April motion to continue the case described that the evidence against Marquez included, “social media data, cell phone extraction data, as well as custodial interview files,” suggesting he was interviewed on his arrest.

That Marquez may have already provided truthful information is of interest because he spent part of the riot in Jeff Merkley’s office. His statement of offense describes his actions there obliquely:

While inside the Capitol, Marquez entered the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley where he sat at a conference table with other rioters.

His arrest affidavit describes a video Marquez posted to Snapchat from his time there.

3:45 to 4:11 – This clip is from inside a conference room.2 Several people are seated and standing around a mahogany table. Some people say, “No stealing; don’t steal anything.” At 4:02, a hand is visible, holding a light-tan colored vape pen similar to the one MARQUEZ was holding in the car in the clip from 0:54 to 1:54. At 4:04, someone pushes over a table lamp and says, “Why would I want to steal this bullshit.”

4:11 to 4:20 (end) – In this clip MARQUEZ turns the camera lens to film himself. He is wearing a red “KEEP AMERICA GREAT” hat and has a yellow gaiter around his neck, similar to what he was wearing in the earlier clip from 0:54 to 1:54. MARQUEZ appears to still be indoors, with a distinctive blue piece of artwork – the same as seen in Senator Merkley’s hideaway office – on the wall behind him. This is a screenshot of MARQUEZ’s face from the video:

2 Based upon conversations with representatives of the United States Capitol Police, the conference room in which MARQUEZ 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 MARQUEZ’s Snapchat video is also visible on a video that Senator Merkley posted to Twitter on January 6, 2021, at 11:36 pm, documenting some of the damage to his office.

Still, none of these descriptions reveals what Marquez might have seen (and subsequently shared) while in Merkley’s office.

Presumably partly because there’s little to no security footage of what went down, the investigation into what happened in Merkley’s office is one of the most interesting subplots of the investigation. There have been a number of trespassers who seem to have been arrested just to get their footage of what happened.  There’s a defendant who has never been charged who was, nevertheless, given discovery on the laptop that got stolen from Merkley’s office. And in the last few weeks, Brandon Fellows (who like Marquez has been charged with just obstruction but spent time in Merkley’s office) got a CIPA notice, meaning the government wants to use classified evidence against him.

In short, we simply don’t know. There’s something interesting about this plea. But it’s unclear what that is.

The Dog Ate My Conflict — Car Accident — Ventilator — Disconnected Phones: Miscellany from the January 6 Investigation

I’m working on a few other things but wanted to capture a few details about the January 6 investigation.

John Pierce succeeds in hiring a new client from the COVID ward

Last week, I described how Ryan Marshall, an associate of John Pierce — the trial lawyer attempting to represent 17 January 6 defendants — claimed Pierce couldn’t be at a hearing for someone who would be his 18th because, “Mr. Pierce is in the hospital, we believe, with COVID-19, on a ventilator, non-responsive.”

After another hearing in which that associate, Marshall, showed up with few explanations, DOJ sent out notices to most of the defendants purportedly represented by Pierce, explaining the many conflicting explanations for Pierce’s absence offered in the last week.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has had no contact with Mr. Pierce—by phone, e-mail, or otherwise—since Monday, August 23, 2021, when he appeared for a hearing before the Honorable Paul L. Friedman in United States v. Jeremiah Caplinger, No. 21-cr-342 (PLF). Since that time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has heard conflicting information about Mr. Pierce’s health and whereabouts. The morning of Tuesday, August 24, Mr. Pierce was scheduled to appear before Judge Friedman for a status hearing in United States v. Nathaniel DeGrave, No. 21-cr-90. Mr. Pierce was not present at the hearing. Instead, Ryan Marshall—an associate from Mr. Pierce’s law firm who is not a licensed attorney—appeared in Mr. Pierce’s place and represented to the court that Mr. Pierce’s absence was due to a conflict. A few hours later, Mr. Marshall attended a reverse-proffer session with a different defendant represented by Mr. Pierce, telling the Assistant U.S. Attorney that he had just gotten word that Mr. Pierce had been in an accident and was on his way to the hospital. Mr. Marshall then proceeded with the reverse-proffer session in Mr. Pierce’s absence.

The next morning, August 25, Mr. Marshall again appeared in Mr. Pierce’s place at a hearing before the Honorable Amit P. Mehta in United States v. Shane Jenkins, No. 21-cr-245. At that hearing, Mr. Marshall represented to the court that Mr. Pierce was hospitalized with COVID19, on a ventilator, and non-responsive. After that information was reported publicly, a different individual reached out to an NPR correspondent and wrote that Mr. Pierce did not, in fact, have COVID, but instead “was hospitalized on Monday due to symptoms that he believed might be related to Covid-19”; “appears to have been suffering from dehydration and exhaustion”; and “remains under the care of his doctors[.]”3 On Thursday, August 26, Mr. Marshall again appeared before Judge Mehta in Mr. Pierce’s stead, this time in United States v. Peter Schwartz, No. 21-cr178. Before that hearing, Mr. Marshall told the Assistant U.S. Attorney that he had not had any direct contact with Mr. Pierce, but that one of Mr. Pierce’s friends had told him that Mr. Pierce was sick with COVID-19 and another had said he was not. During the hearing, Mr. Marshall requested, and was granted, a sealed bench conference at which to discuss Mr. Pierce’s condition. Later that evening, the same NPR correspondent reported that “[o]ne source close to attorney John Pierce tells me that [Mr.] Pierce is currently hospitalized, and has been diagnosed with COVID19, but firmly denied that he was ever placed on a ventilator.”4 Adding to the confusion, Mr. Pierce, who generally posts multiple messages to Twitter on a daily basis, has not tweeted since August 20.5 And there are reports that “multiple phone numbers for Pierce’s law firm, Pierce Bainbridge P.C., have been disconnected.” [my emphasis]

DOJ then declared all those cases to be “effectively at a standstill” and invited the respective judges to “take any steps [they] believe[] necessary to ensure that the defendant’s rights are adequately protected while Mr. Pierce remains hospitalized.”

Just as all these letters started to go out, the Notice of Attorney Appearance that Marshall had claimed had been filed on August 24, only dated August 30 and auto-signed by Pierce (who may or may not be on a ventilator), appeared in the docket for Shane Jenkins, the defendant at whose hearing Marshall first reported that Pierce was on a ventilator. Shortly thereafter a notice letter covering Jenkins went to Judge Amit Mehta, who had already received at least one for other Pierce defendants. It noted,

At an August 25, 2021, hearing before the Honorable Amit P. Mehta in United States v. Shane Jenkins, No. 21-cr-245 (APM), Ryan Marshall, an associate at Mr. Pierce’s firm, stated that Mr. Pierce now also represents Jenkins. A notice of appearance, purportedly signed by Mr. Pierce, was filed this morning (DE 22).

And with that filing, a man who may be incapacitated acquired an 18th defendant to represent.

WaPo has a good story on Pierce’s other shenanigans, including telling other defense attorneys that this is all a false flag operation and leaving one co-counsel unpaid.

“This whole thing was absolutely a false-flag FBI and intelligence community and military special operations set-up,” he wrote in a late July email to a group of lawyers coordinating defense efforts. The message was shared with The Washington Post. “I don’t [think] a single defendant should take any plea that involves one additional day in jail. At least that’s my mind-set.”

Another attorney replied, “John, can you explain more about how this false flag set-up worked? I’m unclear about the details of what you’re saying.” Pierce did not elaborate.

In another email chain discussing Capitol Police interviews, Pierce wrote, “THIS WHOLE THING WAS AN LEO/IC SET-UP,” referring to law enforcement officers and the intelligence community, “AND WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER TO PROVE IT.”

[snip]

James Kelly, listed as co-counsel with Pierce in a Jan. 6 case, said Monday that he cut ties with the firm in June because he wasn’t paid, is withdrawing from the case and declined further public comment.

The December 17 cooperation update in the Oath Keepers investigation

Meanwhile, things seem to be progressing in the Oath Keepers case. As a reminder, there are four known cooperators in the case: Jon Schaffer, Mark Grods, Graydon Young, and Caleb Berry. In each, Judge Amit Mehta set a two month deadline for the first status report.

In the Schaffer case, the status report submitted on or before June 16 was quickly sealed; indeed, everything since his plea remains sealed.

In both the Graydon Young and Mark Grods case, however, the status report recently got filed.

In the case of Young, the notice similarly reported on ongoing cooperation, asked that Young’s release conditions be relaxed (to match those of other cooperators, though it doesn’t say this), and asked for December 17 to be the next status report in Graydon Young’s case.

The parties report that Defendant Graydon Young continues to cooperate with the government. We request the opportunity to file a further status report by December 17, 2021.

Defendant Young requests that the Court modify his release conditions, stepping him down from home incarceration to an appearance bond on personal recognizance, with the following conditions: not obtain a passport, surrender any passport, not possess any firearms or destructive weapons, not have any contact with co-defendants or associates or affiliates of the Oath Keepers, stay out of Washington, D.C., and notify Pretrial of any travel outside the Middle District of Florida. The government does not oppose this request.

In the Grods case, DOJ asked for the next status report to be due on the same day, December 17.

The parties report that Defendant Mark Grods continues to cooperate with the government. We request the opportunity to file a further status report by December 17, 2021

Berry pled guilty more recently, so his first status report isn’t due until September 21, two months after his plea.

None of this is all that surprising, but the fact that DOJ harmonized the next report date for Young and Grods, who would otherwise be a week apart, suggests DOJ thinks of that as a milestone in the Oath Keeper case. It may be tied to the first trial date for the conspirators, currently set for January 31, 2022. Or it may reflect some understanding of what the prosecutors think they have before them.

If it’s the latter, it says they’ve got four more months of investigation to complete before they’ll finish.

“Zachary Studabaker’s” best-in-riot passwords

In a bid to delay trial for Zachary Alam, the guy who punched through the Speaker’s Lobby door with his bare fist, prosecutor Candice Wong gave an updated status on discovery for him (see this post on discovery provided to those who helped Alam break through the Speaker’s Lobby doors; Wong has sent Alam one, two, three, four, five, six). As part of that paragraph, Wong disclosed that the government is still trying to crack the passwords on multiple devices belonging to Alam.

The government has provided defense counsel with significant case-specific discovery, as outlined in seven discovery notices filed with the Court between March 26, 2021, and July 14, 2021. See ECF Nos. 10, 14, 17, 20-22, 24. The materials provided include videos encompassing surveillance footage from the U.S. Capitol Police, body-worn-camera footage from the Metropolitan Police Department, open-source videos posted on news and social media platforms, and videos obtained through legal process or voluntary productions in other Capitol investigations that depict the defendant. Case-specific discovery provided to the defendant also includes reports of interviews with civilian and law enforcement witnesses, grand jury materials, search warrant returns, subpoena returns, and jail calls. As the defendant was inside the Capitol for over half an hour, covered four floors, and had multiple interactions while he was there, the government continues to identify and produce additional case-specific materials. Also forthcoming are extractions of the multiple digital devices recovered from the defendant upon his arrest, for which law enforcement is still attempting to decrypt the defendant’s password protections.

The fifth discovery letter, above, describes four devices obtained via a warrant.

It’s not surprising that Alam would have pretty solid passwords. A detention motion in the case described that Alam used aliases…

Moreover, the defendant is known to have used aliases. Lawfully obtained records show that the defendant has provided multiple false names to service providers, including at least one false name – “Zachary Studabaker” – for services since the events of January 6, 2021.

Stolen license plates…

In addition, according to the government’s information, the defendant was at the time of his arrest driving a vehicle that he had purchased around September 2020 but never registered, and for which the defendant had used multiple license plates, including in recent months. These include a Washington, D.C. license plate, found inside the defendant’s vehicle in Pennsylvania, which was reported stolen in 2018 by an individual who indicated that the front license plate was taken off his vehicle while parked in Northwest D.C. D.C. traffic cameras captured a black Chevy truck matching the description of the defendant’s vehicle bearing this license plate as recently as January 4, 2021. Moreover, when agents located the defendant at the motel in Pennsylvania, they observed the defendant’s black Chevy truck parked outside and noted that it bore Pennsylvania license plates for a Mazda vehicle.

False identification…

Upon arrest, moreover, the defendant had multiple identification cards in his wallet, including a D.C. driver’s license and a D.C. identification card for one male, a Permanent Resident card for a second male, and University student identification card for a female.

Burner phones…

Among the items agents seized from the defendant’s motel room nightstand, moreover, were two mobile phones – a Verizon flip phone as well as an iPhone.

[snip]

For “Sun 1/10/21,” the defendant had written “activate burner,” indicating that four days after the events at the U.S. Capitol, he began using a “burner” phone. That “burner” appears to refer to the Verizon flip phone that agents recovered, as executing agents photographed a receipt dated January 10, 2021, for a “Verizon” phone paid for with $65.13 in cash at a Walmart in Pennsylvania.

Cryptocurrency…

The defendant’s other notes from January 10 referred to his intent to “buy crypto[currency]” and “consolidate crypto,”

[snip]

Meanwhile, on “Wed 1/13,” the notes indicate that the defendant planned to “buy CRV on Binance,” an online exchange for trading cryptocurrencies.

[snip]

He also wrote on another page, “Research security (location intelligence)” and “Research how to launder BTC [bitcoin]” right above notes that likewise appear to concern January 6: “Wanted a civilized discussion w/ our representatives but the door wouldn’t open” and “Call out Pence – should have been over.”

And (a poorly implemented) VPN…

Indeed, in a jail call he made on February 21, 2021, the defendant told an individual that he believed he had been tracked down by law enforcement through GPS on his phone and complained that he had downloaded “VPN on my phone” and “got IP Vanish” but that it was “a bullshit service”; “I tried to make that thing run all the time, and it just shut off like randomly sometimes… They can’t f–ing have the VPN running 24 hours? Basically the same thing as not having it… That’s how they figured out my general location.”

But that’s the thing: Alam was using a great deal of operational security. But when it came down to it, he used a free VPN and had his burner phone sitting on a nightstand right next to his smart phone. He was attempting to use operational security, but he was botching it at every opportunity.

And yet the FBI has not yet cracked passwords on multiple — at least two — of the four devices they seized from him, after arresting him seven months ago. FBI has had limited difficulties getting into January 6 defendants’ phones (the most notable of which was solved when they forced Guy Reffitt to use his face to open his Surface Pro), and there are suspects — including two charged suspects and one who fled bail — who have spent longer periods than Alam as fugitives. But this detail seems to suggest that Alam has the best passwords among the 600 January 6 defendants.

Joseph Hackett’s Detention Argument: Guns, Operational Security, and Involvement in Kelly Meggs’ Plans for Nancy Pelosi

In a status hearing in the Oath Keeper conspiracy case on August 10, Kathryn Rakoczy revealed the government had provided “certain information” to defendants that might limit or shape defense theories. She then mentioned uncharged individuals or unindicted co-conspirators.

How Person Fifteen became D-2

Then yesterday, in a memo supporting continued pretrial detention for Joseph Hackett, the government rolled out a new way to refer to those who’ve entered into cooperation agreements against their former co-conspirators (and siblings): D-1 and D-4, as opposed to Person One, Person Two, and Person Ten.

D-1, who shared details of the organizational structure of the Florida Oath Keepers, may be Graydon Young, whom the indictment describes getting operational security instructions from Hackett shortly after he joined the Oath Keepers and who lives about 30 miles from Sarasota.

According to a defendant who has pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation plea agreement (and who will be referred to as D-1), Defendant Hackett was the “leader” of the Oath Keeper CPT5 group of approximately five men from the Sarasota area. According to D-1, the organization’s hierarchy had D-1 reporting to the CPT team leader (here, Hackett), who would report to the State lead (here, Kelly Meggs).

5 D-1 did not know what CPT stood for, but other Oath Keeper materials suggest it stood for “community preparedness team.”

D-4, who shared details of what Hackett did on January 7, may be Caleb Berry, who drove to and from the insurrection from Florida.

According to a defendant who has pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation plea agreement (and who will be referred to as D-4), Defendant Hackett was one of the members of the Oath Keepers who deposited long guns at the Comfort Inn Ballston on January 5 and collected them on January 7.

[snip]

In other words, while Defendant Hackett had his phone with him at the Capitol – he is seen on surveillance video holding it up to take a picture or video, and he admitted to D-4 that he had recorded a video that he later deleted – he took substantial efforts to ensure that he would not be linked to the phone, and that the phone would not be linked to the Capitol attack.

[snip]

According to D-4, on January 7, 2021, while Defendant Hackett was in a car driving from Washington, D.C., to Florida, with co-defendant Kelly Meggs and others, he admitted that he had already deleted from his iPhone a video he had taken while inside the Capitol the prior day

But the numbering system is bound to make Oath Keepers and conspiracists like Darren Beattie, Tucker Carlson, and Glenn Greenwald more paranoid. That’s because, if my assumptions above are correct, the counting appears to start with Young, not the first Oath Keeper known to enter a cooperation agreement, Jon Schaffer, who did so on April 14 (Young was second, Mark Grods was third, and Berry was fourth; the subtitle of this section is based on a wildarse guess that in this scheme, Grods, who was described before he flipped as Person Fifteen, would become D-2). That suggests someone else may have flipped, possibly between June 28 (when Grods pled) and July 7 (when Berry did).

Checking the East Door

The detention motion includes a long description of Hackett’s attempts to use operational security while hanging out with a bunch of people who weren’t, such as this picture showing him using his customary face covering while hanging out with a bunch of people who didn’t.

It also elaborates on a narrative that had shown up in earlier detention motions. It describes Hackett moving inside the Capitol with (it says) Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson, from the Rotunda to outside of Nancy Pelosi’s door. From there, Hackett walked back to the East Door of the Capitol, as if he was waiting for someone, and then returned to (the government presumes, though they may have video of this now from other defendants) Pelosi’s door.

Attached as Exhibit 3 is a compilation of Defendant Hackett’s movements within the Capitol for the approximately 12 minutes he remained inside, as captured on surveillance video. Notably, he spent most of his time with his co-conspirators Kelly Meggs, Moerschel, and Harrelson. At around 2:45 p.m., Defendant Hackett left the Rotunda through the south door, headed towards the House of Representatives (and the office of Speaker Pelosi).

[snip]

Defendant Hackett was not visible on camera for approximately one minute. He then went to check on the exterior doors through which the group entered, before returning to his coconspirators south of the Rotunda, near the Speaker’s office, where he remained, off camera, for approximately 5 minutes. This is the area and the time that Kelly Meggs and Harrelson were similarly not visible on surveillance video.

Exhibit 3 consists of 26 photos showing which of his actions from inside the Capitol were captured on CCTV — far more detail than the three paragraphs describing Hackett’s movement included in the indictment.

146. After they penetrated the Capitol building, CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, Young, STEELE, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, DOLAN, ISAACS, MOERSCHEL, Berry, and the others in the Stack collectively moved into an area inside the building known as the Capitol Rotunda.

[snip]

155. At2:45 p.m, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, DOLAN, MOERSCHEL, and Berry walked southbound outof the Rotunda and towards the House ofRepresentatives.

[snip]

158. At2:54 p.m. HACKETT and MOERSCHEL exited the Capitol.

After milling about the Rotunda, Hackett walks across it to talk to Meggs and Harrelson. Berry — who may be D-4, but who definitely has agreed to tell the government everything he knows — was present.

The detention memo suggests they — apparently including Berry and Connie Meggs, though the detention motion doesn’t mention them — went from here to stand outside Pelosi’s office, and then Hackett — apparently by himself — came back through the Rotunda, stood outside the East Door, looking outward, as if waiting to meet with someone.

Hackett then enters back into the Capitol, goes back to where he (apparently) left Moerschel, Harrelson, and Meggs, along with Berry and Connie Meggs (though they aren’t mentioned) and then he and Moerschel exit the building.

Joseph Hackett’s detention motion is about Kelly Meggs

The government largely substantiates their argument that Hackett is too much a threat to be released with their evidence that he’s a leader of an organized militia, armed, and went to great lengths — both in real time and after the fact — to obscure his actions. Hackett’s actions inside the Capitol — unlike many of his co-defendants, he is not charged with an additional resisting cops or civil disorder charge for anything he did inside the building — would seem to add little.

The government gets there, repeatedly, by tying Hackett’s own actions to those of Meggs, to whom (D-1 has testified) he reported in the Oath Keeper hierarchy. In Hackett’s detention motion, for example, the government adds to a text they had included, in similar associative fashion, in Kenneth Harrelson’s detention motion showing Meggs admitting that “we looked for[] her.

In Hackett’s detention memo, they show that the night of the election (they get the conversation from UTC wrong and falsely claim this happened very late the night of the election; it would have happened before polls closed in much of the country), Meggs was threatening to “go on a killing spree … Pelosi first.”

And, almost gratuitously, the government uses a reference to the DC Circuit’s decision upholding Christopher Worrell’s detention as a way to remind Judge Amit Mehta that Meggs had purportedly orchestrated a plan with the Proud Boys.

In Worrell, the D.C. Circuit held that the “district court’s dangerousness determination was [not] clearly erroneous,” based in part on the defendant’s “membership in and alleged coordination with the Proud Boys, some of whose members have been indicted for conspiring to attack Congress.” 848 F. App’x at 5-6.8 The same heightened dangerousness applies here, as the actions of self-proclaimed members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are similarly situated in terms of their dangerousness based both on their personal actions and their coordination with their coconspirators. And not only have 18 Oath Keeper members and affiliates (Defendant Hackett included) been indicted in this case, but there is also evidence of coordination between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. (See Gov’t Opp to Kelly Meggs’ Motion for Pretrial Release (ECF 98) at 8 (quoting December 22, 2020, Facebook message: “we have made Contact with PB and they always have a big group”)), and 10 (quoting December 25, 2020, Facebook message: “we have orchestrated a plan with the proud boys. I have been communicating with [redacted] the leader.”).)

It’s as if to say that Hackett is dangerous by himself, but he’s especially dangerous (or just as likely, important to flip) because he was part of what Kelly Meggs was involved with on the day of the insurrection.

The pictures included as an exhibit seem to suggest that not just Hackett — but also Connie Meggs (who would have spousal privilege but who also just got a new lawyer) and Caleb Berry, who may be D-4, a witness to efforts to try to destroy evidence about what happened during the insurrection — were witnesses to whatever Meggs was up to when he went to the office of the woman he threatened to kill on the night Biden won the election. What Hackett would know is why he went back to the door of the Capitol, as if awaiting someone.

According to the government, that makes him dangerous and likely to obstruct the investigation.

Update: This analysis adds to the evidence that Berry is the guy standing by the stair doors at the QRF hotel, and therefore almost certainly D-4.

Scott Fairlamb Pled Guilty to Obstruction and Assault; Does That Amount to Terrorism?

Two January 6 assault defendants pled guilty yesterday, Scott Fairlamb and Devlyn Thompson, the first defendants to plead to assault. Here’s my live tweet of Fairlamb’s sentencing.

There’s a detail of those plea agreements that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

While both plea agreements (Fairlamb, Thompson) include the Estimated Guidelines sentence for the crimes the men pled to, both allow DOJ to request an upward departure for a terrorism enhancement. That means that, while the existing guidelines make it look like these men face around four years in prison, DOJ may come back and argue they should be sentenced to something closer to ten years. I wouldn’t be surprised if DOJ did so with Fairlamb.

Here’s how the sentencing works for Fairlamb, who pled guilty to assault and obstruction.

It starts with the math for both crimes. In both cases, Fairlamb faces an enhancement off base level charges. On the obstruction charge, Fairlamb got penalized for both his physical threats and engaging in substantial interference. On the assault charge, he got an enhancement for punching a cop, an official victim.

From there, Fairlamb gets two-plus-one-points off for pleading guilty.

That results an Estimated Offense Level of 22, based on the assumption the sentences will be served concurrently. Once you factor in Fairlamb’s past assault convictions, his Estimated Guidelines sentence is 41 to 51 months.

But!

There’s a big *but* in the plea deal. The plea deal lays out what each side can argue about next month when Fairlamb will be sentenced.

The parties agree that, solely for the purposes of calculating the applicable range under the Sentencing Guidelines, neither a downward nor upward departure from the Estimated Guidelines Range set forth above is warranted, except the Government reserves the right to request an upward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4. Except as provided for in the “Reservation of Allocution” section below, the parties also agree that neither party will seek any offense-level calculation different from the Estimated Offense Level calculated above in subsection A. However, the parties are free to argue for a Criminal History Category different from that estimated above in subsection B. [my emphasis]

Neither side will deviate from this math except that both sides can argue that Fairlamb’s past assaults result in a different criminal history category than used to calculate these guidelines. Since the guidelines calculated here are based off the lowest category, this can only work against Fairlamb going forward.

More importantly — as AUSA Leslie Goemaat made a point of noting explicitly for the record in yesterday’s sentencing — the government reserves the right to argue for an upward departure under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4.

That’s a reference to a terrorism enhancement.

4. Upward Departure Provision.—By the terms of the directive to the Commission in section 730 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the adjustment provided by this guideline applies only to federal crimes of terrorism. However, there may be cases in which (A) the offense was calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct but the offense involved, or was intended to promote, an offense other than one of the offenses specifically enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B); or (B) the offense involved, or was intended to promote, one of the offenses specifically enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B), but the terrorist motive was to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, rather than to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. In such cases an upward departure would be warranted, except that the sentence resulting from such a departure may not exceed the top of the guideline range that would have resulted if the adjustment under this guideline had been applied.

This language allows the judge to bump that Offense Level up 12 points, up to but no further than 32.

Even assuming the government does not argue that Fairlamb’s criminal history category should be higher, that would still bump up his potential Guidelines Sentence — if the government were to choose to exercise this option and if Royce Lamberth were to agree that Fairlamb’s crimes were an attempt to influence the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion — to 121 to 151 months.

In other words, while the headlines are saying that Fairlamb could face a roughly 4-year sentence, if the government argues that his actions had a political motive and Judge Lamberth agrees, then in reality Fairlamb could be facing a 10-year sentence or more. And in Fairlamb’s case, he already pled to a crime, obstruction, that admits to that political purpose.

As part of Fairlamb’s Statement of Offense, he agreed under oath that,

When FAIRLAMB unlawfully entered the Capitol building, armed with a police baton, he was aware that the Joint Session to certify the Electoral College results had commenced. FAIRLAMB unlawfully entered the building and assaulted Officer Z.B. with the purpose of influencing, affecting, and retaliating against the conduct of government by stopping or delaying the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion. FAIRLAMB admits that his belief that the Electoral College results were fraudulent is not a legal justification for unlawfully entering the Capitol building and using intimidating [sic] to influence, stop, or delay the Congressional proceeding.

That is, he already admitted his actions were intended to intimidate or coerce the government, the language required to invoke the terrorism enhancement.

Even if this application of the obstruction statute were thrown out (meaning his sentence would start at 17 instead of 22), if Judge Lamberth decided the terrorism enhancement applied, he could still face an 87 to 108 month sentence.

The government will not necessarily invoke this language. The terrorism enhancement language also appeared in Paul Hodgkins’ plea agreement, but AUSA Mona Sedky specifically noted at sentencing that the government was not invoking it in Hodgkins’ case.

The language does not appear in the five known cooperation pleas (Caleb Berry, Josiah Colt, Mark Grods, Jon Schaffer, Graydon Young). Indeed, as I’ve noted, by pleading their way out of the existing Oath Keeper conspiracy, Young and the other Oath Keepers also got out of the depredation of government property charge that is explicitly among those that can carry a terrorism enhancement. There appear to be at least three Proud Boys charged in conspiracies considering pleading, and I imagine they’d be looking at the same deal, a way out of being treated as a terrorist in exchange for their cooperation. For those willing to cooperate against their buddies, it seems, the government is willing to trade away the possibility of calling the person’s actions terrorism.

There has already been at least one case where a defendant’s lawyer described reluctance to accept a plea offer because it included this terrorism enhancement language. I would imagine the inclusion of this language in plea deals is one reason why so few defendants have taken pleas even when faced with abundant video evidence of their own crimes.

I likewise imagine that the government won’t argue for the enhancement in all cases where it appears in a plea (as noted, Sedky specifically declined to invoke it with Hodgkins).

But in Fairlamb’s case, as part of their argument to hold Fairlamb in pretrial detention, the government has argued he was arming and preparing for war. And Fairlamb swore under oath both that he engaged in violence and that he did so with the intent of coercing the government to stop or delay the certification of a democratic election.

Fairlamb will be sentenced on September 27. So we may learn then whether Federal judges — and as I noted, many of the ones presiding over January 6 cases, including Lamberth, also had key roles in the War on Terror — consider January 6 to be terrorism.

Update: Here’s Lamberth’s order upholding the government request for pre-trial detention. It was one of the first he issued after he was sort-of reversed in Munschel, and as such may reflect more chastened language. But he clearly thinks that Fairlamb’s behavior on January 6 fairly exceptional.

Here’s how he described January 6 in the original Munchel decision, though.

The grand jury charged Munchel with grave offenses. In charging Munchel with “forcibly enter[ing] and remain[ing] in the Capitol to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote,” Indictment 1, ECF No. 21, the grand jury alleged that Munchel used force to subvert a democratic election and arrest the peaceful transfer of power. Such conduct threatens the republic itself. See George Washington, Farewell Address (Sept. 19, 1796) (“The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government. All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.”). Indeed, few offenses are more threatening to our way of life.

DOJ Unimpressed by Mo Brooks’ Kickass Conspiracy Defense

Last night, DOJ refused to certify that Mo Brooks’ actions laid out in a lawsuit by Eric Swalwell were done in the course of his employment as a Congressman. To understand why, and why Brooks may have given DOJ an easy way to prosecute him in conjunction with January 6, you have to look at the sworn declaration Brooks submitted in support of a claim that his call on Trump rally attendees to “kick ass” was part of his duty as a Congressperson.

Broadly, the Swalwell lawsuit accuses Brooks of conspiring with Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, and Rudy Giuliani to violate his civil rights by trying to prevent him from performing his official duties. One of the descriptions of the conspiracy is:

169. As described more fully in this Complaint, the Defendants, by force, intimidation, or threat, agreed and conspired among themselves and with others to prevent members of Congress, including the Plaintiff, and Vice President Mike Pence from counting the Electoral College Votes and certifying President Biden and Vice President Harris as the winners of the 2020 presidential election.

It alleges Brooks committed a number of overt acts, which include a series of Tweets that mirror and in one case anticipate the public claims the other alleged co-conspirators made, as well as his speech at the January 6 Trump rally where he incited listeners to “kick ass” to save the Republic.

Mo Brooks addressed the large crowd at the January 6 rally. He said “America is at risk unlike it has been in decades, and perhaps centuries.” He told the crowd to start “kicking ass,” and he spoke with reverence, at a purportedly peaceful demonstration, of how “our ancestors sacrificed their blood, sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives,” before shouting at the crowd “Are you willing to do the same?!” Brooks intended these words as a threat of violence or intimidation to block the certification vote from even occurring and/or to coerce members of Congress to disregard the results of the election.

In general, Brooks’ sworn declaration, submitted in support of a petition to certify that he was acting within the scope of his office as a Congressperson, claimed over and over that the actions he admits to (he claims all but one of the Tweets in question were sent by his staffers) were done,

pursuant to my duties and job as a United States Congressman concerning presidential election dispute resolution obligations imposed on Congress by the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 12 in particular, and the United States Code, 3 U.S.C. 15 in particular.

That includes, for example, when Brooks claims he,

drafted my January 6, 2021 Ellipse Speech in my office at the Rayburn House Office building on my Congressional Office computer. I also timed, reviewed and revised, and practiced my Ellipse Speech in my office at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Claiming such actions were part of his duties as a Congressperson is how Brooks responds to most of the allegations against him. One notable exception is when he claimed,

I only gave an Ellipse Speech because the White House asked me, in my capacity as a United States Congressman, to speak at the Ellipse Rally. But for the White House request, I would not have appeared at the Ellipse Rally.

The far more notable exception came when, presumably in an effort to disclaim intending to invite rally participants to “kick ass” on January 6, Brooks explains that the “kicking ass” was instead an effort to get Republicans to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Swalwell errs by splicing one sentence and omitting the preceding sentence in a two-sentence paragraph that emphasizes I am talking about “kicking ass” in the 2022 and 2024 ELECTIONSThe full paragraph states, in toto:

But lets be clear, regardless of today’s outcome, the 2022 and the 2024 elections are right around the corner, and America does not need and cannot stand, cannot tolerate any more weakling, cowering, wimpy Republican Congressmen and Senators who covet the power and the prestige the swamp has to offer, while groveling at the feet and the knees of the special interest group masters. As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start by taking down names and kicking ass.

My intent in uttering these words was to encourage Ellipse Rally attendees to put the 2020 elections behind them (and, in particular, the preceding day’s two GOP Senator losses in Georgia) and to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections.

“As such” is the key phrase in the second sentence because it emphasizes that the paragraph’s second sentence is in the context of the paragraph’s first sentence’s 2022 and 2024 election cycles (that began November 4, 2020).

Consisted with this is the middle part of the paragraph’s second sentence, which states, “taking down names”. Whose names are to be “taken down”? The names of those Senators and Congressmen who do not vote for honest and accurate elections after the House and Senate floor debates later in that afternoon and evening. Once we get and “take down” their names, our task is to “kick their ass” in the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. [emphasis original]

This claim is inconsistent with many of the other claims that Brooks makes. And claiming that he means to replace Senators and Congresspeople who don’t vote against the legal outcome of the election only defers the threats against those who don’t participate in an election scam.

But the most important part, for the purposes of Brooks’ efforts to dodge this lawsuit, is that he has just confessed, in a sworn declaration, to have been campaigning when he delivered the speech that he wrote using official resources.

That’s one of the points that Zoe Lofgren made, in her role as Chair of the Committee on House Administration, when providing a response from Congress in lieu of one from the House General Counsel. After noting that Members of Congress cannot, as part of their official duties, commit a crime, she then notes that members are also prohibited from using official resources for campaign purposes.

Conduct that is campaign or political in nature is also outside the scope of official duties and not permissible official activity. For example, regulations of the Committee on House Administration provide that a Member may use their official funds only for “official and representational expenses,” and “may not pay for campaign expenses” or “campaign-related political party expenses with such funds.”5

Similarly, the Committee on Ethics notes that, “Official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes.”6 For purposes of this rule, “official resources” includes not only official funds, but “goods and services purchased with those funds,” “House buildings, and House rooms and offices,” “congressional office equipment,” “office supplies,” and “congressional staff time.”7 The limitations on the authorized use of official time and space for campaign or political purposes extends to activities such as “the drafting of campaign speeches, statements, press releases, or literature.”8 Moreover, the scope of campaign or political activities that may not be conducted with official resources is not limited to the Member’s own reelection campaign. As the Committee on Ethics explains:

Members and staff should be aware that the general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking. Thus the prohibition applies to, for example, campaigns for the presidency, the U.S. Senate, or a state or local office, and it applies to such campaigns whether the Member is a candidate or is merely seeking to support or assist (or oppose) a candidate in such a campaign.9

In his motion, Representative Brooks represents to the court that he intended his January 6, 2021, speech to incite action by the thousands of attendees with respect to election activity. Representative Brooks states that he sought “to encourage Ellipse Rally attendees to put the 2020 elections behind them (and, in particular, the preceding day’s two Georgia GOP Senate losses) and to inspire listeners to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections, which had already begun.”10 For example, Representative Brooks affirms that in his speech, he said, “Today is a time of choosing, and tomorrow is a time for fighting.” 11 According to Representative Brooks, the first half of that statement, “Today is a time of choosing,” is not a “call for violence,” but is instead a reference to “[w]hich Senators and Congressmen to support, and oppose, in future elections.”12 Further, he explains that the second half of that statement, “tomorrow is a time for fighting,” is a reference to “fighting” “[t]hose who don’t vote like citizens prefer … in future elections, as is emphasized later in the speech.”13

Similarly, Representative Brooks also declares that in his speech, he said, that “the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner” and that “As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” 14 As he said “the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner,” Representative Brooks withdrew a red cap that stated “FIRE PELOSI” from his coat, donned the cap, and wore it for the remainder of his speech.15 Representative Brooks says that, “The phrase, ‘As such’ emphasizes that the second sentence is in the context of the first sentence’s ‘2022 and 2024 elections’ time frame … and the desire to beat offending Republicans in those elections!”16 He asks and answers his own question about the timing: “When do citizens kick those Republican asses? As stated in the first sentence, in the ‘2022 and 2024 elections that are right around the corner.’”17 He later affirms that, “My ‘kicking ass’ comment referred to what patriotic Republicans needed to do in the 2022 and 2024 elections and had zero to do with the Capitol riot.”18

For Lofgren’s purpose, the important part is that Brooks has sworn under oath that the specific language that seemed to invite violence was instead campaign activity outside the scope of his official duties.

Essentially, in deflecting the allegation that his speech was an incitement to violence, Representative Brooks has sworn under oath to the court that his conduct was instead in furtherance of political campaigns. As noted, standards of conduct that apply to Members and precedents of the House are clear that campaign activity is outside the scope of official duties and not a permissible use of official resources.

She doesn’t say it, but Brooks’ declaration, including his confession that he wrote the speech in his office, is also a sworn declaration that he violated campaign finance laws by using his office for campaign activities.

The DOJ response to Brooks’ request for certification cites Lofgren’s letter while adopting a similar approach to it, one that would extend beyond Brooks’ actions to Trump himself. The entire rally, they say, was a campaign rally, and therefore outside the scope of Brooks’ employment as a Congressperson — or the scope of employment of any elected official.

The record indicates that the January 6 rally was an electioneering or campaign activity that Brooks would ordinarily be presumed to have undertaken in an unofficial capacity. Activities specifically directed toward the success of a candidate for a partisan political office in a campaign context—electioneering or campaign activities—are not within the scope of the office or employment of a Member of the House of Representatives. Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

This understanding that the scope of federal office excludes campaign activity is broadly reflected in numerous authorities. This Court, for example, emphasized “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection” in holding that House or Senate mailings aimed at that purpose are “unofficial communication[s].” Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982) (upholding statute that provided franking privileges for official communications but not unofficial communications).

The current House Ethics Manual confirms that the official business of Members of the House does not include seeking election or reelection for themselves or others. House resources generally cannot be used for campaign purposes, and Members’ staff may engage in campaign work only “on their own time and outside the congressional office.” House Ethics Manual, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, 110th Cong., 2d Sess., at 121 (2008). For instance, Representatives cannot conduct campaign activities from House buildings or offices or use official letterhead or insignia, and congressional staff on official time should terminate interviews that focus on campaign issues. See id. at 127–29, 133. Of direct relevance here, a Member of Congress also cannot use official resources to engage in presidential campaigns: “[T]he general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking,” and this “prohibition applies to, for example, campaigns for the Presidency.” Id. at 124; see Lofgren Letter 2.

First, the record indicates that Brooks’s conduct was undertaken as part of a campaign-type rally, and campaign activity is not “of the kind he is employed to perform,” or “within the authorized time and space limits” for a Member of Congress. Restatement §§ 228(1)(a), (b). Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c). Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. [my emphasis]

Brooks might object to DOJ’s determination that the entire rally was a campaign event; he claims the other parts of his speech were part of his duty as a Congressperson. But if pressed on that point, the inconsistencies within his own sworn declaration would either support the view that Trump’s actions also weren’t part of his official duties, or that he himself meant the “kick ass” comment to refer to events of the day and therefore did incite violence. That is, the inconsistencies in Brooks’ sworn declaration may corner him into statements that go against Trump’s interests as well.

Importantly, DOJ’s filing treats the question of whether Brooks committed a crime as a separate issue entirely, asking Judge Amit Mehta not to rule in Brooks’ favor without first analyzing Brooks’ conduct to determine if the conduct alleged in the complaint — which happens to be but which DOJ doesn’t spell out — is a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, the same charge used against three different militias charged in January 6.

Once again, DOJ emphasizes that this language applies to any Federal employee.

Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint.

[snip]

Here, the Complaint alleges that Brooks conspired with the other Defendants and the “rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6” to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes. Compl. ¶ 12. To serve that end, the Complaint alleges that, among other things, the Defendants conspired amongst themselves and with others to “injure members of Congress . . . and Vice President Pence” in an effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 12, 171, 179. Such a conspiracy would clearly be outside the scope of the office of a Member of Congress: Inciting or conspiring to foment a violent attack on the United States Congress is not within the scope of employment of a Representative—or any federal employee— and thus is not the sort of conduct for which the United States is properly substituted as a defendant under the Westfall Act.

Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations that he conspired to incite the attack on the Capitol. See Brooks Aff. 17–18.5 The Department of Justice does not address that issue here. The campaign or electioneering nature of Brooks’s participation in the January 6 rally independently warrants denial of certification, and the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more broadly.6 But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. Cf. Osborn v. Haley, 549 U.S. 225, 252 (2007) (recognizing that scope-of-employment questions may overlap substantially with the merits of a tort claim).

6 As this Court is aware, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for several months continued their investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack. This investigation is ongoing. More than 535 defendants have been arrested across the country and at least 165 defendants have been charged on counts ranging from destruction of government property to conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding. See Department of Justice Statement, https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/six-monthsjanuary-6th-attack-capitol. [my emphasis]

Someone could write a book on how many important cases Judge Mehta has presided over in recent years. But he’s got a slew of January 6 defendants, including all the Oath Keeper conspirators. And so Mehta is not just aware that DOJ is conducting an ongoing investigation, he has also presided over four guilty pleas for conspiring to obstruct the vote count, close to (but charged under a different law) as the claim Swalwell made in his complaint.

So Mehta has already accepted that it is a crime to obstruct the vote count, four different times, with Jon Schaffer, Graydon Young, Mark Grods, and Caleb Berry. He’d have a hard time ruling that, if Swalwell’s allegations are true (as noted, Brooks contends that some of them are not, and they certainly don’t yet present enough proof to support a criminal prosecution), Brooks would be exempt from the same criminal conspiracy charges that the Oath Keepers are pleading guilty to.

DOJ’s declaration is not (just) an attempt to create space — by distinguishing campaign activities from official duties — between this and DOJ’s decision to substitute for Trump in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit. It is an effort to preserve the principle that not just Congresspeople, but all Federal employees, may be charged and convicted of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, particularly for actions taken as part of campaign activities.