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DOJ’s Reply Motion for Carl Nichols’ Reconsideration on 1512: Other Judge Other Judges Other Judges

I’ve written two posts on former Clarence Thomas clerk Carl Nichols’ outlier ruling rejecting DOJ’s use of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to January 6. (one, two)

Yesterday, they submitted their reply motion. It reads like this:

Reconsideration of the substantive ruling in Miller is appropriate because that ruling is inconsistent with decisions from every other judge on this Court to have considered the issue. That inconsistency means proving a violation of Section 1512(c)(2) requires additional facts in this case (and other Section 1512(c)(2) cases in front of this Court) but not in any case before any of the other judges of this Court. Moreover, with one exception, the Court’s ruling in Miller did not address the opinions from other judges of this Court, some of whom have explicitly disagreed with this Court after Miller issued.

[snip]

As noted in the government’s reconsideration motion, every other judge of this Court to consider this issue has concluded that Section 1512(c)(2) “prohibits obstruction by means other than document destruction.” United States v. Sandlin, No. 21-cr-88, 2021 WL 5865006, at *5 (D.D.C. Dec. 10, 2021) (Friedrich, J.); see ECF 75 at 5-6 (citing cases). At the time the reconsideration motion was filed, one judge had disagreed with Miller in a footnote, United States v. Puma, 21-cr-454, 2022 WL 823079, at *12 n.4 (D.D.C. Mar. 19, 2022) (Friedman, J.), and another judge indicated her disagreement with Miller orally when delivering a “brief ruling” denying a defendant’s post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal, see United States v. Reffitt, 21-cr-32, Trial Tr. 1498, 1502-05 (Mar. 8, 2022) (Friedrich, J.) (attached as Exhibit A to the reconsideration motion). Since the reconsideration motion was filed, judges have continued to reject Miller’s reasoning. See, e.g., United States v. Hughes, No. 21-cr-106, Minute Order denying motion to dismiss count charging Section 1512 (D.D.C. May 9, 2022) (Kelly, J.) (rejecting the “narrow reading” of Section 1512(c)(2) and agreeing with an opinion that “directly responded to and rejected the logic employed in Miller”); United States v. Hale-Cusanelli, No. 21-cr-37, Transcript of motion to dismiss hearing at 4-8 (D.D.C. May 6, 2022) (McFadden, J.)(attached as Exhibit D);United States v. Reffitt, No. 21-cr-32, 2022 WL 1404247, at *7-*10 (D.D.C. May 4, 2022) (Friedrich, J.); United States v. McHugh, No. 21-cr-453, 2022 WL 1302880, at *2-*13 (D.D.C. May 2, 2022) (Bates, J). Although none of those rulings represents “controlling law,” McAllister v. District of Columbia, 53 F. Supp. 3d 55, 59 (D.D.C. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted), it is surely “significant” that this Court stands as the sole outlier among all the judges on this Court to have ruled on the issue both before and after Miller issued.

Two related factors militate in favor of reconsideration of the Court’s substantive conclusion about the scope of Section 1512(c)(2). First, the Court in Miller addressed only one of the contrary opinions from judges on this Court. See Mem. Op. 16, 18 n.8, 22, 26 (citing United States v. Montgomery, No. 21-cr-46, 2021 WL 6134591(D.D.C. Dec. 28, 2021)). Reconsideration would permit the Court the opportunity to consider in full the “persuasive authority” issued by other judges of this Court. See United States v. Drummond, 98 F. Supp. 2d 44, 50 n.5 (D.D.C. 2000) (noting that within-Circuit district court cases are not binding but “[o]f course” are “persuasive authority”). Second, reconsideration resulting in an interpretation consistent with other judges of this Court would ensure that all defendants charged under Section 1512(c)(2) are treated alike until the court of appeals has an opportunity on post-conviction review to consider the merits of their challenges to the statute’s scope.

[snip]

Second, Miller argues (Opp. 10-18) that the government “misunderstands” (id. at 10) this Court’s textual analysis of Section 1512(c)(2). But the issue is not one of misapprehension; rather, the government (and every other judge on this Court to have considered the issue) understands but disagrees with the Court’s (and Miller’s) interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2)’s reach. [my emphasis]

It uses Garret Miller’s response to implicitly attack Carl Nichols and emphasize the degree to which even Nichols’ Trump appointed colleagues — first Dabney Friedrich, then Tim Kelly, and finally, the judge most likely to agree with Nichols, Trevor McFadden — have disagreed with Nichols’ thinking.

Guy Reffitt’s prosecution is now ripe for appeal, if he still plans on doing that. Or Nichols will choose to adhere to his outlier opinion.

Here’s the current tally on obstruction opinions, with McFadden added.

  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; May 9, 2022, Hughes (by minute order), rejecting Miller
  5. Randolph Moss, December 28, 2021, Montgomery
  6. Beryl Howell, January 21, 2022, DeCarlo
  7. John Bates, February 1, 2022, McHugh; May 2, 2022 [on reconsideration]
  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
  11. Rudolph Contreras, announced March 8, released March 14, Andries
  12. Paul Friedman, March 19, Puma
  13. Thomas Hogan, March 30, Sargent (opinion forthcoming)
  14. Trevor McFadden, May 6, Hale-Cusanelli
  15. Royce Lamberth, May 25, Bingert

On Ginni Thomas’ Obstruction Exposure and Clarence’s Former Clerk, Carl Nichols

In a motions hearing for January 6 assault defendant Garret Miller on November 22, former Clarence Thomas clerk Carl Nichols asked the appellate prosecutor for the January 6 investigation, James Pearce, whether someone asking Mike Pence to invalidate the vote count could be charged with the obstruction statute, 18 USC 1512(c)(2), that Miller was challenging. Pearce replied that the person in question would have to know that such a request of the Vice President was improper.

At a hearing on Monday for defendant Garret Miller of Richardson, Texas, Nichols made the first move toward a Trump analogy by asking a prosecutor whether the obstruction statute could have been violated by someone who simply “called Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way.” The judge also asked the prosecutor to assume the person trying to persuade Pence had the “appropriate mens rea,” or guilty mind, to be responsible for a crime.

Nichols made no specific mention of Trump, who appointed him to the bench, but the then-president was publicly and privately pressuring Pence in the days before the fateful Jan. 6 tally to decline to certify Joe Biden’s victory. Trump also enlisted other allies, including attorney John Eastman, to lean on Pence.

An attorney with the Justice Department Criminal Division, James Pearce, initially seemed to dismiss the idea that merely lobbying Pence to refuse to recognize the electoral result would amount to the crime of obstructing or attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.

“I don’t see how that gets you that,” Pearce told the judge.

However, Pearce quickly added that it might well be a crime if the person reaching out to Pence knew the vice president had an obligation under the Constitution to recognize the result.

“If that person does that knowing it is not an available argument [and is] asking the vice president to do something the individual knows is wrongful … one of the definitions of ‘corruptly’ is trying to get someone to violate a legal duty,” Pearce said.

At the time (as Josh Gerstein wrote up in his piece), we knew that former Clarence Thomas clerk John Eastman had pressured Pence to throw out legal votes.

But we’ve since learned far more details about Eastman’s actions, including his admissions to Pence’s counsel, Greg Jacob, that there was no way SCOTUS would uphold the claim. In fact, those admissions were cited in Judge David Carter’s opinion finding that Eastman himself likely obstructed the vote count by pressuring Pence to reject the valid votes, because he knew that not even Clarence Thomas would buy this argument.

Ultimately, Dr. Eastman conceded that his argument was contrary to consistent historical practice,37 would likely be unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court,38 and violated the Electoral Count Act on four separate grounds.39

[snip]

Dr. Eastman himself repeatedly recognized that his plan had no legal support. In his discussion with the Vice President’s counsel, Dr. Eastman “acknowledged” the “100 percent consistent historical practice since the time of the Founding” that the Vice President did not have the authority to act as the memo proposed.254 More importantly, Dr. Eastman admitted more than once that “his proposal violate[d] several provisions of statutory law,”255 including explicitly characterizing the plan as “one more relatively minor violation” of the Electoral Count Act.256 In addition, on January 5, Dr. Eastman conceded that the Supreme Court would unanimously reject his plan for the Vice President to reject electoral votes.257 Later that day, Dr. Eastman admitted that his “more palatable” idea to have the Vice President delay, rather than reject counting electors, rested on “the same basic legal theory” that he knew would not survive judicial scrutiny.258

We’ve also learned more details about Ginni Thomas’ role in pressuring Mark Meadows to champion an attempt to steal the election, including — after a gap in the texts produced to the January 6 Committee — attacking Pence.

The committee received one additional message sent by Thomas to Meadows, on Jan. 10, four days after the “Stop the Steal” rally Thomas said she attended and the deadly attack on the Capitol.

In that message, Thomas expresses support for Meadows and Trump — and directed anger at Vice President Mike Pence, who had refused Trump’s wishes to block the congressional certification of Biden’s electoral college victory.

“We are living through what feels like the end of America,” Thomas wrote to Meadows. “Most of us are disgusted with the VP and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams. Those who attacked the Capitol are not representative of our great teams of patriots for DJT!!”

“Amazing times,” she added. “The end of Liberty.”

Ginni Thomas famously remains close with a network of Clarence’s former clerks, so much so she apologized to a listserv of former Justice Thomas clerks for her antics after the insurrection.

Any former Thomas clerk on that listserv would likely understand how exposed in efforts to overturn the vote certification Ginni was.

As I said, little of that was known, publicly, when former Justice Thomas clerk Carl Nichols asked whether someone who pressured Pence could be exposed for obstruction. We didn’t even, yet, know all these details when Judge Nichols ruled in Miller’s case on March 7, alone thus far of all the DC District judges, against DOJ’s application of that obstruction statute. While we had just learned some of the details about Jacobs’ interactions with former Thomas clerk John Eastman, we did not yet know how centrally involved Ginni was — frankly, we still don’t know, especially since the texts Mark Meadows turned over to the January 6 Committee have a gap during the days when Eastman was most aggressively pressuring Pence.

DOJ may know but if it does it’s not telling.

But now we know more of those details and now we know that Judge Carter found that Eastman and Trump likely did obstruct the vote certification. All those details, combined with Nichols’ treatment of the Miller decision as one that might affect others, up to and including Ginni Thomas and John Eastman and Trump, sure makes it look a lot more suspect that a former Clarence Thomas clerk would write such an outlier decision.

Which brings us to the tactics of this DOJ motion to reconsider filed yesterday in the Miller case. It makes two legal arguments and one logical one.

As I laid out here, Nichols ruled that the vote certification was an official proceeding, but that the statute in question only applied to obstruction achieved via the destruction of documents. He also held that there was sufficient uncertainty about what the statute means that the rule of lenity — basically the legal equivalent of “tie goes to the runner” — would apply.

DOJ challenged Nichols’ claim that there was enough uncertainty for the rule of lenity to apply. After all, the shade-filled motion suggested, thirteen of Nichols’ colleagues have found little such uncertainty.

First, the Court erred by applying the rule of lenity. Rejecting an interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2)’s scope that every other member of this Court to have considered the issue and every reported case to have considered the issue (to the government’s knowledge) has adopted, the Court found “serious ambiguity” in the statute. Mem. Op. at 28. The rule of lenity applies “‘only if, after seizing everything from which aid can be derived,’” the statute contains “a ‘grievous ambiguity or uncertainty,’” and the Court “‘can make no more than a guess as to what Congress intended.’” Ocasio v. United States, 578 U.S. 282, 295 n.8 (2016) (quoting Muscarello v. United States, 524 U.S. 125, 138-39 (1998)) (emphasis added); see also Mem. Op. at 9 (citing “‘grievous’ ambiguity” standard). Interpreting Section 1512(c)(2) consistently with its plain language to reach any conduct that “obstructs, influences, or impedes” a qualifying proceeding does not give rise to “serious” or “grievous” ambiguity.

[snip]

First, the Court erred by applying the rule of lenity to Section 1512(c)(2) because, as many other judges have concluded after examining the statute’s text, structure, and history, there is no genuine—let alone “grievous” or “serious”—ambiguity.

[snip]

Confirming the absence of ambiguity—serious, grievous, or otherwise—is that despite Section 1512(c)(2)’s nearly 20-year existence, no other judge has found ambiguity in Section 1512(c)(2), including eight judges on this Court considering the same law and materially identical facts. See supra at 5-6.

[snip]

Before this Court’s decision to the contrary, every reported case to have considered the scope of Section 1512(c)(2), see Gov’t Supp. Br., ECF 74, at 7-9, 1 and every judge on this Court to have considered the issue in cases arising out of the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, see supra at 5-6, concluded that Section 1512(c)(2) “prohibits obstruction by means other than document destruction.” Sandlin, 2021 WL 5865006, at *5. [my emphasis; note, not all of the 13 challenges to 1512(c)(2) that were rejected made a rule of lenity argument, which is why AUSA Pearce cited eight judges]

Among the other things that this argument will force Nichols to do if he wants to sustain his decision, on top of doubling down on being the extreme outlier on this decision, is to engage with all his colleagues’ opinions rather than (as he did in his original opinion) just with Judge Randolph Moss’.

The government then argued that by deciding that 1512(c)(2) applied to the vote certification but only regarding tampering with documents, Nichols was not actually ruling against DOJ, because he can only dismiss the charge at this stage if the defendant, Miller, doesn’t know what he is charged with, not if the evidence wouldn’t support such a charge.

Although Miller has styled his challenge to Section 1512(c)(2)’s scope as an attack on the indictment’s validity, the scope of the conduct covered under Section 1512(c)(2) is distinct from whether Count Three adequately states a violation of Section 1512(c)(2).6 Here, Count Three of the indictment puts Miller on notice as to the charges against which he must defend himself, while also encompassing both the broader theory that a defendant violates Section 1512(c)(2) through any corrupt conduct that “obstructs, impedes, or influences” an official proceeding and the narrower theory that a defendant must “have taken some action with respect to a document,” Mem. Op. at 28, in order to violate Section 1512(c)(2). The Court’s conclusion that only the narrower theory is a viable basis for conviction should not result in dismissal of Count Three in full; instead, the Court would properly enforce that limitation by permitting conviction on that basis alone.

The government argues that that means, given Nichols’ ruling, the government must be given the opportunity to prove that Miller’s actions were an attempt to spoil the actual vote certifications that had to be rushed out of the Chambers as mobsters descended.

Even assuming the Court’s interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2) were correct, and that the government therefore must prove “Miller took some action with respect to a document, record, or other object in order to corruptly obstruct, impede[,] or influence Congress’s certification of the electoral vote,” Mem. Op. at 29, the Court cannot determine whether Miller’s conduct meets that test until after a trial, at which the government is not limited to the specific allegations in the indictment. 7 And at trial, the government could prove that the Certification proceeding “operates through a deliberate and legally prescribed assessment of ballots, lists, certificates, and, potentially, written objections.” ECF 74, at 41. For example, evidence would show Congress had before it boxes carried into the House chamber at the beginning of the Joint Session that contained “certificates of votes from the electors of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.” Reffitt, supra, Trial Tr. at 1064 (Mar. 4, 2022) (testimony of the general counsel to the Secretary of the United States Senate) (attached as Exhibit B).

Those are the two legal arguments the government has invited Nichols to reconsider.

But along the way of making those arguments, DOJ pointed out the absurd result dictated by Nichols’ opinion: That Guy Reffitt’s physical threats against members of Congress or the threat Miller is accused of making against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would not be obstruction, because neither man touched any documents.

Any such distinction between these forms of obstruction produces the absurd result that a defendant who attempts to destroy a document being used or considered by a tribunal violates Section 1512(c) but a defendant who threatens to use force against the officers conducting that proceeding escapes criminal liability under the statute.

[snip]

Finally, an interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2) that imposes criminal liability only when an individual takes direct action “with respect to a document, record, or other object” to obstruct a qualifying proceeding leads to absurd results. See United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc., 513 U.S. 64, 69 (1994) (rejecting interpretation of a criminal statute that would “produce results that were not merely odd, but positively absurd”). That interpretation would appear, for example, not to encompass an individual who seeks to “obstruct[], influence[], or impede[]” a congressional proceeding by explicitly stating that he intends to stop the legislators from performing their constitutional and statutory duties to certify Electoral College vote results by “drag[ging] lawmakers out of the Capitol by their heels with their heads hitting every step,” United States v. Reffitt, 21-cr-32 (DLF), Trial Tr. 1502, carrying a gun onto Capitol grounds, id. at 1499, and then leading a “mob and encourag[ing] it to charge toward federal officers, pushing them aside to break into the Capitol,” id. at 1501-02, unless he also picked up a “document or record” related to the proceeding during that violent assault. The statutory text does not require such a counterintuitive result.

The mention of Reffitt is surely included not just to embarrass Nichols by demonstrating the absurdity of his result. It is tactical.

Right now, there are two obstruction cases that might be the first to be appealed to the DC Circuit. This decision, or Guy Reffitt’s conviction, including on the obstruction count.

By asking Nichols to reconsider, DOJ may have bought time such that Reffitt will appeal before they would appeal Nichols’ decision. But by including language about Reffitt’s threats to lawmakers, DOJ has ensured not just the Reffitt facts and outcome will be available if and when they do appeal, but so would (if they are forced to appeal this decision) a Nichols decision upholding the absurd result that Reffitt didn’t obstruct the vote certification. Including the language puts him on the hook for it if he wants to force DOJ to appeal his decision.

I said in my post on Nichols’ opinion that DOJ probably considered themselves lucky that Nichols had argued for such an absurd result.

They may count themselves lucky that this particular opinion is not a particularly strong argument against their application. Nichols basically argues that intimidating Congress by assaulting the building is not obstruction of what he concedes is an official proceeding.

By including Reffitt in their motion for reconsideration, DOJ has made it part of the official record if and when they do appeal Nichols’ decision.

This would be a dick-wagging filing even absent the likelihood that Nichols has some awareness of Ginni Thomas’ antics and possibly even Eastman’s. It holds Nichols to account for blowing off virtually all the opinions of his colleagues, including fellow Trump appointees Dabney Friedrich and Tim Kelly, forcing him to defend his stance as the outlier it is.

But that is all the more true given that there’s now so much public evidence that Nichols’ deviant decision might have some tie to his personal relationship with the Thomases and even the non-public evidence of Ginni’s own role.

Plus, by making any appeal of this opinion — up to the Supreme Court, possibly — pivot on how and why Nichols came up with such an outlier opinion, it would make Justice Thomas’ participation in the decision far more problematic.


Carl Nichols, March 7, 2022, Miller

David Carter, March 28, 2022, Eastman

Opinions upholding obstruction application:

  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
  11. Rudolph Contreras, announced March 8, released March 14, Andries
  12. Paul Friedman, March 19, Puma

 

Judge David Carter Confirms Trump Could Be Prosecuted for [A Lower Standard of] Obstruction

As you’ve no doubt heard, Judge David Carter issued an order releasing 91 documents from the days before and the day of the insurrection to the January 6 Committee. Chapman University professor John Eastman had attempted to withhold them from the 6 Committee under privilege claims. Judge Carter allowed Eastman to withhold just ten documents, most pertaining to then-ongoing lawsuits.

The headline finding from his opinion is that Judge Carter found it more likely than not that Trump committed the crime hundreds of other insurrectionists have been charged with — obstruction of an official proceeding — and Eastman and Trump (and others) entered into a conspiracy to do so.

On August 19, I laid out that if Trump were to be prosecuted, it would be for conspiring to obstruct the vote count. At the the time, TV lawyers ignored me, thinking they knew better. In December, after Liz Cheney argued that Trump had obstructed an official proceeding, those same TV lawyers started adopting the theory as if they had come up with it. Now a judge has agreed that it is likely that Trump did commit that crime that I laid out back in August.

Sometimes I hate to say I told the TV lawyers so. This is not one of those times.

Especially since, of the three kinds of overt acts that Carter cites to substantiate his decision, two — Trump’s pressure on Mike Pence and his mobilization of his mob to march on the Capitol — are Trump actions about which DOJ has been accumulating piles of evidence. In my opinion, by including the mobilization of the mob in his opinion, Carter showed a better understanding of Trump’s legal exposure than the Committee.

There are five elements Carter needed to establish to make his finding. First, to find Trump may have obstructed a vote count, Carter pointed to:

  • Proof the vote certification was an official proceeding
  • The actions Trump took to obstruct that official proceeding
  • Proof of Trump’s corrupt intent

Then, to show that Trump and Eastman (and others) entered into a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, he pointed to:

  • An agreement to defraud the US
  • Eastman’s own dishonest actions

Carter didn’t spend much time on the official proceeding prong. Instead he relied on the ten existing DC rulings on the issue finding the vote certification was an official proceeding cited in the committee brief (there are now at least 13 opinions finding it to be an official proceeding, though Carter did not address the issue on which Judge Carl Nichols had differed from his colleagues, whether obstruction required destroying of documents).

Carter pointed to three kinds of acts that amounted to Trump’s effort to obstruct the election: two meetings before January 6 where they discussed pressuring Pence, several appeals on the morning of January 6 to Pence (including on Twitter), and “galvanizing the crowed to join him in enacting the plan,” by walking to the Capitol.

President Trump facilitated two meetings in the days before January 6 that were explicitly tied to persuading Vice President Pence to disrupt the Joint Session of Congress. On January 4, President Trump and Dr. Eastman hosted a meeting in the Oval Office with Vice President Pence, the Vice President’s counsel Greg Jacob, and the Vice President’s Chief of Staff Marc Short.209 At that meeting, Dr. Eastman presented his plan to Vice President Pence, focusing on either rejecting electors or delaying the count.210 When Vice President Pence was unpersuaded, President Trump sent Dr. Eastman to review the plan in depth with the Vice President’s counsel on January 5.211 Vice President Pence’s counsel interpreted Dr. Eastman’s presentation as being on behalf of the President.212

On the morning of January 6, President Trump made several last-minute “revised appeal[s] to the Vice President” to pressure him into carrying out the plan.213 At 1:00 am, President Trump tweeted: “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency . . . Mike can send it back!”214 At 8:17 am, President Trump tweeted: “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”215 Shortly after, President Trump rang Vice President Pence and once again urged him “to make the call” and enact the plan.216 Just before the Joint Session of Congress began, President Trump gave a speech to a large crowd on the Ellipse in which he warned, “[a]nd Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now.”217 President Trump ended his speech by galvanizing the crowd to join him in enacting the plan: “[L]et’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give Vice President Pence and Congress “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”218

Together, these actions more likely than not constitute attempts to obstruct an official proceeding. [my emphasis]

It is public that DOJ has spent months focusing on the second (pressure on Pence) and third (mobilizing his mob) actions. Indeed, as I have shown, DOJ has laid out proof that many of the conspiracies had the specific goal of pressuring Pence.

To show that this met obstruction’s requirement of corrupt intent, Carter relied on a Ninth Circuit precedent that, for where he is in California, adopts a lower threshold for corrupt intent than the one adopted by the DC District judges so far.

The Ninth Circuit has not defined “corruptly” for purposes of this statute.222 However, the court has made clear that the threshold for acting “corruptly” is lower than “consciousness of wrongdoing,”223 meaning a person does not need to know their actions are wrong to break the law. Because President Trump likely knew that the plan to disrupt the electoral count was wrongful, his mindset exceeds the threshold for acting “corruptly” under § 1512(c).

There is no such precedent in DC and, as I’ve argued, Judge Dabney Friedrich’s adopted standard is actually higher than this, finding corrupt intent in the commission of otherwise illegal actions. So Carter’s opinion, on top of meeting a lower standard than DOJ would need to charge, dodged two legal issues already before the DC District judges, whether obstruction required the destruction of evidence and whether it required otherwise illegal actions. It’s not clear that the actions that he lays out would, by themselves, meet Friedrich’s standard.

Carter pointed to two kinds of proof that Trump knew the plan to obstruct the vote count was wrong. He pointed to the 60 court losses as proof that their claims of voter fraud were false. He also pointed to Trump’s demand from Brad Raffensperger for exactly the number of votes he needed to win, which Carter presented as proof that Trump cared about winning, not voter fraud (As I have repeated over and over, this is one Trump action that is otherwise illegal).

President Trump and Dr. Eastman justified the plan with allegations of election fraud— but President Trump likely knew the justification was baseless, and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful. Although Dr. Eastman argues that President Trump was advised several state elections were fraudulent,224 the Select Committee points to numerous executive branch officials who publicly stated225 and privately stressed to President Trump226 that there was no evidence of fraud. By early January, more than sixty courts dismissed cases alleging fraud due to lack of standing or lack of evidence,227 noting that they made “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations”228 and that “there is no evidence to support accusations of voter fraud.”229 President Trump’s repeated pleas230 for Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger clearly demonstrate that his justification was not to investigate fraud, but to win the election: “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”231 Taken together, this evidence demonstrates that President Trump likely knew the electoral count plan had no factual justification.

Carter then points to the two meetings (bolded above) as the moment when Eastman and Trump — and others — entered into a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count. Notably, this may put everyone else who was in that meeting on the hook for the conspiracy as well, members of an enormous conspiracy already charged against sixty people, including some seditionists.

He then pointed to Eastman’s awareness that his theories were bullshit and Pence’s repetitive insistence they were to find Eastman acted dishonestly.

The plan not only lacked factual basis but also legal justification. Dr. Eastman’s memo noted that the plan was “BOLD, Certainly.”232 The memo declared Dr. Eastman’s intent to step outside the bounds of normal legal practice: “we’re no longer playing by Queensbury Rules.”233 In addition, Vice President Pence “very consistent[ly]” made clear to President Trump that the plan was unlawful, refusing “many times” to unilaterally reject electors or return them to the states.234

[snip]

The evidence shows that Dr. Eastman was aware that his plan violated the Electoral Count Act. Dr. Eastman likely acted deceitfully and dishonestly each time he pushed an outcome-driven plan that he knew was unsupported by the law.

So on top of getting some documents, this opinion lays out a framework that envisions Trump being charged for the same crimes that DOJ has been working towards charging him and others on for over a year.

In several ways, though (the standard of proof and two legal standards he adopted on obstruction), Carter has only found Trump may have obstructed the vote count at a much lower standard than DOJ would need.

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.

Questions for Bill Barr about His Cover-Ups Pertaining to Ukraine and Russia, Starting with: Who Withdrew the Red Notice for Yevgeniy Prigozhin?

Billy Barr’s effort to launder his reputation with a book tour has started, kicked off with a supine WSJ review that includes just one “some said” clause treating as debatable the provably false claims he made in his book about intervening to eliminate all consequences for Trump’s top associates for lying to cover up their interactions with Russia during the 2016 election.

During much of Mr. Barr’s time in the Trump administration, some said he protected the president at the expense of the Justice Department’s independence, especially over his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Barr issued his own summary of Mr. Mueller’s investigative report depicting the results in a way that Mr. Mueller and others described as misleading or overly favorable to Mr. Trump. He also worked in the ensuing months to undermine some of the prosecutions spawned by the Mueller investigation. An example was his decision to drop the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser.

Mr. Barr has said that he intervened to correct what he saw as overreach by the prosecutors and flaws in the department’s approach to those cases, a stance he maintains in his book.

Barr’s book tour happens at the same time, the Times reports, as 400 Wagner mercenaries sent by Putin to Kyiv are trying to hunt down the elected President of Ukraine.

More than 400 Russian mercenaries are operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate President Zelensky and his government and prepare the ground for Moscow to take control, The Times has learnt.

The Wagner Group, a private militia run by one of President Putin’s closest allies and operating as an arm-length branch of the state, flew in mercenaries from Africa five weeks ago on a mission to decapitate Zelensky’s government in return for a handsome financial bonus.

Information about their mission reached the Ukrainian government on Saturday morning and hours later Kyiv declared a 36-hour “hard” curfew to sweep the city for Russian saboteurs, warning civilians that they would be seen as Kremlin agents and risked being “liquidated” if they stepped outside.

This makes me wonder whether Viktor Medvedchuk — the guy Putin would like to install as a puppet — had help escaping from house arrest.

People’s deputy from the Opposition Platform – Pri Life party, Putin’s godfather Viktor Medvedchuk, escaped from arrest.

Source : information from the ZN.UA edition , obtained from the Office of the Prosecutor General, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Gerashchenko

Details : According to sources, on February 26, the Prosecutor General’s Office instructed the National Police to check the presence of Medvedchuk at the address where he is under house arrest.

The National Police fulfilled the order: Medvedchuk was not at the scene.

The coincidence of Putin’s invasion with Barr’s attempt to launder his reputation led me to put together a partial list of questions Barr should be asked (hopefully by Lester Holt) as he attempts to pretend he didn’t pervert justice — in part — to protect Trump from his attempt to extort Ukraine. For example:

  • Why didn’t Barr recuse himself from the review of the whistleblower complaint against Trump given that Trump told Zelenskyy Barr would contact him during the Perfect Phone Call? (This post provides more details of how Barr’s DOJ mishandled that referral.)
  • Why did Barr only refer the transcript of the call, and not the entire whistleblower complaint, the latter of which would have led Public Integrity to see the tie between Trump’s call and Rudy’s successful effort to get Maria Yovanovich fired (for which Rudy remains under active investigation)?
  • Why did OLC, first, write a memo refusing to share the whistleblower complaint and, once they did, overclassify passages of the call to hide Barr’s own role?
  • Why did Barr personally warn Rupert Murdoch before Sean Hannity got on a plane to fly to Vienna as part of Rudy’s grift?
  • Why did Barr try to fire Geoffrey Berman at a time it was investigating Rudy Giuliani’s role in all this?
  • Why did Barr ask one of his most politicized US Attorneys, Scott Brady, to serve as an intake point for Russian disinformation from Andrii Derkach?
  • Why did Barr separate the investigation into Derkach from the one in which Rudy, who met with Derkach after he had been IDed as a Russian agent, was already under investigation?

Had Barr not intervened in all these ways, the US would have been better able to protect its own democracy from Trump (and Giuliani’s) attempt to corrupt Ukraine’s democracy. Instead, Ukraine is schooling America about what it takes to defend democracy.

But given the assassins hunting down Zelenskyy even as Barr attempts to launder his reputation, there’s perhaps a more urgent question. Why did Bill Barr’s DOJ let the Red Notice for Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s arrest drop in September 2020?

In March 2020, DOJ dismissed the case against two of Prigozhin’s companies that had interfered in the 2016 election, but not Prigozhin himself. As I wrote, the decision was not as suspect as some of Barr’s other interventions in Mueller prosecutions (though it happened at the same time). Because Prigozhin’s corporate persons, but not his biological person, showed up to contest the charges, the Prigozhin defense became substantially an effort to learn FBI’s sources and methods. A Dabney Friedrich decision on the protective order exacerbated that, and another required DOJ to start naming US persons affected. Dropping the case against two corporate persons was not, itself, suspect. DOJ did not drop the case against Prigozhin or his trolls.

Even though the charges against the biological person Prigozhin had not been dropped, in September 2020, Interpol removed Prigozhin from the list of those who could be arrested, citing the dismissal against his corporate persons. This allowed Prigozhin to make several trips to jurisdictions, including Germany, from which he could have been extradited.

It’s certainly possible Billy Barr had no role in this decision and that DOJ tried to point out that, in fact, the charges against Prigozhin remained (and still remain). But given that he gave a screed that seemed to attack the prosecution as a whole at the time, perhaps DOJ affirmatively let Prigozhin slide.

But as his book tour takes place against the backdrop of assassins hunting for Zelenskyy, it seems like a good time to ask him if he did intervene to let the owner of Putin’s paid killers travel free from any risk of direct legal consequences for his intervention in America’s own democracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump acted both transitively and intransitively corruptly

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

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

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

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

Trump transitively corrupted by conspiring with people who committed crimes

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

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

T. Trump Speaks at the Ellipse

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

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

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

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

U. Pence Issues Public Letter Rejecting Eastman’s Theory

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

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

V. U.S. Capitol Attack Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

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

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

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brandon Straka Assures MAGAts That He Didn’t Share Evidence of Any Pre-January 6 Crimes

Brandon Straka released a post-sentencing statement announcing that he is self-deplatforming to Rumble and GETTR and claiming that the “left wing media” turned DOJ’s discussion of Straka’s cooperation into a narrative that “Trump Ally Turning Over Significant Information About January 6th.” [emphasis Straka’s] The closest to that phrase I can find (aside from Straka’s own comments posted to 4chan) is Politico, which is owned by right wingers, as well as the gay press.

Straka may in fact be more worried that the right wing press labeled him a snitch, not least because he uses the phrase later in his own statement.

The statement is interesting for several reasons.

First, Straka doesn’t deny the obstruction of the vote count that he should have been charged with. He explains asking his followers to “HOLD. THE. LINE” after he had been instructed by Ali Alexander, ““Everyone get out of there … The FBI is coming hunting,” that this was just about a peaceful protest, not physically occupying the Capitol to prevent Joe Biden’s win from being certified.

Some of my comments on January 6th and the following days have been highly scrutinized and my intent speculated. In particular, one stated to “HOLD. THE. LINE.” in addressing the people at the Capitol. You should all know that I was present on the East side of the Capitol and never witnessed any of the violence taking place on the West side that day. I shot video of the thousands of peaceful protestors standing on the East side singing songs and holding signs. This was the scene when I left the grounds. My statement was to encourage the thousands of peaceful protestors to stand their ground- after all, peaceful protests are still protected by our constitution, right?

Straka doesn’t deny being told about the violence on the west side. He falsely claims to have filmed only peaceful activities, when he in fact filmed himself encouraging rioters as they stole a cop’s shield.

More importantly, he doesn’t address that he was encouraging these “protestors” to continue to obstruct the vote certification.

And, again, he was doing so after he himself had left after having been warned about an incoming FBI presence.

Particularly given something that Straka said to Trump appointee Dabney Friedrich at sentencing (which I’ll return to once I find the best video), I find this comment from Straka of particular interest.

In the three and a half years that I have been working in the world of politics, I have not attained ANY INFORMATION of ANY KIND about any criminal wrongdoing of any person in the MAGA movement. That includes every person from the very bottom of up to Donald Trump and every person in between. It would be impossible for me to “snitch” or “turn people over” because I have NOTHING to share.

I do not believe that there was any kind of plot or scheme to initiate violence on January 6th. I do not believe that any kind of plot or plan or scheme will ever be discovered because I feel 100% certain no such thing exists. Like most of you, I’ve employed common sense and come to the conclusion that a very small percentage of people did some very bad things that day, and that this was a spontaneous riot that broke out without planning. If any evidence of anything ever comes to light, I will be as shocked as anybody else.

I have NO INFORMATION of any kind of share about any crime others in the MAGA movement have committed at any point, even prior to January 6th.

Straka denies there was a scheme to initiate violence. That’s not the accusation though. The scheme — laid out in writing by Ali Alexander’s associates in the Proud Boys — was to spark others to commit violence, and then blame Antifa for starting things.

But he, again, does not deny there was a plot to obstruct the vote certification.

More interesting, given DOJ’s apparently belated discovery of Straka’s activities leading up to January 6, is his statement denying knowledge of crimes “prior to January 6th.”

Particularly given the way Straka sees what came earlier as separate from January 6th, Straka’s plea deal might not cover crimes he committed in that earlier period.

“Let’s Go Brandon!” Straka’s Cow Manure

Update: Judge Friedrich sentenced Straka to 3 months home confinement and 36 months of probation. She repeatedly described his offense as worse than that of trespassers given that he encouraged them to breach the Capitol and defended the attack after the fact.

Brandon Straka did not start fundraising for the cops whose assault he cheered …

… Until a week after his second batch of leniency letters started coming in, and over 45 days after he pled guilty.

In fact, there’s no evidence in the public record that Straka ever gave any of that money to cops, not even the 75% he claimed to plan to donate, much less the 25% he was skimming from the top. There’s just a dated claim that it would be donated “at the conclusion” of a year that ended 20 days before the filing claiming it would be donated.

Since January 6, Brandon has spent a lot of hard time reflecting on his role in the events that took place that tragic day. He has offered strong condemnation for any violence used that day, especially the violence perpetrated against police. Additionally, Brandon has been actively using his platform to support law enforcement officers. Upon visiting the #WalkAway Foundation website, the first option presented is to donate to the “Refund the Police” initiative: “#WalkAway will donate 75% of the funds raised to pro-police organizations in [the fourteen (14) cities most affected by defunding initiatives]. The other 25% will be used for the cost of overhead for this campaign.”2 This initiative will close at the conclusion of this year; and is close to having raised over $18,000.00 at this time.

2 See #WalkAway Foundation Homepage last accessed Dec. 14, 2021, available at https://www.walkawayfoundation.org/.

That’s important because Brandon Straka really wants to continue doing such grifting as a public service in lieu of having Probation monitor his social media and finances, much less serve jail time for his role in inciting an insurrection. He even asks to pay $5,000 as a fine to be allowed to dodge further scrutiny of his grift.

The Defendant respectfully requests that he be sentenced to either a terminal disposition of time served for the two days he has already spent in custody, or in the alternate, a term of home confinement and community service. Defendant requests that he not be placed on probation. Defendant also requests that the Court impose the maximum fine permitted for this offense, which is $5,000.

[snip]

If the Court would allow Brandon to have included in his sentence a stronger portion of community service rather than a sentence of Probation, the country at large will be better served. The nature of Brandon’s job requires that he often travels, making supervision more difficult and costly—and to what end? Brandon has already been on Pretrial Release for nearly a year with no violations. He clearly has the capability to contribute to the greater good through fundraising and leading others into service with him. While the Probation Office’s Recommendation sees Brandon’s following as a reason for concern3, it is the Defendant’s belief, and Counsel for the Defendant’s belief, that his talents can be put to better use than verifying that he is in compliance with certain conditions of Probation—that if he is given true freedom, that he will use that freedom in service of his country.

[snip]

Brandon also objects to the recommendation by the Probation Officer that he be subjected to a discretionary condition of Probation that monitors his electronic communications service accounts, including email accounts, social media accounts, and cloud storage accounts. Brandon also objects to his financial activity being monitored by the Probation Office. These discretionary conditions of Probation are not sufficiently relevant to the offense committed. In United States v. Taylor, 796 F.3d 788 (7th Cir. 2015), the Seventh Circuit reversed a restriction on the defendant’s computer ownership and internet access in a bank larceny case, stating that the restriction was not reasonably related to his prior conviction for incest. In Brandon’s case, emailing, using social media, and using cloud storage has nothing to do with his offense.

3 The government has never alleged, and there is no evidence, that Brandon used his following to commit any criminal activity. Brandon is charged for conduct he committed at the Capitol in his personal capacity.

Whether or not there is evidence that Straka used his online presence to prevent the peaceful transfer of power (and there is, though DOJ may have discovered it after entering into this dud plea agreement), Straka’s own story materially conflicts regarding what he did on January 6, 2021.

Straka’s own letter to Judge Dabney Friedrich implies that he went directly from Trump’s speech to the Metro and because he did so he had no way of knowing there was a violent riot going on.

I sat in the front row at the Ellipse and listened to the President of the United States speak. He concluded by telling the crowd that we were all now going to march “peacefully” to the Capitol. Everything felt perfectly normal and exactly in accordance with the schedule of events for that day. I then walked to the DC Metro On the way to the Capitol, I began getting text messages from people I knew who were at home watching the news on television indicating that people were going inside the Capitol building. Shortly after, I started getting numerous messages from the other scheduled speakers, some asking if our event was still happening, if it was now cancelled- it was total confusion. I was of 2 minds at this point. Either,

#1) The event is still happening and I’m still speaking, and that’s what I came all the way to DC to do. Or

#2) The event may no longer be happening, but SOMETHING is going on at the Capitol right now, and I want to be there to capture footage of whatever it is that’s going on. [my emphasis]

His sentencing memo describes that he came to DC to speak on January 5, and only stayed over because he was one of the very inflammatory people who were offered speaking slots on January 6 but who got canceled (!!!) at the last moment.

Prior to the January 6, 2021 rally at which then-President Donald Trump was set to speak, Brandon was set to speak at a rally held at Freedom Plaza on January 5, 2021 and travelled to Washington, D.C. for that purpose. Brandon remained in Washington, D.C. after the rally on January 5, 2021, as he was a potential slated speaker at a rally the next day. On the morning of January 6, 2021, Brandon arrived at the Ellipse at 5:00 a.m. in anticipation of then-President Trumps’ rally to start. Up until the time Brandon arrived at the event, he believed that he might speak at that event.

More problematic still, Straka’s sentencing memo describes that in-between Trump’s rally and the riot, Straka went to the Willard Hotel, where a bunch of his associates were plotting to steal the election (he doesn’t mention that fact), and where his “security guards” alerted him that it was too dangerous to walk the 28 minutes to the Capitol, which is why he instead took the Metro to the far side of the Capitol, spending perhaps 38 minutes in transit.

When President Trump concluded his remarks around 1:00 p.m., a wave of protestors left the Ellipse and headed toward the Capitol. At this time, Brandon left the Ellipse and traveled to the Willard Hotel to meet with two of his employees who were designated as security guards. Upon the advice of his security guards, Brandon did not participate in the march to the Capitol and instead took the Metro to the Capitol. While riding on the Metro, Brandon began receiving push notifications on his phone about what was happening at the Capitol. The Metro did not stop at the Capitol, and Brandon got off at the next stop—which was roughly an 18-minute walk from the Capitol.

By the time Brandon arrived, at around 2:40 p.m. (a full twenty minutes after the Capitol had been cleared), the outer barriers and fencing that had previously surrounded the Capitol were largely displaced. Brandon arrived and approached the East side of the Capitol, where things were calmer; and Brandon did not notice anything out of the ordinary during most of his walk to the Capitol.

And that version is off by at least two and possibly 22 minutes off from Straka’s sworn statement of offense.

Straka got off the metro on January 6, 2021 sometime between 2 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. He then knowingly entered the restricted area at the U.S. Capitol Grounds.

The revised story would have him arriving to the Capitol seven minutes after (prosecutors noted in their own sentencing memo) he was informed his speech was delayed because “they stormed the Capitol.”

At 2:33 pm on January 6, 2021, Michael Coudrey, the national coordinator for Stop the Steal, sent a message to a group chat telling those in the chat that the event that Straka was scheduled to speak at would be delayed because “They stormed the capital[sic].”

And that’s important, because Straka claims that when he said some inflammatory things on social media, he didn’t know about the violence.

Brandon made statements on social media that were in retrospect irresponsible and potentially inflammatory. Any statements Brandon made must be considered in context with the fact that Brandon had not witnessed the violence committed on the west side of the Capitol and he had not seen what was broadcasted on television. Once understanding the full context of the events, Brandon retracted and removed his prior statements.

Finally, it’s curious that DOJ is relying on a ProPublica story for the notice from Coudry (to say nothing of Ali Alexander’s warning, “Everyone get out of there … The FBI is coming hunting”). That’s because Straka claims to have provided prosecutors passwords to whatever phones he still had in his possession when the FBI searched his apartment.

Brandon cooperated fully with law enforcement, including providing two proffers and turning over the password to all devices seized as part of the search warrant executed on his apartment. Brandon provided information on individuals the government was investigating in separate cases and answered all questions posed by the government.

There’s abundant evidence that Straka is bullshitting prosecutors, and was bullshitting them when he got a sweet plea deal.

Indeed, with the inconsistencies between his letter to Dabney Friedrich and his own sentencing memo, the evidence shows he’s bullshitting Judge Friedrich.

I don’t know what excuses Probation scrutinizing Brandon Straka’s grift more closely than the FBI. I don’t know what targets DOJ was so desperate to implicate that they missed the target sitting in front of them.

But even his own sentencing package makes it clear he’s shoveling cow shit.

“HOLD. THE. LINE!!!” DOJ’s Late Research into Brandon Straka’s Grift

It’s difficult to tell what really went down with the Brandon Straka plea.

That’s because — as laid out here — the government seems to have realized that Straka had been less than forthright in interviews, in which he was deemed cooperative last year, that got him a sweet plea deal. In their sentencing memo, the government seems to be at pains to argue that Straka’s cooperation was worth minimizing his overt incitement of the obstruction attempts.

Straka, meanwhile, is desperate to dismiss claims he “snitched” out others. So it’s unclear what to make of the claim — in a memo signed by Bilal Essayli, a California politician who only just filed his notice of appearance in the case — that the government was pressuring Straka to implicate Trump directly.

During the interviews the government was focused on establishing an organized conspiracy between defendant, President Donald J. Trump, and allies of the former president, to disrupt the Joint Session of Congress on January 6. Defendant answered all questions truthfully and denied the existence of any such plot. In August 2021, the FBI arrived at the same conclusion and found no evidence that violence was centrally coordinated by any individual or group.2 Despite these findings, the government persists with a false narrative that defendant’s actions were premeditated and orchestrated in concert with the greater mob that stormed the Capitol. The Court should reject this improper attempt to expand the scope of the appropriate sentencing factors, and consider only defendant’s relevant conduct with respect to the charged offense: misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

2 See Mark Hosenball, Exclusive: FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated – sources, Reuters, August 20, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-fbi-finds-scant-evidence-us-capitol-attack-wascoordinated-sources-2021-08-20/

In an attempt to disclaim any organized conspiracy, Essayli cites the problematic Reuters article based on former officials who would have been in charge during the period when Straka’s initial interviews were deemed cooperative, but whose knowledge by August 2021 would have been out of date and whose claims would be utterly irrelevant to what DOJ understood by December, when Straka’s sentencing took a weird turn.

Even crazier, the Straka sentencing memo reveals that, on December 10 (so two days after Straka revealed new information that roiled the sentencing), his team shared a sentencing position with DOJ asking not just for no jail time, but to have the entire case dismissed.

Defendant feels compelled to respond on the record to the government’s sentencing memorandum, which was filed one week prior to the sentencing hearing. The government had the benefit of reading and considering defendant’s sentencing position, which was timely filed on December 10, 2021, when drafting its position. The government missed this deadline and informed defendant the following day that it was seeking to continue the sentencing hearing. The government sought a stipulation to continue, which defendant agreed to join, based on the government’s representation that it would consider a request from defendant to dismiss this case. The government informed defendant on January 13, 2022, that his request was denied and proceeded to file its sentencing position containing highly inflammatory characterizations of defendant. [my emphasis]

Since December, it seems Straka has given up that plan, because his attorneys now argue for “a modest non-custodial sentence.”

That said, much of the rest of the memo focuses on making a First Amendment argument claiming that Straka’s earlier posts (it is silent about his January 5 speech) don’t amount to incitement.

The first and second tweet sent in early December 2020 were a pair of strongly worded messages opposing the transition to President Biden without an audit of contested election results. Gov. Figure A and B. Defendant states, “If we don’t get a thorough audit we must not allow a transfer.” The references in the tweet to a “civil war” was not a call to violence, as the government suggests, it was a figure of speech referencing a political struggle. The government concedes that defendant’s “messages contain rhetorical flourishes that are common in political speech,” but then suggests, without evidence, that defendant’s statements could “have been interpreted by some readers as a call for more than just a figurative struggle.” ECF 36, p. 5. The government does not cite one example of defendant’s tweets influencing a single person to engage in criminal conduct.

Similarly, Gov. Figure C contains a tweet from December 19, 2020, with a call to “rise up” (figuratively) and be recognized by the government. The full statement reads, “Our government no longer listens & takes instructions from the People. They’ve decided to become dictators to the People. It’s time to rise up!” This is precisely the category of speech the First Amendment protects. It is not incitement, and barely registers above heated political rhetoric. See generally Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 24–26 (1971). It was also not imminent—being issued almost a month prior to January 6. See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 448 (1969) (First Amendment prohibits punishment of advocacy except when it incites imminent unlawful action).

The government’s sentencing memorandum is devoid of any mention of the First Amendment, let alone any analysis of whether defendant’s statements meet the Brandenburg standard required for punishing speech. The government may only punish protest-related speech that includes a direct “call to violence” or advocacy that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” See Brandenburg, 395 U.S. at 447; Noto v. U.S., 367 U.S. 290, 297–300 (1961). At the same time, the Supreme Court has consistently protected the statement of an idea that “may prompt its hearers to take unlawful action. . . .” Noto, 367 U.S. at 297 (quoting Dennis v. U.S., 341 U.S. 494, 545 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring)). Indeed, even a protestor screaming, “We’ll take the f***ing street again” amidst an agitated crowd resisting police authority could not be punished for his speech. Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105, 107 (1973). The government fails to distinguish this important constitutional divide and, by so doing, seeks to penalize protected advocacy.

None of defendant’s statements meet the test for a “call to violence” as the government suggests. They lack any specific call to violence (hypothetically, “People, find a police officer and bash his head in!” or “Attack Senator John Doe now!”). They are not particular in that they do not ask protestors to take unambiguous actions or engage in detailed criminal acts. They are not imminent—the quoted material occurred a month before the January 6 event. And whatever the government believes defendant communicated to his supporters remains an inkblot in a constitutional Rorschach test. The speech that the government finds objectionable remains protected advocacy, and should not be considered for purposes of sentencing.

There are four attorneys who have filed notices of appearance for Straka. Not a single one has dealt with a prior January 6 defendant. So they may genuinely not know that DOJ has routinely turned to a defendant’s earlier speech to get not to incitement (militia defendants are an exception), but to motive.

And many of the other explanations Straka offers for his inflammatory language on January 6 don’t make sense (and has already been admitted at sentencing for dozens of other defendants). Straka’s team suggests that his incitement — as he was watching and cheering rioters strip a cop of a riot shield — couldn’t have encouraged the violence he was watching because his “social media posts were similarly written before defendant saw television footage of the west side of the Capitol,” as if there weren’t tons of things to alert him to the danger (even assuming he didn’t know of the collaboration between his associates and the organized militias) without seeing the West side.

Straka’s team seems to have gone from thinking they could get this entire case dismissed to being really worried about incitement that, through their good lawyering and possibly a lack of candor, hasn’t been charged against Straka.

Which brings me to a final detail of this exchange made visible by the timeline laid out in Straka’s filing.

As laid out below, after Straka’s presentence report came in, DOJ swapped prosecutors, April Russo for Brittany Reed (who wrote the sentencing memo). That presentence report, which is one of two things that changed DOJ’s response to sentencing, is referred to at least nine times in the government sentencing memo, though not at all in Straka’s.

The presentence report, for example, is what the government cites for Straka’s self-serving concern about how the prosecution affected his grifting.

During a presentence interview with U.S. Probation, the defendant expressed remorse for his actions. During his interview, the defendant stated that “if he could go back in time, he would never have gone to Washington D.C.” Straka described his conduct on January 6 as “one of the stupidest and tragic decisions of his life.” Straka lamented about how this incident has impacted his life and his business. He also informed U.S. Probation that he “feels the consequences for his actions have been quite extreme and disproportionate given his involvement in the offense is a misdemeanor.”

[snip]

Yet, it is worth pointing out that Straka believes that “the consequences for his actions this far have been quite extreme and disproportionate given his involvement.” Straka also believes that he is misunderstood. He has also expressed concern about how his business has been affected. ECF 28 ¶¶ 23-25. These statements indicate that Straka does not understand the gravamen of his conduct and that of the rioters on January 6.

The presentence report is also, alarmingly, the only place DOJ cites to explain Straka’s unique grift or that he flew to DC for the insurrection directly from doing similar incitement in Georgia.

It was in this context that Straka traveled to Washington D.C. on January 4, 2021, from where he had been working on the special election in Atlanta, Georgia to attend several “Stop the Steal” events where he would be a featured speaker. See ECF 28 at ¶ 17.

His role in the TCF mob in Michigan is not mentioned at all.

After that presentence report, the swapping of prosecutors, and the new information Straka provided on December 8, Straka’s team told DOJ they were going to ask to have the prosecution dismissed. That’s when the government told Straka they wanted a delay. Straka’s description of the timing of this is not entirely consistent with what shows in the docket (for example Judge Friedrich, with no public explanation, extended the deadline for the sentencing memo to December 15 on December 8, the day Straka provided new information), but there also seem to be several sealed entries. And while Straka claims DOJ told them they wanted a delay on December 11, the motion to continue describing the new information on December 8 and the presentence report is formally filed on December 17.

On December 8, 2021, the defendant provided counsel for the government with information that may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation. Additionally, the government is requesting additional time to investigate information provided in the Final PreSentence Report. Because the government’s sentencing recommendation may be impacted based on the newly discovered information, the government and defendant request a 30-day continuance of this case so that the information can be properly evaluated.

That makes what DOJ spent December 16 doing all the more interesting.

DOJ describes accessing the following materials on December 16, the day before they asked for a continuance:

The government cites the latter article — and not communications obtained directly by the FBI — to explain how Straka learned that his speech would be “delayed.”

At 2:33 pm on January 6, 2021, Michael Coudrey, the national coordinator for Stop the Steal, sent a message to a group chat telling those in the chat that the event that Straka was scheduled to speak at would be delayed because “They stormed the capital[sic].” Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien, New Details Suggest Sernior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic, ProPublica (June 25, 2021) available at https://www.propublica.org/article/new-details-suggest-senior-trump-aides-knew-jan-6-rally-could-get-chaotic (last visited December 16, 2021). Straka responded, “I just got gassed! Never felt so fucking alive in my life!!!” Id.

The government didn’t cite Straka’s November text messages (cited directly in the article) expressing disgust with close Ali Alexander ally Nick Fuentes.

Nor do they describe that Ali Alexander was on the group chat via which Straka learned his event would be delayed, or that shortly after Straka reveled in getting tear gassed, Alexander instructed everyone on the list to “get out of there” because “the FBI is coming hunting.”

“They stormed the capital,” wrote Stop the Steal national coordinator Michael Coudrey in a text message at 2:33 p.m. “Our event is on delay.”

“I’m at the Capitol and just joined the breach!!!” texted Straka, who months earlier had raised concerns about allying with white nationalists. “I just got gassed! Never felt so fucking alive in my life!!!”

Alexander and Coudrey advised the group to leave.

“Everyone get out of there,” Alexander wrote. “The FBI is coming hunting.”

Both the fact that Straka remained on organizing lists with Alexander months after he expressed distaste for Fuentes’ homophobia and that Alexander warned that the FBI were on their way change the import of everything else Straka did. Of particular note, it would dramatically change the connotation of Straka calling, from the safety of some distance from the crime scene, on others to “HOLD. THE. LINE!!!!”

And if DOJ really didn’t understand Straka’s grift until this point, that would suggest they made a plea deal without understanding that Straka was closely tied to those it is now investigating for coordinating with the militias who attacked the Capitol.

Brandon Straka claims he was asked, but denied, that there was, “an organized conspiracy between defendant, President Donald J. Trump, and allies of the former president, to disrupt the Joint Session of Congress on January 6.” But it appears that one thing leading to the month-long delay in his sentencing was newfound understanding both of Straka’s grift, but also of his close ties to those who coordinated with organized militias to end up precisely where Straka did: inciting violence from the top of the East steps of the Capitol.

Given that, his worries about whether his language counts as incitement seem misplaced. While he is legally in the clear for anything pertaining to January 6 (unless he lied to FBI), he should be more worried about inclusion in charges tied to the conspiracy he claims he denied.

Update: This language, from the Jan 6 Committee subpoena letter to Nick Fuentes, is of interest for the way it overlaps with Straka’s trajectory.

On November 14, 2020, you rallied with America First/Groyper followers at the Million MAGA March in Washington, D.C., urging your followers to “storm every state capitol until January 20, 2021, until President Trump is inaugurated for four more years.”5 You were also a prominent figure at “Stop the Steal” rallies in Atlanta, Georgia, on and around November 19, 2020,6 alongside featured speakers such as Alex Jones and Ali Alexander inside and outside the State Capitol, 7 where you discussed potential actions including showing up outside the homes of politicians. 8 On December 12, 2020, you spoke to a crowd of supporters at the “Stop the Steal” events in Washington, D.C., calling for the destruction of the Republican Party for failing to overturn the election.9

Timeline

January 11, 2021: Tip on Straka’s post to Twitter

January 13, 2021: Interview with Straka relative

By January 13, 2021: Straka removes January 5 video from Twitter; last view date for December 19, 2020 video cited in sentencing memo but not arrest affidavit

January 20, 2021: Straka charged by complaint

January 25, 2021: Straka arrest

February 17, 2021: First FBI interview

February 18, 2021: First continuance

March 25, 2021: Second FBI interview

June 3, 2021: Second continuance

July 2, 2021: Protective order

August 25, 2021: Third continuance

August 31, 2021: Date of plea offer

September 14, 2021: Deadline to accept plea

September 15, 2021: Straka charged by information

September 30, 2021: Stuart Dornan files notice of appearance for Straka

October 5, 2021: Updated information

October 6, 2021: Change of plea hearing (plea agreement; statement of offense); sentencing scheduled for December 17, with initial memo due December 10 and response due by December 15

Between October 7 and November 19, 2021: Pretrial services interview (sealed docket #28)

November 19, 2021: Brittany Reed substitutes for April Russo

December 8, 2021: Sentencing reset for December 22; sentencing memo due by December 15; Straka “provide[s] counsel for the government with information that may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation”

December 10, 2021: Straka shares sentencing position (possibly filed under seal)

December 11, 2021: Government tells defendants it seeks to continue, tells Straka it will consider request to dismiss case

December 16, 2021: Last view date for 2018 Straka video, Walkaway Foundation website, WalkAway Campaign PAC website, WalkAway Campaign YouTube Channel; ProPublica article on Michael Courdrey message (and attempts to distance Alex Jones and Ali Alexander)

December 17, 2021: Motion to continue (presented as joint) 30 days

By December 23, 2021: Sealed motion attempting to seal publicly filed motion to continue, denied by Judge Friedrich

January 5, 2022: Third FBI interview, this time including prosecutors (plural)

January 13, 2022: Government sentencing memo (sealed addendum at docket #37); government denies Straka request to dismiss case

January 14, 2022: Bilal Essayli files notice of appearance for Straka

One Man’s Flourish Is Another Man’s Seditious Conspiracy: DOJ’s Typo and the Brandon Straka Plea Deal

The government released their sentencing memo for Brandon Straka yesterday. It confirms that the propagandist got a ridiculously light plea deal because he “cooperated” with the government. But, particularly because of what must be a typo in the government filing, it raises more questions about the fairness of the prosecution for the first purveyor of the Big Lie to be sentenced in January 6 than it provides answers.

As I’ve laid out repeatedly, Straka was a speaker on January 5 and was slated to speak again on January 6 at one of the rallies that provided the excuse to bring more bodies to the Capitol. He also played a central role in riling up a mob at Michigan’s vote count at TCF Center in November 2020. In other words, he was instrumental in the effort to sow violence by leading people to believe false claims about the election.

As described in the sentencing memo, that’s precisely what Straka did at the East side of the Capitol, too.

Straka pleaded guilty to one count of 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(D), Disorderly Conduct in the Capitol Grounds. As explained herein, a four-month home detention sentence is appropriate in this case because: (1) the defendant has a significant public profile, which he utilized to promote his activity on January 6, (2) the defendant learned of the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building and went to join the rioters; (3) upon arriving at the U.S. Capitol, the defendant encouraged others to  storm the U.S. Capitol; (4) the defendant recorded video of the rioters entering the U.S. Capitol; (5) the defendant encouraged rioters to take an officer’s protective shield from the officer’s possession, and (6) the defendant took to social media and encouraged rioters who remained at the U.S. Capitol to “hold the line” even after he had left Capitol grounds on January 6.

[snip]

Here, Straka’s participation in a riot that actually succeeded in halting the Congressional certification combined with his celebration and endorsement of the unauthorized entry of the U.S. Capitol and violent conduct of the rioters to his hundreds of thousands of followers, his act of encouraging rioters to take a U.S. Capitol Police officer’s shield, and the need for deterrence renders a four-month home detention sentence both necessary and appropriate in this case.

Straka was originally charged with civil disorder and trespassing, but not the obstruction of the vote count that he was clearly part of. In October, he got a plea deal to plead only to the lesser of the two trespassing statutes, eliminating a felony civil disorder charge. As I previously noted, his plea agreement included the standard cooperation paragraph that usually suggests someone has not yet cooperated.

But DOJ, in their sentencing memo, claims he did, and even included a sealed filing describing the substance of the cooperation, as they would in support of a 5.1K letter that more formalized cooperators get.

7 The government will supplement this filing with a sealed addendum that will provide this Court with information related to Brandon Straka’s interviews.

But even the memo’s description of Straka’s initial “cooperative” interviews, the ones he did before getting that sweet plea deal, make it clear that, at least at the beginning, he was bullshitting them.

Straka was arrested on January 25, 2021. Straka voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by FBI. Straka’s initial interview occurred on February 17, 2021. Straka recounted what occurred on January 6. Straka denied seeing any police officers as he walked to the U.S. Capitol. He also denied seeing any barriers or signage indicating that the U.S. Capitol was closed. Straka denied removing the posts out of fear of getting arrested. Instead, he explained that he removed the videos because he felt “ashamed.” He denied knowing that people were “attacking, hurting, and killing people.”

Straka described seeing people “clustered” and “packed in” near the entrance to the U.S. Capitol. He admitted to video recording the event and later posting and removing the videos from Twitter. He also admitted knowing that the rioters were entering the U.S. Capitol without authorization and with the intent to interfere with Congress. Straka provided additional information to the FBI regarding the events leading up to and during January 6. After this initial interview, the FBI met with Straka a second time on March 25, 2021 with follow-up questions. Straka was cooperative during the interviews.

Indeed, later parts of the memorandum debunk claims Straka made in that interview, completely undermining the description of these as cooperative interviews.

Straka stood at the entrance of the East Rotunda Doors as rioters attempted to enter despite the presence of officers near the door. Alarms from inside the U.S. Capitol can be heard in the background as Straka approaches the doorway’s entrance: a loud, high-pitched, continuous beeping, similar to a smoke alarm. If Straka was unaware that his and the rioters’ presence was not authorized, he should have known it when he heard the sound of the alarms. Additionally, as Straka approached the doorway, he was met by the smell of tear gas that had been deployed by officers inside of the U.S. Capitol.

The memorandum also clearly shows that any remorse Straka has expressed was self-serving.

Straka has indicated that his decision to attend the U.S. Capitol breach was “stupid and a tragic decision.” In his interview with FBI, Straka stated that he did not know that violence and death would occur that day. He then expressed shame for participating in the event. Yet, it is worth pointing out that Straka believes that “the consequences for his actions this far have been quite extreme and disproportionate given his involvement.” Straka also believes that he is misunderstood. He has also expressed concern about how his business has been affected. ECF 28 ¶¶ 23-25. These statements indicate that Straka does not understand the gravamen of his conduct and that of the rioters on January 6.

And the memorandum obscures the chronology of Straka’s actions from the day and relies on his word for at least one key detail which the FBI could have (and did, for other insurrectionists) confirmed via more investigation. Straka went to Trump’s speech at the Ellipse. Videos show that he left the speech with Mike Flynn just as the speech was ending, walking unimpeded through the VIP section. Straka claims he took the Metro to the Capitol and arrived between 2 and 2:20, which given that everybody else was walking, is likely only possible if he killed a half hour somewhere before hopping the Metro, presumably getting on at Metro Center or Federal Triangle and getting off at Capitol South. That detail is critical, because it’s how Straka sustains a claim that:

  • He only learned of the assault on the Capitol as he was already traveling over there and not before
  • He arrived at the Capitol between the time he learned of the assault and when his speech was canceled (2:00 to 2:20)
  • He learned his speech was canceled at 2:33

Here’s how it looks in the sentencing memorandum, separated by several pages.

The next day, January 6, 2021, Straka attended the “Rally to Save America” on the White House Ellipse and then planned to travel to an area near the U.S. Capitol Building where he was going to give another speech. See ECF 1, p. 2 at ¶ 3 Straka used the Metro to travel to the U.S. Capitol. Id. While traveling to the U.S. Capitol, he received alerts on his telephone stating that former Vice President Mike Pence was “not going to object to certifying Joe Biden.” Id. Straka continued to make his way to the U.S. Capitol. Id. While walking, Straka learned that the U.S. Capitol had been breached. Id. Straka estimated that he got off of the Metro sometime between 2:00 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. before making his way to the U.S. Capitol grounds. See ECF 28, at ¶ 18.

[snip]

At 2:33 pm on January 6, 2021, Michael Coudrey, the national coordinator for Stop the Steal, sent a message to a group chat telling those in the chat that the event that Straka was scheduled to speak at would be delayed because “They stormed the capital[sic].” Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien, New Details Suggest Sernior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic, ProPublica (June 25, 2021) available at https://www.propublica.org/article
/new-detailssuggest-senior-trump-aides-knew-jan-6-rally-could-get-chaotic (last visited December 16, 2021). Straka responded, “I just got gassed! Never felt so fucking alive in my life!!!” Id. Later, as law enforcement was still working to clear rioters from Capitol grounds, Straka encouraged them to continue fighting:

It’s still totally inexplicable. Even if Straka didn’t have knowledge he was traveling into an active riot in advance (a really sketchy claim), he still marched right up the steps of the East side of the Capitol encouraging violent entry, and then stuck around for hours encouraging rioters to keep going. DOJ could have checked the timing of his story by — as they did with other Jan 6 defendants — checking for Metro card purchases, swipes, or surveillance video in the Metro. Instead, they seem to have taken his word for the chronology.

Thus far, then, it looks like Straka successfully bullshitted DOJ for a sweet plea deal.

That treatment is all the more problematic given the discomfort regarding Straka’s incitement in different places in the sentencing memo. In describing his January 5 speech at the Stop the Steal rally, DOJ dismissed his call to “revolution” as “flourishes.”

During his five-minute long speech, Straka again used common rhetorical flourishes, referring to the rally attendees as “patriots,” and referenced a “revolution” multiple times. Id. at 32:27-37:18 Straka directed the attendees to “fight back.” Id.

But in the sentencing memo, DOJ called the same kind of speech on social media before that, often on key days in the developing conspiracy, speech that “could reasonably have been interpreted by some readers as a call for more than just a figurative struggle.”

Following the election, Straka stoked the passions of his followers, frequently telling the “Patriots” that it was time to “rise up” as part of a “civil war.” Many of these messages contain rhetorical flourishes that are common in political speech. However, some of Straka’s references to concrete planning and action could reasonably have been interpreted by some readers as a call for more than just a figurative struggle. In early December 2020, Straka sent out messages informing them that they “could not allow” a presidential transition and encouraging his followers to prepare for a civil war

That is, DOJ admits in its sentencing memo that Straka was stoking violence during the entire transition period.

Thus it happened that, on the very same day DOJ rolled out a seditious conspiracy indictment against Stewart Rhodes for, in part, warning on November 5, “we aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” and then warning on December 11 that if Joe Biden were to assume the Presidency, “it will be a bloody and desperate fight,” DOJ made a case that a guy who, in the same weeks, was also calling for civil war, should get just home confinement.

To be sure, there’s no evidence Straka engaged in military training or purchased weapons. But if Stewie’s incitement counts as sedition, then surely Straka’s counts as obstruction of the peaceful transfer of power.

Which brings us back to DOJ’s claims about Straka’s cooperation and that sealed addendum. According to the memo, as written, Straka had three interviews: one on February 17, 2021, another on March 25, 2021, and a third on — it claims — January 5, 2022.

On January 5, 2022, Straka met with prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI a third time. The purpose of the interview was for the government to ask Straka follo-up [sic] questions. Consistent with his previous interviews, Straka was cooperative. The interviews were conducted in anticipation of the plea agreement that defendant would later enter.7

Except that makes no sense. He signed his statement of offense on September 14, 2021 and pled guilty in October. A January 5, 2022 interview couldn’t have “anticipat[ed] the plea agreement” he entered three months earlier. [Update: I’ve gotten clarification that the reference “the interviews” was meant to refer to the series of interviews. It still doesn’t make sense, but may reflect a late-date addition without correction of the antecedent.]

Moreover, DOJ offers no public explanation for details in this motion for a continuance, which the government attempted to seal after the fact, an attempt Judge Dabney Friedrich refused. It reveals that Straka told the government something new in December, and also that something unexpected came up in the Presentence report.

On December 8, 2021, the defendant provided counsel for the government with information that may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation. Additionally, the government is requesting additional time to investigate information provided in the Final PreSentence Report. Because the government’s sentencing recommendation may be impacted based on the newly discovered information, the government and defendant request a 30-day continuance of this case so that the information can be properly evaluated.

Given the timing of that continuance, it might explain a third meeting with Straka on January 5 — nine days ago. But that would suggest that the information wasn’t provided before Straka got this sweet plea deal.

There are any of a number of things going on. Perhaps it’s true that Straka provided useful information early in the investigation and in consideration for that got a sweet plea deal, as happened with Jacob Riles. Perhaps it’s true that Straka was more honest in those early interviews than portrayed in this memorandum.

Or, as seems more likely given the record and the rhetorical contortions AUSA Brittany Reed made in this sentencing memo, FBI let Straka bullshit them and based on that, he scored a ridiculous plea deal, and only after that, his presentence report disclosed things that FBI should have found last spring.

It may be that the belated discovery in December, in the end, makes the plea deal worth it. If Straka is willing to share honest details of how months of incitement led up to that attempted breach on the East steps; if Straka has provided details of what Mike Flynn was up to after Trump’s speech; if Straka belatedly confessed that there was a concerted plan to converge on the top of the East steps, then Straka’s preferential treatment may be worth it.

But DOJ really needs to provide more transparency on what went down, one that doesn’t include an obvious typo obscuring the timeline. If Paul Hodgkins has to serve eight months for obstruction because he wandered onto the Senate of floor and Jenny Cudd only got to plead from obstruction down to the more serious trespassing charge because she repeated the calls for civil war that people like Straka were making on January 5, then equity demands a far better explanation for Straka’s preferential treatment here.

As noted, Straka’s is the first sentencing for one of the organizer-inciters who will need to be held to account if DOJ wants to really pursue the people who master-minded this insurrection. If FBI screwed up (or tried to protect Straka), then DOJ needs to come clean on that and make it clear how they’ll avoid such problems in the future.

Presenting two inexplicable timelines is not the way to do that.

Update: Fixed reference to presentence report. And included clarification regarding “typo.”