Trump’s DC Trial Strategies, Helsinki, and Dumb and Dumber

After Trump was indicted in DC, the speculation — informed and otherwise — went to his possible defense strategies. “Delay delay delay” was an early one, following his increasingly successful efforts to do so in the Mar-a-Lago case before Judge Cannon. Judge Chutkan, however, is no Judge Cannon, and she has been pushing hard to move things along briskly. Trump sycophants have been putting some trial balloons out there, to see what might fly with the base, if not with the court, such as cries of “Free Speech!” and “First Amendment!” which pointed to a possible defense strategy. Another was the claim that Trump was relying on the advice of counsel, and thereby cannot be held liable.

That last one I found rather  . . . what’s the correct legal term of art? Oh yes . . . silly.

White House Counsel Pat Cippolone told Trump that his claims of fraud were silly. He was more polite about it, but that’s what his advice boiled down to. Trump’s AG, DAG, Acting AG, head of OLC, and numerous other lawyers at the DOJ told Trump that his claims of fraud were silly. Christopher Krebs, a lawyer and the first head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS told Trump that his claims of fraud were silly for multiple reasons. DNI John Ratcliffe (per Cassidy Hutchinson) said Trump’s claims were silly and dangerous.

But apparently the advice of all these lawyers he appointed to positions in his own administration wasn’t enough for Trump, because Rudy et al. said all these lawyers were wrong.

Out in the states, there were other lawyers weighing in, too. Ryan Germany, the general counsel to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, told him that his claims about fraud in Georgia were silly. Some of Trump’s own lawyers in Pennsylvania and Arizona withdrew from representing Trump before the courts in their states, which is a strong sign that their client would not listen to them and take their advice that his claims were silly. Then more of his PA lawyers did the same. Even the lawyers who stayed on to represent Trump in these election cases told the judges in their cases that Trump’s claims of fraud were silly, as there was no evidence to back up those claims.

But apparently the advice of all these lawyers wasn’t enough for Trump, either.

Which brings us to the judges. State judges and federal judges. Trial judges and appellate judges. The justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. In more than five dozen separate cases, the rulings issued by all these courts said that as a matter of law, Trump’s claims were silly. Let’s let US Judge Matthew Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania speak for the all lawyers who wear the black robes, who passed judgment on one or more of Trump’s claims. As Brann wrote in the Introduction to his ruling in DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC., et al. v. KATHY BOOCKVAR, et al.:

In this action, the Trump Campaign and the Individual Plaintiffs (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) seek to discard millions of votes legally cast by Pennsylvanians from all corners – from Greene County to Pike County, and everywhere in between. In other words, Plaintiffs ask this Court to disenfranchise almost seven million voters. This Court has been unable to find any case in which a plaintiff has sought such a drastic remedy in the contest of an election, in terms of the sheer volume of votes asked to be invalidated. One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens.

That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more. At bottom, Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Therefore, I grant Defendants’ motions and dismiss Plaintiffs’ action with prejudice.

Short Judge Brann: Mr. Trump, you’re being silly. Go away, and don’t bring this crap into my courtroom again.

So back to the case before Judge Chutkan. If Trump’s team tries to raise the “reliance on the advice of counsel” defense, I would hope that Jack Smith and his team would run through the list of each one of the Trump administration lawyers who told Trump his claims were silly, and each one of the judges who ruled that as a matter of law, these claims were silly, and ask whoever is representing Trump one simple question: how many MORE lawyers need to tell Trump he’s wrong before he accepts their conclusions?

Which brings me to the final question asked at Trump’s infamous July 2018 press conference alongside Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Jonathan Lemire: Thank you. A question for each President. President Trump, you first. Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. What – who – my first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe? My second question is, would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin – would you denounce what happened in 2016? And would you warn him to never do it again?

Donald J. Trump: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server? And what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me – Dan Coats came to me and some others – they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have – I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone – just gone. I think, in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer; he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.

Given a choice between believing the conclusions of every US intelligence agency on Russian interference in the 2016 election on the one hand and the extremely strong and powerful denial by the leader of Russia on the other, Trump chose Putin.

Can you see why Helsinki came to my mind?

Trump has a pattern when it comes to getting advice from others, that revolves around two immutable statements:

  1. Trump wants advice that supports his current thinking, OR advice that will provide him some kind of immediate or future benefit.
  2. Trump does NOT want advice that tells him he is wrong about something, that he lost a court case or election, or that he otherwise failed.

When confronted by failure, Trump will seize on anything that suggests even the slimmest possibility of ultimate success.

Again, look at Helsinki. Sure, the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community was that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but if Trump accepted that conclusion in public, while standing next to Putin, any hope Trump had of a grand Trump Tower Moscow (something he had worked on for years) would be gone. Also, if Putin held some kind of compromising information on Trump (a conclusion that Marcy leaned toward in her post on the press conference), Putin would surely release it. The result of backing the US IC would be immediate harm and future failure for Trump. Not good.

Would this loss and damage be outweighed by some other benefit, like being seen as the heroic leader of the US intelligence community? Hardly. In Trump’s eyes, these were Deep State folks who were out to get him, and even if he accepted their advice, they’d never accept him as their leader, and he’d piss off his other supporters who had been backing him against the IC. Also not good. Thus, Trump’s answer to Lemire’s question was simple: I believe Putin.

Faced with a mountain of evidence against him, either in Helsinki or in courtrooms across the country, Trump will always reject the advice of those who say definitively that he has lost and cling for his life to the advice of whomever tells him otherwise. Trump lives by the immortal line of Lloyd Christmas: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance . . . Yeah!”

Trump is not seeking out folks like Rudy “Four Seasons Total Landscaping” Giuliani, Sidney “Release the Kracken!” Powell, or any of his other lawyers to guide his legal strategy. He keeps them around because they keep telling him that there’s a chance.

Spoiler alert for Trump and anyone who hasn’t seen Dumb and Dumber: Lloyd’s 1 in a million chance did not come through for him, and he didn’t get the girl.



The Superseding Stolen Documents Indictment: Buying Loyalty

While all the journalists were in Prettyman Courthouse in DC, Jack Smith superseded the Florida stolen documents indictment to add Trump employee Carlos De Oliveira — the property manager — to the indictment.

He’s the guy who helped Walt Nauta move boxes around, including loading them to go to Bedminster. Nauta also allegedly asked him to help destroy surveillance footage.

The superseding indictment adds another stolen document count — the Iran document he showed others, which is classified Top Secret — and another obstruction count for attempting to destroy the video footage.

This passage describes how Nauta flew to Florida to attempt to destroy security footage.

This is a key paragraph of the superseding indictment. It shows how Trump uses legal representation to secure loyalty. It’s a fact pattern that crosses both of Trump’s crimes, and may well be in the expected January 6 indictment. It may help to break down the omerta currently protecting Trump.

Just over two weeks after the FBI discovered classified documents in the Storage Room and TRUMP’s office, on August 26, 2022, NAUTA called Trump Employee 5 and said words to the effect of, “someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good.” In response, Trump Employee 5 told NAUTA that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal and that DE OLIVEIRA would not do anything to affect his relationship with TRUMP. That same day, at NAUTA’s request, Trump Employee 5 confirmed in a Signal chat group with NAUTA and the PAC Representative that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal. That same day, TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and told DE OLIVEIRA that TRUMP would get DE OLIVEIRA an attorney.

Several uncharged Trump employees have been added to the indictment.

  • Trump Employee 3, who simply passed on the information that Trump wanted to speak to Nauta on the day Trump Organization received a subpoena
  • Trump Employee 4, who is the Director of IT who had control of the surveillance footage; according to some reports, he had received a target letter
  • Trump Employee 5, who is a valet, but from whom DOJ seems to have firsthand testimony

The passage above seems to rely on testimony from Trump Employee 5 and the final exploitation of Walt Nauta’s phone.

It remains to be seen how DOJ learned the specifics of Trump’s conversation with De Oliveira.

And the PAC Representative — to whom Trump showed an Iran document — has been referred to as Susie Wiles. She’s a pivotal person in the alleged misuse of PAC-raised money.

This superseding indictment substantiates the obstruction more. But it also starts chipping away at the dangling of lawyers to obstruct the investigation.

Update: Here’s Jack Smith’s description of the additions.

Jack Smith Knows his Justice Robert Jackson

Justice Robert H. Jackson, lead US prosecutor at Nuremberg

Much is being made, rightly, of the current historical moment: a former US president has been indicted in federal court. Trump and his supporters are trying to position this investigation and indictment as political revenge. Sadly for them, Special Counsel Jack Smith appears to understand the best lessons to come out of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leadership after World War II.

The US legal delegation at Nuremberg was led by US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. In his opening statement at the first trial, he acknowledged that the victors in the war were in charge of the trial.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgment must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The worldwide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the first World War, we learned the futility of the latter course.

But how does a prosecution by the victors avoid being accused of running a kangaroo court? Again, from Justice Jackson:

We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

[UPDATE: I just found video of Jackson’s opening remarks. The “Unfortunately . . .” quote above is at the 10:15 mark, and “We will not ask you . . .” quote is at 12:55.]

As I read the indictment in the matter of the United States v. Donald J. Trump, Jackson’s words kept echoing in my head.

Books and records . . .

Vanity and photographs . . .

“You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices . . .”

What Marcy labeled (properly!) as “Hillary’s Revenge” is a collection of Trump’s own words, and Trump can be seen and heard saying them in numerous video clips all over the internet. The same is true of “Brennan’s Revenge”.

It should be no surprise to anyone that the Trump indictment echoes Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg. Before he was named as the Special Counsel in this matter, Jack Smith had spent several years working at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. From his wiki:

From 2008 to 2010, Smith worked as Investigation Coordinator for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.[11][10] In that position, he oversaw cases against government officials and militia members accused of war crimes and genocide.[3][9] 


On May 7, 2018, Smith was named to a four-year term as chief prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, investigating war crimes committed in the Kosovo War,[8][9][13] including the case of Salih Mustafa.[16] He took up the post on September 11, 2018, and was appointed to a second term on May 8, 2022.[8]

You don’t hold positions like these without studying the Nuremberg Trials and learning their lessons.

In Jackson’s opening speech to the Nuremberg Tribunal, at the end of his introductory remarks and before he pivots into the specific discussion of the case at hand, he offered these words to the Tribunal:

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority back of all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and wracked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.

“Men of station and rank . . .”

“men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools . . .”

“reach the planners and designers, inciters and leaders . . .”

Marcy called the Trump indictment a “tactical nuke” and she explored how it ramps up pressure on Walt Nauta to come clean. But more than that, I see it as Jack Smith channeling his inner Justice Jackson.

Yes, this is the DOJ of a political victor charging a political loser with serious crimes, but Smith learned from Jackson how that can be done with integrity. Yes, this is the first time a former US president has been charged with serious crimes, but Smith learned from Jackson that this must be done when circumstances warrant, or the nation and the world will pay a price for failing to seek justice.

Jack Smith knows his Justice Robert Jackson. Now he’s begun teaching Team Trump what’s he learned, and something tells me they aren’t going to like it at all.

OATHS BROKEN, OATH KEEPERS BOWED: Sentences for 2 more in marquee Jan. 6 conspiracy case

Raw emotions positively dominated a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. this week as the Justice Department secured significant sentences for two more Oath Keepers involved in a larger conspiracy to forcibly stop America’s transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021. 

On the heels of an 18-year-sentence delivered to a defiant Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right group, and a 12-year-sentence handed down to Kelly Meggs, Rhodes’ deputy on the 6th, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins, once the founder of the Ohio Regular Militia, to 8.5 years and Kenneth Harrelson, a ground team leader on the 6th, to four years. Both were acquitted of the sedition charge in this case but they were found guilty of multiple felonies including serious obstruction charges. Sedition itself is rarely prosecuted in the United States and rarer still are these prosecutions successful since the bar to prove this sort of conspiracy is set so high. 

This week marked a victory for the Justice Department, the rule of law, and the victims of Jan. 6 even if Donald Trump, the man who started it all, has yet to bear any real legal responsibility for his role in inciting an attack on the U.S. Capitol to stay in power. 

That day may come. But in the meantime, the willing pawns in Trump’s betrayal of the U.S. Constitution and common decency alike will now begin to serve their time. 

Underlining the severity of events, prosecutors initially sought an 18-year sentence for Watkins noting the jury’s conclusion that her true objective on Jan.6 was to storm the Capitol, use her body—and the bodies of her recruits—to violently obstruct the certification of the 2020 election, and intimidate Congress and impede police. 

Judge Mehta told a highly emotional Watkins in court Friday that though she was acquitted of the most serious charge, at the time of Jan. 6 she was nevertheless a self-professed Oath Keeper who conspired to mar and disrupt democratic proceedings and lead recruits who, he believed, wouldn’t have been there but for her leadership. That would include, Mehta noted, Oath Keepers Bennie and Sandra Parker. She also led Donovan Crowl and Graydon Young into the fray. 

Watkins was on the Nov. 9, 2020, GoTo Meeting with Stewart Rhodes and other Oath Keepers, where, Judge Mehta described, the origins of a violent conspiracy began to emerge. Before sentencing, the judge told her she “knew exactly what Rhodes had said, [and] was listening carefully on the call.” 

In that meeting, Rhodes said he had abandoned all hope of a peaceful way to keep Trump in office or stave off a civil war. There was “nothing left but to fight,” and “we’re not getting out of this without a fight,”  he said in November 2020. 

He was primed for violence and ready to issue orders. Watkins was ready to take them. 

Jessica Watkins

She would ask Rhodes then about providing weapons for Oath Keeper events, Mehta noted, pointing to a discussion about transporting altered, weaponized pool cues. She and Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl called them “nightsticks.” 

The foreseeable violence of Jan. 6 was evident in her constant willingness to prepare for it in the days and weeks leading up to the certification, Mehta said. And on that day, Watkins used an “aggressive, assaultive” posture and was “purposeful” as she coursed through the Capitol. Communications between her and others like Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl showed she wasn’t in D.C. merely to provide a security detail for Trump VIPs or to protect Trump supporters attending speeches like she and her defendants argued at trial.

She understood why Oath Keepers had set up the arsenal of weapons they dubbed a “quick reaction force” or a “QRF” at a hotel in northern Virginia, Mehta said. She brought an AR-15 from her home base of Ohio to Winchester, Virginia on the 6th. At trial, she said she decided to leave it at Crowl’s property there because she worried cleaning staff at the hotel outside of D.C. (the QRF) would “freak out” if they saw them. 

In court Friday, Mehta told Watkins he believed she would have gone to get weapons if Rhodes had asked her and it was “small comfort” that she had left her own personal weapon further behind. 

In any event, it is unlikely Watkins would have needed to drive hours back to Winchester anyway: The arsenal at the hotel in Arlington, Virginia, was just over the Potomac River from the U.S. Capitol, and it had more weapons than Oath Keeper Terry Cummings had seen in one place since his time in the military, he testified in October.

Watkins was part of the first stack, or line formation, inside of the Capitol. Leading the group on the ground was Kelly Meggs. He was sentenced to 12 years for seditious conspiracy earlier this week. Watkins used Zello, a walkie-talkie messaging app to communicate her maneuvering inside the Capitol and Mehta said there was no doubt that she pushed her way past police and headed toward the Senate. She could be seen and heard in footage urging “push! push! push!” and encouraging rioters to overrun police. 

Watkins kept some of her communications tied to Jan. 6 intact but others she deleted, and this, both the jury and Judge Mehta concluded, indicated an intent to conceal her activities and obstruct an investigation into her crimes after she was identified in press reports in the wake of the attack. He told Watkins he didn’t know if there was a direct connection between Rhodes’ orders to Oath Keepers to delete communications after the 6th and her decision to remove her own communications but he considered it obstruction nonetheless. 

Mehta agreed to a terrorism enhancement sought by the Justice Department but still went below the guidelines. He was sympathetic to her and her background. Watkins is transgender and she had a difficult upbringing in a strict religious household. Once in the Army she temporarily went AWOL because of harassment from a bunkmate who discovered her online searches involving gender identity. Her military service didn’t earn her any special deference at sentencing. 

“I don’t think you’re Stewart Rhodes. I don’t think you’re Kelly Meggs. But your role in those events was more than a foot soldier. I think you can appreciate that,” Mehta told her in court Friday. 

She nodded slightly as he spoke to her. 

Watkins was racked with emotions during the sentencing hearing. She burst into tears the moment she took the podium and it was her chance to ask for mercy from the court. After somewhat composing herself, she spoke loudly though often her voice would quake as her tears flowed. She clutched a tissue for a few moments as she spoke. Her face flushed.

 I wrote this letter to you today to express my feelings of remorse considering my participation in Jan 6. As I said previously, my actions and behaviors that fateful day were wrong and as I now understand, criminal. This is what has brought me before you today and why you must hold me responsible. The events of Jan. 6 are unfortunate and while I believe in peaceful protest and redress of government, violence is never the answer,” Watkins said.

She expressed her “strong” frustration with people who assaulted police and told Judge Mehta since she had been incarcerated she had studied video evidence online and emphatically claimed she had “solved the crime” of a police assault on Jan. 6 unrelated to her case.

She also said she accepted that “her actions in and around the Capitol inspired those people to a degree.” 

“They saw me there and that probably fired them up,” she said, noting how Oath Keepers were pat on the back as they ascended the Capitol steps. 

“At trial, I said I was an idiot for going in there. But idiots can be held responsible and this idiot must be held responsible,” she said. 

Watkins cried as she left the stand, saying she still loved her country and that it was never her intent to harm it or anyone. She regretted that Metropolitan Police Officer Christopher Owens was not present Friday. She wanted to personally apologize again though she aired the same sentiments at trial while he was in the courtroom. Owens, who was on the receiving end of Watkins’ push inside the Capitol, issued a poignant and painful victim impact statement two days before her sentencing. She was present for it but unable to address him then.

Judge Mehta’s empathy for Watkins was substantial. She had overcome a lot, he said. And in a tone that sounded stern yet near fatherly, the federal judge looked at Watkins earnestly, telling her he believed she was someone who could one day be a role model for others. 

“I’m happy you have found someone who loves you. You and he tried to make a go of it with your own business… you served as a firefighter and a medic, and frankly, I do believe that the purpose of the Ohio State Regular Militia was not to battle our government,” Mehta said. “But somewhere along the line, that all got waylaid and perverted. I don’t know what it was. Whether it was Alex Jones or other corners of the internet you found yourself in; you clearly began to have delusional thoughts about what the risks were if the other guy won and what you would need to do to ensure the safety of your countrymen.” 

No one with a “human bone in their body,” Mehta added, could hear Watkins’ life story and not feel some degree of compassion.

“You have overcome a lot. You are resilient. You are someone who could serve as a role model. I say that at a time when people who are trans are so readily vilified and used for political purposes. It makes it all the more hard for me to understand why there is still a lack of empathy for those who suffered that day. Maybe it’s part of the process, the journey,” Mehta said. 

The “lack of empathy” the judge referred to was tied to Watkins’ remarks in private calls reviewed by prosecutors and raised at sentencing. In one call, she had derided police who came under attack on Jan. 6 and spoke publicly of their post-traumatic stress. 

“‘Boo hoo, poor little police officers got a little PTSD, wah! ‘I had to stand there and hold the door open for people. Wah!'” Watkins had said, according to prosecutor Alexandra Hughes.

Her attorney, Jonathan Crisp, said Watkins had undertaken efforts at deradicalization. She’s been detained for two years. Mehta did raise the question with Crisp of how he could reconcile her seeming callousness in the phone call with her more remorseful presentation in court. The lawyer, who is a JAG and served in Iraq but did not see combat, admitted, “it may sound evil,” to make the comment but it came from an opinion that any wearer of any uniform in law enforcement or military service should expect that risk, danger and sacrifice effectively come with the territory. Crisp argued that wasn’t to diminish the unique circumstances of Jan. 6 and the unexpected conditions police were under, but that was the opinion, deluded as others may perceive it to be.

At her sentencing as well as at Rhodes and Meggs’ sentencing and later, at Harrelson’s, the judge made it a point to underline to each that their sentences would need to reflect the role they played and how serious it had impacted not just people of the United States but also the very people who defended the Capitol with their lives, forsaking their own families, self-interest and self-preservation instincts. 

Mehta said it was an officer’s job to expect sacrifice though this did not diminish their heroism in the face of something that, “I would dare say, even a police officer would have expected [on the 6th.]”

Roughly an hour after Watkins, her co-defendant Florida Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson was sentenced by Judge Mehta to four years in prison. Prosecutors initially sought 15. Much like it was with Watkins, Harrelson was deeply emotional before the judge. 

He was acquitted of seditious conspiracy. He was also acquitted of conspiracy to obstruct proceedings and destruction of property. The jury convicted him on just two of six counts that he faced: obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging his duties. He did not testify at trial whereas Watkins, Rhodes, and co-defendant Thomas Caldwell, did. 

Harrelson was somewhat enigmatic in court. He was reserved throughout roughly 30 days of proceedings; reading from paperwork ceaselessly, his head down and face close to the pages before him. His lawyer, Bradley Geyer, while certainly not a shrinking violet when he would speak before the jury, was among the least chatty attorneys at trial, seemingly preferring to let Harrelson fade into the background. 

Harrelson wasn’t a prolific texter or user of social media and very few of his messages emerged in evidence. He deleted most and deleted Signal off his phone. The extent of his communications around the 6th is something that will remain a mystery for prosecutors for sometime and maybe forever. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said in court Friday. 

Prosecutors considered Harrelson a “ground team leader” who took orders from Meggs. Another fellow Oath Keeper, Jason Dolan, told the jury in October he considered Harrelson to be his superior and it was Dolan who also helped transport weapons to the QRF in Arlington. Harrelson also participated in firearms training with Meggs and was close with Rhodes in the days leading up to the critical Nov. 9 GoTo meeting. Like Watkins, Harrelson heard Rhodes call for violence if Trump wasn’t permitted to stay in the White House (despite his defeat). 

At sentencing, Judge Mehta was unwilling to add leadership enhancements to Harrelson’s sentence because while he thought there were elements of Harrelson’s role that could fall into the leadership category, what he reviewed he didn’t consider dispositive proof that the Florida man “controlled” anyone in a significant sense on the 6th.

Harrelson went up the Capitol steps in the first stack led by Meggs and once atop, turned to wave at others to come inside. Once in, he and Dolan screamed “treason!” at police officers and “This is our fucking house!” Dolan told the jury when he was on the stand this was done to put fear into lawmakers preparing to certify the election. 

Kenneth Harrelson

When law enforcement came calling for Harrelson after the 6th, he hid the AR-15 he brought to the D.C. area as well as the rifle case. He failed to tell investigators about several photos he took on the 6th during the melee. 

And, Nestler noted, he didn’t show any remorse in the days afterward. Quite the contrary: he continued to speak with Meggs, Rhodes and Oath Keeper and Roger Stone security goon Jeremy Brown

Mehta told Harrelson he believed he was just as responsible in many ways for the conspiracy as his cohorts on Jan. 6, including his superior Kelly Meggs. He knew the QRF was packed to the gills with weapons, for one, and his time in the Capitol—while fleeting—was not unimportant since it advanced the group’s mutual attempt to stop Congress from its work.

Oath Keepers like Caleb Berry testified at another Oath Keeper trial that Harrelson had bubbled over after leaving the Capitol because he had patted down an officer at one point and made a tantalizing revelation.

“It was clear as day in the video that you did pat down Officer [Ryan] Salke as you are leaving the building and if that were not enough, we had [Oath Keeper] Graydon Young who testified you did pat him down and Caleb Berry said you told him you did the pat down and said you were surprised at how little armor they had,” Mehta said. 

Mehta noted too how Berry, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding in July 2021, said Harrelson was “pumped” at this and excited. Then the men talked about how they could have been more effective if they would have brought gas masks and firearms. 

At the trial and at sentencing, Geyer emphasized how rioters burst into singing the National Anthem on the stairs. And while Geyer and the defendants had invoked that moment with a type of romantic patriotic reverence in court last year, on Friday, Mehta’s tone was pointed when he told the Army veteran” video may have indeed shown rioters singing the National Anthem on the Capitol steps as the Oath keepers ascended and burst inside,  but it, more importantly, showed him walking through the crowd to the landing. 

“And you are the first one. You were the first one to get close enough to see what was happening at the doors and what was transpiring there. Nevertheless, you enter and you immediately start recording and the words “treason!” are being uttered” Mehta said. 

Harrelson claimed once inside, he and Meggs attempted to “help” U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn after coming upon him in the small rotunda near then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office.

A jury may have agreed that as Harrelson made his way through a Capitol under siege, the Florida Oath Keeper would have, at the bare minimum, clearly understood this was not the place to be. The judge said he would only guess that the jury acquitted him of the conspiracy to obstruct charge because they didn’t agree beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually understood how Congressional proceedings actually worked. (Harrelson voted once his entire life and in a state election; had no political interests prior to his involvement with Rhodes and the Oath Keepers and had a very hardscrabble upbringing with a “junkie mom,” his attorney said, and an absentee father.) 

Harrelson has a one-point terrorism enhancement on his sentence because he did intimidate officials: staffers were trapped inside the office he stalked outside of; police inside, like Officer Dunn had been fighting off the mob, defending colleagues, helping people who were overcome, when Harrelson and Meggs came upon him, adding to his already crushing burden. 

When he spoke on his own behalf, Harrelson cried several times, sniffing hard with his body tightening up as he delivered remarks to the court. 

“I got into the wrong car at the wrong time and I went to the wrong place with the wrong people,” Harrelson said before going to explain how he got to D.C.. and was told to report to Michael Greene, a designated Oath Keepers operations leader on the 6th. Greene was acquitted of conspiracy at the third Oath keepers trial in March.

“I have no gripes with the government… I shouldn’t have been there. I should have paid more attention to what was being said [and] on my phone…to Officer Harry Dunn: I would like to truly apologize. when he came up those stairs and expressed that they were killing his friends and carrying out his buddies on stretchers,  all I said was ‘really’? I didn’t know what was happening on the west side…I didn’t know I was hurting anyone and I could have done more and I apologize. I think about that a lot,” he said, choking through tears. “I know I should have done more. I apologize.”

Harrelson continued on to say that he had “demolished” his life, loved his wife and children, was scared for them, and apologized to them as well. 

After Mehta sentenced him, and after the terms of his supervision were read and the Oath Keeper left the courtroom in his prison-issued jumpsuit, he turned his head to the pews and blew his wife a kiss. 

(Coming up this week at the federal courthouse: Oath Keepers and co-conspirators Roberto Minuta, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett, and David Moerschel— all of whom were found guilty of seditious conspiracy—will be sentenced on June 1 and 2.)

THE BIG FINISH: The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial goes to the jury

From emptywheel: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

A jury that has listened to arguments and evidence for roughly four months in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial that unfolded mere blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, has now entered deliberations. 

The mere physical task of sorting through the evidence before them is significant all its own and it is only eclipsed by the burden to finally render a verdict that is just and reflective of the instructions they received at the conclusion of what has been the Justice Department’s longest Jan. 6 trial to date. 

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe took the podium for the final time this week in U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly’s courtroom, he faced the jury, his suit a dark blue and his tie a muted red, and harkened first to the words of the Proud Boys ringleader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio on Jan. 4, 2021:

“Whatever happens, Make it a spectacle.” 

Tarrio said this to his now co-defendant, Joseph Biggs, just before his arrest on the 4th. What followed was a sequence of events that led Tarrio to exactly where he found himself this week: listening to a federal prosecutor standing just a few feet away tell a jury of his peers that he was responsible for a conspiracy that nearly toppled democracy as they and America have only ever known it.

 The Proud Boys on trial include Tarrio, Biggs, chapter leaders Ethan Nordean and Zachary Rehl, and one of the group’s foot soldiers, Dominic Pezzola. They face no less than nine charges apiece for their alleged roles in the attack at the U.S. Capitol and their attempt to stop Congress from certifying an election that would ultimately end Donald Trump’s presidency after his popular and electoral defeat. 

Through evidence that included video footage and raft upon raft of the Proud Boys’ text messages as well as public social media posts scattered on Telegram or Parler as well as through the testimony of witnesses for and against the defense, the government weaved together the very crux of its historic case against the neofascist network. 

The defendants viewed themselves as “Donald Trump’s army,” Mulroe said. They were a self-stylized group of “radical” and “real men” who could and would be willing to strike down anyone or anything that opposed their vision of an America only Trump could lead. 

“They were hyper-focused on the election and what they viewed was the special role of the Proud Boys in a deadly serious conflict in American society,” Mulroe said. 

It was that “life or death” attitude among the Proud Boy defendants about the election and America’s future that finally reached its fever pitch on Jan. 6. It came to a head when they initiated the breaching of barricades and it spilled over when they assaulted or impeded police trying desperately to stop them. And it was no more clear, the prosecution argued, when those efforts coalesced into a disruption of Congress from its sacred and solemn business that lasted for several tense hours. 

At the close, the Justice Department showed jurors a montage of texts and posts where the defendants could be seen celebrating Trump’s “stand back and stand by” remark after the 2020 presidential debates. There were also other communications displayed where members appeared to agree it was time to stand up and fight against their perceived enemies—largely “antifa” at the start. 

When Biggs arrived in Washington on Jan. 5, he did so with the conviction that there was a “war of Americanism” underway and he believed it was “time for fucking war if they steal this shit,” Biggs once wrote.

Tarrio had offered up, “No Trump, no peace no quarter.” Nordean had proposed in texts to “fash the fuck out so we don’t have to worry about these problems anymore.” 

And when Biggs told fellow Proud Boys he believed “every lawmaker who breaks their own stupid laws should be dragged out of office and hung,” it was his now co-defendant Zachary Rehl who had also once called for something similar. 

Rehl wrote that he hoped there were “firing squads” for “the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.” 

And if the taste for violence needed to be made any clearer, Mulroe pointed the jury’s attention to Nordean’s commentary ahead of the insurrection: “Live free or die hard, Politics ain’t working for nobody, it’s time to fucking rage.” 

For prosecutors, this case isn’t about patriotism run amok or free speech on steroids. It wasn’t about loose talk among rough men that came to nothing. The government asked jurors as they rendered their verdict to consider information before them and see it for what it is: These were people who had spent weeks building animosity towards law enforcement. These were people who believed, as several witnesses testified at trial, that a “civil war” was imminent and these were people who would do whatever was necessary to keep their preferred leader in office. 

At trial, prosecutors argued that after pro-Trump rallies in Washington in November and December 2020  had turned violent with Proud Boys brawling with people they deemed “antifa” in the streets, the group’s members quickly lost all reverence or respect they once harbored for the police. 

Jurors reviewed evidence where Proud Boys blasted police as wrongly defending “antifa” after the clashes that fall and winter. And after one of their leaders, Jeremy Bertino—who has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy—was stabbed, the time to “back the blue” had ended.

Facing the jury on Tuesday, Mulroe recited a message Biggs had posted after Bertino was stabbed on Dec. 12. 

“We the people will treat your thin blue line like you do antifa. We’ll knock you to your senses… and bypass your unconstitutional asses,” Biggs said. 

Nordean sent messages saying he was “disgusted” with law enforcement and that they should encourage people to “back the yellow,” a reference to their group’s official colors of black and yellow. 

When Proud Boy and witness for the defense Fernando Alonso, admitted to calling police “coptifa” in court last month and said “maybe” Tarrio had once called them the same, he tried to backpedal, seeming altogether unwilling to say anything critical of the organization. Wearing Proud Boy colors in court, Alonso tried to qualify that Proud Boys don’t regard all police that way. 

Just the ones they believed were against them. 

These communications were evidence of an appetite for violence that led to the defendant’s intent and motive on the 6th. It was there as they marched toward the Capitol and Nordean used a megaphone to taunt police that “real men are here” and it was there when Nordean said  Proud Boys “represented the spirit of 1776” before warning police that day “they would remind those who have forgotten what their oath means.”

“Listen to the contempt in their voices,” Mulroe said as he played video footage of Proud Boys  marching group streaming past a small group of police scrambling to gear up. As they passed, men in the group screamed things like: “Pick a side,” “fucking scum,”  “honor your oath,” “treason,” and “traitors.”

The Proud Boys are alleged to have never intended to go to Trump’s speech as their main prerogative on the 6th. Instead, many of the Proud Boys waited for the proceedings to get started and “made a beeline for the barricades.” 

“The barriers were there to protect what was going on inside of that building… the proceeding was already underway when the first wave of rioters breached. Nordean, Biggs, Rehl, and Pezzola were all part of that first wave,” Mulroe said. 

The defense has insisted over the last 14 weeks that there was never a plan to storm the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the election. Not a written one or a spoken one. No testimony ever emerged at trial from witnesses called by either the government or the defense that stated an explicit plan was in place. 

The Proud Boys maintain they only went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to protest, support Trump, protect Trump supporters, and have their voices heard. 

When Bertino testified on behalf of the government in February, he told the jury he never heard a point-by-point plan communicated. But, he said, there was an understanding and agreement that they would do whatever was necessary to keep Trump in power. 

He described to the jury that ahead of the 6th, Proud Boys believed when “something big” would happen, they could rely on the “normies,” or Trump supporters otherwise unaffiliated with the Proud Boys, to get behind them. Bertino once described the Proud Boys in texts as the “tip of the spear.” Another Proud Boy, a low-level member named Matthew Greene, also referred to Proud Boys this way when he testified on behalf of the government. Greene has pleaded guilty to two charges including conspiracy and obstruction of a proceeding. 

“We always led the way and they were always behind us, the normies,” Bertino testified in February. 

Proud Boys were “ready and willing for anything that was going to happen,” Greene testified in January. They were “essentially the tip of the spear.”  

The Justice Department argues that all that unfolded at the Capitol on the 6th was not just sanctioned by Tarrio but that Tarrio was responsible for bringing his co-conspirators together, even if he wasn’t on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. Mulroe also reminded jurors how Tarrio had never told his men not to use violence to achieve their ends. 

He didn’t on Jan. 6, Mulroe highlighted.

Instead, Tarrio posted on Parler “don’t fucking leave” and “proud of my boys” and “1776.” In a private chat for members of the group’s secretive subdivision known as the Ministry of Self Defense, Tarrio wrote “proud of y’all” as the Proud Boys invaded the Capitol. And on the night of the 6th around 11:14 p.m., he posted an ominous-looking video of himself standing in front of the Capitol with the words “premonition” to caption it. He had shot the video the night before on Jan. 5 but waited to post it. 

The Ministry of Self Defense wasn’t a back channel for run-of-the-mill rally operations or marketing as the Proud Boys had argued. The Proud Boys themselves weren’t a fraternity of roughnecks or harmless edge lords. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s call this what it is. The Ministry of Self-Defense is a violent gang that came together to use force against its enemies,” Mulroe said. 

All of this was proof enough of Tarrio’s “explicit encouragement and direction.” 

This made up the defendant’s explicit agreement, he said. 

And if that wasn’t convincing beyond a reasonable doubt, Mulroe told the jury they should consider the sheer force the group used with its combined numbers enough to disrupt Congress. That too was an agreement, he argued. 

Pointing out how the defendants’ credibility had been shot through time and again, and perhaps most powerfully when Rehl and Pezzola mostly crumbled under cross-examination and delivered bitter, conspiracy-theory-laden testimony, Mulroe urged the jury to believe that the Proud Boys turned a peaceful process for more than 200 years into a “horrifying spectacle.” 

Just as Tarrio had commanded and several of his co-defendants agreed. 

“From the first breach to the last, these defendants joined together and that was an agreement. What that means, is even if you didn’t know about anything that had come before, even if you hadn’t seen the evidence of prior rallies, secret chats, Parler posts, MOSD, even if you pick things up on the afternoon, even if you only came to this at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 6, you still have decisive evidence of their shared action toward a mutual goal,” Mulroe said. 

During the defense’s closing arguments, Tarrio’s attorney Nayib Hassan picked up where Tarrio’s other attorney, Sabino Jauregui, had begun when the trial opened.

The Proud Boys were a “scapegoat” for Trump, he said. 

“It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on Jan. 6 in your beautiful and amazing city,” Hassan said. “It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique as a scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and those in power.”

Hassan hammered at the assertion that there was “no communicating of an understanding or of an objective” by Tarrio with anyone, or any of the defendants about stopping the transfer of power with force. 

Hassan argued that Tarrio never asked anyone to attack police, never broke a window, never crossed police lines. The government was trying to distract the jury from the reality of Proud Boys being violently attacked by antifa, he said. Bertino’s stabbing was the catalyst that led Tarrio to become consumed with plans for how to protect members when they attended rallies, rallies that were a protected expression of their rights. 

Bertino, who was once an intimate of Tarrio’s, and a high-ranking leader of the Proud Boys, was thrown under the bus by Hassan and other defense attorneys at close. It was a recurring theme as the trial wore on, too. 

In early April, the defense presented 46 text messages between Tarrio and Shane Lamond, a Metropolitan Police Department officer who had been on the force for more than two decades. He’s now under investigation by the FBI. Lamond has denied any wrongdoing. 

Tarrio’s attorneys argued Lamond and Tarrio had a symbiotic relationship where Tarrio would keep Lamond in the loop about Proud Boys activities with information flowing in a meaningful way. The existence of these communications on their face, according to Tarrio, proves there was no plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the election on Jan. 6 because he was engaging with law enforcement, not evading them. 

But prosecutors said the messages didn’t show Tarrio was very helpful to Lamond at all, and rather, deceived him and used their relationship to keep tabs on police. When it came to the 6th, for example, Tarrio told Lamond in one of their few dozen exchanges that Proud Boys may come to D.C. for the 6th and if they did, it would be in “extremely small numbers.” 

Proud Boys would show up by the hundreds on the 6th. The only thing Tarrio told Lamond in that exchange that was true was that Proud Boys wouldn’t be wearing colors that day. 

Tarrio may be reprehensible to the jury, Hassan said, but he urged them to put personal feelings aside about the ugly things chats showed Tarrio saying. 

“Your deliberations in the next few days will impact the rest of his life,” Hassan said. “If you have an abiding position that the government did not prove its case, its your obligation to speak up.” 

Steven Metcalf, a defense attorney for Dominic Pezzola, pleaded with the jury during an impassioned plea for the Proud Boy.

Pezzola faces the same seditious conspiracy charge and conspiracy charges as his co-defendants plus a robbery charge for his alleged stealing of a police riot shield from an officer who was knocked to the ground by Pezzola. 

“You hate him or me, I ask you to put that aside,” Metcalf said. 

Jurors should put their politics aside, he argued, because “this case has mostly been about the government using Dominic’s politics against him so each of you hate him.” 

Pezzola’s second day of testimony, which came not long before closing arguments, was explosive and frequently combative. Pezzola told the jury, who had sat and listened to the case for roughly four months, that the proceedings were “corrupt” and the charges “fake.” Metcalf said he warned Pezzola to “shut up” and not testify but the Rochester, New York Proud Boy really wanted to tell the jury: he trespassed, broke a window, and got a shield. 

“But seditious conspiracy? Seditious conspiracy?!” Metcalf said, loudly, driving home his disbelief. 

The government had “over-inflated” the case against the Proud Boys, Metcalf said. 

Biggs’ defense attorney Norm Pattis closed out the case for his client with an often meandering, objection-drawing treatise heavy on the defense of the First Amendment and lighter on the defense of his client’s actual conduct. It was also rich in attacking the government’s broader case overall and at one point Pattis even compared the charges themselves to conspiracy theory. 

“They [the defendants] have been criminalized for being present at the scene in what I will assert is basically a conspiracy theory,” he said. 

But when he did pick at the charges more, he balked at the government’s position that “concerted action equals an agreement.”

“My left eye!” Pattis wailed. “I go to a ball game and I cheer and someone buys me a hot dog at that moment. At that moment, did we all agree to buy that hot dog?” 

During the government’s rebuttal delivered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Moore, the prosecutor boiled it down to something more accurate under the law. 

“It’s no wonder they want you to focus on a specific plan to breach the Capitol. But we don’t have to prove a plan. There’s no requirement of a detailed plan. They’re not charged with that. They are charged with conspiracy,” she said. 

And then she offered an example, free of legalese.

“If I pull up to a red light and I rev my engine and a guy in a Mustang next to me does it back and the light turns green and we both peel out, even if we never met each other, even if we never said a word, we both formed an agreement,” she said. 

The agreement doesn’t have to be notarized, she added, and there’s no requirement to prove formal or express agreement to every detail. The government only needs to prove that the defendants agreed to oppose the certification by force. 

It could happen at the last second. 

And though she didn’t reference it in the government’s rebuttal argument, jurors did hear testimony from Matthew Greene in January that he had an “abstract” feeling of what they were doing as they marched on the Capitol but he wasn’t sure. 

It wasn’t until he saw the first barricade go down that the light bulb clicked on. 

“Oh shit, this is it,” he said he recalled thinking. 

After their first day of deliberations Wednesday, there’s no word of a verdict. The jury will meet daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

ADDITION: On Wednesday, jurors passed a note to the court asking for exhibit numbers on two exhibits: one from Rehl’s phone where he’s filming the breach at the first barrier and another video where Biggs “suggests they pull their masks up.”

Time is almost up for Proud Boys on trial for seditious conspiracy: Another week gone and another week begins in historic Jan. 6 case

From emptywheel: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial, after three arduous months, is on the verge of its conclusion. Closing arguments in the historic case unfolding just steps away from the U.S. Capitol could come as early as this week though not before at least one of the defendants may testify. 

On Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly takes the bench for the 53rd time in the trial’s proceedings, the final contours of the Proud Boys defense are expected to be outlined and any final attempts by the defendants to undercut what has been a massive presentation of damning evidence by the Justice Department will be made. 

If this trial has been a marathon, this is now the final leg, and as the defendants arrive at the finish line, they only have so much time left support their argument that they were not part of a conspiracy to forcibly stop the transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021, nor were their efforts aimed at obstructing Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election. 

Last week, Norm Pattis, a defense attorney for Proud Boy Joseph Biggs, said the former Infowars contributor wouldn’t take the witness stand. To what may end up being his benefit, Biggs has been a largely quiet figure at trial, sitting mostly silently for weeks in a series of gray suits and dark-framed glasses as he occupies a corner of the defense table positioned furthest away from the jury. 

Pattis and his co-counsel Dan Hull have mostly managed to keep Biggs and questions about his specific conduct on Jan. 6, alleged or otherwise, limited. 

When it has come to the cross-examination of government witnesses who suggested Biggs was integral to the breaching of initial barriers on Jan. 6 alongside defendant Ethan Nordean or when it has come to claims that he played a central role in whipping people into a frenzy, Pattis has often worked to refocus the jury’s attention to matters tangentially-related, like philosophical or ideological points around protest, speech or assembly. 

Where that has failed outright or faced disruption through a series of sustained objections from prosecutors, Biggs’ legal team has invoked the suggestion that the violence of Jan. 6 was the byproduct of FBI interference or incitement or just pure herd mentality. 

In court this week, the only evidence Biggs presented was a roughly 90-minute video of a Proud Boys video teleconference meeting held on Dec. 29, 2020. The video, according to the defense, goes toward the claim that Proud Boys had only planned to engage in a peaceful protest and respond to antifa or leftist interlopers accordingly. 

The force of that video’s effect, however, may have been mitigated since Biggs said little in it to start and on top of that, it featured unsavory moments steeped in anti-Semitism and misogyny. 

For example, jurors heard Tarrio and fellow Proud Boys in the meeting laugh as Tarrio discussed wearing a “six-pointed star” on Jan. 6 and making their official colors white and blue, like the Israeli flag. 

As the men laugh in the clip, Tarrio is heard assuring them that Proud Boys would never elect a “small hat” to their elders’ council. A small hat is a presumed reference to a yarmulke. Then, at another unsympathetic moment in the meeting, one Proud Boy is heard recalling how at the Dec. 12 rally in D.C., a woman tried to walk past him in the crowd. 

She told him to “make a hole” so she could squeeze by. In the clip, the Proud Boy recounted what he thought in the moment to Tarrio and crew: “I’m about to make a hole and put you in it you fucking whore,”

The jurors, as such, have mainly been left to acquaint themselves with Biggs through footage of him on Jan. 6 where he is regularly seen exuberantly clutching a bullhorn or shouting angrily about antifa or marching past police barriers with fellow Proud Boys as the melee around them comes to a crashing head. 

The leader of the neofascist network, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, is very unlikely to testify barring any last-minute changes of heart. Though he was absent from the Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors argue the Miami, Florida-based Proud Boy oversaw and coordinated the group’s efforts from afar and had intended to stop the certification for weeks. 

During the trial this February, jurors saw evidence to suggest that Tarrio had by Dec. 30, 2020, possessed and shared a key document entitled “1776 Returns” that contained a detailed proposal to occupy federal buildings in Washington, D.C.

It didn’t mention the U.S. Capitol building specifically and Tarrio has vehemently denied authoring the proposal or knowing the document’s origins. Nonetheless, in text messages shown to jurors last month where “1776 Returns” was discussed, Tarrio is seen vowing that his “every waking moment” consisted of thinking about a “revolution.”

This poked a large hole in the defense’s already-thin theory that Proud Boys only concerned themselves on Jan. 6 with the task of protecting innocent Trump supporters who wanted to rally unmolested by rabid leftists hiding in plain sight.

During trial last week, Tarrio’s attorney Sabino Jauregui entered text messages into the record between the Proud Boys leader and Shane Lamond, a D.C. police lieutenant. The messages, according to Jauregi, support Tarrio’s assertion that he informed police of Proud Boys activities and whereabouts regularly and that he didn’t obscure his intent with officers for Jan. 6. 

Almost all of the texts shown in court last week (there were 46) were from points long before Jan. 6. And while Tarrio has painted the relationship he had with Lamond as one of equal input, some of the texts suggest the relationship may have been lopsided and most of his messages to Lamond were short and sweet. 

Lamond is currently under investigation for his communications with Tarrio. He has not been charged with any crime and he has denied any wrongdoing. Lamond has, however, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and has opted against testifying at the trial.  

The texts were varied; mostly showing Lamond asking Tarrio where Proud Boys would be during a rally or other high-profile event. The men were friendly, with Lamond calling Tarrio “brother” and Tarrio calling Lamond “bruv.” They discussed getting drinks. He told Tarrio in November 2020 just a few days before the Million MAGA March in Washington, D.C., that he didn’t want the ringleader of the extremist group to think cops were keeping “tabs” on him or the Proud Boys when they were in town. 

But, Lamond told him,  knowing their movements could help police keep counterprotesters away from them. 

Jurors also saw texts where Lamond warned Tarrio in the days before the Capitol assault, that alerts were going out to police that Proud Boys were on Parler talking about “mobilizing and ‘taking back the country.’” 

And in at least one eyebrow-raising message displayed in court last week, Lamond told Tarrio to text him on an encrypted channel. 

By the time Dec. 19 rolled around, Tarrio told Lamond if Proud Boys came to D.C. at all, it would be in “extremely small” numbers and without their traditional black and yellow colors. 

Ultimately, prosecutors say Tarrio instructed members to hide or delete communications about Jan. 6, and by assuming the role of the group’s “marketing” leader, Tarrio developed a means to control the flow of information about the alleged conspiracy internally and externally. 

Though prosecutors have seemed to concede that Proud Boys were, at least for a time, focused on groups like “antifa” when they prepared for political rallies, they argue that purpose shifted dramatically once Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino was stabbed following the Dec. 12, 2020 “Stop the Steal’ rally. Text messages and witness testimony offered in court have shown Proud Boys airing frustrations about police routinely after that episode. 

Once Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4, 2021, for burning a Black Lives Matter banner in Washington, D.C. a few weeks prior, the animosity had ratcheted up. In video footage from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, Tarrio’s familiar and a fellow member of the group’s so-called “Ministry of Self Defense,” Florida Proud Boy Gilbert Fonticoba, is seen wearing a shirt proclaiming Tarrio’s innocence in the face of his arrest. 

His shirt read: “Enrique Tarrio Did Nothing Wrong.” 

Meanwhile, in court on March 30, while appearing as a witness for defendant Zachary Rehl, former West Virginia Proud Boys chapter president Jeff Finley flatly denied that the organization held animosity toward the police. His testimony lost some credibility though once prosecutors presented him with a text he sent to the Proud Boys “Boots on the Ground” channel on the morning of Jan. 6. In the message, Finley urged: “fuck the blue.”

He told the jury with little remorse if that’s what the record showed, that’s what it showed. Finley struck a plea agreement with the Justice Department and is in the process of serving out a 75-day prison sentence now. 

As for Fonticoba, he is one of several Proud Boys who falls under the prosecution’s “tools” theory. That theory suggests the defendants relied on each other as well as other members of the network to be their foot soldiers on Jan. 6 so they could forcibly stop the certification. Among the “tools” of the conspiracy activated by the defendants, according to the Justice Department, are Proud Boys like Paul Rae, John Stewart, Gabriel Garcia, AJ Fisher, Nicholas Ochs, Arthur Jackman, James Haffner, Ronald Loehrke, Nate and Kevin Tuck, Eddie Geroge, Dion Rajewski, Briele Boele, James Brett, Zach Johnson, and others. 

Proud Boy leader Ethan Nordean of Washington State isn’t expected to testify before all is said and done. Nordean has had far greater exposure to jurors over the course of the trial in comparison to Biggs and this despite the fact that both of the men are alleged to have led dozens of Proud Boys and other people past police barricades in equal measure. 

Footage of a hard-drinking Nordean has been depicted in court alongside other evidence, including communications where the Proud Boy expresses an intense and unwavering outrage at a “stolen” election. Testifying for Nordean would be particularly risky given his proximity to several “tools” in the conspiracy, like Ronald Loehrke, who prosecutors say he recruited to be on the front lines of the breach. If Nordean were to come under cross, it likely wouldn’t take prosecutors long before they would open a door to questions about his efforts recruiting fellow Proud Boys to the alleged cause. 

Only defendants Dominic Pezzola and Zachary Rehl have indicated they would testify but it is less clear if Rehl will take the risk. 

On top of seditious conspiracy and other charges, Pezzola is alleged to have stolen a police riot shield on Jan. 6 as well. Video footage, prosecutors contend, plainly shows Pezzola using that shield to smash apart a window at the Capitol that would allow rioters to stream rapidly inside. Pezzola’s attorney Steven Metcalf last week said he was confident the Rochester, New York Proud Boy would testify on his own behalf. 

Pezzola’s wife, Lisa Magee, testified on his behalf last week. She was often a sympathetic figure. Pezzola may not have gone to D.C. at all, she recalled, if he had listened to sage advice from her father. 

She told jurors how her father had warned her husband on Jan. 5 to stay home and not go to D.C. And at the time, she recalled as she sighed in court last week, Pezzola agreed to stay home and out of trouble. Less than a month before, she testified, she called her reaction to seeing Pezzola’s face after it was splashed across the Washington Post following the Stop the Steal rally in December. 

She told jurors she recalled telling her husband plainly that he was “a fucking idiot.” 

But on the eve of the insurrection, she went out for a girls-night and Pezzola left for D.C. When she testified, she was convincing when she suggested that Pezzola’s activities with the Proud Boys were mostly kept away from her view. She expressed frustration with her husband. He had changed, she said, after inundating himself with politics and Fox News. He started drinking heavily. The Covid-19 pandemic hit his business hard. He was angered, she said, when protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd bubbled over and turned violent. She told the jury she didn’t know that her husband believed a civil war was imminent or if he was in the throes of a battle against good vs. evil, capitalism vs. communism, or freedom vs. tyranny. 

As a former U.S. Marine, her husband was a man who once devoted to a principle, would go to great lengths to uphold it, she said. 

But this quality can cut both ways. 

For the defense, Pezzola’s purported moral fortitude and ritualistic devotion to American ideals meant he would never dream of conspiring against the United States. For prosecutors, the trait meant Pezzola would act unflinchingly if he felt his version of America was under attack. 

And, prosecutors elicited, once Pezzola returned home from Washington, he got rid of his cell phone and was unable to be reached by his wife until Jan. 9. 

At trial last week, a witness for Pezzola, Steven Kay Hill, tried to give the Rochester Proud Boy and former Marine cover with his testimony. In short, Hill was set to argue that Pezzola did not steal the riot shield by the looks of it, but rather, that he was reacting to an overzealous police force that deviated from a policy that would have kept the mob calm on Jan. 6. It was essentially police who were to blame for the use of chemical irritants and less than lethal munitions, Metcalf argued. 

Metcalf walked Hill, a former police officer and law enforcement training instructor from New Mexico, through a series of video clips from the moments before and after Pezzola got ahold of the riot shield. On direct, Hill testified that the mob became incensed only after police fired a less-than-lethal munition into the crowd and hit a rioter, Joshua Black, in his cheek. 

Jurors saw a gruesome photo of Black moments after he was struck, a hole bored into the side of his face and blood at his feet. 

“They were angry. They were upset. They were pissed because one of their own has just been shot in the face,” Hill testified on April 6. 

Jurors saw footage of Black being approached by a police officer in riot gear after he is hit in the cheek. The officer appears to rest his hand on Black’s shoulder as both of the men are crouched down looking at each other. Hill conceded that while he couldn’t tell what was being said, it did appear the officer was extending aid. 

In video footage, the officer is nodding briefly while speaking to Black and they are flanked on either side by protesters and police. Prosecutors say it was at this moment that the officer was offering to help Black before attempting to take him behind police lines to treat his injuries. 

Hill told jurors this was “a mistake.” 

When the crowd saw the officer try to take Black, they only thought: ‘You’re not taking him. He’s one of ours,” Hill said. 

Black, injury be damned, would fall back in with the crowd and eventually make it all the way to the floor of the Senate. 

This moment played out almost simultaneously to the moment Pezzola “fell” to the ground, Metcalf argued, and incidentally grabbed a riot shield in the fracas. Metcalf stopped short of calling Pezzola’s possession of the shield self-defense but his client’s actions, he argued, could be chalked up to panic, not an intent to steal. 

On cross-examination however, prosecutor Conor Mulroe elicited that long before Black was hit in the face with a munition, the crowd was already at a fever pitch and clashing with police. 

Long before Pezzola got the shield, Hill testified, there was a lot of fighting and yelling directed at officers. For every 50 to 60 police officers on duty, Hill estimated, there were at least 500 to 600 protesters. 

Where the defense said Pezzola acted reflexively, prosecutors say Pezzola was opportunistic. 

Hill also testified that police didn’t fire indiscriminately into the crowd, as Metcalf had insinuated and he agreed that footage from Jan. 6 appeared to show police only targeting those rioters in the crowd who had visibly attacked officers. 

To support this, jurors heard police radio transmissions where officers are heard describing active police assaults in progress as they identify specific assailants in a hectic scene.

In court last Thursday, Hill said he couldn’t tell if Pezzola was being shoved from behind or not as he finally entered the fray. 

As for Rehl, should he testify, he runs the risk of unwinding whatever good favor his attorney Carmen Hernandez may have raised for him over the course of the trial. Hernandez, at the risk of being repetitive, takes every chance she can to remind jurors that Rehl had no weapons on him when he entered the Capitol. Rehl was a servicemember, a graduate, a husband, and a father, Hernandez has said. 

Rehl didn’t celebrate violence, Hernandez insists and he didn’t give anyone any orders on Jan. 6. But prosecutors have showed the jury a less favorable view of Rehl. They have shown the jury a Rehl who deeply lamented Trump’s election loss and worked hard at recruitment efforts. They have shown the jury a Rehl who, instead of retreating as officers were clearly overrun on the 6th, sent updates to Proud Boys in group chats. 

To that end, as a horde of rioters breached the building that afternoon, Rehl wrote, “Civil war started.” 

He pushed past barricades and broke into Senator Jeff Merkley’s office with other rioters and Proud Boys, including some members who prosecutors have said are “tools” of the conspiracy. 

Not one week in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial has passed by smoothly and last week was no different. Apart from routine objections launched by the defense to even the most mundane of issues and separate from the unending series of motions for mistrial, last week featured a new and unwelcome variable: the sealed hearing. 

A sealed hearing, or a hearing closed to the public and press, is typically held when sensitive or classified matters are being discussed by the parties. Trial days were stopped and started three times last week for sealed hearings that stretched for more than an hour. A press coalition moved to unseal proceedings on at least one of those days but was promptly denied by Judge Kelly for reasons he failed to describe on the record. 

Though the exact reason was not disclosed by the court (nor would one expect it to be at this point), CNN reported that multiple sources said the sealed hearing was prompted after a juror raised concerns that she was being followed. Another juror has said they were “accosted” but no further details were available.

Trash Talk: Get (Fourth) Down and Dirty

Golf widow here once again, enjoying the dwindling days of Michigan’s golf season.

By which I mean I am doing more fall cleaning while looking forward to a nice cold Modelo and an entertaining book once my chores are done.

Lawn furniture put away? Check.

Outdoor cushions washed and dried? Check.

Fireplace prepped for winter use? Check.

A couple more chores and I can revel in quiet quaffing. I keep a couple lounge chairs on the deck through the winter to enjoy the midday sun; soon I’m going to park in one with a book and my beer and partake in the peak autumn color here.

I’m sure it’s nice out on the fairway but I don’t have to put up with trash talk from the rest of my foursome to do so, nor do I have to spring for beers for the winner.

Golf widowhood for the motherfucking win.

~ ~ ~

If you are a regular Twitter use you already know exactly what happened last night in Major League Baseball because it flooded Twitter users’ feeds.

One friend whined for hours about the Houston Astros (at Seattle Mariners). Another dropped offline because they couldn’t take anymore stress watching the New York Yankees (at Cleveland Guardians).

Best take:

Hell, I didn’t even watch the game and I could feel that one – the Astros-Mariners’ game was over six hours long.

The Guardians didn’t win until the ninth inning, which merely made the game feel long.

In hindsight I must not follow many people in my other Twitter account in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, or San Diego because their presence as fans was so much less obvious in my Twitter timeline in spite of the Padres beating the Dodgers and the Phillies taking the Braves out of their series with last night’s win.

Dr. Biden caught the Phillies’ win, though.

Good for her.

~ ~ ~

I’m just not in the mood for NFL football today. I’m hanging onto the fleeting sensation of yesterday’s Big 10 conference win by Michigan State’s Spartans against Wisconsin’s Badgers.

It’s not been a good season for the Green and White up to now. Every game has been a roller coaster ride.

Hah. Funny. Manzullo doesn’t note the fourth observation by Scott Bell is that of a University of Michigan fan. U-M is still ranked in the top five in the nation.

Next week will probably be rocky around here, and a good time to go shopping because every public venue except for bars with big screen TVs will be empty while MSU meets in-state rival U-M at U-M.

MSU is expected to get the stuffing knocked out of them but the rivalry is pretty intense and not factored into the odds.

~ ~ ~

This post is called Trash Talk, not sports talk so now I’m going to take out the trash

This tweet by Maggie Haberman crystalizes what the fuck is wrong with Haberman’s journalism.

Pure regurgitation, no analysis, zero pushback on naked hate. Her subject barfed up a noxious furball she then dutifully carried from the cesspool in which he left it to the bigger pond at Twitter.

Haberman is trash, allowing herself to be used for hateful propaganda purposes.

~ ~ ~

All right, have at it, use this as an open thread. Air out your trash.

And pass me my beer.

Three Questions at the Start of an Intelligence Review

Why? Why? Why not?

There’s been a lot of focus on the narrow legal battles over the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, but sometimes stepping back to look at the big picture helps bring the conflict into focus. As a legal matter and a political matter, Trump, his lawyers, and his apologists are trying to make the claim that this is just a dispute about documents, like overdue library books. The passion with which the DOJ went after them since receiving the referral from NARA last February, especially the ferocity of the legal arguments and filings over the last two weeks, demonstrates how wrong the DOJ believes that framing to be.

I agree with the DOJ.

The documents are not really what is being fought over — the battle is over the damage  (hypothetical or actual) done to our intelligence services, our national defense, and our broader foreign policy by Trump’s possession of these documents at Mar-a-Lago. The documents are the first puzzle pieces the intelligence community [IC] has to put together, to fill in the whole picture and plan a way forward.

To understand why, let’s parse out what an intelligence review might look like. What follows is not based on any insider sources at the DOJ, ODNI, or any other federal agencies, but on my own experience (long ago) with classified materials and the general experiences of others I know with deeper and more recent work in classified matters, as well as analyzing other cases where classified materials were stolen from the government and passed along to foreign governments.

An intelligence review is designed to look at three things: what got exposed, to whom, and what dangers does that pose to intelligence sources, methods, and broader foreign policy objectives? These are all backwards-looking questions, to understand how this could have happened in the first place. They also serve as the starting point for forward-looking actions, as we and our allies pivot our overt and covert foreign policy approaches in a new context. Think of Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British scientist who passed US and British nuclear secrets to the USSR in the 1940s. A backwards looking intelligence review ultimately identified him as the spy and spotted the flaws in our security procedures, and a forward looking review pivoted the US and British policy toward a world with nuclear powers who opposed each other.

In the current case, the IC review begins with three interrelated questions:

  1. Why did Trump take government documents to Mar-a-Lago in the first place?
  2. Why these documents?
  3. Why not those other documents?

The second and third questions begin to move toward an answer to the first question, so let’s start there. Broadly speaking, I see five possible answers, each of which poses different dangers.

1: Vanity

If this is the answer to that first question, we would expect to find that Trump took documents that made him look good, that pointed to actions that he believed he could claim credit for, or that simply let him feel powerful because he knows stuff very few others know. Think of these as Extreme Presidential Souvenirs. These would be documents that shout to the world, “Look at how great Trump is . . .”

Danger: Simply having documents like this in his possession would likely not be enough for Trump’s ego. Trump’s ego would demand that he show them to others, so that they would know how great Trump is. The level and kind of danger depends on who the “others” are, and who they might have spoken to about what Trump showed them.

2: Fear

In this scenario, the IC review would see that Trump took documents that would help cover up his failures and/or possible crimes, such as a full transcript of the “Perfect Phone Call” with Zelenskyy. These would be documents that whisper in Trump’s ear, “This could get you into trouble. You better hide this . . .”

Danger: These are the documents least likely to be shared by Trump, so in that respect they are safe. On the other hand, they become prime material for blackmail if unfriendly parties realize he has them. Trump’s nightmare is getting a phone call about these documents, threatening to expose the documents to the “wrong” people. “I’d like you to do me a favor, though . . .”

3: Greed

Given Trump’s proclivity to monetize anything he can for his own personal gain, it is hard to imagine that Trump would not be looking at anything that crossed his desk to see how he might make money on it. (“Hmmm . . . I’m doing some traveling? OK, which of my properties are closest, and how much can I charge the Secret Service for staying there?”) Documents that showed him something that would let him make money would be particularly tempting to Trump. Think of this as corporate espionage, or a twisted form of insider trading. Perhaps he received knowledge of foreign government’s as yet unannounced plans to develop certain properties overseas, and figured he could jump in, buy the property first, and then get bought out for a profit. Or maybe he would buy the property next to the future development and cash in when the government project became public and went forward, driving up the value of what he purchased. Perhaps these were not projects led by foreign governments, but by US corporations acting abroad whose plans were picked up as part of a signals intelligence surveillance program aimed at less-than-friendly nations. Documents like this would be calling out to his wallet, telling him “Hey, you can really use this . . .”

Danger: Suppose Trump acts on this information in some way, and the foreign government in question starts wondering “Did Trump merely get lucky in choosing to invest right where our project was going in, or did US spies give him the information?” Questions like that might lead to the exposure of human assets (sources) and signals intelligence capabilities (methods), which in turn could lead to those sources being shut down/arrested/killed, those signals intelligence methods being countered, or either the sources or methods being turned and used to feed false information to the US.

4: Corruption

As bad as #3 is, this scenario is the IC nightmare: Trump took documents that he knows other foreign governments, perhaps some of our greatest enemies, would love to have, and then deliberately passed them along to those governments. It might be to get revenge on Biden and the Dems for beating him in 2020. It might be to sabotage the work of the current administration and cause great public political problems for the Dems, to enable his return to the White House in 2024. It might be that some foreign adversary has compromising information about Trump or holds a private loan to Trump, his family, or his Trump Organization, and that country demanded classified information from Trump in exchange for not revealing the compromising information they hold or for not calling in the loan he could not immediately repay.

Danger: Beyond the damage done to sources, methods, and US foreign policy objectives created by disclosing the classified information in these documents, this scenario is worse. It weakens our relationships with our allies and harms our position in the world, simply by indicating we can’t keep secrets and by making us weaker through whatever is revealed. Should Trump have provided classified intelligence deliberately, it only gives those folks more leverage over Trump, which they would use to push for more information and more favors. Once you’ve turned over classified information to a hostile power, those folks own you forever. “Nice resort you’ve got here. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”

And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that foreign governments might lean on Trump to use his family to further their goals. “You need to have Jared talk to his friends in the Middle East, and convince them to . . . “

5: Some/all of the above

Trump might have taken some documents to feed his ego, others to hide them, and still others to try to monetize their contents. He might have taken some for his own reasons, and others because he was pressured to do so by hostile powers. The permutations are . . . troubling.

Danger: some/all of the above.


On top of these five possible explanations of Trump’s motives, one other thing is absolutely certain. Documents like those that were seized by the DOJ would have been catnip for the intelligence agencies of other nations. Once word got out that Trump had taken highly classified documents out of the WH (or once folks even suspected he had done so), all manner of foreign spies no doubt became very interested in Mar-a-Lago – much more than they had been during the Trump administration itself. It’s hard as hell to get into the WH and take classified materials, or to plant electronic surveillance devices inside the WH. Mar-a-Lago, on the other hand, is a relative sieve, especially after Trump left office and the security around Trump was much more directed to protecting his person rather than protecting all the stuff around a sitting president. At Mar-a-Lago these days, you pay your membership fee, and walk right in for a grand tour. Whatever the reason Trump chose to take these documents, even if he simply wanted to hold onto them as presidential souvenirs and he does nothing with them otherwise, should foreign agents copy them or steal them from Mar-a-Lago, that’s almost as bad it as it gets for the US.

Danger: Exposing whatever classified information to the prying eyes of our adversaries not only exposes sources and methods of our intelligence services, but provides our adversaries with insight into our strengths and weaknesses, depending on what the intelligence said. It also opens Trump to blackmail, as noted above in scenarios #2 and 4. “Well look what we found at your home. It sure would be terrible if the FBI were to discover that you were so sloppy with security that we were able to waltz right in and take them.”

To sort out the likelihood of each of these scenarios and the specific dangers posed, those conducting the IC review will do a couple of things. First, the leaders of the intelligence agencies are likely going back to the original creators of these documents, to tell them they were found in unsecured locations at Mar-a-Lago, and therefore (a) the creators need to assess what the specific danger would be if this particular document were to be exposed, and (b) the creators should look around to see if they have any signs that these documents had been shared already. The former is to measure the hypothetical damage, while the latter is to assess the likelihood that this is not hypothetical. Did spies suddenly go quiet, or did the quality of their information suddenly become different? Did satellites that used to provide good, regular photos of intelligence targets begin to provide much less good intelligence? All the while, the IC reviewers know that this is likely even worse.


If any of this information came to the US IC through our partnerships with other friendly nations (like Five Eyes or NATO), that means going to the intelligence folks in those countries who trusted us with their secrets and telling them that their trust was misplaced, at least while Trump was in office. They are the folks who need to assess the danger that exposure of this information would create, and who would have to see if there were signs that this information had already been shared. Of course we would promise to do whatever we could to assist them in that analysis, but that’s like telling a shopkeeper that you will help sweep up the shards of all the broken crystal after your kid threw a bowling ball into the display case.

Danger: It’s bad enough if our secrets get exposed, but if we let their secrets get exposed, that’s going to make them less likely to trust us in the future. As I said before, this is why having career diplomat William Burns as head of the CIA was a stroke of genius by Biden, and why Burns and the rest of the IC is no doubt bending over backwards to help Garland get this right, and bending farther over backwards to help our allies get this fixed.


This is why the analysis of what was taken and trying to determine Trump’s motive(s) is the starting place. It leads to other critical questions like these:

  • What does Trump’s selection of documents — classified and unclassified — tell us about what is going on?
  • Were the documents tucked away by Trump over a long period of time, or did they all get tucked away in a specific, relatively short time period?
  • And what else was tucked in the drawers, file folders, and boxes next to these classified documents? Are there notes or letters that appear to have been written based on the content of the classified materials?

Depending on what this initial analysis reveals, the reviewers will begin to talk to the counterintelligence people in their agencies, especially if there is some concentration of subject matters or particular time frames involved.

  • Have you noticed any unusual behavior in known foreign agents around those time frames?
  • Was there any unusual signals traffic between foreign agents here and their bosses back home?
  • Were there any new agents who arrived here, who have a particular focus to their work that meshes with the subject matters of the documents Trump took? What actions have they taken?

To dig into all this, the analysts will be looking at other information and also be in contact with the folks in the field who are managing the human sources or electronic surveillance methods, to see what insights they might have. They know that decisions will need to be made about protecting or extracting sources who might be in danger, shutting down electronic surveillance already in place (pull out/relocate bugs and cameras if possible, re-direct satellite orbits, change communications frequencies, reprogramming software, etc.), and otherwise working to replace these sources and methods in some way to avoid further exposure. They hope to restore secrecy to the people and programs, and restore quality to the intelligence that might have been harmed through exposure.

While all this covert review work is going on, the FBI will no doubt be doing an ordinary shoe-leather investigation into the folks who have been going in and out of Mar-a-Lago over the last 18 months after the security of the resort was scaled back to simply protect the former president. They will be looking at guests and staff alike, trying to see what can be learned from videos, logs of visits, work schedules, and in some cases interviews. They will be looking at the White House document handling, especially after December 18, 2020 when the head of the White House Office of the Staff Secretary resigned and no one was named to take his place — even in an acting capacity — until January 20, 2021. They will be doing deeper domestic investigations of any new foreign agents that were identifies by the IC analysts.

And then there’s the investigation that NARA is probably already trying to complete: what other documents from the Trump White House were not turned over?

This is all very time consuming and expensive. You don’t want to do this if it isn’t necessary, but you absolutely have to do it if these sources and methods are likely to have been (or actually were) blown. Only when the Why?, Why?, and Why not? questions have been answered can the forward looking work really begin in earnest.

There’s a lot more that can be inferred about what an intelligence review would contain, but one thing is certain. The panel of judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and Special Master Raymond Dearie are focused on what Judge Cannon does not want to recognize: this is not a case about misfiled documents, but a national security case in which documents hold the key to assessing the dangers posed and actual damage done to our nation, so that the current government can begin to address it.

That Bratt-I-Am, That Bratt-I-Am, I Do Not Like That Bratt-I-Am

Red Docs, Blue Docs . . .

In the far-away land of Mar-A-Lago
sits a once-vaunted leader, now brought very low.
His voice, once ubiquitous, lordly, and loud
has become but a whimper, no longer so proud.
The cameras have vanished, the crowds have all shrunk,
as he scrambles for donors, this fallen-down punk.

And then come his lawyers, with news of a guest,
A visit un-looked for, unwelcome, unblessed.

“That Bratt-I-Am, that Bratt-I-Am,
I do not like that Bratt-I-Am.”

“You must return those stolen docs.
You must return them, yes, every box.”

“I do not have a box of docs,
and they are mine, you lying fox.”

But then they came and then they found
docs aplenty, all around . . .

One doc, two docs
red docs, blue docs
Docs with pictures from on high
Docs with covers, docs with stamps,
Docs in files marked “terror camps”
Docs from spies and docs from techs
Docs ’bout planes on navy decks
Docs on armies, docs on friends
Docs on missiles, docs on end!

“I do not like you, Bratt-I-Am!
I do not like your little scam.
You only fight ’cause I am so strong!
You only fight ’cause Biden is wrong!
Besides, I don’t have the docs that you seek
or, if I do, they’re mine, free to keep!”

A pause, then that voice so quietly speaks
pricking his bubble; his vanity leaks.

“There’s only one president, you see,
and you are not it, quite obviously.
You’ve filed lots of lawsuits and lost every one
and Biden, not you, is the one who has won.

“The law is quite clear: these docs are ours.
You have no magic pixie dust powers.
You cannot claim them, nor take them home;
they belong to us, not you alone.
You must return those stolen docs.
You must return them, yes, every box.

“These classified docs are not like cheap porn
They’re stuff you can’t look at outside of a SCIF.
There are but a few even granted a sniff.
They should be under watch, behind guarded doors,
not left in a closet or stashed into drawers.
They must be sent back, each one of these docs
They must be returned, yes, every last box.

“We’ll come to you, or you to us.
You can return them on a bus.
You can return them on a train.
You can return them on a plane.
You can return them at your house.
You can return them with a mouse.
You must return those stolen docs.
You must return them, yes, every box.”

“But I *want* them, because they are mine!
and you cannot have them – don’t cross that line!”

“Have you read this warrant, here?
Do you not see? Is it not clear?
The judge agrees – you have no choice.
You must comply, so please, no more noise.
You must return those stolen docs
You must return them, yes, every box.”

“That Bratt-I-Am, that Bratt-I-Am,
I do not like that Bratt-I-Am!”

“Boxes of documents, boxes of pics,
Boxes of letters – be sure there’re no tricks!
We’ll carefully pack them and give you a list
(It *will* be redacted, but we’ll give you the gist)
We’ll guard them as well as the law says we must.
We’ll guard them much better than you have, we trust.

“For crimes have been crimed, as we have deducted:
espionage, theft, and justice obstructed.
The proof, we believe, will emerge box by box
from rooms where you’ve kept them without any locks.
The charges will follow, and names will be named
and soon the guilty in court will be blamed.

“Justice is coming,” says Bratt-I-Am,
and that once-vaunted leader can only say . . .

Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Alexander Vindman thanks Attorney General Garland

When Merrick Garland gave his brief press statement yesterday about the search of Mar-a-Lago, he had various audiences in mind. One was Donald Trump and his defenders, calling their bluff by announcing that the DOJ was moving to unseal the search warrant and list of items seized. Another was his own DOJ employees, to let them know that he had their backs and would support them when the rightwing attacked them. But as I listened to him, I thought that perhaps the most critical audience were the leaders of nations all around the globe — and especially the heads of their intelligence services. When hours later the story broke that some of the documents the DOJ were seeking were nuclear related, I dropped the mental “perhaps”. To build on one of Marcy’s previous posts, let me add that this is a huge foreign policy story, which is largely missing from the current discussion in the media.

Think back to the beginning of the Trump administration. On May 15, 2017, a disturbing story hit the news:

President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation, two U.S. officials said on Monday, plunging the White House into another controversy just months into Trump’s short tenure in office.

The intelligence . . . was supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials with knowledge of the situation said.

H.R. McMaster categorically denied it, and as the story unfolded over time, McMaster was lying through his teeth. The unnamed ally was later revealed to be Israel, who had a mole inside an ISIS cell. And Trump blithely blew the cover of that Israeli asset by bragging to Lavrov.

Shortly after this meeting (at which Trump also bragged about just having fired James Comey), US intelligence officials made a bold move. From CNN:

In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN.

A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.

This was the opening act of the Trump presidency. From the very beginning, intelligence officers worried about how Trump handled classified information. Our intelligence officers worried, and so did the intelligence officers of our allies, as they asked themselves some version of the question “Will Trump say something or do something that will get us killed?” In a completely different way, so did the intelligence officers of our adversaries. If Trump were to rashly reveal something he learned about the capabilities of our adversaries, it could have disastrous consequences for those countries and their leaders, as the reaction to the revelation could easily spiral out of control in unforeseeable ways.

And the damage was done.

A lot of the work of intelligence services is, if not cooperative, then transactional. “I have some information you would like,” says an ally to us, “and we’ll pass it along to you in exchange for something we need.” That favor might be us passing information back to them on another subject, or supporting some foreign policy objective. That favor might be immediate, or something later. Among the Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) and the major NATO allies, that relationship was formalized into regular practice.

But now, with Trump’s first foray into intelligence matters, all these countries worried about passing things along that under previous administration they never would have hesitated to share. With good reason.

Fast forward four years, past all the bizarre meetings with Russia where notes were not taken, past the stunning press conference in Helsinki where Trump declared he trusted Putin’s word over the word of his own intelligence services, past all the coddling of authoritarians, past all the threats to withdraw from NATO, past all the insults to our allies around the world . . . Fast forward past all of that, and there came November 2020. On the Sunday after the election, when Biden was declared the president-elect and foreign leaders began to offer their congratulations, the New York Times discussed the deeper reactions of European leaders to Biden’s election:

David O’Sullivan, former European Union ambassador to the United States, said he looked forward to a renewal of American leadership — if not the hegemony of the past, then at least “America’s role as the convening nation” for multilateral initiatives and institutions.

But the world has changed, and so has the United States, where the Biden victory was relatively narrow and not an obvious repudiation of Mr. Trump’s policies. A fundamental trust has been broken, and many European diplomats and experts believe that U.S. foreign policy is no longer bipartisan, so is no longer reliable.

Biden, with his decades of experience with foreign policy, knew this was true, which meant that two of his most critical appointments would be his Secretary of State and his CIA Director. For State, he chose Anthony Blinken, who had served in the State Department under President Clinton and on the White House national security staff in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and for CIA he chose William Burns.

Burns was not a product of the intelligence community. He was a career State Department diplomat, but not just any diplomat. From 2001 to 2005, as the US reacted to the attacks on 9/11, Burns was the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs — that is, the Middle East. From 2005 until 2008, as Vladimir Putin tightened his hold of the office of President of Russia following the chaos of the Yeltsin era, Burns was the US Ambassador to Russia. From 2008 to 2011, Burns held the position of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs – the #4 position at State and the highest office reserved for a career foreign service officer. By the end of his 32 year tenure, he held the rank of Career Ambassador – the State Department’s equivalent to a four-star general.

Beyond running the CIA, the new director had to rebuild all those broken international relationships and restore that “fundamental trust” between the US and the world. That’s what made Burns such a great choice.

When the National Archives discovered classified information had not been turned over when Trump left office, they brought the news to the DOJ. I have this vision of Garland swallowing hard, and then arranging a meeting with Burns, DNI Victoria Nuland Avril Haines [corrected], and the other US intelligence agency heads to let them know what Trump had done. I can see the shock on their faces, followed by the “of course he did” sighs of resignation. Then the wheels start turning as each tries to figure out how this affects their agency.

But I also imagine Burns, either in the meeting or in a private conversation, telling Garland one thing: “I have no doubts about your department and your passion for justice. If there is anything I can do to assist, just let me know. I won’t press you to share things with me that you shouldn’t share — you do your job and I’ll do mine. But there’s one thing you need to know. You may already know it, but let me reinforce it. The. Whole. World. Is. Watching. Our allies are just beginning to trust us again, and how you handle this will determine whether that continues or is blown to bits. From a foreign policy perspective, especially on the intelligence side, we *have* to get this right.” That’s total fantasy on my part, but I’m reasonably confident that something like that was communicated, one way or another.

Two days ago, when the search was first revealed, Garry Kasparov tweeted, “For those who live where the law exists only to serve the powerful and oppress the rest–as I did in the USSR and Putin’s Russia–the dictum that no one is above the law is nearly awe-inspiring.”

The American legal community is watching this all unfold very carefully, with an eye toward all the minutia of the various legal questions at issue. The US political folks on every side are watching this carefully, with an eye toward the midterms and 2024. US media organizations are watching this carefully, trying to figure out how to cover the story. Ordinary Americans are watching this carefully, for all kinds of reasons.

And beyond our borders, the whole world is watching, as that Kasparov tweet indicates. It shows that Garland is reaching that worldwide audience, even before the word “nuclear” became part of the story.

In his long-ago testimony before Congress about that “perfect phone call,” Alexander Vindman captured in three words the essence of US foreign policy, and he repeated them as a hashtag in that tweet above. In the actions of the DOJ this past week, Garland is giving Vindman a big “Amen.”

Russia, if you’re listening, listen to Vindman. #HereRightMatters indeed.

I know we’ve got a fair chunk of readers outside the US, and I’d love to hear in the comments what you all are seeing in the coverage your countries.