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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump acted both transitively and intransitively corruptly

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

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

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

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

Trump transitively corrupted by conspiring with people who committed crimes

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

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

T. Trump Speaks at the Ellipse

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

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

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

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

U. Pence Issues Public Letter Rejecting Eastman’s Theory

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

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

V. U.S. Capitol Attack Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

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

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

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ Is Treating January 6 as an Act of Terrorism, But Not All January 6 Defendants Are Terrorists

It turns out that Ted Cruz is (partially) right: Some of the people who participated in January 6 are being treated as terrorists. But not all January 6 participants are terrorists.

Though, predictably, Cancun Ted misstates which insurrectionists have been or might be labeled as terrorists — in part out of some urgency to avoid calling himself or Tucker Carlson as such.

While some defendants accused of assaulting cops will, I expect, eventually be slapped with a terrorism enhancement at sentencing, thus far, the people DOJ has labeled terrorists have been key members of the militia conspiracies, including a number who never came close to assaulting a cop (instead, they intentionally incited a shit-ton of “normies” to do so).

Ted Cruz wants to treat those who threatened to kill cops as terrorists, but not those who set up the Vice President to be killed.

The problem is, even the journalists who know how domestic terrorism works are giving incomplete descriptions of how it is working in this investigation. For example, Charlie Savage has a good explainer of how domestic terrorism works legally, but he only addresses one of two ways DOJ is leveraging it in the January 6 investigation. Josh Gerstein does, almost as an aside, talk about how terrorism enhancements have already been used (in detention hearings), but then quotes a bullshit comment from Ethan Nordean’s lawyer to tee up a discussion of domestic terrorism as a civil rights issue. More importantly, Gerstein suggests there’s a mystery about why prosecutors haven’t argued for a terrorism enhancement at sentencing; I disagree.

As numerous people have laid out, domestic terrorism is defined at 18 USC 2331(5):

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States; and

As both Savage and Gerstein point out, under 18 USC 2332b(g)(5) there are a limited number of crimes that, if they’re done, “to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” can be treated as crimes of terrorism. One of those, 18 USC 1361, has been charged against 40-some January 6 defendants for doing over $1,000 of damage to the Capitol, including most defendants in the core militia conspiracies. Another (as Savage notes), involves weapons of mass destruction, which likely would be used if DOJ ever found the person who left bombs at the RNC and DNC. Two more involve targeting members of Congress or Presidential staffers (including the Vice President and Vice President-elect) for kidnapping or assassination.

If two or more persons conspire to kill or kidnap any individual designated in subsection (a) of this section and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished (1) by imprisonment for any term of years or for life,

There’s very good reason to believe that DOJ is investigating Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs for conspiring to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, starting on election day and continuing as he went to her office after breaking into the Capitol, so it’s not unreasonable to think we may see these two laws invoked as well, even if DOJ never charges anyone with conspiring to assassinate Mike Pence.

Being accused of such crimes does not, however, amount to being charged as a terrorist. The terrorist label would be applied, in conjunction with a sentencing enhancement, at sentencing. But it is incorrect to say DOJ is not already treating January 6 defendants as terrorists.

DOJ has been using 18 USC 1361 to invoke a presumption of detention with militia leaders and their co-conspirators, starting with Jessica Watkins last February. Even then, the government seemed to suggest Watkins might be at risk for one of the kidnapping statutes as well.

[B]ecause the defendant has been indicted on an enumerated offense “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government,” the defendant has been charged with a federal crime of terrorism as defined under 18 U.S.C §§ 2332b(g)(5). Therefore, an additional basis for detention under 18 U.S.C § 3142(g)(1) is applicable. Indeed, the purpose of the aforementioned “plan” that the defendant stated they were “sticking to” in the Zello app channel became startlingly clear when the command over that same Zello app channel was made that, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” Id. [my emphasis]

DOJ has invoked 18 USC 1361 as a crime of terrorism for detention disputes with the central Proud Boys conspirators as well. It’s unclear how broadly DOJ might otherwise do this, because another key figure who is an obvious a candidate for such a presumption, Danny Rodriguez (accused of tasing Michael Fanone and doing damage to a window of the Capitol), didn’t fight detention as aggressively as the militia members have, presumably because his alleged actions targeting Fanone clearly merit detention by themselves. That said, I believe his failed attempt to suppress his FBI interview, in which he admitted to helping break a window, was an attempt to limit his exposure to a terrorism enhancement.

We have abundant evidence that DOJ is using the threat of terrorism enhancement to get people to enter cooperation agreements. Six of nine known cooperators thus far (Oath Keepers Graydon Young, Mark Grods, Caleb Berry, and Jason Dolan, Proud Boy Matthew Greene, and SoCal anti-masker Gina Bisignano) have eliminated 18 USC 1361 from their criminal exposure by entering into a cooperation agreement. And prosecutor Alison Prout’s description of the plea deal offered to Kurt Peterson, in which he would trade a 210 to 262 month sentencing guideline for 41 to 51 months for cooperating, only makes sense if a terrorism enhancement for breaking a window is on the table.

You can’t say that DOJ is not invoking terrorism enhancements if most cooperating witnesses are trading out of one.

For those involved in coordinating the multi-pronged breaches of the Capitol, I expect DOJ will use 18 USC 1361 to argue for a terrorism enhancement at sentencing, which is how being labeled as a terrorist happens if you’re a white terrorist.

But there is another way people might get labeled as terrorists at sentencing, and DOJ is reserving the right to do so in virtually all non-cooperation plea deals for crimes other than trespassing. For all pleas involving the boilerplate plea deal DOJ is using (even including those pleading, as Jenny Cudd did, to 18 USC 1752, the more serious of two trespassing statutes), the plea deal includes this language.

the Government reserves the right to request an upward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4.

That’s a reference to the terrorism enhancement included in sentencing guidelines which envisions applying a terrorism enhancement for either (A) a crime involving coercion other than those enumerated under 18 USC 2332b or (B) an effort to promote a crime of terrorism.

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

The point is, you can have a terrorism enhancement applied even if you don’t commit one of those crimes listed as a crime of terrorism.

In a directly relevant example, the government recently succeeded in getting a judge to apply the latter application of this enhancement by pointing to how several members of the neo-Nazi group, The Base, who pled guilty to weapons charges, had talked about plans to commit acts of terrorism and explained their intent to be coercion. Here’s the docket for more on this debate; the defendants are appealing to the Fourth Circuit. This language from the sentencing memo is worth quoting at length to show the kind of argument the government would have to make to get this kind of terrorism enhancement at sentencing.

“Federal crime of terrorism” is defined at U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, app. note 1 and 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5). According to this definition, a “federal crime of terrorism” has two components. First, it must be a violation of one of several enumerated statutes. 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B). Second, it must be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(A). By § 3A1.4’s plain wording, there is no requirement that the defendant have committed a federal crime of terrorism. All that is required is that the crimes of conviction (or relevant conduct) involved or were intended to promote a federal crime of terrorism.

[snip]

To apply the enhancement, this Court needs to identify which specific enumerated federal crime(s) of terrorism the defendants intended to promote, and the Court’s findings need to be supported by only a preponderance of the evidence. Id.17

The defendants repeatedly confirmed, on tape, that their crimes were intended to promote enumerated federal crimes of terrorism. They intended to kill federal employees, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114. Exhibit 19; Exhibit 20; Exhibit 28; Exhibit 33; Exhibit 34; Exhibit 44; Exhibit 45. They intended to damage communication lines, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1362. Exhibit 37. They intended to damage an energy facility, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1366(a). Exhibit 30; Exhibit 35; Exhibit 36; Exhibit 45. They intended to damage rail facilities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1992. Exhibit 29; Exhibit 30; Exhibit 38; Exhibit 45. And they intended to commit arson or bombing of any building, vehicle, or other property used in interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). Exhibit 45.

Furthermore, there can be no serious dispute that the defendants’ intentions were “to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion.” Coercion and capitulation were core purposes of The Base. And specific to the defendants, they themselves said this is what they wanted. Exhibit 39 (“Desperation leads to martyr. Leads to asking what we want. Now that’s where we would have to simply keep the violence up, and increase the scope of our demands. And say if these demands are not met, we’re going to cause a lot of trouble. And when those demands are met, then increase them, and continue the violence. You just keep doing this, until the system’s gone. Until it can’t fight anymore and it capitulates.”). It was their express purpose to “bring the system down.” Exhibit 36

Given how many people were talking about hanging Mike Pence on January 6, this is not a frivolous threat for January 6 defendants. But as noted, such a terrorism enhancement doesn’t even require the plan to promote assassinating the Vice President. It takes just acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States and an attempt to coerce the government.

Contra Gerstein, I think there’s a pretty easy explanation for why the government hasn’t asked for a terrorism enhancement yet. The way the government is relying on obstruction to prosecute those who intended to prevent the peaceful transfer of power sets up terrorism enhancements for some of the most violent participants, but we’ve just not gotten to most of the defendants for whom that applies.

Thus far, there have been just three defendants who’ve been sentenced for assault so far, the acts “dangerous to human life” most at issue: Robert Palmer, Scott Fairlamb, and Devlyn Thompson. But Palmer and Thompson pled only to assault.

Fairlamb, as I noted at the time, pled guilty to both assault and obstruction. Unlike the two others, Fairlamb admitted that his intent, in punching a cop, was to, “stop[] or delay[] the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion.”

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

Fairlamb, by pleading to assault and obstruction, admitted to both elements of terrorism: violence, and the intent of coercing the government.

On paper, Fairlamb made a great candidate to try applying a terrorism enhancement to. But the sentencing process ended up revealing that, on the same day that Fairlamb punched a cop as part of his plan to overturn the election, he also shepherded some cops through a mob in an effort, he said with some evidence shown at sentencing, to keep them safe.

That is, on paper, the single defendant to have pled guilty to both assault and obstruction looked like a likely candidate for a terrorism enhancement. But when it came to the actual context of his crimes, such an enhancement became unviable.

I fully expect that if the January 6 prosecution runs its course (a big if), then DOJ will end up asking for and getting terrorism enhancements at sentencing, both for militia members as well as some of the more brutal assault defendants, both for those who plead guilty and those convicted at trial. But in the case of assault defendants, it’s not enough (as Ted Cruz says) to just beat cops. With a goodly number of the people who did that, there’s no evidence of the intent to commit violence with the intent of disrupting the peaceful transfer of power. They just got swept up in mob violence.

I expect DOJ will only ask for terrorism enhancements against those who made it clear in advance and afterwards that their intent in resorting to violence was to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

But until that happens, DOJ has already achieved tangible results, both in detention disputes and plea negotiations, by invoking crimes of terrorism.

Easy Cases: Why Austin Sarat’s Argument That Trump Should Not Be Prosecuted Is Wrong

Randolph Moss, serving as Assistant Attorney General for OLC in 2000, famously wrote the following:

Our view remains that a sitting President is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.

Less famously, however, the first 11 pages of that more famous memo rely on this earlier OLC memo from Moss:

We conclude that the Constitution permits a former President to be criminally prosecuted for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate while in office.

Even less famous are words Moss released last Tuesday, now presiding as a judge over a January 6 prosecution, ruling that obstruction, 18 USC 1512(c)(2), clearly applies to the official Congressional proceeding to certify the vote count on January 6, 2021.

Hard cases may make bad law. But easy cases ought not.

For these reasons, the Court rejects Defendants’ contention that the joint session of Congress convened to certify the electoral vote is not a “proceeding before the Congress.”

Those legal documents are all useful background to my response to this Austin Sarat op-ed, opining that DOJ should not prosecute Trump for his actions related to January 6.

I worry that going forward with even a well-grounded prosecution of Trump would almost certainly turn him into a martyr, fuel a furious attack on the Biden Justice Department for using prosecution as a political weapon, spur violent outbursts, and plunge this country ever closer to the abyss which it seems to be fast approaching.

“An investigation and potential indictment and trial of Mr. Trump,” Eric Posner warns, “would give the circus of the Trumpian presidency a central place in American politics for the next several years, sucking the air out of the Biden administration and feeding into Mr. Trump’s politically potent claims to martyrdom. Mr. Trump will portray the prosecution as revenge by the ‘deep state’ and corrupt Democrats.”

This difficult judgment does not mean that Attorney General Garland should do nothing.

He can serve justice by building on the work of the House committee and helping to fully develop the facts of what Trump did in the lead up to and on January 6. Garland should present those facts clearly, logically, and with irrefutable documentation. And he should do what McConnell and Graham suggested in February by citing chapter and verse the numerous federal criminal laws that Trump violated.

First, some background.

Unless you went to Amherst College, you may never have heard of Sarat. He created a Law and Society program there and has served as a Dean. I’ve had conversations a number of prominent and not-so prominent lawyers who graduated from Amherst during Sarat’s tenure — some you’ve heard of!! — who have spoken of the great influence the professor has had on their career. And while I’m not a lawyer, like many of those lawyers, I first learned to read a legal document from Sarat.

Over thirty years ago in a class on how the state regulates sexuality, Sarat assigned me to read Griswold v Connecticut and Roe v Wade alongside Tolstoy and Kiss of the Spider Woman, the latter of which I taught on my own right and included in my dissertation years later. Sarat taught me critical skills you may benefit from at this site.

My complaint with Sarat’s argument is that he violates the rule he taught me so many years ago: He didn’t read the relevant legal documents before writing this op-ed. The sources he links in his op-ed are:

  • Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks’ MSNBC appearance addressing the issue
  • A column on a June 2021 Rachel Maddow appearance in which she suggested the House could send a criminal referral to DOJ
  • An article about a bunch of people responding to Liz Cheney’s invocation of obstruction (the same statute Moss ruled on), which itself betrays that those people quoted in the article missed how obstruction was already being used in DOJ’s prosecution
  • Lawrence Tribe’s column that is riddled with factual errors that make it clear Tribe is unfamiliar with the public record
  • Mitch McConnell’s speech, justifying why he was voting against impeaching Trump, noting that he could be criminally prosecuted
  • Lindsey Graham’s comments making the same argument: that Trump should not be impeached but could be prosecuted
  • A report on DC District Attorney Karl Racine’s comments that Trump could be charged with a misdemeanor
  • A BoGlo op-ed that calls for prosecution but envisions Trump’s vulnerability with regards to January 6 to pertain to incitement
  • A NY Mag piece that includes obstruction among the possible laws Trump may have broken, but claims that DOJ, “seems to be pursuing misdemeanor trespass cases at the Capitol more aggressively than potential felony charges for Trump,” which misunderstands how DOJ appears to be using misdemeanor arrests (and indeed, how those witnesses would be necessary to any Trump prosecution)
  • A Ryan Cooper piece that states as fact that Garland’s DOJ, “is enabling Republican lawlessness through its pathetic unwillingness to prosecute Trump and all his cronies for their crimes against democracy;” Cooper makes no mention of the Tom Barrack prosecution, and while he invokes Rudy Giuliani he doesn’t mention the decision — seemingly made in Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s first days — to seize Rudy Giuliani’s phones and spend 8 months getting a privilege review on the contents of Rudy’s phones right through April 2021
  • A law review article on prosecutorial discretion
  • Robert Jackson’s seminal text about the role of a Federal prosecutor
  • The Bordenkircher precedent on plea negotiations that upholds prosecutorial discretion
  • The quip, “hard cases make bad law”
  • An Eric Posner op-ed published before Trump attempted a coup

Some of these things — the Bordenkircher opinion, McConnell and Graham’s comments suggesting Trump could be prosecuted, and Robert Jackson — are important primary sources. But most of the rest are secondary sources, and many of them — notably Tribe and Cooper — are demonstrably wrong on the facts because they didn’t consult available primary sources.

And as a result of consulting erroneous sources like Tribe, Sarat misunderstands the case before him.

For example, many of Sarat’s sources imagine that Trump’s biggest criminal exposure is in incitement and not the same obstruction charge with which well over 200 insurrectionists have already been charged and to which at least a dozen people have already pled guilty (most of them even before Moss and his colleagues upheld the application in recent weeks). Nine pled guilty to obstruction as part of cooperation agreements and several of those cooperators interacted with Roger Stone in the days and hours leading up to the assault on the Capitol.

Many of Sarat’s sources assume that DOJ couldn’t get to Trump except for the work the January 6 Committee is doing.

In spite of Garland’s repeated claims that his DOJ would pursue the January 6 investigation wherever the evidence leads — including at an appearance where he discussed that famous Moss memo that relies so heavily on that less famous Moss memo — Sarat suggests that Garland would have to launch an investigation, one entirely separate from the investigation already in progress, anew. “Based on what we now know, there appears to be ample reason for Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a criminal probe of Trump.” That is, Sarat treats the question before him as whether Merrick Garland should take to a podium and announce, “we are investigating the former President,” and not whether DOJ should continue the investigation(s) that it already has in progress, working to prosecute organizer-inciters like Alex Jones’ side-kick Owen Shroyer (who helped lure mobsters to the Capitol) and flipping low-level conspirators to build the case against more senior conspirators, conspirators whose ties to Trump associates like Jones and Stone have already been raised in court documents.

The question is not whether DOJ should open an investigation into Donald Trump. The question is whether, if and when DOJ accumulates enough evidence — surely helped by Select Committee efforts but in no way relying entirely on them — to show probable cause that Trump conspired with others to prevent Congress from certifying the vote on January 6, 2021, to charge him like DOJ has already charged hundreds of others.

And that question is significantly a question about equity.

The question is whether, if Paul Hodgkins has to serve eight months in prison for occupying the Senate while waving a Donald Trump flag around (Hodgkins is already three months into that sentence), Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Jacob Chansley has to serve 41 months in prison (Chansley has been in jail since January 9, 2021) for occupying the Senate dais, in defiance of orders from a cop, with a spear and a blowhorn and leaving a message for Mike Pence reading, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Kevin Fairlamb has to serve 41 months in prison (Fairlamb has been in jail since January 22, 2021) for punching one of the cops protecting the Capitol “with the purpose of influencing, affecting, and retaliating against the conduct of government by stopping or delaying the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Gina Bisignano faces 41 months for traveling to DC boasting, “The insurrection begins,” marching to the Capitol while narrating her actions — “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence” and “I’m going to break into the Capitol” — and then helping to break a window to get into the Capitol, Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Matthew Greene faces 41 months in prison for — months after Trump instructed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” — joining the Proud Boys in an orchestrated assault on the Capitol in hopes, “that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral College Vote than they would have otherwise,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well. Greene has been in jail since April 21, 2021.

The question is whether, if Jon Schaffer faces 41 months for, after learning “that Vice President Pence planned to go forward with the Electoral College vote certification,” forcibly storming the Capitol armed with bear spray, Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Josiah Colt faces 51 months because, after he, “learned that the Vice President had not intervened to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote,” he stormed the Capitol, broke into the Senate, and then occupied Pence’s chair, Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Graydon Young faces 63 months because he barged into the Capitol as part of a stack of kitted out militia members with the purpose of “intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting” the vote certification, Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

At this point, there’s no way to avoid the things Sarat would like to avoid by merely talking about Trump’s crimes rather than prosecuting them, to say nothing of the way that would violate DOJ rules prohibiting doing so. That’s true, in large part, because Trump is claiming martyrdom for those who did his dirty work. Between right wing lawyers swooping in to push defendants to renege on their guilty pleas, continued efforts by defendants’ co-conspirators to claim they were all set up by the Deep State, and schemes to profit off continued propaganda in support of Trump, every one of these cases involves some of the things that Sarat fears would occur if Trump, too, were prosecuted. Trump has a press conference scheduled for January 6 that will undoubtedly do some of the things Sarat would like to stave off. That din will only get louder as trials start in February. The claims of martyrdom are already baked into this investigation, and so would be better addressed by a direct debunking rather than a belated attempt at avoidance, not least because white terrorists have a history of undermining prosecutions by claiming martyrdom.

But there’s another reason, besides equity, that demands that DOJ prosecute Trump if prosecutors can collect the evidence to do so.

All five of the opinions (Dabney Friedrich, Amit Mehta, Tim Kelly, James Boasberg, plus Moss) upholding the application of obstruction to the vote certification have some discussion of what separates “corrupt” efforts to obstruct the vote count from political lobbying or civil disobedience. The discussion entails whether corruption requires an attempt to corrupt someone else, or whether it only involves corruptness in one’s own actions. A number of these opinions take an easy route, stating simply that the defendants in question are alleged to have broken the law in other ways in their efforts to obstruct the vote count, which gets past corruptness in one’s own actions, so a further analysis of whether legal actions might amount to obstruction is unnecessary as applied to those defendants. That’s an intransitive understanding of the corrupt purpose necessary to obstruction.

All stop short of where James Pearce, the prosecutor guiding this adoption of 1512(c)(2), went in responding to a question from Trump appointee Carl Nichols; Pearce stated that one way an unnamed person just like Trump might act corruptly would be by asking someone else to violate their duty: If that person, “calls Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way … knowing it is not an available argument [and is] asking the vice president to do something the individual knows is wrongful … one of the definitions of ‘corruptly’ is trying to get someone to violate a legal duty.” That’s a transitive kind of corruption, an attempt to get someone else to violate their oath. Even some of the confessed obstructors listed here (most notably, the first Proud Boy to plead guilty) were knowingly doing that.

But there’s a third option. In his opinion on the application of 1512(c)(2), somewhat uniquely among the five opinions upholding the application thus far, former OLC head Judge Moss ruled that if the use of illegal activity to interrupt the vote count weren’t enough to distinguish between normal protests and obstruction, then the court could turn to whether the defendants (whom, in this case, you’ve likely never heard of) were attempting to obtain an improper benefit for themselves … or someone else.

To the extent any additional guardrail is necessary, other recognized definitions of the term “corruptly” both fit the context of the obstruction of a congressional proceeding and provide additional guidance. In his separate opinion in Aguilar, for example, Justice Scalia quoted with approval the jury instruction given by the district court in that case: “An act is done corruptly if it’s done voluntarily and intentionally to bring about an unlawful result or a lawful result by some unlawful method, with a hope or expectation of . . . [a] benefit to oneself or a benefit to another person.” 515 U.S. at 616–17 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Because the Aguilar majority ruled on other grounds, it did not opine on the meaning of “corruptly.” Id. at 598–603. But there is no reason to doubt Justice Scalia’s observation that formulations of this type are “longstanding and well-accepted,” id. at 616, and, indeed, the D.C. Circuit cited to a similar definition—“a person acts ‘corruptly’ when taking action ‘with the intent to obtain an improper advantage for [one]self or someone else, inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others’”—in United States v. Pasha, 797 F.3d 1122, 1132 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. North, 910 F.2d 843, 882 (D.C. Cir. 1990), opinion withdrawn and superseded in other part on reh’g, 920 F.2d 940 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). In the garden-variety disruption or parading case, in contrast, the government need not prove that the defendant sought unlawfully to obtain a benefit for himself or another person in the proceeding itself. But, because the Court is persuaded that Defendants’ vagueness argument fails even without this refinement, and because the Court has yet to hear from the parties on the proper jury instructions, the Court will leave for another day the question whether this formulation—or a slightly different formulation—will best guide the jury.

This language likely came out of some ill-advised claims from the defense attorneys in question, who claimed there would be no injustice that could result from obstructing the certification of Joe Biden’s vote. The claim was ridiculous. It suggested that nullifying the votes of 81 million people and depriving Biden of his legal victory would create no victims.

But the comment brought the briefing before Moss to where it didn’t go (except to a limited degree before Kelly) in the other challenges.

The obstruction of the vote count on January 6, 2021 was corrupt because people put on body armor, broke into the locked Capitol, and beat up cops in an attempt to obstruct the certification of Biden’s victory — the intransitive corruption of the people who broke other laws to carry it out. It was corrupt because those who carried it out sought to intimidate people like Mike Pence to do what he otherwise refused to. But it was corrupt because the entire goal, shared by all the people charged with obstruction, was to declare Trump the victor in an election he didn’t win.

DOJ should not back off prosecuting Trump along with all those others charged in the same crime, some of whom (I believe DOJ will ultimately be able to prove) are co-conspirators with Trump in a large networked conspiracy, for the crime of trying to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s win. Judges, defense attorneys, and defendants themselves — including many of the trespassers — keep insisting that Donald Trump was the key participant in the crime they’re all pleading guilty to.

His improper advantage was undoubtedly the goal.

“What every prosecutor is practically required to do is to select the cases for prosecution and to select those in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest, and the proof the most certain,” Jackson told America’s US Attorneys in the famous speech Sarat cited. Those watching the DOJ investigation rather than just the Select Committee or some often ill-informed TV lawyers have raised real questions about whether DOJ has honored that advice, because so many hapless Trump dupes are being prosecuted for their role in attempting to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power (as I have laid out, there appear to be investigative reasons why DOJ has prosecuted the misdemeanants they have). But about one thing, Jackson had no doubt: “In the enforcement of laws that protect our national integrity and existence, we should prosecute any and every act of violation.”

As noted above, DOJ has thus far accused 275 people of obstructing the certification of Joe Biden’s victory (a good number of those have been permitted to plead down to a misdemeanor). DOJ has already decided that it will treat obstruction of the vote certification as a crime that endangers our national integrity. Charging Trump with obstruction would amount to holding the guy who stood to benefit to the same standard as those whose corrupt actions attempted to steal for him an improper advantage.

The question is not, as so many commentators who discovered the obstruction application only when Liz Cheney called their attention to it, whether to open an investigation into Trump. 700 people have already been charged in the investigation that might one day charge Trump. The question is whether to hold Trump to the same standard as the hundreds who have gone before him.

Prosecuting Trump may be the only way to confirm that Chansley and Bisignano and Colt and Young aren’t martyrs to Trump’s losing cause.

Other Posts

Because new readers are coming to this site via this post, I wanted to include some other overview posts about January 6 that may be helpful:

A Taxonomy of the [Visible] January 6 “Crime Scene” Investigation: This post explains what I understand the DOJ investigation to have accomplished in a year.

The Pied Piper of Insurrection, and Other Challenges in Charging the January 6 Organizer-Inciters: The 700 arrests thus far have been relatively easy, because everyone arrested was — at a minimum — trespassing on January 6. The next step of the investigation — arresting the organizer-inciters who themselves implemented Trump’s plans — is where DOJ will have to have more evidence of conspiracy or other corrupt mens rea supporting obstruction. This post looks at several of them.

Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland: I can’t promise you DOJ will prosecute Trump or even Rudy Giuliani and Alex Jones. I can promise that if they were to charge Trump, it wouldn’t be before midterms. Complex investigations of very powerful people simply don’t work that fast. For that reason, among others, those spending their time whinging about Merrick Garland’s purported inaction would be better served finding some other way to save democracy. This post provides ten ways to do that.

237 Days: Cooperation in Criminal Investigations Takes a Long Time

Earlier this week, I pointed out that the complaints about Merrick Garland’s approach to the January 6 investigation simply don’t account for how long competent investigations take. On Twitter, I noted that it took almost a full year after the Russian investigation was opened for George Papadopoulos to be arrested and another two months before he pled guilty, making 14 months for a simple false statements charge in a lightning fast investigation. With a purported cooperator like Mike Flynn, it took 15 months to plead guilty and another year for the cooperation, and that, again, was considered lightning fast (and was assisted by the criminal exposure Flynn had for secretly working for Turkey).

In the January 6 investigation, prosecutors got their first public cooperating witness on April 16, when Jon Schaffer entered into a cooperation agreement. Since then, four additional Oath Keepers (Graydon Young on June 23, Mark Grods on June 30, Caleb Berry on July 20, and Jason Dolan on September 15), Josiah Colt (on July 14), and Klete Keller (on September 29; and no, I have no clue against whom he’d be cooperating) also publicly entered into cooperation agreements. That’s what DOJ has formally revealed, though there are several cases where the government clearly has gotten cooperation from other defendants, but hasn’t shared that formally.

But even with cooperators, investigations take time. There are three recent developments that provide a sense of how time-consuming that is.

Jon Schaffer’s still unresolved cooperation

As I previously noted, the four main Oath Keeper cooperators have a harmonized status deadline for December 17. I had been waiting to see whether Jon Schaffer, who has ties to the Oath Keepers and communications with whom were noticed to Oath Keeper defendants, would be put on that same reporting schedule.

He hasn’t been.

In fact, a recent status report in his case suggests the main Oath Keeper conspiracy may not be the primary focus of his cooperation. That’s because two details in it are totally inconsistent with the progress of the Oath Keeper case.

Multiple defendants charged in the case in which the Defendant is cooperating have been presented before the Court; several are in the process of exploring case resolutions and a trial date has yet to be set.

As Judge Mehta well knows, four of the Oath Keepers already have “explor[ed] case resolutions.” And Mehta has set the first trial date for April 19, 2022.

So unless Schaffer’s attorney is entirely in error, it seems there’s some other multiple defendant case in which Schaffer is cooperating.

Swedish Scarf still at large?

Earlier this month, Gina Bisignano may have pushed the government to indict a conspiracy in which she’s a key witness earlier than they might have.

On November 4, she filed a motion to modify her release conditions, to get out of home arrest so she can try to salvage her salon business. In it, her lawyers revealed that back in July, Bisignano had entered into a sealed plea agreement.

10. On July 28, 2021, Defendant signed a plea agreement in the above captioned case UNDER SEAL.

11. On August 4, 2021, Defendant appeared before this Court and entered a guilty plea in the above captioned case, UNDER SEAL, to multiple counts of the indictment.

12. On September 16, 2021, a Zoom hearing was held before this Court, and Your Honor advised that you would entertain the Defendant’s motion in three (3) weeks to see whether the Defendant had any infractions during that time.

The only reason to seal the plea would be to hide a cooperation component.

There has long been chatter about a conspiracy indictment against members of the Southern California anti-mask community that traveled to the insurrection together. In response to Amy Berman Jackson’s questions about why Danny Rodriguez was not charged with three other defendants for assaulting Michael Fanone, prosecutors kept giving her vague answers for months, until they filed what must have been a sealed update on November 5. And a transcript of Rodriguez’ FBI interview at least suggested that the FBI had spoken to Bisignano before Rodriguez’ March 31 interview.

Is there any reason why Gina would tell us that you told her not to say anything to — about you being at the Capitol?

Videos of this interview, which are engaging TV, are here.

In mid-November, the government finally rolled out the long-awaited conspiracy indictment, which was more narrowly tailored than originally expected, charging Rodriguez, his estranged friend Ed Badalian, and someone referred to in the online community as “Swedish Scarf,” but whose identity remains sealed. The indictment charges two objects of the conspiracy: to halt the vote count on January 6, but also to “mutilate or destroy photographs and videos taken by” Bisignano (who is referred to as Person One in the indictment).

But there’s still no sign of an arrest of Swedish Scarf.

That could mean several things, one of which is that he’s on the lam.

The minute order from Judge Carl Nichols granting Bisignano some but not all of the release conditions she requested revealed that the government opposition to that request, which was due on November 24 (and so after the indictment against Badalian was unsealed) remains sealed.

There’s something else going on with this case. What, it is not entirely clear.

That said, what the public record suggests is that Bisignano had at least one interview prior to March 31, she pled guilty in August, but it still took three more months to obtain the indictment against Badalian and Swedish scarf.

Indicting a cop for fun and probation

Meanwhile the sentencing memos (government, defense) for Jacob Hiles reveal that not all cooperation comes with a cooperation agreement.

As the government describes, Hiles’ actions on January 6 include a number of the factors that would normally lead them to ask for a sentence including jail time: calls for revolution in advance, mockery of police efforts to defend the Capitol, and long boasts posted to Facebook after the fact.

But those Facebook posts play a key role in a more important prosecution, that of former Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley, who friended Hiles on Facebook before the insurrection and tried to protect him afterwards. After they first initiated contact, Riley warned Hiles to delete his posts, but he did not.

On January 7, 2021, a sworn U.S. Capitol police officer, Michael Angelo Riley, sent the defendant a private direct message on Facebook—the first message between the two, who had never met but shared an avid interest in fishing. The message stated as follows:

“Hey Jake, im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance. Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charged. Just looking out!”

Hiles responded to this message with a shorter version of the narratives posted on his public page and detailed above. He further stated, in part, “Investigate me however youd like and thank you for the heads up. . . . If what I did needs further investigation, I will gladly testify to this. There are some people who were violent. They attacked officers. They destroyed property. They should be fully prosecuted.”2 In the course of an extended conversation that ensued between the two, Hiles also said, “I don’t think I did anything wrong at all yesterday and I am very sorry things turned out the way that they did. I dont like the way that a few bad apples in a massive crowd are making the entire crowd be portrayed as violent terrorists,” and “I think when the fbi gets to investigating, they will find that these terroristic acts were committed in false flag attacks by leftists.”

The government’s investigation revealed that these communications between Riley and the defendant had been deleted by Riley, but not by the defendant, from whose Facebook account they were recovered. The communications included further corrupt conduct by Riley, as detailed in part in the Indictment, ECF No. 1, in United States v. Michael Angelo Riley, 21-CR-628 (ABJ). Indeed, according to Hiles, and consistent with the evidence recovered in the government’s investigation of Michael Riley, Hiles deleted no information in response to Riley’s suggestion that he do so.

And when FBI Agents interviewed Hiles after they arrested him on January 19, he told them enough about his contact with Riley such that they knew to look for those communications once they exploited his phone. That led to another interview and, ultimately, to the indictment of Riley.

Hiles further indicated that following the riot he had become friends with a Capitol police officer, although he did not at that time describe the content of then-Officer Riley’s initial contact. Later, a search of Hiles’ cell phone revealed a screenshot of the Facebook message detailed in the government’s Sentencing Memorandum from Riley to Hiles on January 7, 2021. Upon discovery of the message, the government requested through counsel that Hiles participate in a debrief with prosecutors and federal agents. Through counsel, Hiles agreed to do so and appeared for the debrief (held virtually) within 24 hours, and with no promise of any benefit from or agreement of any kind with the government.3

After his initial interview, Hiles told Riley that the FBI had expressed an interest in their communications. That led Riley to delete his own Facebook communications with Hiles.

15. RILEY and Person 1 continued to exchange friendly messages until January 20, 2021. On that date, Person 1 sente RILEY Facebook direct messages regarding having turned himself in to the FBI, including telling RILEY, “The fbi was very curious that I ha been speaking to you if they havent already asked you about me they are gonna. They took my phone and downloaded everything.” RILEY responded, “Thats fine”.

16. On January 20, 2021, RILEY deleted all his Facebook direct messages to and from Person 1.

Because of this cooperation against Riley (and because he offered up that he had gone to insurrection with his cousin, James Horning, who was arrested on obstruction and trespassing charges a month later), the government recommended probation.

Indeed, without the defendant’s significant, useful assistance to the government with respect to two felony prosecutions, the factors would require the government to recommend a sentence involving incarceration. Yet, upon consideration of the defendant’s exceptional cooperation with the government, the scale tips in favor of probation.

Hiles is due to be sentenced on Monday.

Hiles’ role in the prosecution of Riley is instructive for several reasons. First, these misdemeanants are not just defendants, but they are all witnesses to a crime. And some of them are going to provide important testimony without the formal trappings of a cooperation plea those indicted with felonies would have (even assuming those cooperation pleas were made public).

But the Hiles sentencing also gives a sense of the time necessarily involved. Riley’s indictment reveals how long even simple cooperation prosecutions can take. While union protections and internal investigations probably delayed things somewhat, it still took over 235 days between when the FBI first learned of Hiles’ communications with Riley and Riley’s arrest.

That’s for a cop. You can be sure it would take longer to indict those close to Donald Trump, even assuming the FBI has identified cooperators with useful testimony directly pertaining to those in Trump’s orbit, rather than identified those once or twice removed from Trump’s closest aides.

The government is getting more cooperation from January 6 defendants and witnesses than is publicly admitted. But that doesn’t mean we’ll see the fruit of such cooperation anytime soon.

Update, December 23: Adding the cooperation agreements for Gina Bisignano (August 4) and Matthew Greene (December 22).

Gina Bisignano: If a Plea Deal Falls on the Docket and No One Hears It …

It turns out there are a lot of things that won’t show up on a January 6 docket.

According to a motion to ditch her house arrest filed last week, Gina Bisignano — the Beverly Hills salon owner who wore a Louis Vuitton sweater to the insurrection — signed a plea deal back in July.

10. On July 28, 2021, Defendant signed a plea agreement in the above captioned case UNDER SEAL.

11. On August 4, 2021, Defendant appeared before this Court and entered a guilty plea in the above captioned case, UNDER SEAL, to multiple counts of the indictment.

Normally, when people sign plea deals under seal like this, it’s a sign of a cooperation agreement.

That wouldn’t be surprising. DOJ has been trying to charge the group of LA-area anti-vax activists who traveled to DC together in a conspiracy for most of the year. And the transcript of Danny Rodriguez’ March 31 post-arrest interview showed the FBI agents interviewing Rodriguez — who went to insurrection with Gina and others and whose alleged tasering of Michael Fanone would form the center of any conspiracy — at least pretending that she was talking with investigators, possibly even claiming that Rodriguez threatened her to keep quiet at a visit to her home.

Q. Did you talk to Gina before she got arrested?

A. Um-hmm.

Q. What’d you find out from her?

A. Nothing. I mean, we just said hi. But, I mean, we didn’t talk about anything else. I don’t really know her that well.

Q. Did you go over to her house?

A. I’ve been to her house.

Q. After January 6th, have you been to her house?

A. Yeah. I went one time, yes.

Q. With Ed?

A. No.

Q. With who?

A. Gabe. The guy who turned a rat.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guy who’s snitching on everyone. He’s a Trump supporter, but — and he had all this — he used to always pick fights with BLM and Antifa, and we always had problems with him making us look bad, and he always wanted to get violent. And now he’s turned on us — or, me.

Q. What happened when you went with Gabe to talk to Gina?

A. It was just, like, to touch base. It was just like, hey, you know, we’re — we made it. We’re back. Everything’s okay. Are you okay? Kind of thing.

Q. What is Gabe going to say happened?

A. I don’t know. I don’t know about that guy. I mean, I haven’t had contact with him and he was really quiet. He looked like he didn’t like what happened and he was just — kind of just sit — staring at the floor a little bit or something. Like, sitting on the couch quiet. And Gina and I were talking about D.C. and he was just quiet and, I mean — and then he left and I left. We were only there for, like, 30 minutes maybe.

Q. Is there any reason why Gina would tell us that you told her not to say anything to — about you being at the Capitol?

A. Yeah. I mean —

Q. Is that what you guys talked about?

A. I guess. Yeah. I mean, like — yeah. We’re like, don’t talk about this and don’t tell anybody and —

Q. Did you threaten her?

A. No.

Q. But you told her not to say anything.

A. No, I didn’t tell her. I mean, I think it was — no. I don’t even think I told her not to say anything. I just think it was just assumed or implied that —

Q. Well, tell me what you said because I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Tell me how the conversation went.

A. I really didn’t talk to Gina too much. I mean, we were over there and just talking, and was smoking some weed on her patio. That’s it.

Q. And?

A. I didn’t threaten her or tell her any — tell her to do anything.

Q. But you guys did talk about not saying anything to the police about what happened in D.C.?

A. We weren’t even talking necessarily about not talking to the police. We were saying not to talk to — about this to anyone that we know.

Q. So just don’t tell anybody?

A. Just keep it quiet and don’t tell anybody anything and let’s try to live our lives normal, but not really, no.

Q. Okay.

[snip]

AGENT ELIAS: And then he said he met up with out there Kayla, Chris Almonte, somebody named Sauna, and Gina. And then we talked a little bit about Gina and he said that, after January 6th, he did go to Gina’s house with Gabe one time. And they did discuss not saying anything to anyone.

BY AGENT ARMENTA: Q. Okay. So you told Gina that?

A. Yeah. We were just not going to talk to — talk about it with anybody.

Q. Did you threaten her at all?

A. No. For sure, no.

Q. So she’s not going to say that?

A. I would hope not.

Q. What about —

A. No. She’s a sweet woman. I wouldn’t threaten her. And plus, what I did, why — how can I threaten? I mean, if I threaten her, she’s just going to turn me in, right? [my emphasis]

Revealing a cooperation plea deal without permission is a good way to ruin your chances to get a 5K1.1 letter, which is what the government submits to ask for a lesser sentence in exchange for substantial assistance. So it’s possible the plea deal has gone south.

Nevertheless, we should expect there are secret plea deals like this among the 650 defendants. And so I wanted to observe several things about Bisignano’s docket. Mostly, that there’s no sign of a plea deal in it. Or anything else of interest.

Bisignano was arrested on January 19 and indicted ten days later. She was in a limbo for an extended period amid COVID-related transfer delays and also a delay getting her attorney admitted to the case. On February 26, Judge Carl Nichols released her to the house arrest she’s now trying to get relaxed.

But aside from adoption of a protective order in April (that is, after the Rodriguez agents claimed that Bisignano may have already started talking) and a grand jury disclosure order in July, just days before the plea deal, the only things that have happened in the docket are repeated requests for relaxation of her release conditions, status conferences, and discovery. The only thing reported out from a September status hearing pertained to her request for a relaxation of her release conditions.

Days before Bisignano pled guilty, July 24, the prosecutor in this case, Kimberly Paschall provided a summary of the discovery provided to day (which was mostly the stuff that went into her arrest). There has been no other discovery described outside of the mass discovery status updates.

All of which is to say, there’s nothing in the docket.

I raise all this not just to say, we have no idea what this means, though we have no idea what Bisignano’s public claim to have entered into a sealed plea deal in July means. The expected conspiracy case has never been publicly filed.

But it is worth noting that DOJ has not visibly met two deadlines set by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in the Rodriguez case, to tell her whether his case will be joined with others accused of assaulting Fanone, and to explain why he hasn’t been offered a plea deal.

First of all, the Court will require the government to make its intentions plain, and therefore it is HEREBY ORDERED that any motion to join this case to any other for trial must be filed by November 5, 2021. Any motion to extend that date must be based on good cause shown, and vague references to ongoing investigations or extenuating circumstances will not suffice; if matters must be submitted to the Court under seal, the government is familiar with how to accomplish that.

Second, it is FURTHER ORDERED that the government must inform the Court by November 5, 2021 whether a plea offer has been extended in this case and if not, why not.

These filings were due — on the docket, or under seal — by Friday, but there’s nothing there.

The lesson of this post, then, is that for all the wailing that nothing is going on in the January 6 investigation, there’s likely to be a lot going on that we’re not seeing.

The Network Effect: The 3%ers Incitement, Terrorist Enhancements, and California’s Anti-Maskers

At a hearing for Danny Rodriguez on August 31, Judge Amy Berman Jackson asked, as she had in the last hearing, why Rodriguez wasn’t included in the indictment with a bunch of other men who, like him, are accused of assaulting Michael Fanone, a case over which she is also presiding. As also happened in that last hearing, ABJ asked about a plea offer. In July, AUSA Kimberly Paschall said Rodriguez might not be offered a plea deal at all. On Tuesday, Paschall said he would only be offered a plea deal if he were willing to be debriefed first, prosecutor’s jargon meaning that someone will only be permitted to plead guilty if he cooperates against others. Paschall also said that any plea would necessarily include the 18 USC 1361 charge against Rodriguez for breaking a window because it carries a terrorism enhancement. When prompted by Rodriguez’ attorney (who sourced her intelligence to Twitter), Paschall admitted there may be a superseding indictment against Rodriguez, widely assumed to be some kind of conspiracy indictment with other extremists from Southern California.

As HuffPo reported in February (relying heavily on the work of online researchers including Deep State Dogs), before his arrest Rodriguez was a well-known participant in a group of Southern California anti-maskers, one who had been reported for assault even before boarding a plane to DC in January.

Rodriguez, who goes by “Danny” and “DJ,” is well known among Trump supporters in the Los Angeles area as a superfan of the former president. Multiple news outlets have featured him in their coverage of the local pro-Trump movement in recent years, in articles that included his name and photo. He regularly attended the weekly Trump rallies in Beverly Hills last year. He was recognizable there by his dark-rimmed glasses and the many distinctive pins on his hat, which has a big GOP elephant symbol on the brim.

Rodriguez coordinated with other members of this network — including Gina Bisignano — while at the riot.

What Paschall basically admitted in Tuesday’s hearing is that DOJ intends to hold Rodriguez accountable as a terrorist, possibly in conjunction with his network of right wing operatives. But for all the reports (on Twitter) about network members flipping on each other, the network of extremists still manages to sow violence in front of the LAPD with impunity.

There are other public signs, however, that DOJ is going after this network. In June, DOJ rolled out a conspiracy indictment against six Three Percenters, including Alan Hostetter and Russell Taylor. In spite of explicit threats of execution detailed in it, it doesn’t include a crime of terrorism like the one charged against Rodriguez. While the Three Percenter ties, the plans to come to DC armed, and the defendants’ role in a January 5 Stop the Steal rally attracted a lot of attention, the import of a Telegram channel described in it got less focus.

On January 1, 2021, [Russ] TAYLOR created a Telegram chat called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade” (the “DC Brigade”) and invited other individuals to join. TAYLOR, HOSTETTER, WARNER, KINNISON, MARTINEZ, and MELE all joined, along with more than 30 others.

In the “about” section that described the purpose of the DC Brigade group, TAYLOR wrote:

This group will serve as the Comms for able bodied individuals that are going to DC on Jan 6. Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight. We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.

In a series of messages on January 1, 2021, TAYLOR further explained the purpose of the group. In one message, he explained: “This thread is exclusive to be utilized to organize a group of fighters to have each other’s backs and ensure that no one will trample on our rights. Also, if there is key intel that we need to be aware of tor [sic] possible threats.” He added: “I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well.” TAYLOR also asked members to identify if they had previous law enforcement experience, military experience, or “special skills relevant to our endeavors,” as well as the planned date and time of their arrival in D.C.

There were 36 people in this thread and DOJ may have arrested just 4 before this conspiracy charge, leaving at least 26 others who participated in a channel about coming armed to the Capitol still out there.

In recent days (close to three months after the conspiracy indictment), DOJ has started arresting those participants. On August 26, for example, DOJ arrested Jeffrey Scott Brown on charges of assault, civil disorder, and trespassing based in part on him spraying an irritant at the police.

The government cited Brown’s participation in Taylor’s Telegram channel to substantiate pre-meditation for his violence.

During the course of the investigation into the events of January 6, 2021, law enforcement has identified communications that documented planning and coordination amongst individuals in advance of January 6, 2021. As detailed below, the investigation has established that JEFFREY SCOTT BROWN participated in a Telegram group chat on an encrypted messaging app in the days leading up to January 6. In the Telegram chat “about” section was the following description: “This group will serve as the Comms for able bodied individuals that are going to DC on Jan 6. Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight. We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.”

One of the members of this chat was Telegram user “JB” (UID XXXXXX1832). On January 5, 2021, at approximately 6:30 a.m. PST, Telegram user “JB” posted a picture of himself with the caption “Boarding LAX.” LAX is the airport code for the Los Angeles International Airport.

Yesterday, another of the participants on Taylor’s Telegram channel, Ben Martin, was arrested for his sustained efforts to get and keep the North doors of the Capitol open.

Among the pictures of Martin included in his arrest affidavit at that North door are some also included in a detention memo for Matthew Klein that depict the Klein brothers, already charged with conspiracy for their efforts to open it.

Martin’s arrest warrant describes Facebook Messenger discussions Martin had with an RT who, like Russell Taylor, publicly called for violence in advance of the riot. That RT invited Martin to a Telegram channel that sounds (except for RT’s boasts about its size) just like The California Patriots-DC Brigade.

A search warrant of the MARTIN Facebook account identified by the tipster revealed that the account was registered as “benjamin.martin.90410.” A review of the account further revealed communications between MARTIN and a Facebook account associated with R.T. Based on a different investigation, R.T. is known to the FBI to have advocated for violence in the lead-up to January 6, organized others to travel to D.C. for January 6 (some of whom participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol), and to have participated himself in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. MARTIN’s account contained communications occurring on January 3, 2021, between R.T. and MARTIN through Facebook Messenger in which MARTIN and R.T. discussed traveling to Washington D.C. for January 6, 2021. In the communications, R.T. invited MARTIN to join a Telegram chat for “a group of 200+ California patriots that are going to DC Jan 6,” which MARTIN accepted and joined. On January 6, 2021, MARTIN sent four messages to R.T. that stated, “we need to meet”, “I just spoke to Peggy Hall she said we need to meet”, and “I am in DC as we”, “well” [sic].

Consider what you have in this network:

  • Ties to two militias, the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys
  • Organization based in localized, violent anti-mask activism
  • A direct tie to one of two organized rallies on January 5
  • A Telegram channel tying a group of participants together
  • The use of blowhorns and radios during the riot to maximize impact
  • Taylor’s description of a plan, formulated at least by December 30, to “surround the capital,” followed by Simon’s sustained efforts to open a new front on the North side of it
  • Discussions in advance of executing traitors followed by an assault on Michael Fanone that caused a heart attack
  • By dint of Rodriguez’ damage to a window of the Capitol, a crime of terrorism that can (and Paschall is intent, will) carry a terrorism enhancement

At Tuesday’s hearing, Paschall didn’t seem sure whether they will end up charging Rodriguez in a conspiracy with some of the others (though she said DOJ would likely finalize their decision on that point by October 1). Certainly, it doesn’t seem like local law enforcement in LA is anything but an impediment.

But this network of extremists is a good place to look to understand how the various parts of the riot came together.

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald Are Outraged that Bill Barr Set Up Antifa!!!! [Just Kidding]

You’ve no doubt seen the conspiracy theory championed by Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald claiming that the unnamed Oath Keeper associates described in those indictments are actually FBI informants.


As happened with earlier propaganda campaigns (notably the one downplaying Brian Sicknick’s death), the conspiracy theory started with Revolver News, got magnified by Tucker Carlson, and got normalized by Glenn Greenwald (the latter of whose central role largely escaped attention because commentators don’t identify him, yet, as a right wing propagandist).In his first appearance, Carlson grotesquely accused Sharon Caldwell, who was described in later Oath Keeper documents as Person Two but was identified clearly in earlier documents by her first name and as Thomas Caldwell’s spouse, of being an informant who framed her husband.

Person Two and Person Three were organizers of the riot. The government knows who they are. But the government has not charged them. Why is that? You know why. They were almost certainly working for the FBI. So FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6, according to government documents. And those two are not alone! In all Revolver News reported there were, quote, “upwards of 20 unindicted co-conspirators in the Oath Keepers indictments, all playing various roles in the conspiracy, who have not been charged for virtually the exact same activities — and in some cases much, much more severe activities — as those named alongside them in indictments.”

Huh????

So it turns out that this white supremacist insurrection was, again, by the government’s own admission in these documents organized at least in part, by government agents.

This little campaign has led compromised members of Congress to embrace this excuse for the insurrection they previously have claimed was not an insurrection at all.


Thomas Caldwell’s wife, Sharon, is Person Two

To show that “Person Two,” whom Tucker Carlson alleges for framing Thomas Caldwell, is actually his wife, Sharon, you can compare this filing, where her name is not redacted, with this one, where “Person Two” has substituted for her name.

1. Sharon Caldwell is Thomas’ wife:

2. “Sharon and I are setting up shop there” (at the Comfort Inn Ballston) and then “Sharon and I are going our way.”

3. “Sharon was right with me!”

Later filings over release conditions confirm the selfies posted to Facebook were of Thomas’ wife, describe Thomas agreeing to be accompanied by his wife, Sharon, to Sunday Mass starting on Easter, expressing concern that his wife has to do all the chores on their 30-acre farm which has led to the loss of farm income, and describing that he rarely travels anywhere without his wife, Sharon Caldwell, and she’s willing to go with him every time he does leave their property.


Glenn and Tucker must be outraged that Billy Barr set up Antifa

Parts of this campaign are pathetic, even for the men involved, and may reflect a desperate attempt to repackage their own past claims.

For example, after parroting a bunch of obviously self-serving PR from Parler in the days after the attack (such as that the insurrectionists organized on Facebook, not Parler), Glenn now shows that Parler was actually sharing threats of violence with the FBI in advance, without noting that that undermines several things he said in the past, such as that the insurrectionists didn’t plan on Parler. This must be dizzying and embarrassing for Glenn.

And because Glenn has to package this — like he did his never-ending obsession with Hunter Biden’s laptop — as a failure of Democrats and liberal media, he remarkably claims that the left — which has so relentlessly asked why the FBI was caught unawares that Glenn even screen caps an example of Ryan Goodman linking to Carolyn Maloney doing so — is resistant to questioning the FBI’s role in the riot.

What accounts for this furious liberal #Resistance to questioning the FBI’s role in the January 6 riot and asking whether there are vital facts that are being concealed?

Maybe Glenn has a harder time getting CSPAN in Brazil than I do in Ireland, because when I’ve watched the multiple hearings Democratic Chairs of various committees (including Maloney) have had with FBI Director Chris Wray or now-National Security Branch EAD Jill Sanborn, they question the FBI about it over and over and over. Glenn literally made up this hash-tagged resistance out of thin air because he needs it to be true, when in fact the opposite is true.

But it’s important to look at what this propaganda campaign obscures.

Probably, this campaign got started because a number of people implicated in the investigation, now realizing that it won’t go away, are trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility. It has already happened with those charged for crimes committed on January 6. Dominic Pezzola suggested that a key witness against him was actually more involved in the riot than he was, only to learn he guessed wrong and that the government was going to invoke a terrorism enhancement with him. Similarly, top Proud Boys were hinting at challenges to the UCC-1 described in their indictment, before they grew conspicuously silent about it, as if they learned something that undercut such claims. [see update below]

The other reason people are talking about informants is that (FBI’s failure to respond notwithstanding) it’s not that far-fetched. Importantly, multiple Proud Boys have claimed to be informants, though Glenn only mentions Enrique Tarrio. Maybe that’s because the implication of the claims from the others leads to a place Glenn and Tucker don’t want to go. Of the four Proud Boys that Aram Rostom described as being FBI informants prior to January 6, three claimed to be sharing information about Antifa.

Reuters interviewed two Proud Boys members who spoke on the condition of anonymity about some members’ interactions with the FBI. Reuters also interviewed Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, examined court records and interviewed sources close to the federal investigation.

The reporting showed:

– One Proud Boy left the group in December after telling other members he was cooperating with the FBI by providing information about Antifa, say Tarrio and two other Proud Boy sources. The former member, whom Reuters was unable to identify, insisted to group leaders that he had not revealed information about the Proud Boys, these people say.

– A second Proud Boy leader bragged in 2019 about sharing information with the FBI about Antifa, according to private chats leaked on social media. The chats’ authenticity was confirmed by a source familiar with the Proud Boys and the Jan. 6 case.

– A third Proud Boy leader, Joseph Biggs, who was indicted and charged with conspiracy in the January attack, has said in court papers he reported information to the FBI about Antifa for months. Reuters spoke to Biggs two days before the riot. In that interview, he said he had specific plans for Jan. 6, but declined to disclose them. But, he volunteered to Reuters in that call, he was willing to tell his FBI contact of his plans for the coming rally, if asked. Reuters wasn’t able to determine whether such a contact took place. [my emphasis]

What this suggests is not that the FBI set up the Proud Boys with paid informants, but the opposite: that under a President who “denounced” the Proud Boys by saying they should “Stand back and stand by,” and under an Attorney General who dismissed threats against a judge involving the Proud Boys as a technicality, the Proud Boys were viewed not as an equivalent (or greater) threat than Antifa, but instead were able to disguise their use of Antifa as a foil to sow violence by serving as informants against them.

If these three self-proclaimed informants are right (there’s good reason to doubt them), then it means under Bill Barr, the FBI was using informants not to set up the Proud Boys, but instead to set up Antifa.

If Tucker and Glenn were good faith actors and not paid propagandists, you would fully expect them to be outraged that the FBI set up Antifa.

Especially because of the possibility that the FBI didn’t take the Proud Boys threat seriously because (on top of being endorsed by the President and downplayed by the Attorney General), they prioritized investigating Antifa over investigating the Proud Boys. With that possibility in mind, read the framing of Glenn’s Substack post:

The original report, published by Revolver News and then amplified by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, documented ample evidence of FBI infiltration of the three key groups at the center of the 1/6 investigation — the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters — and noted how many alleged riot leaders from these groups have not yet been indicted. While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

The implications of these facts are obvious. It seems extremely likely that the FBI had numerous ways to know of any organized plots regarding the January 6 riot (just as the U.S. intelligence community, by its own admission, had ample advanced clues of the 9/11 attack but, according to their excuse, tragically failed to “connect the dots”).

[snip]

What would be shocking and strange is not if the FBI had embedded informants and other infiltrators in the groups planning the January 6 Capitol riot. What would be shocking and strange — bizarre and inexplicable — is if the FBI did not have those groups under tight control.

It is fucking insane that Glenn claims to be mystified by the possibility that a group endorsed in the President’s first Presidential debate and dismissed by the Attorney General would not get the proper scrutiny by the FBI. Trump very effectively punished people — especially at the FBI — for investigating entities close to him. And on September 29, 2020, Donald Trump made it quite clear the Proud Boys should get special treatment. That’s all the explanation you need. Though it is, indeed, reason for closer scrutiny, the kind of scrutiny that Democrats have been demanding, Glenn’s false claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

But if you want to raise the possibility that FBI had informants in the group, then the explanation may be equally as damning: That the FBI didn’t see January 6 coming because it was too busy treating Antifa as a terrorist threat.

Indeed, everything we know about the threat reporting on that day — which claimed the big risk of violence arose from the possibility of clashes between counter-protestors and right wing militias — suggests that may be what happened: that the FBI was looking the other way, possibly in conjunction with the militia that played a key role in planning the attack. That certainly accords with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller’s claim that Trump told him to use the National Guard to protect Trump supporters.

Since Glenn claims to be very familiar with the role of informants, surely he knows that multiple terrorists — definitely David Headley and allegedly Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Omar Mateen — have planned attacks under the cover of serving as informants (or in the case of Mateen, his father doing so). There were also at least two former FBI informants that played key parts in the Russian operation in 2016. The most logical answer to the questions that Glenn pretends to entertain is that the FBI didn’t look too closely at what Joe Biggs was planning (as part of a Kelly Meggs-brokered Florida alliance of militia groups with ties to Roger Stone), because they treated him as a credible source of reporting on Antifa.

The propaganda that goes unnoticed

The absurdity of accusing Sharon Caldwell of entrapping her spouse has, justifiably, gotten all the attention from this campaign.

But there’s a piece of propaganda that it incorporates — one parroted by Members of Congress — that deserves focus of its own: in framing his piece, Glenn not only claims that the plot leaders have been shielded from charges, he also states as fact that, “low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail.”

While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

In making this claim, Glenn is mindlessly parroting something that appears in the original Revolver piece.

The first category is the group of mostly harmless tourists who walked through already opened doors and already-removed barricades, and at most were guilty of minor trespassing charges and light property offenses. The second group consists of those who were violent with police officers, broke down barricades, smashed windows, belonged to a “militia” group engaged in military-style planning prior to the event, discussed transporting heavy weaponry, and so forth.

Up until now, the overwhelming (perhaps exclusive) share of counter-establishment reporting on 1/6 has focused on absolving the first group. And this is a valuable thing. The notion that these harmless “MAGA moms” wandering around the Capitol were domestic terrorists engaged in an insurrection is absurd. That many of these people are being held in prison, without bail, under harsh conditions, amounts to an unacceptable and outrageous abuse of basic human rights.

The only way to sustain a claim that “low-level protestors” have been charged with major felonies and held without bail is to claim that alleged plot leaders — people like Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Billy Chrestman, and Kelly Meggs — were actually just protestors.

That’s because with perhaps two exceptions (people like Karl Dresch whose criminal records were cited as the reason for their detention), the only people who remain in jail are either those charged with planning the insurrection, or people who engaged in violence or came armed. And even many of those people were released. Just going in alphabetical order, Christopher Alberts brought a gun and a magazine to the insurrection but was released on bail. John Anderson is accused of assault but is out on bail. Richard Barnett, who entered Nancy Pelosi’s office with a high voltage stun gun, was initially jailed but has since been released. Bradley Bennett, whom the government argued went on the lam for weeks and destroyed his phone, got released on bail. Craig Bingert, involved in one of the conflicts with cops at a barricade, was released on bail. Gina Bisignano, accused of inciting violence and destruction with a bullhorn, was released on bail. Joshua Black, who was involved in confrontations with cops before heading to the Senate Chamber and said God ordered him to riot, was released on bail. James Breheny, an Oath Keeper who allegedly lied to the FBI and attended a key inter-militia planning event, is out on bail. Both men who brought zip ties to the Senate Chamber on the day of the riot, Eric Munchel and Larry Brock, are out on bail (and Brock isn’t even charged with a felony).

Even Brandon Fellows, charged with obstruction and present when Jeff Merkley’s office was trashed and laptop stolen, thus far remains out on bail, even after several bail violations.

Perhaps the only two people who remain in custody who weren’t either associated with a group being treated as a militia or involved in assault are Doug Jensen and Jacob Chansley. Both, though, played a kind of leadership role during the attack, both brought blades with them to the insurrection, both had direct confrontations with cops, and the government has argued (Jensen, Chansley) both exhibit the kind of fervor in their QAnon beliefs that pose a particular danger.

Given that QAnon had better success placing bodies where they were useful during the insurrection, I’m not sure it even makes sense to treat them differently than the more traditional militia.

Other than that, the men detained pre-trial are accused of leading the insurrection, precisely the people that this conspiracy theory falsely claims have been shielded from charges. Among the Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Charles Donohoe, Zack Rehl, and Kansas City cell leader Billy Chrestman remain jailed. Among the Oath Keepers, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins remain jailed. All are accused of playing key leadership roles in the insurrection.

There were some questionable detention decisions early on. At this stage, however, there are no cases where people still detained are simply protestors on the wrong side of the law.

And yet even Glenn makes that false claim without any evidence.

Donald Trump’s FBI Director and Bill Barr’s hand-picked US Attorney called these defendants terrorists

There’s one more aspect of this conspiracy that is confounding.

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald suggest this is a Deep State plot to harm Trump and his supporters. Even Andrew McCarthy, who wrote a long and worthwhile piece debunking Tucker and Glenn’s conspiracies, nevertheless claims the prosecutorial decisions in this case reflect Democratic politicization.

Although Schaffer is plainly a member of the Oath Keepers conspiracy, the Biden Justice Department did not have him plead guilty to the conspiracy charge in the Oath Keepers indictment. That’s undoubtedly because, for the purposes of helping Democrats hype a white-supremacist terrorism narrative, the conspiracy charge is too minor. Although that charge has been portrayed by the media and the Justice Department as if it were a terrorism allegation, it actually involves a statute that criminalizes comparatively minor conspiracy offenses, fit for a maximum penalty of just five years’ imprisonment (with the possibility of no jail time at all).

So instead, DOJ had Schaffer plead guilty to a two-count criminal information, charging him with the substantive crimes of obstructing Congress and illegally carrying a dangerous weapon (bear spray) on restricted federal grounds. That allowed government officials to bray that Schaffer could be looking at 30 years in prison, which sure sounds a lot worse than five years. But it’s a feint. The 30-year level is just an aggregation of the maximum sentences prescribed by the two statutes in Schaffer’s guilty plea — i.e., the highest possible sentence that could potentially apply to anyone who violated these laws. The sentence a judge actually imposes within that 30-year range depends on the circumstances, with only the worst offenders getting the maximum sentence. Realistically, then, what matters in Schaffer’s case are the federal sentencing guidelines that apply specifically to him. In the plea agreement’s fine print, prosecutors concede that the guidelines call for a relatively paltry 41- to 51-month term, which may be reduced if his cooperation proves to be valuable.

I suspect that Schaffer is one of the unnamed, numbered “Persons” referred to in the Oath Keepers indictment.

[snip]

To be clear, Carlson is right that it is ridiculous for Attorney General Merrick Garland to portray the Capitol riot as if it were a terrorist attack and the people behind it as the most dangerous national-security threat we face. As noted above, the conspiracy allegation is not a terrorism charge: It carries a penalty of no more than five years. Carlson is right to point out that, despite the government’s and the media’s claims to the contrary, there is no indication that racism motivated the riot (the Oath Keepers, for example, are not a white-supremacist organization, and the indictment does not even hint that race had anything to do with January 6). Carlson is right that, even as congressional Democrats posture about the supposed need for a commission to fully expose the events of January 6, the government is withholding mounds of information — including the identity of the security official who killed rioter Ashli Babbitt, a concealment that would be unfathomable in a case where a police officer killed an African-American criminal suspect or a Black Lives Matter rioter. And Carlson was right to call out the ludicrous suggestion by Frank Figliuzzi, a former top FBI national-security official, that congressional Republicans who cynically supported Trump’s scheme to overturn the election result are the equivalent of a terrorist organization’s “command and control element.”

Christopher Wray — the FBI Director chosen by Donald Trump — has, from day one, called this a terrorist attack.

More importantly, the person leading this investigation for the first two months was the US Attorney Bill Barr installed with no input from Congress, Michael Sherwin. If Sherwin had his way, these people would be charged with seditious conspiracy. Under Sherwin, Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s crimes were labeled terrorism. Under Michael Sherwin, Jessica Watkins’ crimes were labeled terrorism. And while the Jon Schaffer cooperation agreement that McCarthy disdains was finalized after Sherwin left, signs of it were already evident before Sherwin left (note, McCarthy is probably wrong in his belief that Schaffer is one of the people identified thus far in the Oath Keepers conspiracy, and he misunderstands why prosecutors charged Schaffer like the did). A Sherwin-friendly article written after his departure quotes him stating these were not close cases (and also taking credit for making the bulk of the cases).

“These were not complicated cases,” Sherwin said of the Capitol breach probe. “What made these cases so unusual were the scope and scale of the crime,” reaching into almost every state in the country, including Florida.

Sherwin’s tour of duty as acting U.S. Attorney ended soon after the Biden administration took over the Justice Department. He was asked to stay on as the lead prosecutor in the Capitol breach probe, but Sherwin said it was time to move on after making the bulk of the cases in the investigation.

If you have a problem with the way this investigation unfolded, you have a problem not with Joe Biden’s DOJ, but instead with the guy Bill Barr installed into a politicized US Attorney role with no input from Congress.

Which may be why those who need to downplay the seriousness of the attack have instead resorted to baseless conspiracy theories.

Update: Because some dead-enders still don’t believe that Tucker Carlson has accused Sharon Caldwell of entrapping her husband Thomas, I’ve done an entire section showing how the same references to Person Two in a later filing show up as Thomas’ wife Sharon in an earlier one. I also describe all the efforts Sharon is making to keep her husband out of jail.

Update, July 25: Above, I noted that the Proud Boy leaders seem to have learned something that sated their curiosity about whether UCC-1 was an FBI informant. Indeed they did. At a recent hearing, one of the AUSAs on the case revealed that they had been provided this person’s identity and confirmation he was not an informant.

Several more relevant updates: First, Larry Brock has since been charged with obstruction, a felony, but remains out on bail. Doug Jensen, one of the last remaining people who wasn’t either a leader or charged with assault still being detained, was released on bail. Michael Curzio, one of just a few exceptions who got jailed because of past crimes, got released after serving a six month time served sentence for his misdemeanor trespass charge. Two non-violent defendants — Brandon Fellows and Thomas Robertson — have since had pretrial released revoked for violating their conditions.

Finally, the friend of former DEA officer Mark Ibrahim — who may himself serve as an FBI informant — not only debunked Ibrahim’s excuse for being at the insurrection, but made it clear that the FBI did not formally ask him to attend the event.

IBRAHIM said he went along with his friend, who had been asked by the FBI to document the event, and that he went along with his friend to assist with that effort.

Your affiant also interviewed IBRAHIM’s friend. According to the friend, IBRAHIM crafted this story about how his friend was at the Capitol to assist the FBI and that IBRAHIM was there helping him. IBRAHIM’s friend told your affiant that he was not there in any formal capacity for the FBI and that the FBI was not giving him directions or marching orders. He said that IBRAHIM crafted this story in an effort to “cover his ass.” According to IBRAHIM’s friend, IBRAHIM went to the rally in order to promote himself—IBRAHIM had been thinking about his next move after leaving the DEA and wanted the protests to be his stage for launching a “Liberty Tavern” political podcast and cigar brand.

Ibrahim, who brought another of the guns that Glenn claims no one brought to January 6 and displayed it publicly, is out on bail.

The Selfie Cops: Obstructing an Official Proceeding

Yesterday, DOJ unsealed an indictment against the two selfie cops, Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker. The two were originally charged on January 12 — among the first to be charged — after they shared pictures of their exploits with colleagues at the Rocky Mount, VA police department, who in turn alerted the FBI.

Both are military veterans and Fracker remained in the VA National Guard when he was arrested.

The two were originally charged with two trespassing charges, 18 USC 1752 and 40 USC 5104. But the indictment adds the more serious obstruction charge DOJ has used against other more dangerous defendants, 1512(c)(2), along with an aiding and abetting charge for the same, 18 USC 2. That’s a felony that, if they’re convicted, will mean the two men will no longer be able to own guns (and probably won’t work in law enforcement anymore).

I want to look at how DOJ seems to be using that charge, because I expect more people will have it added as their case move to indictment.

The charge is an unusual application of what is normally treated as a witness tampering statute, which most people think of in conjunction with investigations and prosecutions. But the certification of the vote is every bit as much an “official proceeding” as an investigation or trial is. The standard boilerplate being used in insurrectionist charging documents establishes that the vote certification was suspended from 2:20PM, literally minutes after rioters first breached the Capitol, until shortly after 8PM.

Shortly thereafter, at approximately 2:20 p.m. members of the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate, including the President of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, were instructed to—and did—evacuate the chambers. Accordingly, the joint session of the United States Congress was effectively suspended until shortly after 8:00 p.m. Vice President Pence remained in the United States Capitol from the time he was evacuated from the Senate Chamber until the sessions resumed.

Up until the indictment against the cops was unsealed, DOJ had used the 1512 charge primarily with people who, in their charging documents, were shown to have done more (there were around 28 before these cops were charged with it). They include:

  • The Oath Keeper defendants
  • Many of the Proud Boy defendants
  • Some, but not all the people, who were accused of assault, damaging property, or interfering with cops
  • Those — like Gina Bisignano and Riley Williams — who were organizing traffic
  • People — like William Calhoun — whose promise of violence and intent to interfere with vote counting was explicit
  • People — like Leo Kelly — who got to the Senate or Speaker’s lobby (though not all who did were charged with 1512)

Aside from serving as a way to bring felony charges against a defendant, perhaps because the government believes the person to be a greater threat, there’s no clear rhyme or reason to this.

The primary hint of the Selfie Cops doing something like that came, after the fact, in boasts from Robertson claiming to have “attacked the government.”

“CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business … The right IN ONE DAY took the f***** U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.” He also stated that he was “proud” of the photo in an Instagram Post that was shared to Facebook, because he was “willing to put skin in the game”

But it is also the case that the initial complaints seemed to function as a kind of triage, a way to get participants in the insurrection into the legal system to allow more focused investigation of them. Undoubtedly, the FBI continued to investigate after the initial charges.

And such an investigation — especially for people whose initial arrest didn’t rely on search warrants and who were arrested before the shape of the attack became more clear — might reveal evidence that these two cops had something more in common with the others charged with 1512, such as explicit plans to shut down the vote count or ties to a militia organization. And unlike the arrest affidavits, which put so much evidence in a few pages, we shouldn’t expect to see any of that evidence for a charge in an indictment until a litigation leading up to a trial. Indeed, that may be why DOJ feels free to include the charge in order to raise the stakes on the prosecution: because they can do so without having to tip their hand to other coup conspirators.

I expect we’ll see more 1512 charges, which will separate the people DOJ is truly concerned about from those who stupidly trespassed in support of their idol Donald Trump.

Update: DOJ did the same thing with Richard “Bigo” Barnett. In his case, he’s facing enhancements on some of these charges because he had a stun gun walking stick with him.