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Why It Would Be Counterproductive To Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate January 6

I continue to get people asserting as fact that the investigation into Trump’s role in January 6 would be going better if Merrick Garland had appointed a Special Counsel.

I have yet to see calls for a Special Counsel that are not, themselves, just an extended admission that the people calling for one don’t understand the investigation. For example, in a widely shared Asha Rangappa thread in October, she claimed to present Pros and Cons like this:

Pro:

  1. It’s warranted” (she didn’t say what “it” was)
  2. It would signal that getting to the bottom of this is a priority for the Justice Department” (she didn’t say what “this” was)
  3. It could provide for a more efficient investigation … An SC would be able to have FBI agents and prosecutors detailed to focus on this one matter”
  4. It would insulate Garland from political blowback; “Garland would be right to be concerned with the *appearance* of a politically motivated investigation under his direct watch”
  5. “The Special Counsel regulations have important formal mechanisms for reporting prosecutorial decisions (including declinations to prosecute)”

Cons:

  1. It gives people who may be subjects of an investigation a ‘heads up'”
  2. It creates a new space for politicization, as we saw with Mueller:”

More recently, a non-public non-expert suggested that because Merrick Garland hadn’t appointed a Special Counsel when he came in, Congress was doing the investigation that a Special Counsel was not.

I want to start from that claim — that Congress is investigating stuff that DOJ is not. It reflects a belief that even DOJ reporters have, such as in this shitty WaPo piece revealing in ¶30 that DOJ is investigating Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani for their militia ties but then reporting as fact that DOJ “has yet to turn its attention directly to Trump and his close allies.” The things WaPo turns to before examining how — and ignoring that — DOJ is investigating Trump’s one-degree ties to the militias who managed the attack on the Capitol are:

  • Whether DOJ is investigating the war room at the Willard Hotel (never mind that WaPo missed one overt way DOJ is investigating the war room)
  • Whether DOJ is investigating Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger
  • Whether DOJ is investigating Trump’s threats to install Jeffrey Clark to get an Acting Attorney General more amenable to claiming voter fraud occurred

Of those, only the call to Raffensperger (which is being investigated by Fulton County’s DA) is clearly illegal.

Special Counsels can only investigate crimes, not potential crimes not pursued

It is not clearly illegal, for example, for John Eastman to write a letter calling on Trump to pressure Mike Pence to reject the vote totals or for Peter Navarro to set up a propaganda campaign that members of Congress will point to to justify corrupt action (indeed, the latter is how lobbyists made DC run). It may not be illegal for a President to install someone who has been Senate confirmed as Acting Attorney General who will pursue his policy goals, no matter how corrupt they are; it’s not even illegal for a President to ask a Cabinet Member to lie to the public (and Cabinet Members lie a lot, sometimes for good reasons). It’s even less illegal to consider doing so but deciding not to because of the political cost of doing so, as happened with Clark. It is not even illegal to receive a plan to have the military seize voting machines, especially if you don’t pursue that plan (which Trump did not).

These things only become illegal when they are shown to be part of plan to commit a crime.

There’s the first problem with calls to appoint a Special Counsel. Much of what people want to investigate (again, Raffensperger and the fraudulent certificates are an exception) is not clearly a crime.

I have talked about how the Select Committee is investigating from the top down and DOJ is investigating from the crime scene up (in addition to investigating Sidney Powell’s potential Big Lie fraud). I’ve talked about how, as a separate co-equal branch of government, the Select Committee can more easily do things like get Executive Privilege waivers or waive Speech and Debate protections, the former of which was a challenge for Mueller’s investigation. I’ve laid out how the two investigations have already converged, first with the focus on the targeting of Mike Pence and more recently on the role of Trump’s directions serving as the motivating instruction for three different armed conspiracies, including the sedition one.

But it’s equally important to recognize that the Select Committee is also conducting the important work of investigating things that weren’t crimes, like considering but not acting on a suggestion to seize the voting machines and considering but not acting on a plan to make Jeffrey Clark Acting Attorney General (both issues Bennie Thompson addressed on the Sunday shows this morning).

A Special Counsel can’t be appointed to investigate something that is not a crime.

I realize that people have argued, starting on January 6, that Trump incited the insurrection and that’s the crime that could have predicated the Special Counsel. Bracket that idea. I’ll come back to it.

No Republican Senator is on the record opposing DC US Attorney Matthew Graves leading this investigation

As it happens, Rangappa wrote her thread on October 25, three days before US Attorney for DC Matthew Graves was confirmed on a voice vote. While Ron Johnson held up the vote for other reasons, no Republican Senator thought it important enough to register opposition to Graves to call for a recorded vote.

That means, going forward, the US Attorney overseeing the January 6 investigation can claim the support of the entire Senate. No Republican recorded their opposition to Matthew Graves overseeing the investigation into January 6.

Those asking for a Special Counsel are, in effect, saying that there would be less political blowback if Merrick Garland chose, on his own, to appoint someone to lead an investigation than if a US Attorney against whom not a single Republican recorded opposition led the investigation.

The January 6 investigation is far too large for a Special Counsel

Now consider the claim that a Special Counsel investigation would be more efficient because the Special Counsel would have a dedicated team of prosecutors and FBI agents and a dedicated grand jury. Such claims are astounding for how little awareness of the actual investigation they show.

In Merrick Garland’s recent speech, he revealed there are 140 prosecutors working on this investigation, half normally assigned to the DC US Attorney’s office (that is, people who now report to Graves), and the other half coming from other units. Some of those units are functional, with the most notable being National Security’s Terrorism prosecutors, but also Public Corruption. Far more of them are detailees assigned from different US Attorneys offices. Some of these detailees, working on the simpler cases, are doing 6 month stints, then handing off their cases. Others, including key prosecutors involved in the Proud Boys investigation, appear to be seeing the investigation through. Just as one example, there are three prosecutors on the case against the five Florida men who traveled with Joe Biggs the day of the attack; they are located in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Seattle. Just accounting for the number of prosecutors involved, this investigation is larger than most US Attorneys Offices in this country, and far too large for a Special Counsel to handle.

Then there’s this magical notion about convening a grand jury. The existing January 6 investigation is already using somewhere between four and six. Public Corruption prosecutions, like that of Steve Bannon, are using the same grand juries that the militias are being prosecuted through. Given COVID, keeping these grand juries up and running has been a real bottleneck on the investigation (something else Garland alluded to). For one conspiracy indictment I followed, it took five months — from April until September — from the time DOJ stated it would charge it as a conspiracy and the time the FBI Agent could sit with the grand jury safely to get that indictment. So you’re better off having several to juggle than relying on one. “When will Garland get a grand jury for this investigation,” people keep asking, and the answer is that was done already, in January 2021 before Garland was confirmed, in May, in August, and in November. Over a hundred Americans have already been serving, in secret, during a pandemic, on these grand juries that people are wailing must be appointed some time in the future.

Then there are other things about the investigation that have required massive and immediate resource allocations. Most notably, DOJ had to appoint a team (led by a prosecutor named Emily Miller) to create an entirely new discovery system, which has involved throwing large amounts of money at both Deloitte and the Federal Public Defenders office. Special Counsels need to budget ahead, and because this investigation is so large, it would not be possible given the budgetary requirements of the Special Counsel regulation.

We know similar resource allocations are going on at a whole-DOJ level with respect to the FBI (including a reliance on Joint Task Forces for more localized investigations); those decisions are just less visible.

The point being that this investigation is so large it requires the DOJ, as a whole, to manage the resources for it. It’s far too large for a Special Counsel. And nothing about putting someone without those resources who has to budget in advance would make this investigation more nimble.

Calls for a Special Counsel internalize a belief that Trump was further from the mob than he was

So let’s go back. The crime invoked by those calling now or in the past for a Special Counsel as the predicating crime for the investigation is incitement. There are problems with that. Trump’s defense attorneys rightly pointed out during his second impeachment trial that the riot had already started — by the militia that Trump had called out on September 29 — before he incited the mob at his rally. Trump’s relationship with the mob is far more complex — and frankly, damning, than that.

But the other problem with that is if you want to prove that Trump incited the crowd, you need to get proof that those who went on to riot were responding to Trump’s speech.

That’s actually one thing DOJ has been doing for the last year; I would guesstimate that about a third of the 200 or so people who’ve pled guilty have said things in their statements of offense to support an incitement charge against the former President. But they’ve also provided DOJ more specific details about their expectations for what would happen at the Capitol (most notably that Trump would speak again) and how those expectations were manipulated to get them to do things like climb to the top of the East steps just before it was breached. The way in which Trump (and close associates like Alex Jones) manipulated attendees was actually more malicious than simple incitement.

So even (perhaps especially) for the crime that everyone is sure Trump committed, incitement, you need to do some of the work everyone points to in claiming that DOJ is investigating the wrong people, just the pawns and not the generals. One thing DOJ has done in the last year is collect evidence that large numbers of those who, without planning to do so in advance, nevertheless played a key role in occupying the Capitol, did so not just because of Trump’s violent imagery, but also because of the expectations he set among rally goers.

More importantly, what DOJ has spent the last year doing is understanding what those who kicked off the riot while Trump was speaking did, and how those who brought mobs to the Capitol manipulated them to make them more effective. And what they’ve discovered — what WaPo thought worth burying in ¶30 — is they were working with Trump’s closest associates, if not responding to orders from Trump himself.

DOJ already is investigating what happened at the Willard Hotel (and has been since last summer). But they’re investigating it not because a bunch of the people there considered ideas — like seizing the voting machines — that weren’t adopted. They’re investigating it because there are tangible ties between what happened at the Willard and what happened on Capitol Hill.

Consider the centrality of efforts to pressure Mike Pence to reject the legal results of the election. After efforts to overturn the election with legal challenges based on the Big Lie (for which Sidney Powell is already being investigated by prosecutors also investigating other aspects of January 6) failed, Mike Pence became a necessary player in the plots to steal the election. And the effort to pressure Pence is continuous from Donald Trump to his allies to people at the mob.

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 Pence. 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.

There are things that Trump did that are independently illegal, including giving Mike Pence an illegal order. But their illegality becomes much more salient in the context of the organized effort to pressure Mike Pence, threaten his life, and prevent the vote certification from taking place.

And DOJ has already acquired evidence that the people at the Capitol who were most deliberately implementing that plan have direct ties to Trump’s closest associates.

Bizarrely, the foundational assumption of those demanding a Special Counsel is that Trump didn’t have any tie to the riot — it has to be!! The foundational assumption of those demanding a Special Counsel is that the investigation of the insurrection won’t get to the former President unless it convenes a separate investigation into him, even though the investigation working up from the mob has already found at least three one-degree links between those mobilizing the bodies at the Capitol and Trump’s close associates (and the grand jury investigation that already charged sedition has at least three cooperating witnesses with ties to Roger Stone).

No one has to ask Merrick Garland to open an investigation that might prosecute Trump. It has been open since long before Garland was confirmed. No one has to ask Merrick Garland to get a prosecutor to convene a grand jury that will investigate Trump’s actions; grand juries have already indicted at least four violent conspiracies that were mobilized by Trump’s calls to violence, including one that has been working since two days after the attack.

If you believe that Trump’s actions played a central role in the insurrection — if you believe that the violent mob mobilized on January 6 was an important part of plans hatched at the Willard Hotel — then creating a separate investigation to investigate Trump does nothing but remove him from his liability in crimes already charged as sedition. That’s why calls to appoint a Special Counsel are so stupid. They treat Trump’s crimes as separate and distinct from those of the mob that he mobilized. There’s no reason, at this point, to do that (if Democrats were to lose in 2024, there might be).

People have been wailing for a year that DOJ needs to open an investigation into Donald Trump and all the while an investigation has been open and has been working towards Trump.

The Structure of the January 6 Assault: “I will settle with seeing [normies] smash some pigs to dust”

Before 8AM on the morning of the insurrection, the Proud Boys had this discussion on their organizing Telegram thread.

UCC-1: I want to see thousands of normies burn that city to ash today

Person-2: Would be epic

UCC-1: The state is the enemy of the people

Person-2: We are the people

UCC-1: Fuck yea

Person-3: God let it happen . . . I will settle with seeing them smash some pigs to dust

Person-2: Fuck these commie traitors

Person-3 It’s going to happen. These normiecons have no adrenaline control . . . They are like a pack of wild dogs

UCC-1 has been reported to be Aaron Whallon-Wolkind, who cheered on the insurrection from Philadelphia and interacted with Zach Rehl and other Philly Proud Boys throughout the day. Persons 2 and 3 have not yet been publicly identified.

This discussion and others reveal a key part of the Proud Boy plan for January 6: to incite others — “normies” — to commit violence. And while a number of Proud Boys or close associates engaged in what I’ve called “tactical” violence that day, the vast majority of (and the worst) violence was done by others, mostly by people with either no known or just networking ties to militia groups (such as through anti-mask activism). The Proud Boys weren’t the only militia-linked people attempting to encourage others to engage in violence; it’s a key part of the anti-mask/3% conspiracy, for example. But a stated goal of at least some of the militia members who implemented the assault on the Capitol was to stoke others to engage in violence.

This detail is critical to understanding what DOJ has accomplished so far and where they might be headed. Many of those screeching that DOJ is not doing enough to investigate January 6 — like Elie Honig complaining that DOJ has arrested 700 indistinguishable “rioters” or Hussein Ibish claiming that “many foot soldiers” have “received mainly light prison sentences” but no “planners … have been held to account in any meaningful way” — seem not to understand it.

So I’d like to talk about what we know about the structure of the attack on the Capitol and how it related to things Trump and his minions were doing. Before I attempt to do that, let me rebut a straw man Honig and others have used in an attempt to ignore the facts I present. I share their alarm about the urgent need to respond to January 6 and Trump’s unlawfulness. I am not guaranteeing that Trump will be held accountable.

Where we differ is that I have read the public record on the investigation (and on other investigations that Honig, at least, has denied exist, like the investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting).

It is not the case that all 700 people who have been arrested were mere “rioters,” — and calling some of these people rioters adopts the preferred label of those championing the coup. And unless you consider mere rioters “foot soldiers,” then very few witting foot soldiers have yet been sentenced. While it is true that no planners have been sentenced, it is also the case that DOJ has arrested some key ones, a small number of whom have been jailed since their arrest, and a great deal of DOJ’s overt investigative focus lies in arresting those who can illuminate how the organizers worked and how they coordinated with others.

Before I lay this out, keep in mind the three main theories of liability for Trump for January 6 (as opposed to his call to Brad Raffensperger, though as I’ve noted, the call to Raffensperger goes a long way to showing Trump’s corrupt mens rea on January 6). At first, people argued that Trump incited the mob. There were problems with that claim, which Trump’s defense lawyers successfully exploited during his second impeachment trial, most notably that the Proud Boys had already kicked off the assault on the Capitol before the former President finished speaking. Still, to prove he incited a riot, you’d need to prove that the people who rioted did so in response to his speech at the Ellipse. Then, after Liz Cheney raised it, TV lawyers discovered what I’ve been pointing out for months. Trump’s actions (and inaction) fit squarely within the application of obstruction of the vote count that DOJ applied from the start. Finally, last week, Congress watchers discovered that Trump might actually have entered a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, “involv[ing] coordination between the ‘political elements’ of the White House plan communicated to Republican lawmakers and extremist groups that stormed the Capitol” — again, consistent with what I’ve laid out for months. That, though, would require mapping out how the various parties entered into agreements and how they communicated and coordinated (with conspiracy members as well as Congress and the mobsters). That’s why I keep pointing to the structure of the existing conspiracy charges: because what Trump did exactly mirrors the overt acts already charged, from getting bodies to DC, ensuring they get to the Capitol, and encouraging means to overtake it.

It’s all one networked conspiracy. Indeed, the judge presiding over the Oath Keeper conspiracy case, Amit Mehta, observed in the Trump lawsuit hearing the other day that there was evidence that militia conspired with the Proud Boys.

Which, if DOJ could ever prove that those Trump entered into an agreement with, like Alex Jones, also entered into an agreement with Alex Jones’ former employee Joe Biggs, it would network Trump right into the conspiracies that rolled out at the Capitol, potentially putting him on the hook for the things those at the Capitol did, including damaging the building (which brings the terrorism enhancement), potentially some tactical assaults, and (if it gets charged), possibly even Kelly Meggs’ effort to hunt down Nancy Pelosi.

That may not be your preferred model of to hold Trump accountable, but I’m fairly certain that’s how DOJ would do so, in addition to whatever liability for him arises out of investigations into people like Sidney Powell or Rudy Giuliani.

What the evidence thus far shows is that Trump brought huge numbers of people to DC and convinced them that, to defend their country, they needed to march to the Capitol and pressure Congress, via one of a number of means, to not certify the election. Alex Jones and Ali Alexander then delivered these bodies to the Capitol, and once there, to a second breach on the East side. The Proud Boys, seemingly anticipating that this influx of “normies,” kicked off and carefully focused the riot just in time to create a real threat to Congress (and Mike Pence) just as they started to certify the vote count. (This Sedition Hunter timeline makes a compelling argument, one consistent with Proud Boy Matthew Greene’s statement of offense, that the Proud Boys paused their assault to wait for the mobs Alex Jones was bringing.)

The plan required six types of participants to make it work:

  • People (Trump, Rudy, and Mo Brooks) to rile up large numbers of normies
  • Someone (Alex Jones) to guide the normies to the Capitol, probably while communicating with the Proud Boys as they kicked off the riot
  • People at the Capitol (Proud Boys and associates) to tactically deploy the normies as a weapon, both to occupy the Capitol and to create a very real risk to the members of Congress
  • Members of Congress (Paul Gosar and others) willing to create conflict that could be exploited in any of a number of ways
  • Masses and masses of people who, starting even before the election, had been led to believe false claims that their country was under threat; those masses did two things:
    • Enter the Capitol, with a varied level of vocal enthusiasm for the mayhem occurring, and make it far more difficult for cops to put down the assault
    • “Smash some pigs to dust”

Had any of a number of things gone differently — had Ashli Babbitt not been shot and had the amped up Zach Alam chased just behind her through the Speaker’s Lobby door before members of Congress escaped; had Officer Eugene Goodman not done several things to prevent both Mitt Romney and Mike Pence from running into the mob; had counter-protestors come out in large numbers to create the excuse for street skirmishes made lethal by arsenals of weapons stashed nearby; had DOD delayed deployment of the Guard even further, allowing a planned second assault to take place — the coup might well have succeeded.

With that has background, let’s turn to the DOJ investigation thus far. Politico has done the best public accounting of sentences here (though I treat Zoe Tillman’s numbers, along with GWU’s, as canonical). As Politico shows, the vast majority of those who’ve been sentenced — and almost as significant a majority of those who’ve pled guilty so far — are trespassers.

The vast majority of people sentenced so far were MAGA tourists, lured to the Capitol by Trump’s speech and the momentum of the crowd. While a sizable number knew of plans to obstruct the vote certification in advance (and a significant number of people were permitted to plead down from obstruction), a bunch of them really did arrive for the speech and stay for the riot.

One example of that is Anthony Scirica, who followed the crowd to the Capitol and decided to enter the Capitol even though he heard a window breaking and alarms going off.

After listening to the speeches at the rally, SCIRICA, along with a group of individuals, walked to the U.S. Capitol from the West. 10. As SCIRICA approached the Capitol, he saw people on the steps and on the scaffolding outside of the Capitol. SCIRICA saw a large crowd in front of him, and he decided to push his way to the front to see what was happening. He watched as other individuals entered the Capitol. He decided that he want to see it for himself and see what was happening with his own eyes. He heard people yelling and shouting “U.S.A.” chants and “Stop the Steal.” He heard what he believed to be a window breaking. He also heard an alarm going off inside the Capitol. He decided to enter the Capitol any way.

Eliel Rosa went to DC as much for the anti-certification rallies as the Trump speech.

Eliel Rosa and Jenny Cudd traveled from Texas to Washington, D.C. to participate in “Stop the Steal” rallies or protests and to connect with other “Patriots.” Mr. Rosa and Ms. Cudd understood that on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. at the United States Capitol, elected members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate were meeting to certify the vote count of the Electoral College of the 2020 Presidential Election, which had taken place on November 3, 2020.

But even still, he attributed his trespassing to being swept up in “mob rule.”

Rosa blamed himself for his unauthorized entry into the U.S. Capitol and stated that he was caught up in “mob rule” at the time.

Kevin Blakely, who traveled to DC with friends, made new friends while waiting for Trump’s speech to start and then joined in to experience history (a common theme among some defendants).

The defendant and three others stood in the Ellipse for more than four hours before the rally started and met with other attendees. After President Trump’s speech, the defendant joined others as they began to walk toward the U.S. Capitol Building. [Blakely] made a detour and returned to the Hyatt Regency, where he was staying during his visit to Washington, D.C. From his hotel room, the defendant watched the crowd as they gathered outside the Capitol Building nad sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m., [Blakely] decided to “get closer and more fully experience this ‘once in a lifetime’ event.”

Even those who did go to the Capitol from Trump’s speech knew, from communications including Trump’s, that it would be a mob. Here’s what Blakely’s friend Paul Conover, who just recently pled guilty, said he was doing.

Prior to January 6, on or about December 24, 2020, defendant posted a message on social media that states in sum and substance: GOING TO WASHINGTON DC WITH BLAKEY [SIC] TO JOIN THE MOB JAN 5TH CMON JOIN US.

Conover appears to be one of the misdemeanants whose arrest DOJ prioritized because they took videos in key locations. After he busted through the East doors closely behind the Oath Keepers and Joe Biggs, Conover narrated as he took a video panning the Rotunda:

This is it, boys and girls. This is the Capitol. Apparently, there’s some crazy shit going on in the Senate today and the certification. They’ve had enough. Well, uh, here we are! Ha ha ha! I pray to god that nobody does any damage to the stuff in here, ’cause I’m not down with that. But I’m kind of, kind of proud of the people that stood up and said you know what? Enough.

The statement of offense for Stacie Getsinger, who described on Facebook going to the East steps because Alex Jones told a crowd that Trump would speak, offered few details, describing only that she “walked to onto U.S. Capitol grounds and up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol with others, including her husband John Getsinger. Once Getsinger got to the outside of the Rotunda North doors, she observed others engaged with law enforcement who tried to stop individuals from entering the U.S. Capitol building.”

Adam Johnson described how he went from hearing Mo Brooks call for violence to running towards the Capitol.

At the rally, JOHNSON listened to several speeches, including by former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and an unknown older member of Congress–the latter whom JOHNSON heard stating that it was time for action and violence. In response to these comments, JOHNSON saw members of the crowd nodding their heads in agreement.

Following these speeches, JOHNSON and. Person 1 began marching to the Capitol with the crowd. While marching, JOHNSON heard someone say “Pence didn’t do it.” JOHNSON also saw police running towards the Capitol and heard members of the crowd shout,”they broke into the Capitol!” JOHNSON and Person 1 started running towards the Capitol as well.

Others who came over from the Ellipse more explicitly discussed intimidating Congress. For example, here’s how Michael Stepakoff (who will be sentenced in coming days) narrated his approach to the Capitol.

So we’re marching up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol building. The Senate and House of Representatives are in session . . . There’s nothing like the presence of at least a million Americans who are fed up and pissed off and are not going to stand for having our vote stolen because it’s the sacred right of our people to be able to vote for our president . . . so a million strong, at least a million standing outside the Capitol, storming the gates, so to speak, is going to make them think twice about what they are going to do today . . . God bless America.

While some people cheered the violence and a few got away with violence DOJ only discovered after their plea, the majority of the almost 200 people who’ve pled guilty so far did not engage in violence. With a few exceptions, below, these people weren’t wittingly part of the more organized plans to storm the Capitol. They were the bodies turned into an orchestrated mob, in part by Trump’s tweets and other social media advertising, and in part by those channeling the mob at the Capitol.

If you want to prove Trump incited the riot, you would need to collect these individual stories to prove it. That’s not the only reason DOJ has prosecuted these people, but it does provide evidence showing how people responded to Trump’s calls after he riled them up.

Some of the movement operatives wandered to the Capitol too

Among those who’ve been permitted to plead to misdemeanors, even some that I’d call “movement operatives,” wandered to the Capitol.

For example, right wing podcaster William Tryon, plausibly described following the crowd to the Capitol after Trump’s speech. Frank Scavo, a local PA politician who arranged busses for 200 people to travel to DC, tied his decision to walk to the Capitol to Pence’s decision to certify the vote; he’s one of the defendants sentenced to a longer sentence than the government requested.

There are a few exceptions. America Firster, Leonard Ridge, unsurprisingly seemed to know there’d be an attempt to shut down the vote count ahead of time, telling a friend, “I think we are going to try to block the session of congress” (he was one of the people permitted to plead down from obstruction to the more serious trespassing charge).

Two cases defy explanation. Micajah Jackson, a Proud Boy who denied a pre-January 6 affiliation and continued to attend Proud Boy events during pretrial release, mentioned nothing about that in his statement of offense. We might find out more about this in February, when Jackson is due to be sentenced.

The statement of offense for Brandon Straka, who is perhaps the senior-most inciter-organizer to plead guilty thus far, describes only that Straka took the metro directly to the Capitol, where he was scheduled to speak: “Knowing that Congress was in session to certify the election results at the U.S. Capitol and that Vice President Pence intended to certify the election, Straka got off the metro on January 6, 2021 sometime between 2 p.m. and 2:20 p.m.”

It’s not clear how these men were given misdemeanor pleas, when they were clearly part of an organized attempt to prevent the transfer of power. There’s no sign either man cooperated before entering their pleas, though Straka’s sentencing has been held up because, “the defendant provided counsel for the government with information that may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation.” If the current schedule holds, Straka’s sentencing memos will come in tomorrow and he’ll be sentenced next week.

That said, movement operatives like Jackson and Straka are, thus far, the minority among those moving towards sentencing. Most were part of a self-described mob.

About half the felony pleas charged people who wandered to the Capitol

Even two of the three people who’ve pled guilty to assault thus far showed up without any pre-conceived plan to attack the Capitol. Devlyn Thompson, in an unsuccessful bid to use his autism diagnosis to get lenient treatment, described that he went to the Capitol because believed Trump would give another speech, a lie that motivated a good number of mobsters.

When I was leaving, my intention was to listen to another speech at the capitol. I had gotten text messages. I got a text that there was a planned speech. There was supposed to be two speeches at the capitol. One from an Arizona legislator and one from Women for Trump. I thought Alex Jones would be there and Trump.

After getting riled up by clashes between cops and rioters in the earlier part of the assault, Thompson joined in the Tunnel assault, eventually using a baton to hit one of the officers trying to help John Anderson respond to respiratory distress.

Robert Palmer similarly described being lured to the Capitol by a false belief in Trump’s claims.

In Mr. Palmer’s warped mind, on the day in question, he was acting as a patriot and for the good of the nation. While his intent was misplaced and his actions inexcusable, he sincerely believed that he was acting as a patriot on the day in question. Unfortunately, that mindset, coupled with the crowd mob effect, saw an otherwise law-abiding and successful father and business owner assault Capitol police.

Palmer was at the Capitol for hours, cheering the violence, before he got sucked in and participated in it by throwing a series of things at cops.

Just Scott Fairlamb, who was sentenced for punching a cop, clearly knew shit was going to go down in advance. He RTed a Steve Bannon prediction that “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” and asked, “How far are you willing to go to defend our Constitution?” Those statements are one of the reasons why Fairlamb, uniquely thus far, pled to both obstruction and assault and, if not for some mitigating circumstances that came out at sentencing, might have faced a terrorism enhancement.

There are two straight obstruction defendants sentenced so far, Paul Hodgkins and Jacob Chansley. Like many of the trespassers, Hodgkins simply followed the crowd after Trump’s speech (he was charged with a felony because he made it to the Senate floor).

Just Chansley, then, turned a central role in the right wing movement — importantly, as a celebrity in QAnon — into a key role obstructing the vote count and threatening Pence. There’s far more to say about the success QAnon had in mobilizing bodies to where they could be the most useful (and the Podcast Finding Q revealed that FBI was investigating that in the weeks after the attack). But the operational model by which people like Chansley got to the Senate floor is different than for other MAGA tourists who were turned onsite.

There are more known cooperators than straight felony pleas

To a great degree, this entire exercise is misleading, which is why pat comments from people trying to dismiss the investigation are so misleading. There are a number of reasons the stats skew where they are now: Obviously, people will plead to a misdemeanor more quickly than a felony. Virtually all of those charged with obstruction have been waiting for judges to rule on challenges to that application, and as those people move towards pleading out (as they have started to do), it still will take some weeks to finalize pleas. One reason for that hold-up: DOJ is only now making the final bits of global discovery available, without which many attorneys, for due diligence reasons, will not advise taking a plea.

A more important reason claims about who has been sentenced are misleading is that there have been more felony cooperators than straight felony pleas thus far. With two people convicted for making threats, there have been seven people who pled to a felony sentenced. There are nine overt cooperators (and presumably more we don’t know about). And while two cooperators — Josiah Colt and Gina Bisignano — are cooperating against their own limited network of more serious defendants, cooperation deals like Colt’s structured under 18 USC 371 networks into any larger conspiracy, potentially putting conspirators on the hook for the assaults of his co-conspirators. The other cooperating witnesses, though, have provided information about how the planners who’ve been in custody for most of a year — Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson for the Oath Keepers, Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean for the Proud Boys — and those who have not yet been arrested orchestrated the attack.

This was a fairly flat conspiracy, with Proud Boys on the scene implementing orders from Proud Boy leaders who are, themselves, just one degree from Donald Trump through people like Alex Jones and Roger Stone. In addition to the 17 plus four Oath Keepers charged in a conspiracy, there are several more Oath Keepers being prosecuted. In addition to the 16 Proud Boys plus one cooperator charged with conspiracy, there are a slew more arrested individually and in co-traveler groups (some of whom are at risk of being added to conspiracy charges once they’re formally charged) who can offer information about the funding for all this, what Proud Boy leaders were saying during the riot, and some key tactical organization. Some of the 3%ers charged so far networked with key right wing funders, January 5 speakers, and even Ted Cruz.

So yes, 700 people have been arrested so far, and half of those are normies whose non-violent presence was operationalized in a well-planned assault on the Capitol. Many of the 150 assault defendants were “normiecons [who] have no adrenaline control.” But 200 of the arrestees are accused of more witting participation in a plan to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and of those 100 have networked insight into how that worked. Those people haven’t been sentenced yet because discovery and legal challenges have delayed most from accepting plea offers.

The most chilling passage in any statement of offense, in my opinion, is Matthew Greene’s description of realizing — from his service in Afghanistan — the moment the mob turned into an insurrection.

Greene noticed that during and following the chanting, the mood in the crowd changed, and it reminded him of his time in Afghanistan while stationed there with the U.S. Army, when protests changed from peaceful to violent.

In the days and weeks after he recognized Americans turning insurgent in their own country, Greene returned home and started assembling a (seemingly illegal) arsenal and preparing for war.

He told another acquaintance in the days following the riot to be prepared to do uncomfortable things. He ordered over 2,000 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition and a gas mask. And he engaged in conversations with other Proud Boys on encrypted messaging platforms in which he stated a continuing desire to “take back our country” – in Greene’s own words, written in chat platforms post-January 6, “this is a 4th generation” war, and “we must stand together now or end up in the gulag separately.”

The effort to spark an insurrection at the Capitol was not one implemented by “foot solders,” but some highly trained veterans who were onsite, including an alarming number of Marines in most key tactical locations. And the network of people who stoked the normies to serve as useful bodies to this effort ties, via just one or two steps, right to Trump.

That’s the conspiracy DOJ has been investigating for a year.

Update: Took out detail that Straka was not at Ellipse. The key detail is he claims he took the Metro, didn’t walk.

Discovery Delays at the East Door: What Key January 6 Plea Negotiations Look Like

Lots of people have lost patience with the January 6 investigation based on misunderstandings about what it has discovered so far and where it may be heading. So I’d like to explain a delay that might tangibly hold up the investigation for two months: plea negotiations that might provide more information on the coordinated effort between the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Alex Jones, and an alarming number of Marines to breach the East front of the Capitol.

(Although who am I kidding? The people complaining don’t understand the investigation in this level of detail.)

When DOJ filed the existing superseding indictment charging the Proud Boy leaders last March, it made clear that the crowd of people assembled on the East steps before those doors were opened from the inside was of some interest, not least because we knew even then that Biggs and two other Proud Boys entered with the stack of Oath Keepers, which was led by Floridian Kelly Meggs, who had forged an alliance between Florida militia members in December 2020.

BIGGS subsequently exited the Capitol, and BIGGS and several Proud Boys posed for a picture at the top of the steps on the east side of the Capitol.

Thirty minutes after first entering the Capitol on the west side, BIGGS and two other members of the Proud boys, among others, forcibly re-entered the Capitol through the Columbus Doors on the east side of the Capitol, pushing past at least one law enforcement officer and entering the Capitol directly in front of a group of individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers.

That is, this reference and others suggested there was coordination between two of the main militia groups involved in the attack.

I noted in April that the arrest of  Florida Proud Boys Paul Rae and Arthur Jackman, two guys who followed Biggs everywhere he went that day, was likely an attempt to clarify how that assembly worked — an attempt that probably posed a risk for the two others included in a selfie Biggs and his co-travelers took from the top of the East steps.

The government arrested Rae on March 24. They arrested Jackman on March 30. Again, I’d be pretty nervous if I were one of the other two guys.

Those other two guys (actually there were three), Edward George and now-former Florida cops Kevin and Nathaniel Tuck, were arrested in July.

We’ve subsequently learned the inquiry into the East door is far vaster than that. The inquiry into how the East door got opened from the inside started at least by February; it figures prominently in Philip Grillo’s arrest affidavit. In May, DOJ arrested active duty Marine Chris Warnagiris for ensuring the East door stayed open once it had been breached. At the end of June, DOJ arrested Proud Boy Ricky Willden for his role in breaching the East side, without telling us what they knew about it. Also at the end of June, DOJ arrested Darrell Youngers and George Tenney; the former is a Marine, the latter is the guy who first opened the East door, before others like Grillo joined in. Leading up to Josiah Colt’s plea in July, DOJ likely learned more about how his co-conspirators, Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin, knew to head to the East door to fight with cops to keep it open. In September, the government revealed that Jerod and Joshua Hughes, brothers who were instrumental in helping to open the West door, who then occupied the Senate floor, had — like Biggs — exited the building and reentered via the East door breach along with the Oath Keepers.

Key arrests — those of Proud Boys Jimmy Haffner and Ron Loerhke — came in early December. Loerhke — another former Marine — played a significant role in focusing the mob on the West side of the building before he, along with Haffner, joined the others on the top of the East steps and allegedly helped break the police line to get in that East door. Just before Christmas, based on information discovered as late as October, DOJ added charges against the Johnson men, father Daryl and son Daniel, for their role in fighting to keep the East door open. Over the course of the year, then, DOJ has been charging many of those involved in the breach of the East door with felonies.

In August, DOJ started going after the Pied Pipers who brought extra bodies to the top of the stairs to fill the breach by arresting Alex Jones’ side-kick, Owen Shroyer. The judge presiding over the most important Proud Boys cases, Tim Kelly, is also currently considering Shroyer’s cover story for how he and Jones led mobs to the steps.

Along the way, DOJ also arrested MAGA tourists like the Getsingers, who attested that they followed Alex Jones’ lies all the way to the top of the East stairs only to push into the Capitol right along with the organized militias. They also arrested a bunch of people who took video footage that likely helps to clarify what happened there.

Over the course of a year, then, DOJ has slowly built up evidence of a coordinated assault, involving both major militia conspiracies and Trump’s designated Pied Piper, Alex Jones, largely orchestrated by former and one Active Duty Marines and one car salesman (Meggs), to open a second breach the Capitol.

We now know that it happened. What we’re waiting for is to learn how it happened: what kind of communications — and when — brought everyone to the East steps at the same time. Who knew about it, at the Capitol, or even down Pennsylvania Avenue?

In the wake of key decisions upholding DOJ’s application of obstruction to January 6, people from this crowd who might be able to offer more insight are reportedly considering pleading. For example, in a status hearing with the Hughes brothers on Friday, after Judge Tim Kelly orally rejected their challenge to DOJ’s obstruction application like he had done Ethan Nordean’s in December, both their attorneys talked like they were strongly considering a plea but just needed time to do their due diligence. If the Hughes were able to explain how they, with no discernible militia ties (though Jerod received travel funds from someone affiliated with a “Patriot” group), happened to be in all the most important places in the insurrection, it might be really useful for DOJ.

But it’s going to take two months for any kind of plea, cooperative or otherwise, to be negotiated, per the status hearing.

Similarly, at least some of Joe Biggs’ co-travelers are discussing a plea deal. In a joint status report for the men who posed with Joe Biggs on the East steps — Arthur Jackman and Paul Rae, who trailed Biggs all day on January 6, and Edward George, Kevin Tuck, and Nathaniel Tuck, the guys in the group arrested later — the parties asked for a two month continuance, citing discovery delays.

Second, since the last status conference in this case, the government has also produced six global productions, involving tens of thousands of files, to all Capitol Breach defendants. These productions have included, among many other things, thousands of files of U.S. Capitol Police Closed Circuit Video footage; over 1,000 files of body-worn camera footage; maps of the Capitol; reports of interviews and other information; and government work product aimed at assisting defense counsel in understanding the discovery in this investigation. Third, in this case in particular, the government produced on December 22, 2021 a significant quantity of cross-discovery that had been previously produced to defendants in the case of United States v. Ethan Nordean et al., No. 21-CR-175 (TJK).

The discovery process and negotiations with respect to a potential resolution of these cases are expected to continue past the first week of March.

Finally, the government and counsel for defendant Paul Rae note that a pretrial violation report was filed as to Mr. Rae on October 6, 2021. See Dkt. 68. This violation report stated that Mr. Rae was arrested for boating under the influence. Id. Mr. Rae’s BUI case is ongoing. Pretrial services is not recommending action at this point. Counsel for Mr. Rae notes that Mr. Rae was admonished for this incident, and states that there have been no further issues since that arrest. The government defers to the Court in terms of how it wishes to handle the violation report relating to Mr. Rae’s arrest. The government may affirmatively seek a change in Mr. Rae’s bond status or conditions if his ongoing BUI case results in a conviction.

Now, I’m skeptical that all five of these guys would plead guilty. I’m skeptical the three of them represented — with no conflict waver requested from DOJ — by John Pierce (Rae and the Tucks) would plead, because Pierce’s twin goals in representing an unsustainable number of January 6 defendants appears to be turning them into fundraising pawns and firewalling Joe Biggs. But obviously, the three prosecutors on this case believe two months might lead to plea deals where a hard deadline on any plea offer might not.

Generally, DOJ has required that militia defendants agree to cooperate with any plea. And while these five are not charged with conspiracy — they’re known mostly to have tagged along behind Biggs — they might be valuable witnesses to things DOJ might not otherwise have access to, such as Biggs’ side of phone conversations he had that day (there’s reason to believe, for example, he had calls with his former boss, Alex Jones).

Perhaps DOJ knows of some more cross-discovery that may make it worth their while to plead that will be coming in the days ahead.

Whatever it is, this selfie on the top of the East stairs is one small but seemingly significant detail in one of the tactically most important events of they day. And because of the very real delays in finalizing discovery in this case, this one won’t be resolved (if it is) before March. There’s no reason to believe DOJ could have done anything different to accelerate the process. The slow process is, in large part, due process overwhelmed by the difficulties of collecting all the evidence in this case.

I expect DOJ will continue to roll out new details about the breach at the East door in days ahead. Whether these men plead or not may not hold anything else up. They may be just five more bodies alleged to have worked to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power (two, George and Nathaniel Tuck are also accused of Civil Disorder; George is also accused of assault), along with two (the Hughes brothers) facing the possibility of terrorist enhancements for their role in obstructing the peaceful transfer of power.

But this is an example, however obscure, of the ways that the very due process we’re trying to uphold in preserving  our democracy slows down the quick resolution that everyone is demanding.

Update: On Wednesday, lawyers for Youngers and Tenney indicated that they’d probably take a plea offer from the government. That case, too, has been continued two months.

Also yesterday, DOJ finally moved for a conflict review, almost six months after John Pierce filed his appearance for both the Tucks in that case.

The Six Trump Associates Whom DOJ Is Investigating

Because I keep having to lay out the proof that DOJ, in fact, has investigated close Trump associates of the sort that might lead to Trump himself, I wanted to make a list of those known investigations. Note that three of these — Sidney Powell, Alex Jones, and Roger Stone — definitely relate to January 6 and a fourth — the investigation into Rudy Giuliani — is scoped such that that it might include January 6 without anyone knowing about it.

Rudy Giuliani

As I said a month ago, the treatment of Rudy Giuliani’s phones single-handedly disproves claims that Merrick Garland’s DOJ wouldn’t investigate Trump’s people, because a month after he was confirmed and literally the same day that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco was sworn in on April 21, DOJ obtained warrants targeting Rudy Giuliani.

The known warrants for Rudy’s phone pertain to whether, in the lead-up to Trump’s impeachment for trying to coerce Ukraine’s assistance in the 2020 election, Rudy was acting as an unregistered agent of Ukraine.

But as this table shows, Judge Paul Oetken ordered Special Master Barbara Jones to conduct a privilege review for Rudy’s seized devices from January 1, 2018 through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021. That means anything on Rudy’s devices from the entire period when he was helping Trump obstruct Mueller’s investigation well past the time he played the central role on orchestrating a coup attempt would be available to DOJ if it could show probable cause to get it.

There’s good reason to believe DOJ could show probable cause to access Rudy’s phones from April 2018 (before he formally became Trump’s lawyer), because during that period he was attempting to buy Michael Cohen’s silence with a pardon. There’s equally good reason to believe that act of obstruction is one of the referrals still redacted in the Mueller Report.

On or about April l 7, 20 l 8, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

The New York Times and a third rate reporter . . . are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip. ‘ They use nonexistent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media! 1025

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani. 1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner … . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

Similarly, there’s good reason to believe DOJ could show probable cause to access Rudy’s phone for his involvement in Trump’s attempted coup, not least because Rudy himself tweeted out some texts he exchanged with a Proud Boy associate discussing specific insurrectionists in the aftermath of the attack.

We wouldn’t know if DOJ had obtained warrants for those separate periods, because those periods will be covered by Jones’ review one way or another.

In any case, the details of the Rudy investigation show, at a minimum, that Barr went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to kill this investigation (and may have even ordered that FBI not review the materials seized in 2019). It took mere weeks after Garland took over, however, for the investigation to take very aggressive steps.

It also shows that SDNY managed to renew this investigation without major leaks.

Tom Barrack

Just this Tuesday, in a Zoom hearing for Brooklyn’s Federal Court, lawyers for the guy who installed Paul Manafort as Trump’s campaign manager suggested that Merrick Garland had politicized DOJ because, after the investigation into Tom Barrack had apparently stalled in 2019, he was indicted as an unregistered agent of the Emirates in July 2021.

According to reporting from 2019, this investigation was a Mueller referral, so it’s proof that Garland’s DOJ will pursue such referrals. According to CNN reporting, the indictment was all ready to go in July 2020, a year before it was actually charged. That provides a measure of how long it took an investigation that was deemed complete at a time when Barr seemingly prohibited filing it to be resuscitated under Garland: at least four months.

Barrack’s prosecution proves that DOJ can indict a top Trump associate without leaks in advance.

Jury selection for Barrack’s trial is now scheduled to start on September 7.

Sidney Powell

Two different outlets have reported that there is a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting off lies about election fraud. WaPo’s story on the investigation describes that Molly Gaston is overseeing the investigation (she is also overseeing the Steve Bannon referral). As I noted, Gaston was pulled off three prosecutions for insurrectionists by last March.

Gaston originally pulled three January 6 cases in the investigation’s early days, those of Robert Packer, Robert Gieswein, and Derrick Evans, just the latter of which, involving a then-West Virginia state politician, had any possible public corruption component. But, at a time of immense staffing shortages at DC’s US Attorney’s Office, she dropped off those cases on February 18 (in the case of Packer) and March 29 (in the case of Gieswein and Evans). I’ve long wondered what, in the weeks after Merrick Garland came in, became a higher priority for the DC US Attorney’s leading public corruption prosecutor. We now know one thing she picked up in the interim was the prosecution of Michael Riley, the Capitol Police Officer who advised rioter Jacob Hiles to delete Facebook posts about his role in the riot. And by September, Gaston’s grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grift had started taking overt steps like subpoenaing Powell’s nonprofit.

For at least the Michael Riley prosecution and the Steve Bannon prosecution, Gaston is using two of at least three grand juries that are also investigating insurrectionists. For at least those investigations, there is no separate grand jury for the public corruption side of the investigation and the assault on the Capitol. They are the same investigation.

The investigation into Powell will necessarily intersect in interesting ways with Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn.

There have been a lot of complaints that DOJ is not following the money. Powell’s investigation is proof that DOJ is following the money.

Alex Jones

Over the last year, DOJ has collected a great deal of evidence that the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and an alarming number of former Marines worked together to open a second breach on the Capitol via the East doors. Instrumental to the success of this breach were a large number of MAGA tourists who joined in the breach. DOJ has proof that at least some of them were there because Alex Jones had lured them there by lying about a second Trump speech on the East side of the building.

DOJ has already arrested two of Jones’ employees: videographer Sam Montoya in April and on-air personality Owen Shroyer in August.

In a November DOJ response in the Shroyer case, Alex Jones was referred to as Person One, as numerous others believed to be under active investigation have been described. That filing debunked the cover story that Shroyer and Jones have used to excuse their actions on January 6. Judge Tim Kelly, who is also presiding over the most important Proud Boys cases, is currently reviewing Shroyer’s First Amendment challenge to his arrest.

This strand of the investigation has likely necessarily lagged the exploitation of former Alex Jones’ employee Joe Biggs’ iCloud and phone, which were made available to Biggs’ co-travelers in August. This post has more on the developments in the Montoya and Shroyer cases, including that a different prosecutor recently took over Monotya’s case.

Roger Stone

Roger Stone, who has close ties to both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who coordinated the attack on the Capitol, has shown up repeatedly in the Oath Keeper conspiracy. In March, DOJ debunked Connie Meggs’ claim not to know her co-conspirators by including a picture of an event she did with Roger Stone and Graydon Young (this was close to the time that Connie’s husband Kelly organized an alliance between Florida militias).

In a May 25 FBI interview, Mike Simmons, the field commander for the Oath Keepers on January 6, appears to have been specifically asked why Simmons had so many conversations with Joshua James, who was providing security for Roger Stone at the Willard the morning of the insurrection. Simmons appears to have explained that James called him every time Stone moved.

In June, Graydon Young, the Floridian who attended that Stone event with Connie, entered a cooperation agreement. Also in June, Mark Grods, one of the Oath Keepers who had been at the Willard that morning, entered a cooperation agreement. In September, Jason Dolan, a former Marine from Florida who also interacted with Stone in advance of the insurrection and who was waiting there on January 6 as the other Oath Keepers, a number of Proud Boys (including former Alex Jones employee Joe Biggs) and Alex Jones himself all converged at the top of the East steps just as the doors were opened from inside, entered a cooperation agreement.

Anonymous

There’s one more grand jury investigation into a powerful Trump associate that I know of via someone who was subpoenaed in the investigation in the second half of last year. The investigation reflects a reopening of an investigation Billy Barr shut down in 2019-2020. What’s interesting about it is the scope seems somewhat different and the investigating District is different than the earlier investigation. That may suggest that, for investigations that Barr shut down, DOJ would need to have a new evidence to reopen it. But the existence of this investigation shows, again, that Garland’s DOJ will go after powerful Trump associates.

It baffles me why TV lawyers continue to claim there’s no evidence that Merrick Garland is investigating anyone close to Trump — aside from they’re looking for leaks rather than evidence being laid out in plain sight in court filings. One of the first things that Garland’s DOJ did was to take really aggressive action against the guy who led Trump’s efforts to launch a coup. Alex Jones and Roger Stone are clearly part of the investigation into how the breach of the East doors of the Capitol came together, and the two of them (Jones especially) tie directly back to Trump.

There are other reasons to believe that DOJ’s investigation includes Trump’s role in the assault on the Capitol, laid out in the statements of offense from insurrectionists who’ve pled guilty, ranging from trespassers to militia conspirators. But one doesn’t even have to read how meticulously DOJ is collecting evidence that dozens of people have admitted under oath that they participated in the attack on the Capitol because of what Trump had led them to believe on Twitter.

Because DOJ clearly has several other routes to get to Trump’s role via his close associates. I’m not promising they’ll get there. And this will take time (as I’ll show in a follow-up). But that’s different than claiming that this evidence doesn’t exist.

Update: I did a podcast where I explained how the misdemeanor arrests are necessary to moving up the chain.

Judge Tim Kelly Releases Opinion on Obstruction Affecting as Many as Two Dozen Proud Boys

Judge Tim Kelly released his order denying Ethan Nordean’s motion to dismiss the Proud Boys’ conspiracy indictment, a challenge largely focused on DOJ’s application of the obstruction statute to January 6 (here’s my Twitter thread on the opinion). The opinion cites Dabney Friedrich’s opinion in Sandlin seven times, Amit Mehta’s opinion in Caldwell three times, and Trevor McFadden’s opinion in Couy Griffin (on one of the trespassing charges) ten times, suggesting that DC District judges (three of them Trump appointees) are coming to a consensus approving the way DOJ has charged these January 6 cases.

Perhaps the most notable language in the opinion rejects a comparison Nordean tried to make with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court protests.

Arguing that the statute invites discriminatory enforcement, Defendants repeatedly point to charging decisions and plea deals related to other January 6 defendants, see ECF No. 226 at 12– 13, and the uncharged protestors on the Capitol steps during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, see ECF No. 113 at 13–16. But neither provides evidence of vagueness. Both merely show “the Executive’s exercise of discretion over charging determinations.” United States v. Fokker Servs. B.V., 818 F.3d 733, 741 (D.C. Cir. 2016). And “Supreme Court precedent teaches that the presence of enforcement discretion alone does not render a statutory scheme unconstitutionally vague.” Kincaid v. Gov’t of D.C., 854 F.3d 721, 729 (D.C. Cir. 2017); see also United States v. Griffin, — F. Supp. 3d —- , 2021 WL 2778557, at *7 (D.D.C. July 2, 2021) (rejecting argument that defendant’s prosecution was discriminatory given large numbers of similarly situated, uncharged individuals from January 6 and uncharged protestors at Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings). “As always, enforcement requires the exercise of some degree of police judgment, but, as confined, that degree of judgment here is permissible.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 114 (1972).

That’s because eventually Kavanaugh will get to weigh in on this issue, and because DOJ’s response to Nordean’s comparison was weaker than it should have been.

In a feat of procedural wizardry, Nordean already appealed today’s decision, yesterday, by sticking it onto an appeal of Kelly’s refusal to reopen bail.

The denial of his motion to dismiss normally would not be appealable until after trial (at which point Kavanaugh can have his say).

One reason Nordean may have done that is to attempt to stave off a flood of Proud Boys rushing to join Matthew Greene in pleading out. That’s because Judge Kelly’s decision will also apply to the following groups of Proud Boys and Proud Boy adjacent defendants whose cases he is also presiding over, as well as a number of others who might get added in if — as I expect — DOJ consolidates its Proud Boy conspiracy cases in the weeks ahead:

  • Nordean (4 defendants)
  • Pezzola (2 remaining defendants after Greene’s change of plea)
  • Chrestman (6 defendants)
  • Jackman (5 defendants charged individually with obstruction, but not with conspiracy)
  • Hughes (2 defendants)
  • Pruitt
  • Samsel (2 defendants)*

All defendants charged with obstruction have been waiting for these opinions. But as it happens, almost two dozen people currently or potentially charged with obstruction will be covered by this opinion. And if the attorneys are seeing the same signs of an imminent superseding Proud Boy indictment, if they don’t think there’ll be any fresh uncertainty from another judge, they may rush for the exits before that happens.

Thus far, with assistance from Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys have prevented the kinds of (visible) defections we’ve seen from the Oath Keepers. But this decision — coming at the same time as Greene’s plea deal — may change that.

*DOJ has been talking about consolidating Samsel’s case with that of Paul Johnson and Stephen Chase Randolph, along with another not-yet arrested defendant. If they do that, it would normally be kept under Judge Paul Friedman since he had the case first.

Update: Corrected McFadden’s first name.

Update: Judge Randolph Moss has also issued his opinion, similarly upholding the application of obstruction. Here’s my thread on it.

Chekhov’s Riot Shield: How Proud Boy Matthew Greene’s Cooperation Helps Prove the Conspiracy

In a chat among the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys on January 17, according to a June detention motion, Matthew Greene stated that, “we must stand together now or end up in the gulag separately.” Yesterday, Greene entered into a cooperation plea deal that may accelerate his transfer into a Federal prison and even contemplates witness protection.

The press has made much of Greene’s cooperation deal — and I agree that the first public cooperation agreement from a Proud Boy is newsworthy. But I think the press is overstating the singular importance of Greene’s plea deal, for two reasons.

Greene is the first (public) cooperator but there are probably more senior Proud Boys close to flipping

First, there is very good reason to believe there are other non-public Proud Boy cooperators (or people, like Greene, who have been discussing a plea deal for months but who have not yet publicly pled guilty). Tim Kelly, the Judge presiding over the most Proud Boy cases, only just revealed that he will uphold DOJ’s application of the obstruction charge (though he has yet to issue his opinion), which is likely to accelerate the public entry of plea deals from other Proud Boys close to flipping. In other words, Greene is the only cooperator we can point to docketed proof of, but there are others, almost certainly others who are better situated to expose the full contours of the senior Proud Boys’ plans for the Capitol.

The other reason Greene’s welcome cooperation is being overstated is because — as Greene’s statement of offense makes clear — the Proud Boys used a cell organization on January 6 and Greene was, by his own telling, just a “first-degree member of the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys,” making him one of the “least senior members.” But as I show below, that also means his cooperation is a good way of showing that a low level Proud Boy was aware of and following the instructions of the most senior Proud Boys.

To be clear: Greene’s statement of offense states that it “is not intended to constitute a complete statement of all facts known by Greene.” But the things that he does and appears not to know illustrates how DOJ is either going to need to flip one of the most senior Proud Boys and/or get cooperators from multiple different parts of the network to get a full understanding (and proof beyond a reasonable doubt) to describe all that the Proud Boys did on January 6.

That said, even given what is public, Greene’s cooperation will be useful in the following ways:

  • Confirming intent to obstruct the vote count by intimidating Mike Pence and others
  • Providing first-hand evidence on the “Front Door” conspiracy
  • Tying the Front Door cell to the Leader conspiracy
  • Describing the lead-up to January 6

Confirming intent to obstruct the vote count by intimidating Mike Pence and others

As this post explains, Greene’s intent statement confirms that:

  • The goal that day was to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress to get them to help Trump’s cause
  • Trespassing was one way to serve that goal of obstruction because it was more intimidating
  • The damage to the Capitol was a foreseeable consequence of the plan to obstruct the vote count

These three intent statements will be important in prosecuting other Proud Boys — and indeed, other rioters in January 6. They show that even low level Proud Boy participants understood this — and not some bullshit cover story about Antifa — to be the goal.

Providing first-hand evidence on the “Front Door” conspiracy

As a reminder, Greene was indicted, along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, in what I’ve dubbed the “Front Door” conspiracy. The three were indicted together, it appears, because they’re all from NY (though Pepe is from a different chapter of the Proud Boys) and DOJ has a witness who spent time with them after the riot on January 6 who shared that they had said they would have gone after Pelosi or Pence had they found them.

The FBI also spoke to a witness, referred to as W-1 for purposes of this memorandum. W1 stated that Greene was one of a group of individuals who told W-1 about what they did on January 6. According to W-1, members of this group said that anyone they got their hands on they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi.5 W-1 further stated that members of this group, which included Greene, said that they would have killed [Vice President] Mike Pence if given the chance.

The Front Door conspiracy is utterly critical because the terrorism enhancement hanging over all the other Proud Boys charged with conspiracy goes through the stolen shield with which Pezzola broke a window in the first breach of the Capitol.

While I expect some consolidation among the Proud Boy cases in the near future, DOJ needs this prosecution to succeed because it gives them leverage over the other Proud Boys they’re using to get other conspirators to cooperate.

And Greene’s statement of offense does provide evidence that he and Pezzola and Pepe entered into an agreement to obstruct the vote count and took overt steps, in concert, to make that happen. It describes that Greene:

  • Made hotel reservations with his chapter of the Proud Boys and drove from Syracuse with them — including Pezzola — to DC.
  • Allowed Pepe, who showed up overnight, to sleep on his floor.
  • Programmed the Baofeng radios used by the Central New York Proud Boys (which also means Greene shared a channel with Pezzola and therefore heard what Pezzola was hearing).
  • Eschewed Proud Boys colors.
  • Traveled with Pezzola throughout the day, including through the first toppled barricade to a line of fences, away from there (in what researchers believe was a regrouping effort to wait for more numbers), then up the stairs.
  • Stayed at the same hotel as Pezzola and Pepe after the riot (as demonstrated by security footage from the hotel).

Tying the Front Door cell to the Leader conspiracy

As noted above, in the Proud Boys hierarchy, Greene was just a schlub, a first level Proud Boy just weeks into joining the organization.

But that makes him useful for showing that orders issued by Enrique Tarrio, Joe Biggs, and Ethan Nordean trickled down to him. The order not to wear Proud Boy colors, for example, is one Tarrio and Biggs issued publicly. Greene followed that order.

Similarly, around 9:30PM on January 5, the Leader co-conspirators agreed to set the meetup point on the side of the Washington Monument facing the White House at 10AM. This agreement is part of the proof they had entered into a conspiracy with each other.

The next day, Greene, this schlub from Syracuse, followed these instructions.

On the morning of January 6, 2021, Greene, along with Pezzola, Pepe, and the others he had traveled with from Syracuse, met up at the Washington Monument with members of the Proud Boys from across the country, as instructed by Proud Boys leadership. As also instructed by leadership, neither Greene, Pezzola, Pepe, nor any of the other individuals in their group wore the Proud Boys’ traditional colors of black and yellow.

Greene, Pezzola, and the others they traveled with from Syracuse, then followed the Proud Boys leadership in departing from the Washington Monument and marching on the National Mall towards the U.S. Capitol.

In other words, precisely because someone so low level was obviously following instructions developed in private by the Proud Boys’ top leadership, it ties the Syracuse cell with the Leadership cell in the same conspiracy.

And one remarkable moment of Greene’s testimony demonstrates this particularly well. His statement of offense describes that,

After Pezzola had stolen a riot shield belonging to the U.S. Capitol Police, Greene followed him away from the scene of the robbery, through the crowd, away from the Capitol, and to the back of the West Plaza. During this journey, Pezzola met up and traveled with at least two other individuals, one of whom jointly carried the riot shield with Pezzola.

It appears that Greene did not know — perhaps still does not know — who the person carrying the shield with Pezzola was. It was Charles Donohoe, one of the four people currently charged in the Leader Conspiracy.

This moment is like the Chekhov’s Riot Shield of the entire January 6, the moment where the crucial weapon (in this case, that would inflict the damage to the Capitol window that puts all the co-conspirators on the hook for terrorism enhancements) shows up early in the story as if foretelling where the story will (and in this case, did) go. Greene is a witness to this moment. But by witnessing it this way, with no idea of Donohoe’s seniority, Greene again demonstrates how the actions of low level Proud Boys tie directly up with its top leadership.

And Greene’s experience in DC tied to the most senior Proud Boy, Tarrio. His statement of offense notes that as Greene was setting the Baofeng’s, Pezzola told Greene that Tarrio would stop by to have his own radio programmed as well.

Pezzola told Greene that the National Chairman of the Proud Boys would stop by to have his radio programmed, but the National Chairman did not in fact stop by, nor did Greene program his radio.

This seems to prove that Pezzola was in touch, personally, with Tarrio on that confusing day as the Proud Boys attempted to regroup after Tarrio’s arrest, but not in such close touch that Pezzola knew immediately that Tarrio had moved to Baltimore after his release and stay-away order. It might suggest that Tarrio was on the Baofeng’s that day, in addition to participating in the Telegram chat. If DOJ can prove that, then it makes it a lot easier to charge Tarrio personally.

Describing the lead-up to January 6

As Greene’s statement of offense describes it, he only joined the Proud Boys after the December 12, 2020 MAGA March.

As of January 6, 2021, Greene was a first-degree member of the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys. He had officially joined the group following a rally that took place in Washington D.C. in December 2020.

A detention filing for Pezzola suggests this was his first Proud Boy event as well.

[D]efendant’s only other “action” as a Proud Boy was that on December 12, 2020, he attended a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) rally in support of then President Trump. There is no alleged criminal activity by defendant in relation to that event. This occurred shortly after defendant’s introduction to the Proud Boys. Upon information and belief, his only other activity as a Proud Boy was discussing politics over drinks at bars on occasion.

As Greene’s detention memo made clear, Greene met Pezzola in the early days of joining the group, possibly in DC.

The FBI also recovered a photograph of a group of Proud Boys, apparently taken inside a bar, which metadata indicates was taken in December 2020, that includes both Greene and Pezzola.

Greene’s statement of offense describes that he decided to attend January 6 in response to Trump’s call on December 19.

On December 19, 2021, when Greene saw then-President Donald Trump’s tweet referencing a “wild” protest to take place on January 6, 2021, he decided that he would attend the event, and he booked a hotel in Washington, D.C. for January 5-7, 2021.

On December 20, Greene ordered some AR-15 magazines that may cause legal trouble in NY (and was one of the key reasons why Greene was held in pre-trial detention). 

The FBI also located a camouflage tactical vest filled with eight detachable magazines for an AR-15 (Hr’g Ex. 2-4). Each of the eight magazines with loaded with 30 rounds of AR-15 ammunition. Although undersigned counsel does not practice law in the state of New York, I have been informed by a New York State Police officer, who is cross-designated to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and participated in the search, that Greene’s possession of the AR-15 and the detachable magazines was illegal under New York state law

FBI’s review of the defendant’s Gmail account as contained on his personal phone that was seized in connection with the January 18 search warrant, revealed that the defendant placed the following orders, among others: (1) six AR-15 magazines, ordered on December 20

Over the following weeks, Greene planned with the other NY State Proud Boys (presumably including Pezzola and, given that this appears to have been state-wide, Pepe).

In advance of January 6, 2021, Greene coordinated with Pezzola and other members of the Proud Boys to make plans to come to Washington, D.C. for the events surrounding January 6. Greene used an encrypted messaging application and was part of planning channel among Proud Boy chapters from New York State whose members planned to come to Washington, D.C.

As this was happening, Pezzola appears to have deepened ties to the national organization. A government response to a Pezzola detention motion shows that Tarrio used an image of Pezzola — labeled “Lords of War” — to advertise for J6 and J20.

I have repeatedly noted that DOJ has remained coy about the role that the December MAGA March and the January 5 events had as crucial networking and planning events to prepare for January 6. But Greene was obviously part of that. Greene, in part because he shows how someone could join up and then play a role that intersected with top leaders of the group, encapsulates that process personally.

And, importantly, he shows how Trump and Tarrio were key motivators in that process.

As a cooperator, Matthew Greene won’t be able to tell prosecutors what top Proud Boys were planning. Nor will he be able to reveal how top Proud Boys networked with Trump’s associates and coordinated a plan for January 6. But he does offer proof that low level Proud Boys were in a conspiracy with the group’s top leadership. And his testimony will make it more likely that others will also cooperate.

On January 17, Greene called for the Proud Boys to stand together. His cooperation with prosecutors will make it more likely that others will “end up in the gulag,” together.

The Pied Piper of Insurrection, and Other Challenges in Charging the January 6 Organizer-Inciters

In a post laying out what I called my “taxonomy” of the DOJ investigation of the January 6 crime scene, I noted that the next step in holding those who orchestrated January 6 responsible was to start holding the “organizer-inciters” responsible.

 I have argued that DOJ is very close to rolling out more details of the plot to seize the Capitol, a plot that was implemented (at the Capitol) by the Proud Boys in coordination with other militia-tied people. I have also argued that one goal of the misdemeanor arrests has been to obtain evidence showing that speeches inciting violence, attacks on Mike Pence, or directing crowds to (in effect) trespass brought about violence, the targeting of Mike Pence, and the breach of the Capitol.

If I’m right about these two observations, it means that the investigation has reached a step where the next logical move would be to charge those who incited violence or directed certain movement. The next logical step would be to hold those who caused the obstruction accountable for the obstruction they cultivated.

This is why I focused on Alex Jones in this post: because there is a great deal of evidence that Alex Jones, the guy whom Trump personally ordered to lead mobs to the Capitol, was part of the plot led by his former employee, Joe Biggs, to breach a second front of the Capitol. If this investigation is going to move further, people like Alex Jones and other people who helped organize and incite the riot, will be the next step.

Though you might not know it from the coverage, DOJ has charged several people who played a key role in creating and mobilizing the mob that seized the Capitol. This is where, however, the obscurity of the investigation and First Amendment protections raise real questions about whether DOJ will be able to move up the chain of responsibility.

I’d like to look at the prospects of accountability at three nodes of organizer inciters:

  • Walkaway founder Brandon Straka
  • SoCal anti-maskers Russell Taylor and Alan Hostetter
  • Alex Jones, Owen Shroyer, and Ali Alexander

The import of January 5 in January 6

Before I do so, though, a word about January 5. Though the general outline of the January 6 attack kicked off in November 2020 and was fine-tuned in December (the MAGA events in both months were critical both as dry runs and for networking among participants), the final outline of plans took place in the days before the riot. There seems to have been an intra-militia meeting planned on January 3 in Quarrysville, Pennsylvania where groups, “[got] our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups.”

After Proud Boy Enrique Tarrio got arrested on January 4, the Proud Boys frantically tried to regroup. As late as 9PM on January 5, Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean were meeting with some unnamed group, out of which came their plan for the 6th.

There were rallies organized for January 5 at which a number of leaders gave incendiary speeches. There’s some reason to believe that members of what I’ve called a “disorganized militia” conspiracy, Ronnie Sandlin, Nate DeGrave, and Josiah Colt, learned key details of the plan for the next day at that event, which allowed them to be tactically important in the breach. Other disorganized attendees, like Jenny Cudd, came away from those Janaury 5 speeches persuaded a revolution was inevitable.

On January 5, 2021, Ms. Cudd stated the following in a video on social media: “a lot of . . . the speakers this evening were calling for a revolution. Now I don’t know what y’all think about a revolution, but I’m all for it. . . . Nobody actually wants war, nobody wants bloodshed, but the government works for us and unfortunately it appears that they have forgotten that, quite a lot. So, if a revolution is what it takes then so be it. Um, I don’t know if that is going to kick off tomorrow or not, we shall see what the powers that be choose to do with their powers and we shall see what it is that happens in Congress tomorrow at our United States Capitol. So, um either way I think that either our side or the other side is going to start a revolution.”

As Robert Costa and Bob Woodward have described, Trump ratcheted up the pressure as the mobs formed the night of January 5 by falsely claiming that Mike Pence agreed he could ignore the true vote counts.

Yet, even in spite of the import of January 5 to what happened on January 6, DOJ has included remarkably few details about what January 6 defendants did that day.

The organizer-inciters called for revolution on January 5

The three organizer-inciters are a notable exception. As I noted in this post, DOJ focused on the January 5 speeches of Straka, Shroyer, and Taylor in their arrest affidavits. Straka’s described how he called for revolution on January 5.

STRAKA was introduced by name and brought onto stage. STRAKA spoke for about five minutes during which time he repeatedly referred to the attendees as “Patriots” and referenced the “revolution” multiple times. STRAKA told the attendees to “fight back” and ended by saying, “We are sending a message to the Democrats, we are not going away, you’ve got a problem!”

The SoCal 3%er conspiracy described how Russell Taylor called for violence.

[T]hese anti-Americans have made the fatal mistake, and they have brought out the Patriot’s fury onto these streets and they did so without knowing that we will not return to our peaceful way of life until this election is made right, our freedoms are restored, and American is preserved.

And Owen Shroyer’s arrest affidavit described him calling for revolution, too.

Americans are ready to fight. We’re not exactly sure what that’s going to look like perhaps in a couple of weeks if we can’t stop this certification of the fraudulent election . . . we are the new revolution! We are going to restore and we are going to save the republic!

But the treatment of these three organizer-inciters, both in their charges, and the development of their prosecution so far, has been very different.

Brandon Straka

Originally, Brandon Straka was charged with trespassing and 18 USC 231, civil disorder, for egging on rioters as they stripped a cop of his shield.

At around the 3:45 mark of the video, an officer from the United States Capitol Police holding a protective shield could be seen in the crowd. As individuals pushed past the officer toward the entrance of the U.S. Capitol, the officer held his shield up in the air. At around the 3:59 mark of the video, STRAKA stated, “Take it away from him.” STRAKA and others in the crowd then yelled, “Take the shield!”

As several people in the crowd grabbed the officer’s shield, STRAKA yelled, “Take it! Take it!” The crowd successfully pulled the shield away from the officer as the officer appeared to be trying to move back toward the entrance of the building.

After his early arrest, his case was continued without indictment several times, first in February, then in May, then in August, each time invoking fairly standard boilerplate about a plea. “The government and counsel for the defendant have conferred, and are continuing to communicate in an effort to resolve this matter.” In September, Straka was finally charged, with just the less serious of the two trespassing misdemeanors. After a tweak in October reflecting that he never entered the Capitol itself, he pled guilty on October 6. His statement of offense says only this about January 5:

Brandon Straka flew to Washington D.C. to speak at a rally protesting the election results on January 5 and January 6, 2021.

It focuses entirely on his role in egging on rioters at the Capitol.

This plea could be one of the ones in which someone cooperating was able to plead to a misdemeanor (the only confirmed one of which, so far, was Jacob Hiles, who cooperated in the prosecution of Michael Riley). After all, he could provide valuable information not just on the plans for January 5, but also explain what he learned about why the scheduled rally on January 6, at which he was also supposed to speak, got canceled. And in fact, he posted the kind of self-justification in advance of pleading that might reflect cooperation.

[O]n Facebook this week he addressed 357,000 followers as “Dear Patriots,” thanked them for their patience, and urged them to tune out “negative press . . . likely coming down the pike” as he took the first meaningful step toward concluding “the perils of the situation I am in.”

“Hang on tight,” Straka wrote on the site, where he has asked for financial support and plugged a forthcoming “grand relaunch” of his campaign. “Let it come, and let it go. It means nothing. It’s just pointless noise. The best is yet to come. We’re almost there.”

But his plea agreement includes the boilerplate cooperation language that generally gets taken out when someone has already cooperated, which is one reason to believe his plea may just reflect good lawyering.

We may find out whether his plea included a cooperation component when we see the filings regarding his sentencing. He was originally supposed to be sentenced on Friday December 17, but that got bumped back (as many things are, these days) to December 22. His sentencing memos were due on December 15. But unless something happened with PACER overnight, they’re not there (PACER was particularly unreliable yesterday on account of the AWS outage, but the filings could also be sealed).

Update: The two sides have asked for 30 more days to make sense of some stuff that has recently come up.

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

The government is currently ordered to file its sentencing memorandum and any video evidence in support of its memorandum on December 17, 2021. The government respectfully requests that this deadline be extended based upon the reasons stated.

3%er SoCal Conspiracy

Calling the indictment against Alan Hostetter et al the “3%er SoCal conspiracy” is actually a misnomer, because it has more to do with how two men calling for violence helped organize Southern Californians largely mobilized around anti-mask politics.

The indictment provides evidence that some of the men charged–Erik Warner, Tony Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and possibly Ronald Mele– are 3%ers. Though the indictment shows Hostetter invoking the language of 3%ers in one place, he is the head of the American Phoenix anti-mask group and his anti-mask activism is one of the places Hostetter met Russell Taylor (the other is the QAnon conference in Arizona in October 2020). Hostetter and Taylor repurporsed a Telegram chat Hostetter was already using to sow violence to organize Southern Californians to travel to DC for the rally, then created a new one on January 1 called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade.”

Much of the conspiracy involves the planning of alleged conspirators for the trip, including discussions of how to bring weapons to DC.

Just one of these men, Warner, entered the Capitol; the rest skirmished around the West Terrace. Not all of the January 6 defendants whose arrest documents show them to be members of the California Patriots-DC Brigade Telegram chat are included as part of this conspiracy; Jeffrey Scott Brown and Ben Martin, who were each charged individually, are described to have been part of the chat, and it’s likely that Gina Bisignano and Danny Rodriguez and his co-conspirators were also part of that chat (among others). In addition, there’s a Person One described in the indictment, whom Hostetter has identified as big GOP donor Morton Irvine Smith, who wasn’t charged, though Irvine Smith’s actions appear distinguishable from Hostetter’s only in that he didn’t climb onto the West Terrace on January 6. So it’s not entirely clear why DOJ included the six people they did in this conspiracy.

As I laid out before, in addition to being charged individually with obstructing the vote count, the men were charged with conspiracy under the obstruction statute rather than the conspiracy statute, as most other January 6 conspiracies were charged (though a Patriot-3%er two person conspiracy unsealed the other day uses 1512(k) as well). Taylor was charged for civil disorder for an interaction with cops and his trespassing charges were enhanced because he was armed with a knife. Warner and Kinnison are separately charged for efforts to hide the Telegram chat.

In other words, this conspiracy ties together two guys publicly calling for violence with members of a militia who discussed arming themselves.

Hostetter says he wants no part of it, though. After getting permission to represent himself in October, earlier this month the former cop filed a motion to dismiss the entire indictment because of alleged government misconduct. The entire thing is the kind of batshit conspiracy theory you’d expect from Tucker Carlson or Glenn Greenwald, spinning what appears to have been inappropriate coddling of him by an Orange County Sheriff’s Sergeant into an FBI plot (that started in spring 2020) to get him, involving Yale’s Secret Society Skull and Bones, the Freemasons, Scientologists, Mormons, and a talented artist named Bandit who likes to mock him. (Read this thread if you want to laugh along.) In the wild yarn Hostetter spins, he argues both Irvine Smith and Taylor must be FBI informants and therefore he can’t be held accountable for any of the actions they induced him to take.

He asks to be severed from the other defendants and/or have his case thrown out because, he claims, he “has never knowingly met, nor has he ever knowingly communicated with, four of the co-defendants,” the 3%ers, and according to his feverish conspiracy theory, Taylor is an FBI informant who set him up (Taylor is Mormon, which is where that part of Hostetter’s conspiracy theory stems from). In a filing asserting as fact that, “the election of 2020 was actually stolen from a duly elected President whom was elected in one of the biggest landslide victories in the history of our country,” Hostetter complains that his actions to prevent the vote count of the actual winner do not amount to a crime.

On January 6, 2021 defendant did not commit one act of violence. Defendant did not commit one act of vandalism. Defendant never entered the U.S. Capitol Building. Defendant never conspired with anyone to do anything illegal, immoral or unethical. The government has not provided anything, that defendant has yet seen in discovery, that contradicts these claims by defendant. Yet, defendant is charged with federal felonies that could result in his imprisonment for up to twenty years.

Particularly given the scope of Dabney Friedrich’s ruling on the application of obstruction, with its caveats regarding whether legal activities can be deemed part of an effort to obstruct the vote count, Hostetter’s claims may have some success (Royce Lamberth is presiding over the case).

His motion to dismiss doesn’t, however, mention a number of overt acts described in the conspiracy to obstruct the vote count:

  • His participation in the November 14, 2020 MAGA event in DC
  • His own November 27, 2020 call to execute “traitors”
  • A December 12, 2020 Stop the Steal rally in Huntington Beach
  • His own calls for people to travel to DC starting on December 19, 2020

Rather than addressing most of the overt acts alleged against him, Hostetter provides what appear to be cover stories for two key December 2020 events in this timeline.

After Taylor and Hostetter spoke at an Orange County event on December 15, they met with Irvine Smith the next day, and Taylor gave both axes.

On December 15, 2020, defendant and co-defendant Russell Taylor both spoke at an Orange County Board of Supervisor’s Meeting. This was only three weeks prior to January 6th. As usual at the Board Meeting, the topics to be discussed related to Orange County issues to include Covid-19 related issues, which is what we typically spoke out about. For some reason, while Taylor was speaking during this particular board meeting, he made the following comment to the Board which was completely unrelated to any of the topics on the agenda: “Week after week, I and others are with thousands in the street all up and down the state of California. You know what they are saying? Revolution. Storm the Capitol.”

[snip]

On December 16th, the day following Taylor’s comments to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, co-defendant Russell Taylor met defendant and “Person One” Morton Irvine Smith at a Mexican restaurant in San Clemente, CA called “El Ranchito.” Taylor was the organizer of this meeting and had requested, planned and organized it a few days prior. While at the restaurant, Taylor told defendant and Irvine Smith that he had purchased gifts for them. Taylor reached under the table and pulled out two boxes and gave them to defendant and Irvine Smith.

Inside these boxes were the axes that have been referred to in the indictment as proof of defendant’s nefarious intent to attack the Capitol using the axe as a weapon of some sort. Until receiving this “gift,” defendant had never personally owned an axe in his life. As he gifted it to us, Taylor described the axe metaphorically as a “battle axe” representing the battles we had already fought in support of freedom and the many battles yet to come.

Upon leaving the restaurant, either (informant) Taylor or (informant) Irvine Smith requested one of the restaurant employees take our photograph in front of the restaurant holding the axes. Defendant liked the photograph and thought it looked quite masculine and “tough” so he posted the photograph to Instagram with a somewhat provocative comment attached to the photograph. Defendant’s comment was, “The time has come when good people may have to act badly, but not wrongly.” Defendant continued in this post with, “Thank you @russ.taylor for the gift of the #thebattleaxe representing the many battles yet to come.”

Defendant had read this quote about good people possibly having to act “badly but not wrongly” in a meme very close in time to when Taylor gifted the axe to him. Defendant had no thought whatsoever about January 6 or the U.S. Capitol when creating this Instagram post. Defendant had been making public speeches regarding the fact that the U.S. was and had been “at war” with the Chinese Communist Party and domestic enemies for approximately 8 months prior to receiving this axe from Russell Taylor

Hostetter posted the photo not as a call for war, he claims, but because it made him look manly. And his caption to the photograph wasn’t a prospective call to war on January 6 in response to Taylor’s call for revolution, but to the prior 8 months of political unrest.

Particularly given Hostetter’s description of the December 16 meeting, which he helpfully tells us was actually planned, “a few days prior” (and so possibly the same day that Irvine Smith, but not Hostetter, returned from the DC MAGA March), I find the description Hostetter gives for his involvement in the January 5 event of interest. He learned of it from Irvine Smith at around the same time as that same December 16 meeting at El Ranchito and before — the indictment alleges but Hostetter ignores — he started recruiting people to attend the event.

January 5, 2021: Defendant’s non-profit organization, American Phoenix Project (APP), cohosted a rally with a group called Virgina Women for Trump. The VWT group was headed by Alice Butler-Short, a well-known and well-connected woman in the DC area.

This event, and APP’s ability to co-host it was brought to defendant’s attention in mid-December after informant Morton Irvine Smith returned to California after attending the December 12, 2020 Stop the Steal rally in Washington DC. Defendant did not attend this event. Irvine Smith claimed to have met Ms. Butler-Short for the first time at this 12/12/2020 event and the two of them agreed to APP becoming involved in co-hosting the event together.

Irvine Smith arranged for defendant to participate in a conference call with Ms. Butler-Short and two members of another group identified as Jericho March as they were a nationally known group also supporting election integrity. Once this conference call was completed, defendant told Irvine Smith that he was not interested in having American Phoenix Project co-host the event as it was too far away from California to be able to properly assist in putting it together and defendant had also gotten a bad vibe / feeling from some of the other participants in the conference call.

Irvine Smith was highly disappointed and notified defendant that he, Irvine Smith, would then just continue to help Butler-Short on his own time as they had developed a good relationship and he wanted to be personally helpful to her. Within a week or two, Irvine Smith notified defendant that Butler-Short had lined up some very big-name and popular conservative speakers for the event to include Roger Stone, Alex Jones, General Michael Flynn’s brother Joe Flynn, among several others. Irvine Smith notified defendant that ButlerShort was continuing to hold out the invitation for APP to co-host this event with her group, to include flying the APP banner at the event. Irvine Smith told defendant the only thing Butler-Short requested of APP was to help her with finding security staff to cordon off an area in front of the Supreme Court because it was a “first come, first served” policy as far as finding a location to set up a stage and microphone.

[snip]

After hearing from Irvine Smith about the high-quality speakers involved and the relative ease with which APP could co-host such a high-profile event, defendant agreed to co-host the event under the APP banner. Were it not for the individual efforts of Morton Irvine Smith, neither defendant nor APP would have been involved with this event at all.

Irvine Smith’s role in getting him this gig certainly raises more questions about why he wasn’t charged, but it doesn’t change Hostetter’s own exposure.

Hostetter adds to the questions about Irvine Smith’s treatment by revealing that Irvine Smith was not searched until the day before this indictment (Hostetter also makes much of what appears to be FBI’s choice to image Irvine Smith’s devices rather than seizing them).

On 1/27/2021 when Taylor and defendant had search warrants served on them, Irvine Smith did not. It wasn’t until nearly five months later, on June 9, 2021 that Irvine Smith finally had a search warrant served on him. This was one day before defendant’s indictment was unsealed. The timing of Irvine Smith’s “raid” is transparently obvious and laughable. It was intended to “clean him up” as an informant.

Hostetter’s questions about Irvine Smith, who funded much of his actions, are as justified as questions from the Oath Keepers about Stewart Rhodes not being charged yet. But I expect this crazypants motion to be dismissed and the conspiracy prosecution to continue to hang on whether all six members of the conspiracy entered into an agreement to help stop the vote count on January 6.

But Hostetter’s motion does suggest that the conspiracy indictment uses the involvement of the 3%ers as a way to raise the stakes of both Hostetter and Taylor’s own public calls for violence. That is, DOJ seems to have charged these organizer-inciters (but not the guy funding it all, yet) by exploiting their ties to an organized militia.

Alex Jones, Owen Shroyer, and Ali Alexander

The way that DOJ appears to have used militia ties to charge organizer-inciters Alan Hostetter and Russell Taylor makes their treatment of far more important organizer-inciters, Alex Jones, Owen Shroyer, and Ali Alexander, more interesting.

Ignore for a moment Ali Alexander’s crucial role in setting up explicitly violent protests.

It is a fact that the guy leading the coup, Donald Trump, asked Alex Jones (personally, as Jones tells it) to lead the mobs Trump had incited at the Ellipse down the Mall to the Capitol. As Jones was doing this, his former employee, Joe Biggs, was kicking off the entire riot. It is also a fact that Jones lured rioters like Stacie Getsinger to the East side of the building, to where Biggs and the Oath Keepers were also gathering, by promising a second speech from Trump.

There’s reason to believe that Jones and Biggs remained in contact that day, evidence of which DOJ would presumably have from Biggs’ phone, if not his phone provider (based on whether the contact was via telephony or messaging app). If it was the latter, getting it may have taken a while. While DOJ obtained Ethan Nordean’s phone when they searched his house (because his spouse provided the FBI the password), and obtained the content of Biggs’ Google account quickly (which included some videos shared with his co-travellers), it may have taken until July 14 to exploit Biggs’ phone (this Cellebrite report must pertain to Biggs because it is not designated Highly Sensitive to him). While the content of any calls Biggs had with his former boss would not be captured, some of it is also likely available from videos shot of him. If his co-travellers wanted a cooperation deal they might be able to provide Biggs’ side of any contacts with Jones too, though several of Biggs’ co-travelers are represented by John Pierce, who may be serving as a kind of firewall for Biggs or even Enrique Tarrio.

Nevertheless, if DOJ has in its possession evidence that one of the guys accused of masterminding the plan to breach the Capitol from two sides was in contact during that process with Jones, who lured unwitting rioters to the second breach by lying to them, then DOJ would appear to have far more evidence tying Jones to militia violence than they used to charge Hostetter in a conspiracy with 3%ers. And Jones got just as far inside the restricted area of the Capitol — to the top of the steps on the East side — as Hostetter did.

Of course, two things have made it harder to charge Jones: he is a media figure, one who very quickly disseminated a cover story claiming his intent for joining the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers at the site of the second breach was to de-escalate the situation, not to escalate it.

DOJ has been chipping away at both those defenses. It already arrested two of Jones’ employees, videographer Sam Montoya and on-air personality Owen Shroyer.

DOJ arrested Montoya for trespassing on April 13 and charged him with misdemeanors on April 30. The arrest warrant cited a number of things Montoya said that were captured on his own footage making it clear he viewed himself as part of the mob.

We’re gonna crawl, we’re gonna climb. We’re gonna do whatever it takes, we’re gonna do whatever it takes to MAGA. Here we go, y’all. Here we go, y’all. Look at this, look at this. I don’t even know what’s going on right now. I don’t wanna get shot, I’ll be honest, but I don’t wanna lose my country. And that’s more important to me than—than getting shot.

And DOJ noted that Montoya had no press credentials for Congress (a really shitty distinction for an event where legitimate journalists chased mobsters inside).

At times during the video, Montoya describes himself to others inside the Capitol Building as a “reporter” or “journalist” as he attempts to get through crowds. The director of the Congressional press galleries within the Senate Press office did a name check on Samuel Christopher Montoya and confirmed that no one by that name has Congressional press credentials as an individual or via any other organizations.

Montoya’s case has been continued on his own initiative since then. Given the discovery notices he has gotten — from AUSA Candice Wong — he had been treated as part of the mob most closely involved in the scene at Ashli Babbitt’s shooting. On December 10, Montoya got discovery from the Statutory Hall Connector that other defendants in that group did not get, and a different prosecutor, Alexis Loeb, took over his case. Loeb’s January 6 caseload is eclectic, but in October she started taking over the case of Proud Boys Joshua Pruitt, and Nicholas Ochs and Nicholas DeCarlo, and she has always been in charge of the prosecution of the pair that played a key role in opening the East doors from the inside, George Tenney and Darrell Youngers.

In August, Shroyer was arrested. His arrest was opportunistic, relying on the fact that he had a still-unsatisfied Deferred Prosecution Agreement arising from his attempts to disrupt Trump’s first impeachment making his loud presence inside the restricted are of the Capitol uniquely illegal. He filed a motion to dismiss his case, which was basically the cover story about de-escalation that Jones offered up immediately after the riot and Ali Alexander prepared to deliver to Congress last week. In a filing debunking that cover story, the government noted that calling for revolution — as Shroyer and Jones did from the top of the East steps — does not amount to de-escalation.

Even assuming the defendant’s argument is true and the defendant received permission to go to the Capitol steps for the limited purpose of deescalating the situation, the defendant did not even do that. Quite the opposite. Despite the defendant’s arguments today that “Shroyer did nothing but offer his assistance to calm the crowd and urge them to leave United States Capitol grounds,” Dkt. 8-1 at 14, the defendant himself said otherwise in an open-source video recorded on August 21, 2021: “From the minute we got on the Capitol, the Capitol area, you [referring to Person One] started telling people to stand down, and the second we got on there, you got up on stacks of chairs, you said, ‘We can’t do this, stand down, don’t go in.’ … And I’m silent during all of this” (emphasis added).11 Moreover, as seen in other videos and described above, the defendant forced his way to the top of Capitol Building’s east steps with Person One and others and led hundreds of other rioters in multiple “USA!” and “1776!” chants with his megaphone. Harkening to the last time Americans overthrew their government in a revolution while standing on the Capitol steps where elected representatives are certifying a Presidential Election you disagree with does not qualify as deescalation.

Shroyer let the due date to reply to this debunking, November 22, pass without filing anything. A status conference that had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, December 14 has been rescheduled for Monday December 20.

As I said in my taxonomy post, the government seems to be very close to being able to demonstrate how that the breach of the second front worked, an effort on which the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Alex Jones seemed to coordinate.

Doing so will be very important in demonstrating how the militia conspiracies worked. But if DOJ finds a way to charge Alex Jones for his role as the Pied Piper of insurrection, the organizer-inciter who provided the bodies needed to fill that second breach, it would bring the January 6 investigation up to an order issued directly by the former President.

The investigation of three InfoWars figures — Montoya, Shroyer, and Jones — who all have legitimate claims to be media figures happens even as DC judges are getting more insistent that DOJ adhere to Merrick Garland’s own media guidelines. In November, for example, Chief Judge Beryl Howell required prosecutors to acknowledge the media guidelines if they sought orders and warrants targeting news media.

Of course, Alexander has no such press protection, and his decision to go mouth off to Congress for seven hours last week may prove as self-destructive as the similar decision by his mentor, Roger Stone, four years ago.

The government seems to have a pretty good case about how the multi-front breach of the Capitol worked. The question is whether First Amendment protections will shield those who made that breach possible from prosecution.

A Taxonomy of the [Visible] January 6 “Crime Scene” Investigation

In preparation for a post about how DOJ might or might not make the move beyond prosecuting pawns who breached the Capitol to those who incited them to come to the Capitol, I want to describe a taxonomy of the January 6 “crime scene” investigation — which I mean to encompass the investigation as it has worked up from the people who actually stormed the Capitol. This is my understanding of how the many already-charged defendants fit together.

DOJ has arrested close to 700 people (probably more than that once you consider cases that haven’t been unsealed). Those defendants generally fit into the following categories, all of which are non-exclusive, meaning lots of people fall into more than one category:

  • Militia conspirators and militia associates
  • Assault defendants
  • Mobilized local networks
  • Other felony defendants
  • Misdemeanants
  • Organizer inciters

In my discussion below, these are all allegations, most of the felony defendants have pled not guilty, and are presumed innocent.

Militia conspirators and militia associates

The most newsworthy prosecutions, thus far, are the militia conspiracies, though not all militia members have been charged as part of a conspiracy.

There are 17 people facing charges in the Oath Keeper conspiracy, plus four cooperators, as well as another cooperator and two more Oath Keepers not charged in the conspiracy.

There are 17 Proud Boys currently charged in various conspiracies, including four, thus far, charged in what I call the Leader conspiracy. I suspect in the near future there will be consolidation of the core Proud Boy cases. In addition, there are a significant number of Proud Boys charged either in group indictments (such as the five men who followed Joe Biggs around that day), or individually, some with assault (such as Christopher Worrell, David Dempsey, and Dan “Milkshake” Scott), and some with just trespassing (such as Lisa Homer or Micajah Jackson).

There is one conspiracy indictment against mostly 3%ers, along with Guy Reffitt, who was individually charged, and a few others whose 3% ties are less well-established in charging papers.

All of which is to say that a small but significant minority of the January 6 defendants have some tie to an organized militia group.

That’s important, because the government is very close to showing that there was a plan — led at the Capitol by the Proud Boys, but seemingly coordinated closely with some members of the Oath Keepers. The plan entailed initiating a breach, surrounding the Capitol, opening up multiple additional fronts (of which the East appears to be the most important), and inciting the “normies” to do some of the worst violence and destruction, making the Capitol uninhabitable during the hours when Congress was supposed to be making Joe Biden President. Until about 4PM — when cops began to secure the Capitol and DOD moved closer to sending in the National Guard — the plan met with enormous success (though I wouldn’t be surprised if the conspirators hoped that a normie might attack a member of Congress, giving Trump cause to invoke harsher measures).

People complain that DOJ has been doing nothing in the 11 months since the riot. But this has been a central focus of DOJ’s effort: understanding how this plan worked, and then assembling enough evidence and cooperating witnesses to be able to lay out several intersecting conspiracies that will show not just that these groups wanted to prevent the certification of the vote (what they’re currently charged with), but pursued a plan to lead a mob attack on the Capitol to ensure that happened.

Proving these interlocking conspiracies would be vital to moving up from the militias, because it shows the premeditation involved in the assault on the Capitol. DOJ hasn’t rolled this out yet, but they seem to be very very close.

Assault defendants

Close to 150 people have been charged with assault (DOJ has a higher number but they’re tracking two different crimes, 18 USC 111, assault, and 18 USC 231, whereas I’m tracking just the former). The assaults charged against these defendants range from pushing a cop once to tasing someone and nearly killing him. Much of this amounted to mob violence, albeit at times the mob violence was pretty finely coordinated.

That said, there are a handful of defendants charged with assaults that were tactically critical to the plan implemented by the Proud Boys (again, these are just allegations and all have pled not guilty and are presumed innocent):

  • After speaking with Proud Boy Joe Biggs, Ryan Samsel kicked off the riot by storming over the first barricade, knocking over a female cop
  • Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave helped open both the East Door and Senate gallery doors
  • Jimmy Haffner allegedly sprayed something at the cops trying to stave off the crowd on the East side
  • George Tenney pushed cops away from the East door and opened it (he is charged with civil disorder, not assault)
  • Active duty Marine Chris Warnagiris kept cops from closing the East door after Tenney had opened it

It’s important to understand whether those defendants who committed tactically critical assaults were operating with knowledge of the larger plan.

For most of the rest of the assault defendants, though, it’s a matter of identifying them, assembling the video and other evidence to prove the case, and finding them to arrest them.

The FBI has posted close to 500 total assault suspect BOLOs (Be On the Lookout posters, basically a request for help identifying someone), which means there may be up to 350 assault suspects still at large.

I expect assault arrests to continue at a steady pace, perhaps even accelerate as the government completes the investigations required with people who either used better operational security or fled.

Mobilized local networks

Something DOJ appears to be investigating are key localized networks through which people were radicalized.

This is most obvious for Southern California. The 3%er indictment is geographically based (and as I’ll argue in a follow-up, is investigatively important for that geographic tie.) In addition, after months of contemplating what seemed like it might be a larger conspiracy indictment, DOJ recently charged Ed Badalian and a guy nicknamed Swedish Scarf, in a conspiracy with one of the people accused of tasering Michael Fanone, Danny Rodriguez.

Recent arrest affidavits, most notably that of Danean MacAndrews, also show that FBI shared identifiers from the various geofence warrants obtained targeting the Capitol on January 6 and shared them with regional intelligence centers to identify local participants in the mob.

There have been recent case developments, too, which suggest DOJ is letting people from Southern Californian plead down in an effort to obtain their testimony (which I’ll explain more in my discussion of misdemeanants).

Some of this localized investigation feeds back into the larger investigation, as evidenced by the two conspiracy indictments coming out of Southern California. But it also shows how these various radicalized networks fit together.

While it is less visible (and perhaps because there’s not always the same terrorist and drug war intelligence infrastructure as LA has, potentially less formalized), I assume similar localized investigations are going on in key organizing hotspots as well, including at least PA and FL, and probably also the Mountain West.

Other felony defendants

There are other defendants charged with a felony for their actions on January 6, most often for obstruction of the vote count (under 18 USC 1512c2) and/or civil disorder. As of November 6, DOJ said 265 people had been charged with obstruction. A number of those obstruction defendants have been permitted to plead down to a trespassing charge, usually the more serious 18 USC 1752.

It’s hard to generalize about this group, in part because some of the mobilizing networks that got these people to the Capitol would not be visible (if at all) until sentencing, particularly given that few of them are being detained.

But the group includes a lot of QAnoners — which, I have argued, actually had more success at getting bodies into place to obstruct the vote count than the militias (which were busy opening multiple fronts). The PodCast Finding Q revealed that the FBI started more actively investigating QAnon as a mobilizing force in the days after the insurrection. So the FBI may well be investigating QAnon from the top down. But it’s not as easy to understand as — for example — investigative steps targeting QAnoners as it is the militia networks, in part because QAnon doesn’t require the same kind of network ties to radicalize people.

These defendants also include people mobilized in other networks — some anti-mask, some military, some more directly tied to institutional right wing organizations, and some who simply responded to the advertising for the event. Understanding how and why these people ended up at the Capitol is a critical step to understanding how the event worked. But it is harder to discern that from the court filings available.

Aside from better known right wing personalities, it’s also harder to identify potentially significant defendants from this group.

In the days ahead, a number of DC judges will be ruling on DOJ’s application of obstruction. Unless all rule for the government (which I find unlikely), it means DOJ will face a scramble of what to do with these defendants, especially those not otherwise charged with a felony like civil disorder. And until judges rule, there will be a significant number of felony defendants who are deferring decisions on plea offers, to see whether the felony charge against them will really survive.

The fact that most of the least serious felony defendants are delaying plea decisions creates an artificial appearance that the vast majority of those charged in January 6 were charged with trespassing. It’s not that there aren’t a huge number of felony defendants; it’s just that they’re not making the news because they’re not pleading guilty, yet.

Misdemeanants

The most common complaint about the January 6 investigation — from both those following from afar and the judges facing an unprecedented flood of trespassing defendants in their already crowded court rooms — the sheer number of trespassing defendants.

It is true that, in the days after the riot, DOJ arrested the people who most obviously mugged for the cameras.

But in the last six months or so, it seems that DOJ has been more selective about which of the 2,000 – 2,500 people who entered the Capitol they choose to arrest, based off investigative necessities. After all, in addition to being defendants, these “MAGA Tourists” are also witnesses to more serious crimes. Now that DOJ has set up a steady flow of plea deals for misdemeanors, people are pleading guilty more quickly. With just a few exceptions, the vast majority of those charged or who have pled down to trespassing charges have agreed to a cooperation component (entailing an FBI interview and sharing social media content) as part of their plea deal. And DOJ seems to be arresting the trespassers who, for whatever reason, may be useful “cooperating” witnesses for the larger investigation. I started collecting some of what misdemeanant’ cooperation will yield, but it includes:

Video or photographic evidence

Hard as it may be to understand, there were parts of the riot that were not, for a variety of reasons, well captured by government surveillance footage. And a significant number of misdemeanor defendants seem to be arrested because they can be seen filming with their phones on what surveillance footage does exist, and are known to have traveled to places where such surveillance footage appears to be unavailable or less useful. The government has or seems to be using evidence from other defendants to understand what happened:

  • Under the scaffolding set up for the inauguration
  • At the scene of Ashli Babbitt’s killing (though this appears to be as much to get audio capturing certain defendants as video)
  • In the offices of the Parliamentarian, Jeff Merkley, and Nancy Pelosi
  • As Kelly Meggs and other Oath Keepers walked down a hallway hunting for Nancy Pelosi
  • Some of what happened in the Senate, perhaps after Leo Bozell and others rendered the CSPAN cameras ineffective

In other words, these misdemeanor arrests are necessary building blocks for more serious cases, because they are in possession of evidence against others.

Witness testimony

TV lawyers seem certain that Trump could be charged with incitement, without considering that to charge that, DOJ would first have to collect evidence that people responded to his words by invading the Capitol or even engaging in violence.

That’s some of what misdemeanor defendants would be available to testify to given their social media claims and statements of offense. For example, trespasser defendants have described:

  • What went on at events on January 5
  • The multiple signs that they were not permitted to enter whatever entrance they did enter, including police lines, broken windows and doors, loud alarms, and tear gas
  • Directions that people in tactical gear were giving
  • Their response to Rudy Giuliani and Mo Brooks’ calls for violence
  • Their response to Trump’s complaint that Mike Pence had let him down
  • The actions they took (including breaching the Capitol) after Alex Jones promised they’d get to hear Trump again if they moved to the East front of the Capitol

Securing the testimony of those purportedly incited by Trump or Rudy or Mo Brooks or Alex Jones is a necessary step in holding them accountable for incitement.

Network information

Some misdemeanor defendants are being arrested because their buddies already were arrested (and sometimes these pleas are “wired,” requiring everyone to plead guilty together). Other misdemeanor defendants are part of an interesting network (including the militias). By arresting them (and often obtaining and exploiting their devices), the government is able to learn more about those with more criminal exposure on January 6.

Misdemeanor plea deals

In its sentencing memo for Jacob Hiles, the guy who otherwise would probably be fighting an obstruction charged if he hadn’t helped prosecute Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley, the government stated that, “no previously sentenced defendant has provided assistance of the degree provided by the defendant in this case.” The comment strongly suggests there are other misdemeanor defendants who have provided such assistance, but they haven’t been sentenced yet.

This category is harder to track, because, unless and until such cooperation-driven misdemeanor pleas are publicly discussed in future sentencing memos, we may never learn of them. But there are people — Baked Alaska is one, but by no means the only one, of them — who suggested he might be able to avoid obstruction charges by cooperating with prosecutors (there’s no sign, yet, that he has cooperated). We should assume that some of the defendants who’ve been deferring charges for months on end, only to end up with a misdemeanor plea, cooperated along the way to get that charge. That is, some of the misdemeanor pleas that everyone is complaining about likely reflect significant, completed cooperation with prosecutors, the kind of cooperation without which this prosecution will never move beyond the crime scene.

Organizer inciters

In this post, I have argued that DOJ is very close to rolling out more details of the plot to seize the Capitol, a plot that was implemented (at the Capitol) by the Proud Boys in coordination with other militia-tied people. I have also argued that one goal of the misdemeanor arrests has been to obtain evidence showing that speeches inciting violence, attacks on Mike Pence, or directing crowds to (in effect) trespass brought about violence, the targeting of Mike Pence, and the breach of the Capitol.

If I’m right about these two observations, it means that the investigation has reached a step where the next logical move would be to charge those who incited violence or directed certain movement. The next logical step would be to hold those who caused the obstruction accountable for the obstruction they cultivated.

This is why I focused on Alex Jones in this post: because there is a great deal of evidence that Alex Jones, the guy whom Trump personally ordered to lead mobs to the Capitol, was part of the plot led by his former employee, Joe Biggs, to breach a second front of the Capitol. If this investigation is going to move further, people like Alex Jones and other people who helped organize and incite the riot, will be the next step.

In fact, DOJ has made moves towards doing this for months — though at the moment, they seem woefully inadequate. For example DOJ charged Brandon Straka, who had a key role in inciting violence both before and at the event, in January; he pled guilty to a misdemeanor in October (his sentencing just got moved from December 17 to December 22). DOJ charged Owen Shroyer, Jones’ sidekick as the Pied Piper of insurrection, but just for trespassing, not for the obvious incitement he and Jones did. The one case where DOJ has already moved to hold someone accountable for his role in inciting violence is Russell Taylor, who was charged in the 3%er conspiracy, but that conspiracy indictment will test DOJ’s ability to hold those who incited violence accountable.

Back in August, when these three developments were clear, I noted that DOJ had only barely begun to unpack what happened on January 5 (to say nothing of events in DC in December), which played a key role in the success of January 6. It has provided scant new detail of having done so (though there are signs they are collecting such information).

The investigation at the crime scene is not the only investigation into January 6 going on. Merrick Garland made it clear DOJ was following the money. The FBI conducted investigative steps targeting QAnon just days after the riot. Daily Beast broke the news of a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting, an investigation that may be assisted by recriminations between her, Mike Flynn, and Patrick Byrne.

But the investigation building off of the crime scene will proceed, or not, based on DOJ’s ability to build cases against the organizer inciters.

Release the Kraken!! Two Degrees of Donald Trump at the East Doors

It was probably happenstance that Jimmy Haffner, who was arrested the other day for assaulting the cops guarding the East door of the Capitol on January 6, met “Sidney FRICKIN’ Powell” while she was on a bus tour spreading the Big Lie. The FBI included a picture of him apparently pictured with Powell (her face is redacted because she has not been arrested) purportedly to add validation for their identification of him.

The rest of his networking, however, seems absolutely central to the evidence the government is collecting to explain how the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and a mob led by Alex Jones all converged on the East steps of the Capitol just before it was breached, with the involvement of a number of Marines.

As the FBI explains, Haffner and his buddy Ron Loehrke — who lived in Washington State on January 6 but both of whom have moved since — were recruited to go to DC by then head of the Proud Boys in the Northwest, Ethan Nordean. On December 27, the complaint explains, Nordean texted Loehrke saying he wanted him “on the front line” with him. In response, Loehrke told Nordean he was bringing three “bad mother fuckers” with him.

Loehrke and Haffner’s phones were in contact 106 times between December 19 and January 7. Sometime on January 5, Nordean’s phone called Loehrke’s.

On the morning of January 6, Loehrke showed up at the Washington Monument, where Telegram chats sent the day before said the Proud Boys were meeting up. He and Haffner marched with Nordean and others towards the Capitol (though Haffner was pretty disciplined in keep his face hidden). Loehrke helped people over the initial barricades and waved people forward. He later encouraged rioters: “Don’t back down, patriots! The whole fucking world is watching. Stand the fuck up today!”

Both Loehrke and Haffner then moved to the East side of the Capitol, where Joe Biggs, the Oath Keepers, and Alex Jones would also go. The two men helped dismantle the barricades that enabled a mob to crowd the stairs in advance of the East doors being opened. “Let’s go! Get in there!” Loehrke exhorted.

The government alleges that Haffner sprayed the officers guarding the East doors with some kind of aerosol, which played a key role, they suggest, in the cops losing control of that entrance. Minutes later, the rioters breached the Capitol.

The arrest affidavit doesn’t say it, but Joe Biggs and the Oath Keepers were in the immediate vicinity as this happened; Alex Jones had been or was just yards away riling up the crowd he had lured there by falsely claiming that Trump would speak there, chanting “1776!” with his blowhorn.

The affidavit explains that Loehrke went to Merkley’s office once he breached the Capitol; it doesn’t say whether he met with Zach Rehl there.

There are lots of other details the FBI doesn’t provide either: the time on January 5 when Nordean called Loehrke, the hotel in downtown DC that Haffner checked into on January 5, the hotel at which Loehrke’s tattooed hand was videoed outside. It doesn’t reveal whether Haffner or Loehrke were at a meeting on January 5 that Nordean and Biggs — but not their alleged Proud Boy co-defendants — attended.

Even without those details, however, the arrest affidavit strongly suggests that guys Nordean personally recruited to attend the January 6 riot not only knew to converge on the East doors at the same time that Biggs, the Oath Keepers, and Jones were also doing so, but played a key role in successfully breaching that door.

Update: Here’s a video of Loehrke’s activities that day (look for his maroon hood) put together by online researchers. They also note he’s a Marine, just like many of the other key figures behind the breach of the East doors.

Where to Look (or Not) for Signs of Life in Rule of Law

According to the court schedule for this week, January 6 defendants Stacie and John Getsinger will plead guilty on Thursday, no doubt to misdemeanor trespassing. On the surface, their guilty plea will likely resemble those of the dozens of other January 6 misdemeanor pleas that have gone before them, and that may be all it is.

But, along with a handful of others (Adam Johnson and Justin McAuliffe, who both pled guilty last week, are two other examples), these pleas may hint at what kind of larger underlying case DOJ is building. That’s because the Getsingers are witnesses to an important detail about the way January 6 worked: that Alex Jones, whom Trump had put in charge of leading mobs to the Capitol, likewise induced them to go to the top of the East steps of the Capitol with a lie, the false claim that Trump would be speaking there. That’s what led a couple like the Getsingers, who otherwise would never have entered the Capitol, to do so.

This comes even as InfoWars personality Owen Shroyer’s attempts to dodge his own legal accountability have brought more focus on Jones’ actions, described as Person One in DOJ’s opposition to Shroyer’s attempt to dismiss his indictment.

When the body-camera individual asked if he could get Person One there, the officer stated, “Through the hole that you guys breached right there” (emphasis added). When the body-camera individual responded that he didn’t breach anything, the officer retorted, “Well, the whole group that was with you guys.” The officer then pointed again away from the Capitol Building toward the northeast, telling them to leave through the same hole he had just said other rioters had breached. An officer surrounded by people illegally on the Capitol Grounds dismissively waving them away from the Capitol Building and toward another area hundreds of others had already illegally breached does not amount to “telling [the defendant] that … police officers could use his help.”

[snip]

[T]he defendant forced his way to the top of Capitol Building’s east steps with Person One and others and led hundreds of other rioters in multiple “USA!” and “1776!” chants with his megaphone. Harkening to the last time Americans overthrew their government in a revolution while standing on the Capitol steps where elected representatives are certifying a Presidential Election you disagree with does not qualify as deescalation.

[snip]

The video shows the defendant on an elevated platform leading chants with his megaphone on the Capitol Grounds before his first interaction with law enforcement officers; it shows the body-camera individual repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) try to get Person One on the Capitol steps; it shows evidence that the defendant reasonably should have known he was somewhere he was not supposed to be, including by stepping near moved barriers and downed signs; and it shows officers repeatedly refer to the defendant’s group as part of the problem and the “breaches” of various police lines. In fact, at the end of the video, the body-camera individual took matters into his own hands after facing multiple rejections for permission. He turned to the group and asked, “Just get him up there? … But we know we might catch a bang or two.” That is not evidence that the defendant received explicit or implicit permission to go onto the Capitol steps. That is evidence that the defendant is guilty of the crimes he is charged with.

Every single time that Merrick Garland has been asked about the scope of the January 6 investigation, he has said his DOJ will follow the evidence where it leads. These details are tidbits of the evidence in question, visible tidbits that would be largely meaningless unless you understood how the Oath Keepers, Joe Biggs, and his former employer all converged on those East doors just before they were opened from inside.

None of these details — and others like them, such as Johnson’s description of the crowd’s response to Rudy Giuliani and Mo Brooks’ calls for violence — guarantee that Rudy and Brooks will be held responsible.

At the rally, JOHNSON listened to several speeches, including by former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and an unknown older member of Congress–the latter of whom JOHNSON heard stating that it was time for action and violence. In response to these comments, JOHNSON saw members of the crowd nodding their heads in agreement.

But if you don’t know these details, you don’t know even what is publicly available about the investigation.

I respect David Rothkopf. I share his concerns about the threat Trump poses to US democracy and the limited time before Republicans likely take control of the House and shut down efforts to guard democracy in the US.

But unlike him I know that the place to learn about DOJ’s January 6 investigation is not by asking Harry Litman or Barb McQuade or AG Gill or Lawrence Tribe or even Dahlia Lithwick — all of whom I respect greatly — how they feel about the general direction of the investigation, but instead to look at the actual records or reading the reports of people actually covering hearings, such as this crucial Josh Gerstein story about how prosecutors responded when Judge Carl Nichols (the former Clarence Thomas clerk who happens to be presiding over Steve Bannon’s case) asked if someone who did what Trump did could be charged with the same obstruction charge DOJ is using with the more serious defendants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t tell you whether DOJ will get much further up the chain of responsibility for January 6; part of that necessarily depends on DOJ’s success at obtaining cooperation, of which only that of Oath Keepers has DOJ thus far disclosed. I can’t tell you what DOJ is doing behind the scenes in what Garland describes as “following the money.”

But I can tell you that columns like Rothkopf’s, which complain that Garland’s DOJ is not doing enough to hold Trump accountable while ignoring cases like the Tom Barrack prosecution and the Rudy Giuliani investigation that provide concrete evidence about the kinds of investigative steps Garland’s DOJ has been willing to pursue (the Rudy raid was likely among Lisa Monaco’s first major decisions), likely don’t make it any more likely that Garland will be able to act against the masterminds of January 6 any sooner.

A far better use of Rothkopf’s time and space than bitching that Garland has authorized John Durham’s funding request, for example …

We have seen that Garland is letting the highly politicized investigation of special prosecutor John Durham into the conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation continue (by continuing its funding). We therefore have the real prospect that those who sought to look into the Trump-Russia ties that both Mueller and Congressional investigations have demonstrated were real, unprecedented and dangerous might be prosecuted while those who actively sought the help of a foreign enemy to win an election will not be.

… Would be to ask Harry Litman and Barb McQuade and AG Gill and Lawrence Tribe and Dahlia Lithwick about the specific things that Durham has done — like failing to cut-and-paste with fidelity, relying on a Twitter feed for a key factual assertion, and using materiality arguments to skirt DOJ’s prohibition on publicly commenting on uncharged conduct — that put his prosecutions in violation of DOJ guidelines. Such questions would be readily accessible to all by reading just two indictments (as compared to the full dockets of 675 charged January 6 defendants), it would draw on the considerable expertise of the prosecutors he cited, and it might do something concrete to give Garland the political support he would need to force Durham to hew to DOJ guidelines.

Importantly, it may not be possible for DOJ to move quickly enough against Trump without violating due process (just as one example, the Project Veritas investigation could lead to incredibly damaging revelations about political spying targeting the Biden family, but it’s not entirely clear DOJ respected First Amendment protections).

Which means those with a platform would be better off defending the rule of law — selling independents and moderate Republicans on the import of the January 6 investigation — than whining that it is not working quickly enough.

Update: In his piece, Rothkopf complains, as well, that the only visible investigation into the people around Trump is coming from the January 6 Commission, not DOJ.

More troubling to me though is that the only reason we are hearing of any case being brought against Bannon as a senior coup plotter (or upper middle management in any case) is because Congress is investigating the events of Jan. 6. We have not heard a peep out of the Department of Justice about prosecuting those responsible for inciting, planning or funding the effort to undo the lawful transfer of presidential power to the man the American people elected, Joe Biden.

This morning, Adam Schiff went on CNN. Dana Bash asked him about Judge Amit Mehta’s focus on Donald Trump’s role in the insurrection in a sentencing last week. In response, Schiff described that, “I am concerned that there does not appear to be an investigation, unless it’s being done very quietly” into Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger to demand he come up with just enough votes for Trump to win the state. But Schiff noted that, “this is not January 6 related — specifically, at least, to the violence of that day.”

Then Bash asked whether Schiff was saying he wanted Biden’s DOJ to be more aggressive. Schiff did not answer “yes.” Instead, he responded to a question about DOJ by talking about the January 6 Commission’s role in holding people accountable.

We are now trying to expose the full facts of the former President’s misconduct, as well as those around him. It is certainly possible that what we reveal in our investigation will inform the Justice Department of other facts that they may not yet be aware of yet. And so we will pursue our role in this, which is to expose the malefactors, to bring about legislation as a result of our investigation, to protect the country. But we will count on the Justice Department to play its role.

That is, when Bash asked specifically if DOJ was being aggressive enough on January 6, Schiff implied that the January 6 Commission played a key role in their efforts.

This is something that has not gotten enough attention: Even if DOJ didn’t ask, the Jan 6 Commission would refer people for any crimes they discovered, as SSCI and HPSCI both referred people to Mueller for lying, lies that led to the prosecution and cooperation of (at least) Michael Cohen and Sam Patten. Schiff knows better than anyone that HPSCI’s investigation was critical to the prosecution of Roger Stone. I also suspect that Steve Bannon’s transcripts were important preparation for Bannon’s grand jury appearance in January 2019, because they laid out the script that the White House had given to him for his testimony. I further suspect that SSCI obtained — and then shared — testimony from certain witnesses that Mueller could not otherwise get.

Trump’s pseudo-cooperation with the Mueller investigation, waiving privilege for the investigation but not any prosecution, likely was one hinderance to holding him accountable. And on this investigation, DOJ would be even more constrained, because it could face Executive Privilege claims and definitely would face Speech and Debate protections.

There has been almost no discussion of how closely Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney are working with DOJ to ensure that the Jan 6 Commission doesn’t impede DOJ’s Jan 6 investigation, but it must be happening.

Similarly, there has been no discussion of obvious witnesses that the Jan 6 Commission has not (yet) subpoenaed, such as Lin Wood or Rudy Giuliani, the latter of whom DOJ seized phones from in another investigation in April.

Finally, there has been little discussion of how DOJ moved to have Executive Privilege waived for Congress just as the Jan 6 Commission got up and running.

DOJ only released its new contact policy — under which the request for a privilege determination may have been passed — on July 21. I’m curious whether the request for a  waiver of executive privilege waiver came after that. Executive privilege considerations were a key limitation on the Mueller investigation overseen in its final days partly by Rosen himself.

At least as interesting, however, is that DOJ sent the letter just one day before DOJ submitted a court filing in the Eric Swalwell lawsuit — speaking of members of Congress but using more generalized language — arguing that no federal officials can campaign in their official capacity and further noting that attacking one’s employer is not within the scope of someone’s job description.

DOJ is using that same waived privilege for the documents responsive to the Jan 6 Commission requests at the National Archive.

That is, DOJ is supporting the efforts of a co-equal branch of government to obtain testimony and records that that co-equal branch of government has a broader claim to than DOJ itself.

And Schiff, who understands better than anyone how HPSCI and DOJ worked together on the Stone prosecution, described, after first answering a question that he distinguished from January 6, then addressing January 6 directly by saying that “our role in this[] is to expose the malefactors,” and “we will count on the Justice Department to play its role” if and when the Commission “inform[s] the Justice Department of other facts that they may not yet be aware of yet.”

Yes, the January 6 Commission has a very short window in which to work. Yes, Congress is taking steps that DOJ does not appear to be taking. But that doesn’t mean that DOJ is not obtaining that evidence.