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Networks of Insurrection: “Trump is literally calling people to DC in a show of force”

This will be another of those posts where I catalog a few of the developments in the January 6 investigation that show how — Jocelyn Ballantine’s involvement notwithstanding — the many parts of the investigation are crystalizing around associations between rioters.

Michael Rusyn witnesses the initial East door break

First, in my continuing focus on the statements that DOJ obtains from those pleading guilty to trespassing charges, I’d like to look at the statement of offense from Michael Rusyn, who pled guilty Monday.

Rusyn was first IDed to FBI the day after the riot, interviewed by the FBI on February 17, and then arrested back in April, probably because he showed up in two key locations, obviously recording what happened on his phone. But after they arrested him and started pulling surveillance footage and exploiting his cell phone, they realized he was always accompanied by the same woman, about whom they had gotten a separate tip on January 7.

At least per Deborah Lee’s arrest affidavit, that’s how the FBI determined that Rusyn was the “Michael Joseph” she had tagged in her own Facebook posts from the riot, and that — as described in his statement of offense — he had lied when he told the FBI he didn’t know anyone on the bus he took to the riot.

On February 17, 2021, the defendant was interviewed by a Task Force Officer and an FBI Special Agent. During that interview, the defendant said the he traveled to Washington, D.C. by boarding a bus in Jessup, Pennsylvania at approximately 5:00 a.m., and that he did not personally know anyone on the bus. This was untrue: the defendant and Deborah Lynn Lee rode to Washington, D.C. together on the same bus. And, indeed, the defendant’s phone contained numerous photographs and video fo Lee outside the Capitol building, which it appeared had been recorded by the defendant, as well as numerous text messages between the defendant and Lee.

The rest of his statement of offense liberally implicates Lee in his actions, including by noting that she entered via the East doors first, and then reached out her hand and pulled him into the building (which also contradicts his initial claims).

At approximately 2:27 p.m., Deborah Lynn Lee entered the Capitol building through the breached door. She turned back across the threshold and extended her hand to the defendant, who took her hand and pulled himself through the crowd, across the threshold and into the Capitol. The two were among the first thirty to forty people to enter the Capitol after the breach of this door.

DOJ could have wired Rusyn’s plea, requiring that he wait until Lee pled guilty before they’d let him plea. Instead, though, they’ve acquired evidence against someone who made false claims about Antifa in the days after the riot.

Lee is also one of the John Pierce clients who has decided to stick with him — and so, presumably, with her false claims — after his bout with COVID.

In addition to making it much harder for his friend to sustain her lies about Antifa, though, Rusyn also provided witness testimony describing how the East doors got broken.

By approximately 2:10 p.m., the defendant stood on the East Side of the Capitol building, near the eastern, double doors at the top of the Capitol steps, leading to the rotunda. He was in a crowd of people, close enough to the crowd to see the front of the doors. A video that the defendant uploaded to Facebook at 2:10 p.m, and a photo that the defendant uploaded to Facebook at 2:16 p.m.,, capture these doors, including the windowpanes that would–shortly thereafter–be smashed in by members of the crowd.

Beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m., and continuing through at least approximately 2:24 p.m., members of the crowd began smashing several of the windowpanes of these doors. At approximately 2:25 p.m., another rioter opened one of the double doors from the inside; thereafter, that person and several other rioters opened this door widely enough to allow members of the crowd to breach the door and enter the Capitol.

This is straight witness testimony and validation of Rusyn’s own video, but it also debunks claims that a bunch of other rioters have tried to make in their own defense.

Rusyn’s statement of offense includes similar language describing the mob that tried to push their way into the House shortly thereafter.

Rusyn was allowed to plead to the less serious of the two trespassing charges. But his testimony and validated video will be quite useful for prosecutors to go after more serious defendants, including the details of how rioters opened a second front at the East doors.

Gary Wilson makes Brady Knowlton’s obstruction more obvious

In a similar case where DOJ arrested someone’s co-rioter months later, the government arrested a guy from Salt Lake City named Gary Wilson. Wilson is the guy who showed up in the photos used to arrest Brady Knowlton on April 7, who himself was arrested long after his buddy Patrick Montgomery was arrested on January 17.

The FBI used Wilson’s arrest warrant as an opportunity to fill in the details behind the earlier indictment of Montgomery and Knowlton, which added an assault charge against Montgomery and obstruction charges against both.

For example, it shows an exchange captured in Daniel Hodges’ Body Worn Camera just before Montgomery allegedly assaulted Hodges, as described in Wilson’s arrest affidavit.

At around 2:00 p.m. co-defendant Brady Knowlton confronted MPD officers who were making their way through the crowd and yelled at them saying, “You took an oath! You took an oath!” and “Are you our brothers?” Co-defendant Patrick Montgomery came up from behind Knowlton and said something to the officers, but it was hard to tell what he said. Officer Hodges then moved forward a few steps through the crowd. Wilson can be seen on Hodges’ video standing in the crowd (see screenshot above)—not far from where Montgomery and Knowlton were standing. In fact, Officer Hodges and Wilson collided as Officer Hodges tried to make his way through the crowd.

At approximately 2:02 p.m., Montgomery assaulted MPD Officer Hodges. An FBI special agent interviewed Officer Hodges on February 24, 2021. Officer Hodges told the FBI agent that at about 2:00 p.m. on January 6, 2021, he was making his way toward the west side of the Capitol to assist other officers. He was part of a platoon of about 35-40 officers. Officer Hodges said that right before 2:02 p.m., a very agitated crowd cut-off the platoon’s progress and split the group of 35-40 officers into smaller groups. Officer Hodges and a small group of officers ended up encircled by the crowd and the crowd was yelling at them “remember your oaths.”

Officer Hodges said that he was at the front of the group and attempted to make a hole through the crowd for himself and the other officers to continue their movement toward the Capitol. He yelled “make way” to the crowd. While trying to get through the crowd, he looked back to see other officers being assaulted by members of the crowd, which was yelling “push” while making contact with the officers. Hodges immediately turned back and started pulling assaulting members of the crowd off the other officers by grabbing their jackets or backpacks. After pulling a few people away from the officers, a man—later identified as Patrick Montgomery—came at Officer Hodges from his side and grabbed Officers Hodges’ baton and tried to pull it away from him. Officer Hodges immediately started to fight back and the two of them went to the ground, at which time Montgomery kicked Officer Hodges in the chest.

As Officer Hodges went down to the ground, his medical mask covered his eyes, which temporarily blinded him. He was laying on the ground, could not see, and was fighting to retain his weapon while surrounded by a violent and angry crowd. In that moment, he was afraid because he was in a defenseless position because of the assault. He was able to break Montgomery’s grip on the baton and get free.

The Wilson affidavit then shows how the three of them then entered the Capitol through the Upper West Terrace door, went to the Rotunda, witnessed Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin allegedly assaulting officers outside the Senate, then entered the Senate Gallery, all movements described in earlier filings but now documented with pictures.

From there, the threesome entered another hallway and had another confrontation with some MPD officers. Here again, the Wilson affidavit provides more detail (and a picture) of a confrontation explained in sketchy form in earlier filings.

Knowlton: “All you gotta do is step aside. You’re not getting in trouble. Stand down. For the love of your country.”

Unidentified rioter: “What happens if we push? Do you back up? We’re not gonna push hard.”

Knowlton: “This is happening. Our vote doesn’t matter, so we came here for change.”

Unidentified rioter: “We want our country back. You guys should be out arresting the Vice President right now.”

Wilson: “We came all the way from our jobs to do your job and the freaking senators’ job.”

The three men had one more confrontation with officers before they left the building around 2:54.

All this is important because, even aside from the possibility that these additional conflicts expose Montgomery and Knowlton to additional civil disorder or resisting charges, it all makes Knowlton’s obstruction much easier to show.

And that’s important because, as of right now, Knowlton is mounting the most mature (and best funded) challenge to the way DOJ has used obstruction charges against January 6 defendants. In a hearing overseeing that challenge, Judge Randolph Moss expressed concern (as Judge Amit Mehta similarly did in an Oath Keeper challenge of the application) of limiting principles, what distinguishes the actions of those charged with obstruction for January 6 from protestors complaining about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This arrest affidavit doesn’t change the legal issues, but it does make it a lot easier to see that Brady Knowlton was no mere protestor.

There’s probably more that will come with this arrest — at the very least an opportunity to supersede Montgomery and Knowlton to add Wilson.

But we also may learn whether there’s a tie between these three guys (there’s a fourth who posed with Montgomery and Knowlton outside the Capitol, but he’s not known to have entered the Capitol) and two other Utahns who entered the Senate Gallery at almost the exact same time as these three, Janet Buhler (pictured just behind Knowlton and Wilson) and her step-son Michael Hardin.

After all, we’re still waiting to learn the identities of the Utahns that John Sullivan’s brother, James, discussed with Rudy Giuliani shortly after the riot. These four people (just four are Utahns — Montgomery lives in Colorado) are among just eight Utahns charged to date, and they all made it to the Senate Gallery at roughly the same time.

“It’s the only time hes ever specifically asked for people to show up”

The last recent arrest involving networks of people who rioted together charged Marshall Neefe and Brad Smith with conspiracy to obstruct the vote, assault, civil disorder, and the trespassing while armed that can carry a stiff sentence. Their charges under 18 USC 1512(k) marks at least the third time January 6 defendants were charged with conspiracy under that clause (as opposed to 18 USC 371, like most militias), with the two others being Eric “Zip Tie Guy” Munchel and his mom, and the SoCal 3%er conspiracy.

If DOJ’s application of obstruction to the vote count survives judicial review, charging a conspiracy under 1512(k) offers several things that 371 doesn’t offer: notably, very steep sentencing enhancements for threats of violence.

And these men did threaten violence. As early as December 22, Neefe talked of “wanna crack some commie skulls.” That day, too, Smith described getting axe handles to which he’d nail an American flag “so we can wave the flag but also have a giant beating stick just in case.” Like most of the 3%ers, Smith didn’t enter the Capitol, and for the same reason: because he believed entering the Capitol while armed would risk arrest. “I was the people crawling up the side of the building. I wasn’t going to jail with my KA BAR,” which he had described as his “Military killin knife” when he got it in December.

It’s tempting to think this conspiracy, like that of Munchel and his mom, is mostly tactical, a way to implicate both in the acts of one.

But there are references to efforts to “encourage[] others to join him and NEED to travel to Washington,” so it’s possible we’ll see later arrests similar to those of people networked with the 3%ers (for example, the Telegram Chat that Russell Taylor started is mentioned in the arrest affidavits for Ben Martin and Jeffrey Brown).

More interesting still is that this conspiracy might work like the (still-uncharged) one promised against Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin, two random guys who took action in direct response to Trump’s directions.

Charging this as a conspiracy focuses on the lead-up to the riot. It shows how these men started planning for war on November 4, “Why shouldnt [sic] we be the ones to kick it off?” It describes how they responded to Trump’s calls for attendance.

The call to action was put out to be in DC on January 6th from the Don himself. The reason is that’s the day pence counts them up and if the entire city is full of trump supporters it will stop the for sure riots from burning down the city at least for a while.

It emphasizes the import these men ascribed to Trump’s calls for attendance.

SMITH wrote another Facebook user on December 22, 2020, “Hey man if you wanna go down to DC on the 6th Trump is asking everyone to go. That’s the day Pence counts up the votes and they need supporters to fill the streets so when they refuse to back down the city doesnt [sic] burn right away. It’s the only time hes [sic] ever specifically asked for people to show up. He didn’t say that’s why but it’s obviously why.”

It shows how, in advance of the riot, both men came to understand that they might join militias in storming the Capitol.

On December 31, 2020, SMITH continued to message other Facebook users, encouraging them to go to Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. For example, he told one user, “Take off the 6th man! It’s the Big one!!! Trump is literally calling people to DC in a show of force. Militias will be there and if there’s enough people they may fucking storm the buildings and take out the trash right there.”

That same day — the same day Smith got his military knife — Smith talked with Neefe about how easy storming the Capitol would be.

“I cant wait for DC! Apparently it’s going to be WAY bigger lol. If it’s big enough we should all just storm the buildings. . . . Seriously. I was talking to my Dad about how easy that would be with enough people.”

By January 5, that turned into Smith’s call to “Sacrifice the Senate!!!!”

All that’s important background to Smith narrating their arrival by describing their actions as, “literally storming the Capitol.” Shortly thereafter, Neefe was involved in using a Trump sign as a battering ram against MPD officers. This may be the assault currently charged against Jose Padilla and others.

Even in retrospect, these conspirators spoke in terms that tie Trump’s actions to their own violence and threats of violence, bragging about responding to Pence’s refusal to fulfill Trump’s illegal demands by literally chasing members of Congress out of their chambers.

From January 6-7, SMITH posted, “Got Gassed so many times, shit is spicy but the Adrenaline high and wanting to ‘Get’ Pelosi and those fucks, it was bearable.” He also admitted, “Oh yeah. The time will come for some of them. But today’s mission was successful! Remember how they said today was the final day & that Biden would be certified? Well we literally chased them out into hiding. No certification lol [. . .]. Pence cucked like we knew he would but it was an Unbelievable show of force and it did its job.”

As far as we can tell, Marshall Neefe and Brad Smith are just bit players in this story, two guys who went to the Capitol and joined in the violence.

But that’s what makes them so useful, for showing how two bit players, believing they were taking orders directly from the President, armed themselves and helped implement a deliberate attempt to “literally chase[]” Congress away from the task of certifying the vote.

“This is not reverse RICO!” Shane Jenkins Gives Away John Pierce’s Game

John Pierce, the trial attorney who is attempting to represent up to 18 January 6 defendants while lying in a COVID ward, seems to have found three kinds of clients for himself (I’ve included a roster below). There are a bunch of Proud Boys and other militia members who might serve as a kind of firewall for Joe Biggs and Enrique Tarrio. There are a handful of people charged with trespassing who have said outlandish things in the past about January 6. And there are three defendants with criminal records accused of assaulting cops. Two of those three, Peter Schwartz and Shane Jenkins, (the other is James McGrew) had hearings today to figure out what to do with their defense attorney who already had too much on his plate before getting COVID.

The hearings didn’t provide much more clarity into what has happened with Pierce. The same unbarred, indicted associate, Ryan Marshall, whom Judge Amit Mehta ordered last week to find a member of the DC bar to show up today appeared, alone in the first hearing and with a Bankruptcy lawyer who is not a member of the DC bar for the second. Marshall revealed they were trying to get an outside attorney to sign a contract to help represent all these defendants. That attorney is not the bankruptcy lawyer though, who just offered to fill in when she heard about the troubles in the news. Mehta asked Marshall about Pierce’s partner, Bainbridge (with whom Marshall purportedly works), but Marshall said he had never met him.

Marshall did admit Pierce is very sick and had spent most of yesterday sleeping. He said Pierce expects to get out in a week, but that was based on Pierce’s own representation, not anything someone with medical expertise said. Marshall said Pierce is not (now?) on a ventilator.

But when it came time to ask what Schwartz wanted to do about this, he revealed Marshall hadn’t spoken to him all week. He claimed this was the first he heard about it. He reeled off a bunch of complaints — a spider bite, old contacts, poor medical care — but in spite of a long, long criminal record, didn’t seem to understand that’s what lawyers are for, to help air those complaints. Nor did he understand that he doesn’t have the uncontested ability to refuse to waive Speedy Trial, particularly not when the bozo lawyer he has chosen to represent him goes AWOL.

Things were a bit different with Shane Jenkins, for whom “Pierce” filed a notice of appearance from the hospital (Marshall explained a paralegal had done it on Pierce’s instructions). Plus, Marshall had at least spoken to Jenkins to reassure him it’s a good idea to hire Pierce even though he’s hospitalized.

After Judge Mehta decided it was prudent to leave Maria Jacobs, the public defender currently representing Jenkins, on the job until someone actually qualified to practice law in DC showed up, Jenkins had his say.

Like Schwartz, he insisted he won’t waive Speedy Trial (as with Schwartz, Mehta waived it for a few weeks). Like Schwartz, he complained about the discovery he had gotten.

But — particularly given Pierce’s earlier claims about wanting to do a Public Authority defense — the specific claims Jenkins made about discovery were genuinely enlightening (these are my live-tweets).

Several questions about discovery. I received cracked disc that no longer works. Edited videos that exclude very important information. If these were used before GJ, that’s deception.

Jenkins claims there was a murder being covered up by DOJ, or suppressed by DOJ. “I’d love to proceed to trial, the facts prove the truth, I look forward to DOJ laying facts on table, full discovery, not interested in waiving BRady. This is not reverse RICO.”

Jenkins apparently claims to believe that the videos of his alleged assaults were edited to hide a murder, apparently committed by the police, on the West Terrace of Capitol. He appears to be claiming that he was retaliating for that murder.

With Ryan Samsel (who wisely fired Pierce in late July), Samsel seemed to have made coached claims about who assaulted him in jail, something that has not yet been publicly confirmed, though the public and totally believable story blames the guards. It’s not surprising, though, that someone who is a trial attorney and not a defense attorney, would encourage his clients to make public claims accusing the government.

But what Jenkins did was interesting precisely because Pierce claimed, when he announced he was going to mount a Public Authority defense, that he needed all the video.

He’s going to get all the video. Every January 6 defendant will get it.

And none of it will show that cops committed a murder on the West Terrace.

But Jenkins at least suggested that he plans to defend himself against assaults clearly shown on video by claiming that the real videos show cops killing peaceful Trump supporters.


Even as that has been going on, however, Pierce has been convincing one after another January 6 defendant to let him represent them. The following list is organized by the date — in bold — when Pierce first filed an appearance for that defendant (I’ll probably update this list as Pierce adds more defendants):

1. Christopher Worrell: Christopher Worrell is a Proud Boy from Florida arrested on March 12. Worrell traveled to DC for the December MAGA protest, where he engaged in confrontational behavior targeting a journalist. He and his girlfriend traveled to DC for January 6 in vans full of Proud Boys paid for by someone else. He was filmed spraying pepper spray at cops during a key confrontation before the police line broke down and the initial assault surged past. Worrell was originally charged for obstruction and trespassing, but later indicted for assault and civil disorder and trespassing (dropping the obstruction charge). He was deemed a danger, in part, because of a 2009 arrest for impersonating a cop involving “intimidating conduct towards a total stranger in service of taking the law into his own hands.” Pierce first attempted to file a notice of appearance on March 18. Robert Jenkins (along with John Kelly, from Pierce’s firm) is co-counsel on the case. Since Pierce joined the team, he has indulged Worrell’s claims that he should not be punished for assaulting a cop, but neither that indulgence nor a focus on Worrell’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma nor an appeal succeeded at winning his client release from pre-trial detention. While he has been hospitalized with COVID, Pierce submitted some filings attempting to get Worrell out of jail because he’s not getting medical care; the most recent filing not only thrice misstated what jail Worrell is in, but also admitted he has refused treatment at least five times.

2. William Pepe: William Pepe is a Proud Boy charged in a conspiracy with Dominic Pezzola and Matthew Greene for breaching the initial lines of defense and, ultimately, the first broken window of the Capitol. Pepe was originally arrested on January 11, though is out on bail. Pierce joined Robert Jenkins on William Pepe’s defense team on March 25. By April, Pierce was planning on filing some non-frivolous motions (to sever his case from Pezzola, to move it out of DC, and to dismiss the obstruction count), but not much has happened since.

3. Paul Rae: Rae is another of Pierce’s Proud Boy defendants and his initial complaint suggested Rae could have been (and could still be) added to the conspiracy indictments against the Proud Boys already charged. He was indicted along with Arthur Jackman for obstruction and trespassing; both tailed Joe Biggs on January 6, entering the building from the East side after the initial breach. Pierce filed to join Robert Jenkins in defending Rae on March 30.

4. Stephanie Baez: On June 9, Pierce filed his appearance for Stephanie Baez. Pierce’s interest in Baez’ case makes a lot of sense. Baez, who was arrested on trespassing charges on June 4, seems to have treated the January 6 insurrection as an opportunity to shop for her own Proud Boy boyfriend. Plus, she’s attractive, unrepentant, and willing to claim there was no violence on January 6. Baez was formally charged with trespassing on August 4.

Victoria White: If I were prosecutors, I’d be taking a closer look at White to try to figure out why John Pierce decided to represent her (if it’s not already clear to them; given the timing, it may simply be because he believed he needed a few women defendants to tell the story he wants to tell). White was detained briefly on January 6 then released, and then arrested on April 8 on civil disorder and trespassing charges. At one point on January 6, she was filmed trying to dissuade other rioters from breaking windows, but then she was filmed close to and then in the Tunnel cheering on some of the worst assault. Pierce filed his notice of appearance in White’s case on June 10. On September 3, White told Judge Faruqui she didn’t want Pierce to represent her anymore.

Ryan Samsel: After consulting with Joe Biggs, Ryan Samsel kicked off the riot by approaching the first barriers and — with several other defendants — knocking over a female cop, giving her a concussion. He was arrested on January 30 and is still being held on his original complaint charging him with assault and civil disorder. He’s obviously a key piece to the investigation and for some time it appeared the government might have been trying to persuade him that the way to minimize his significant exposure (he has an extensive criminal record) would be to cooperate against people like Biggs. But then he was brutally assaulted in jail. Detainees have claimed a guard did it, and given that Samsel injured a cop, that wouldn’t be unheard of. But Samsel seemed to say in a recent hearing that the FBI had concluded it was another detainee. In any case, the assault set off a feeding frenzy among trial attorneys seeking to get a piece of what they imagine will be a huge lawsuit against BOP (as it should be if a guard really did assault him). Samsel is now focused on getting medical care for eye and arm injuries arising from the assault. And if a guard did do this, then it would be a key part of any story Pierce wanted to tell. After that feeding frenzy passed, Pierce filed an appearance on June 14, with Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui releasing his prior counsel on June 25. Samsel is a perfect defendant for Pierce, though (like Rittenhouse), the man badly needs a serious defense attorney. Update: On July 27, Samsel informed Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui that he would be retaining new counsel.

5. James McGrew: McGrew was arrested on May 28 for assault, civil disorder, obstruction, and trespassing, largely for some fighting with cops inside the Rotunda. His arrest documents show no ties to militias, though his arrest affidavit did reference a 2012 booking photo. Pierce filed his appearance to represent McGrew on June 16.

Alan Hostetter: John Pierce filed as Hostetter’s attorney on June 24, not long after Hostetter was indicted with five other Three Percenters in a conspiracy indictment paralleling those charging the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Hostetter was also active in Southern California’s anti-mask activist community, a key network of January 6 participants. Hostetter and his defendants spoke more explicitly about bringing arms to the riot, and his co-defendant Russell Taylor spoke at the January 5 rally. On August 3, Hostetter replaced Pierce.

6, 7, 8. On June 30, Pierce filed to represent David Lesperance, and James and Casey Cusick. As I laid out here, the FBI arrested the Cusicks, a father and son that run a church, largely via information obtained from Lesperance, their parishioner. They are separately charged (Lesperance, James Cusick, Casey Cusick), all with just trespassing. The night before the riot, father and son posed in front of the Trump Hotel with a fourth person besides Lesperance (though Lesperance likely took the photo).

9. Kenneth Harrelson: On July 1, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Harrelson, who was first arrested on March 10. Leading up to January 6, Harrelson played a key role in Oath Keepers’ organizing in Florida, particularly meetings organized on GoToMeeting. On the day of the riot, Kelly Meggs had put him in charge of coordinating with state teams. Harrelson was on the East steps of the Capitol with Jason Dolan during the riot, as if waiting for the door to open and The Stack to arrive; with whom he entered the Capitol. With Meggs, Harrelson moved first towards the Senate, then towards Nancy Pelosi’s office. When the FBI searched his house upon his arrest, they found an AR-15 and a handgun, as well as a go-bag with a semi-automatic handgun and survivalist books, including Ted Kaczynski’s writings. Harrelson attempted to delete a slew of his Signal texts, including a video he sent Meggs showing the breach of the East door. Pierce attempted to get Harrelson out on bail by joining in the bail motion of one of his co-defendants, which may either show how little he knows about defense work or how little he cares.

10. Leo Brent Bozell IV: It was, perhaps, predictable that Pierce would add Bozell to his stable of defendants. “Zeeker” Bozell is the scion of a right wing movement family including his father who has made a killing by attacking the so-called liberal media, and his grandfather, who was a speech writer for Joseph McCarthy. Because Bozell was released on personal recognizance there are details of his actions on January 6 that remain unexplained. But he made it to the Senate chamber, and while there, made efforts to prevent CSPAN cameras from continuing to record the proceedings. He was originally arrested on obstruction and trespassing charges on February 12; his indictment added an abetting the destruction of government property charge, the likes of which have been used to threaten a terrorism enhancement against militia members. Pierce joined Bozell’s defense team (thus far it seems David B. Deitch will remain on the team) on July 6.

11. Nate DeGrave: The night before DeGrave’s quasi co-conspirator Josiah Colt pled guilty, July 13, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nate DeGrave. DeGrave helped ensure both the East Door and the Senate door remained open.

12. Nathaniel Tuck: On July 19, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nathaniel Tuck, the Florida former cop Proud Boy.

13. Kevin Tuck: On July 20, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Kevin Tuck, Nathaniel’s father and still an active duty cop when he was charged.

14. Peter Schwartz: On July 26, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Peter Schwartz, the felon out on COVID-release who maced some cops.

15. Jeramiah Caplinger: On July 26, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Jeramiah Caplinger, who drove from Michigan and carried a flag on a tree branch through the Capitol.

Deborah Lee: On August 23, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Deborah Lee, who was arrested on trespass charges months after her friend Michael Rusyn. On September 2, Lee chose to be represented by public defender Cara Halverson.

16. Shane Jenkins: On August 25, Pierce colleague Ryan Marshall showed up at a status hearing for Jenkins and claimed a notice of appearance for Pierce had been filed the night before. In that same hearing, he revealed that Pierce was in a hospital with COVID, even claiming he was on a ventilator and not responsive. The notice of appearance was filed, using Pierce’s electronic signature, on August 30, just as DOJ started sending out notices that all Pierce cases were on hold awaiting signs of life. Jenkins is a felon accused of bringing a tomahawk to the Capitol and participating in the Lower West Tunnel assaults on cops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

The December 17 cooperation update in the Oath Keepers investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update, September 18: The two sides have submitted a status report in the Caleb Berry case, and there, too, they’re asking for a December 17 report date.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stolen license plates…

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

False identification…

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

Burner phones…

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

[snip]

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

Cryptocurrency…

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

And (a poorly implemented) VPN…

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

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

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

John Pierce Tries to Hire His 18th January 6 Defendant while on a Ventilator with COVID-19

I’ve written about John Pierce’s efforts to collect a cast of January 6 defendants to represent — many, those who could incriminate Joe Biggs, especially Proud Boys. That means he represents a ton of Floridians, though he lives in California. As of this morning, he represented 17 defendants (after having been fired by two other key January 6 participants, Ryan Samsel and Alan Hostetter, already).

Christopher Worrell: Christopher Worrell is a Proud Boy from Florida arrested on March 12. Worrell traveled to DC for the December MAGA protest, where he engaged in confrontational behavior targeting a journalist. He and his girlfriend traveled to DC for January 6 in vans full of Proud Boys paid for by someone else. He was filmed spraying pepper spray at cops during a key confrontation before the police line broke down and the initial assault surged past. Worrell was originally charged for obstruction and trespassing, but later indicted for assault and civil disorder and trespassing (dropping the obstruction charge). He was deemed a danger, in part, because of a 2009 arrest for impersonating a cop involving “intimidating conduct towards a total stranger in service of taking the law into his own hands.” Pierce first attempted to file a notice of appearance on March 18. Robert Jenkins (along with John Kelly, from Pierce’s firm) is co-counsel on the case. Since Pierce joined the team, he has indulged Worrell’s claims that he should not be punished for assaulting a cop, but neither that indulgence nor a focus on Worrell’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma nor an appeal succeeded at winning his client release from pre-trial detention. On September 24, Alex Stavrou replaced Pierce as Worrell’s attorney.

1. William Pepe: William Pepe is a Proud Boy charged in a conspiracy with Dominic Pezzola and Matthew Greene for breaching the initial lines of defense and, ultimately, the first broken window of the Capitol. Pepe was originally arrested on January 11, though is out on bail. Pierce joined Robert Jenkins on William Pepe’s defense team on March 25. By April, Pierce was planning on filing some non-frivolous motions (to sever his case from Pezzola, to move it out of DC, and to dismiss the obstruction count).

2. Paul Rae: Rae is another of Pierce’s Proud Boy defendants and his initial complaint suggested Rae could have been (and could still be) added to the conspiracy indictments against the Proud Boys already charged. He was indicted along with Arthur Jackman for obstruction and trespassing; both tailed Joe Biggs on January 6, entering the building from the East side after the initial breach. Pierce filed to join Robert Jenkins in defending Rae on March 30.

3. Stephanie Baez: On June 9, Pierce filed his appearance for Stephanie Baez. Pierce’s interest in Baez’ case makes a lot of sense. Baez, who was arrested on trespassing charges on June 4, seems to have treated the January 6 insurrection as an opportunity to shop for her own Proud Boy boyfriend. Plus, she’s attractive, unrepentant, and willing to claim there was no violence on January 6. Baez has not yet been formally charged (though that should happen any day).

Victoria White: If I were prosecutors, I’d be taking a closer look at White to try to figure out why John Pierce decided to represent her (if it’s not already clear to them; given the timing, it may simply be because he believed he needed a few women defendants to tell the story he wants to tell). White was detained briefly on January 6 then released, and then arrested on April 8 on civil disorder and trespassing charges. At one point on January 6, she was filmed trying to dissuade other rioters from breaking windows, but then she was filmed close to and then in the Tunnel cheering on some of the worst assault. Pierce filed his notice of appearance in White’s case on June 10. On September 7, White got a PD to temporarily replace Pierce until she found someone else she liked.

4. James McGrew: McGrew was arrested on May 28 for assault, civil disorder, obstruction, and trespassing, largely for some fighting with cops inside the Rotunda. His arrest documents show no ties to militias, though his arrest affidavit did reference a 2012 booking photo. Pierce filed his appearance to represent McGrew on June 16.

5, 6, 7. On June 30, Pierce filed to represent David Lesperance, and James and Casey Cusick. As I laid out here, the FBI arrested the Cusicks, a father and son that run a church, largely via information obtained from Lesperance, their parishioner. They are separately charged (LesperanceJames CusickCasey Cusick), all with just trespassing. The night before the riot, father and son posed in front of the Trump Hotel with a fourth person besides Lesperance (though Lesperance likely took the photo).

8. Kenneth Harrelson: On July 1, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Harrelson, who was first arrested on March 10. Leading up to January 6, Harrelson played a key role in Oath Keepers’ organizing in Florida, particularly meetings organized on GoToMeeting. On the day of the riot, Kelly Meggs had put him in charge of coordinating with state teams. Harrelson was on the East steps of the Capitol with Jason Dolan during the riot, as if waiting for the door to open and The Stack to arrive; with whom he entered the Capitol. With Meggs, Harrelson moved first towards the Senate, then towards Nancy Pelosi’s office. When the FBI searched his house upon his arrest, they found an AR-15 and a handgun, as well as a go-bag with a semi-automatic handgun and survivalist books, including Ted Kaczynski’s writings. Harrelson attempted to delete a slew of his Signal texts, including a video he sent Meggs showing the breach of the East door. Harrelson had previously been represented by Nina Ginsberg and Jeffrey Zimmerman, who are making quite sure to get removed from Harrelson’s team before Pierce gets too involved. On September 7, Brad Geyer replaced Pierce.

9. Leo Brent Bozell IV: It was, perhaps, predictable that Pierce would add Bozell to his stable of defendants. “Zeeker” Bozell is the scion of a right wing movement family including his father who has made a killing by attacking the so-called liberal media, and his grandfather, who was a speech writer for Joseph McCarthy. Because Bozell was released on personal recognizance there are details of his actions on January 6 that remain unexplained. But he made it to the Senate chamber, and while there, made efforts to prevent CSPAN cameras from continuing to record the proceedings. He was originally arrested on obstruction and trespassing charges on February 12; his indictment added an abetting the destruction of government property charge, the likes of which have been used to threaten a terrorism enhancement against militia members. Pierce joined Bozell’s defense team (thus far it seems David B. Deitch will remain on the team) on July 6.

10. Nate DeGrave: The night before DeGrave’s quasi co-conspirator Josiah Colt pled guilty, July 13, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nate DeGrave. DeGrave helped ensure both the East Door and the Senate door remained open.

11. Nathaniel Tuck: On July 19, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nathaniel Tuck, the Florida former cop Proud Boy.

12. Kevin Tuck: On July 20, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Kevin Tuck, Nathaniel’s father and still an active duty cop when he was charged.

13. Peter Schwartz: On July 26, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Peter Schwartz, the felon out on COVID-release who maced some cops.

14. Jeramiah Caplinger: On July 26, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Jeramiah Caplinger, who drove from Michigan and carried a flag on a tree branch through the Capitol.

15. Deborah Lee: On August 23, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Deborah Lee, who was arrested on trespass charges months after her friend Michael Rusyn.

16. Anthony Sargent: On September 24 (the same day he swapped off of Christopher Worrell’s case), Pierce showed up at the initial appearance for Anthony Saregent, another Florida Proud Boy.

Representing this many defendants would be an impossible feat, even for the most experienced defense attorney, and harder still for a civil attorney like Pierce. Plus, some of these representations would seem to pose serious conflicts.

At a status hearing for Shane Jenkins, a January 6 defendant accused of assault, this morning, his currently retained attorney, Public Defender Maria Jacob, started by saying that she believes that she’s being replaced. John Pierce’s colleague, Ryan Marshall (who is not barred in DC but nevertheless handled Pierce’s appearance in Nate DeGrave’s case yesterday), piped up to say, yes, that was happening but unfortunately the notice of appearance he thought had been filed last night had not appeared on the docket yet. When Judge Amit Mehta asked where Pierce was, Marshall said, “Mr. Pierce is in the hospital, we believe, with COVID-19, on a ventilator, non-responsive.”

Judge Mehta wished the Pierce family well and scheduled a hearing next Thursday rather than accepting the appearance of a lawyer on a ventilator to represent his 18th client in this matter.

Update: A week ago, Pierce said he would never get vaccinated.

Update, September 24: I’ve updated the clients who’ve since fired Pierce.

Dinesh D’Souza and the GoPro: The Import of the Disorganized Militia Conspiracy Case at the Core of January 6

When I first wrote up my prediction that Ronnie Sandlin, Nate DeGrave, and Josiah Colt might be charged in what I called a “disorganized militia” conspiracy on April 26, I suggested that the government would likely try to use the gun that Colt brought into DC to get him to flip against the other two, who unlike Colt were also charged in key assaults allowing access to the Senate.

 I bet whatever proof the government obtained that Colt brought a gun into DC and bear spray into the Capitol is being used to coerce Colt to flip in the same way it was with Jon Schaffer;

On July 13, Colt pled guilty as part of a cooperation agreement with the government signed five days earlier. His statement of offense — which was only just released yesterday — emphasizes that he brought his Glock to the January 5 rally, a violation of DC’s strict weapons laws for which he wasn’t charged.

On the evening of January 5, 2021, after arriving in the District of Columbia, Colt, Sandlin, DeGrave, and a fourth individual attended a rally protesting the 2020 Presidential Election results, which they believed to be fraudulent. Colt brought his Glock pistol to the rally.

Colt was neither the first nor will he be the last against whom the government uses DC’s strict weapons laws to entice cooperation.

Because Colt is the first known cooperator not tied to the existing Oath Keeper conspiracy (and because DOJ seems to have withheld these documents for ten days), I want to look closely at what does — and does not — show up in Colt’s SOO.

Virtually all of the pre-planning described in Colt’s SOO — Sandlin’s December 23 call for people to join him in traveling to DC, their public and private discussions of arming themselves, Sandlin’s foreknowledge of where to go, the arms they brought to DC, their attendance at a rally on January 5, and their predictions of violence the morning of the insurrection — had already shown up in documents from these three defendants (Colt’s arrest affidavit, Sandlin’s arrest affidavit, DeGrave’s arrest affidavit, Colt’s Facebook search warrant, Sandlin’s detention memo, DeGrave’s detention memo).

Perhaps the most striking detail in this SOO from the day of the riot involves what doesn’t appear: There’s no mention of the brawl –involving Sandlin and DeGrave, but not Colt — as they and others fought with cops to open the East doors of the Capitol. Instead, there’s just a description that they were there.

They ultimately entered the Capitol building and made their way to the Rotunda and other areas.

There are, however, new details from how the men walked from the Trump rally to the Capitol and along the way (though the SOO does not say from where) learned that Mike Pence had not backed Trump’s effort to steal the election.

17. Colt, Sandlin, and DeGrave walked together from the Ellipse to the U.S. Capitol. All three wore and carried protective gear, including a gas mask, helmets, shin guards, and motorcycle jackets. He also carried medical supplies, water, a pocket knife, and a walkie talkie. Colt did not bring to the Capitol the gun he had transported to the D.C. area; he left it in their hotel room in Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside of D.C.

18. Throughout the day of January 6, 2021, Colt, Sandlin, and DeGrave monitored the certification proceedings. While marching to the Capitol, they learned that the Vice President had not intervened to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote. 19. When the trio arrived at the Capitol, Colt repeatedly yelled, “breach the building.”

20. When Colt, Sandlin, and DeGrave arrived at the Capitol Complex, Colt repeatedly yelled, “breach the building.”

And the SOO provides different versions of Colt’s exhortations to go to the Senate Chamber once they got into the Capitol (previous filings had described that surveillance video captured Colt repeatedly talking about getting to the Senate, but quoting him saying different things then appears here). In fact, in context, this SOO suggests that Colt remained fixated on the Senate even as Sandlin and DeGrave helped to open up a second front of the attack on the Capitol.

The three breached the Capitol’s exterior barricades and entered the Complex. On the way up the stairs on the exterior of the Capitol building, Colt shouted “we’re making it to the main room. The Senate room.” As they approached an exterior entrance to the Capitol, Colt heard the sound of glass shattering and an alarm sounding. They ultimately entered the Capitol building and made their way to the Rotunda and other areas. Colt stated numerous times, “let’s get to the Senate, bro,” adding “where they’re meeting.”

The SOO describes Colt witnessing — because he was trailing the other two — Sandlin and DeGrave fighting a second set of cops to get inside the Senate.

21. Once inside the Capitol building, Colt, Sandlin, and DeGrave, along with dozens of other rioters, eventually made their way to a hallway just outside the Senate Gallery, a balcony overlooking the Senate Chamber. Approximately twenty minutes prior, U.S. Senators engaged in the proceeding to count and certify the Electoral College vote had been evacuated. Several U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Officers, including USCP 1, tried to lock the doors to the Gallery to prevent the rioters from gaining access. Colt observed Sandlin and DeGrave try to shove their way past the officers to access the Gallery, and saw Sandlin punch USCP 1 in the back of his head. Sandlin and DeGrave eventually gained access to the Gallery, followed soon thereafter by Colt.

22. When Colt entered the Gallery, he saw that no member of Congress was inside, prompting him to yell, “it’s empty.” Colt climbed down to the Senate Chamber by hanging off the balcony and leaping onto the floor. He ran to the chair at the front of the Chamber, which is reserved for the Senate President, the Vice President of the United States.

Some of these details — particularly newly revealed comments quoting Colt — likely come from the GoPro that (per Sandlin’s bond memo) Colt was carrying until the moment he handed it to DeGrave so he could drop from the Senate balcony and sit in Pence’s chair.

Shortly thereafter, Sandlin, DeGrave, and Colt entered the now open doors and reached the upper balcony of the Senate Chamber, which members and staff of Congress and the Vice President had already evacuated. Colt handed the GoPro, which he had been carrying and using to record the riot, to DeGrave, as he prepared to jump down to the floor of the Senate Chamber.

The three got separated after this point, so it’s possible that DeGrave had the GoPro until they met up again, filming whatever it was that he and Sandlin got into later in the riot.

But we know that Colt ended up with the GoPro after they left DC, because DeGrave and Sandlin went to some lengths to try to get the video from Colt; Sandlin wanted it so he could share the video with Dinesh D’Souza and monetize it.

On January 9 and 10, DeGrave privately messaged with a third party about providing footage to produce a documentary. He told the third party to call him on wickr, and that it was “going to absolutely blow your mind what I will tell you.” DeGrave later stated that he would have to “talk my boy into it,” “go to Idaho to get [the footage],” and that it was “with his attorney.” The government understands that DeGrave was referring to footage of the insurrection within the possession of Colt, who lives in Idaho. On January 14, 2021, Sandlin discussed his “footage” with an associate, noting that he had “a meeting with Dinesh Desuza [sic] this week”11 and asking to “chat on signal.”

Given how much the men filmed from their trip to DC — showing DeGrave’s mace exploding in their van in a video taken on January 5 and showing Sandlin knowing the time of the riot and expecting violence in the video they made in TGIF the morning of January 6 — it seems likely the video shows other things, such as what they saw and whom they met at the January 5 rally the night before the insurrection.

In other words, it may show how Sandlin and DeGrave learned about the plans for the insurrection the next day, including not just that things would start at 1PM and to expect violence, but that there would be a second front from the East side, one Sandlin and DeGrave seemed focused on even as Colt emphasized the import of getting to the Senate.

Just before Colt pled guilty — as I was publicly suggesting that his plea would be a cooperation agreement — John Pierce filed his notice of appearance to represent DeGrave. So DeGrave — along with the lawyer purporting to represent 17 different January 6 defendants, many of whom have information that would be incriminating to Joe Biggs — will finally get his GoPro video.

As much as any other January 6 filing, this SOO describes how insurrectionists planned to intimidate “government personnel” who were part of the vote certification.

25. The defendant intended to affect the government by stopping or delaying the congressional proceeding and in fact did so. The defendant accomplished this by intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting the congressional proceeding.

That’s because Colt’s testimony will be key to showing that a bunch of otherwise unaffiliated guys who (by DeGrave’s own claims) were simply responding to Donald Trump’s exhortations engaged in violence in what seems to have been a premeditated plan to attack the Capitol from multiple directions, all in an attempt to intimidate “government personnel” like the Vice President.

“Stand Back and Stand By:” John Pierce’s Plan for a Public Authority or — More Likely — a MyPillow Defense

In a Friday hearing in the omnibus Oath Keeper conspiracy case, John Pierce — who only just filed an appearance for Kenneth Harrelson in that case — warned that he’s going to mount a very vigorous public authority defense. He claimed that such a defense would require reviewing all video.

Pierce is a Harvard-trained civil litigator involved in the more conspiratorial side of Trumpist politics. Last year he filed a lawsuit for Carter Page that didn’t understand who (Rod Rosenstein, among others) needed to be included to make the suit hold up, much less very basic things about FISA. As someone who’d like to see the unprecedented example of Page amount to something, I find that lawsuit a horrible missed opportunity.

John Pierce got fired by Kyle Rittenhouse

Of late, he has made news for a number of controversial steps purportedly in defense of accused Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse. A recent New Yorker article on Rittenhouse’s case, for example, described that Pierce got the Rittenhouses to agree to a wildly inflated hourly rate and sat on donations in support of Rittenhouse’s bail for a month after those funds had been raised. Then, when Kyle’s mother Wendy tried to get Pierce to turn over money raised for their living expenses, he instead claimed they owed him.

Pierce met with the Rittenhouses on the night of August 27th. Pierce Bainbridge drew up an agreement calling for a retainer of a hundred thousand dollars and an hourly billing rate of twelve hundred and seventy-five dollars—more than twice the average partner billing rate at top U.S. firms. Pierce would be paid through #FightBack, which, soliciting donations through its Web site, called the charges against Rittenhouse “a reactionary rush to appease the divisive, destructive forces currently roiling this country.”

Wisconsin’s ethics laws restrict pretrial publicity, but Pierce began making media appearances on Rittenhouse’s behalf. He called Kenosha a “war zone” and claimed that a “mob” had been “relentlessly hunting him as prey.” He explicitly associated Rittenhouse with the militia movement, tweeting, “The unorganized ‘militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least seventeen years of age,’ ” and “Kyle was a Minuteman protecting his community when the government would not.”

[snip]

In mid-November, Wood reported that Mike Lindell, the C.E.O. of MyPillow, had “committed $50K to Kyle Rittenhouse Defense Fund.” Lindell says that he thought his donation was going toward fighting “election fraud.” The actor Ricky Schroder contributed a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Pierce finally paid Rittenhouse’s bail, with a check from Pierce Bainbridge, on November 20th—well over a month after #FightBack’s Web site indicated that the foundation had the necessary funds.

[snip]

Wendy said of the Rittenhouses’ decision to break with Pierce, “Kyle was John’s ticket out of debt.” She was pressing Pierce to return forty thousand dollars in donated living expenses that she believed belonged to the family, and told me that Pierce had refused: “He said we owed him millions—he ‘freed Kyle.’ ”

Possibly in response to the New Yorker piece, Pierce has been tweeting what might be veiled threats to breach attorney-client privilege.

Pierce assembles a collection of characters for his screen play

Even as that has been going on, however, Pierce has been convincing one after another January 6 defendant to let him represent them. The following list is organized by the date — in bold — when Pierce first filed an appearance for that defendant (I’ll probably update this list as Pierce adds more defendants):

1. Christopher Worrell: Christopher Worrell is a Proud Boy from Florida arrested on March 12. Worrell traveled to DC for the December MAGA protest, where he engaged in confrontational behavior targeting a journalist. He and his girlfriend traveled to DC for January 6 in vans full of Proud Boys paid for by someone else. He was filmed spraying pepper spray at cops during a key confrontation before the police line broke down and the initial assault surged past. Worrell was originally charged for obstruction and trespassing, but later indicted for assault and civil disorder and trespassing (dropping the obstruction charge). He was deemed a danger, in part, because of a 2009 arrest for impersonating a cop involving “intimidating conduct towards a total stranger in service of taking the law into his own hands.” Pierce first attempted to file a notice of appearance on March 18. Robert Jenkins (along with John Kelly, from Pierce’s firm) is co-counsel on the case. Since Pierce joined the team, he has indulged Worrell’s claims that he should not be punished for assaulting a cop, but neither that indulgence nor a focus on Worrell’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma nor an appeal succeeded at winning his client release from pre-trial detention.

2. William Pepe: William Pepe is a Proud Boy charged in a conspiracy with Dominic Pezzola and Matthew Greene for breaching the initial lines of defense and, ultimately, the first broken window of the Capitol. Pepe was originally arrested on January 11, though is out on bail. Pierce joined Robert Jenkins on William Pepe’s defense team on March 25. By April, Pierce was planning on filing some non-frivolous motions (to sever his case from Pezzola, to move it out of DC, and to dismiss the obstruction count).

3. Paul Rae: Rae is another of Pierce’s Proud Boy defendants and his initial complaint suggested Rae could have been (and could still be) added to the conspiracy indictments against the Proud Boys already charged. He was indicted along with Arthur Jackman for obstruction and trespassing; both tailed Joe Biggs on January 6, entering the building from the East side after the initial breach. Pierce filed to join Robert Jenkins in defending Rae on March 30.

4. Stephanie Baez: On June 9, Pierce filed his appearance for Stephanie Baez. Pierce’s interest in Baez’ case makes a lot of sense. Baez, who was arrested on trespassing charges on June 4, seems to have treated the January 6 insurrection as an opportunity to shop for her own Proud Boy boyfriend. Plus, she’s attractive, unrepentant, and willing to claim there was no violence on January 6. Baez has not yet been formally charged (though that should happen any day).

5. Victoria White: If I were prosecutors, I’d be taking a closer look at White to try to figure out why John Pierce decided to represent her (if it’s not already clear to them; given the timing, it may simply be because he believed he needed a few women defendants to tell the story he wants to tell). White was detained briefly on January 6 then released, and then arrested on April 8 on civil disorder and trespassing charges. At one point on January 6, she was filmed trying to dissuade other rioters from breaking windows, but then she was filmed close to and then in the Tunnel cheering on some of the worst assault. Pierce filed his notice of appearance in White’s case on June 10.

Ryan Samsel: After consulting with Joe Biggs, Ryan Samsel kicked off the riot by approaching the first barriers and — with several other defendants — knocking over a female cop, giving her a concussion. He was arrested on January 30 and is still being held on his original complaint charging him with assault and civil disorder. He’s obviously a key piece to the investigation and for some time it appeared the government might have been trying to persuade him that the way to minimize his significant exposure (he has an extensive criminal record) would be to cooperate against people like Biggs. But then he was brutally assaulted in jail. Detainees have claimed a guard did it, and given that Samsel injured a cop, that wouldn’t be unheard of. But Samsel seemed to say in a recent hearing that the FBI had concluded it was another detainee. In any case, the assault set off a feeding frenzy among trial attorneys seeking to get a piece of what they imagine will be a huge lawsuit against BOP (as it should be if a guard really did assault him). Samsel is now focused on getting medical care for eye and arm injuries arising from the assault. And if a guard did do this, then it would be a key part of any story Pierce wanted to tell. After that feeding frenzy passed, Pierce filed an appearance on June 14, with Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui releasing his prior counsel on June 25. Samsel is a perfect defendant for Pierce, though (like Rittenhouse), the man badly needs a serious defense attorney. Update: On July 27, Samsel informed Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui that he would be retaining new counsel.

6. James McGrew: McGrew was arrested on May 28 for assault, civil disorder, obstruction, and trespassing, largely for some fighting with cops inside the Rotunda. His arrest documents show no ties to militias, though his arrest affidavit did reference a 2012 booking photo. Pierce filed his appearance to represent McGrew on June 16.

Alan Hostetter: John Pierce filed as Hostetter’s attorney on June 24, not long after Hostetter was indicted with five other Three Percenters in a conspiracy indictment paralleling those charging the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Hostetter was also active in Southern California’s anti-mask activist community, a key network of January 6 participants. Hostetter and his defendants spoke more explicitly about bringing arms to the riot, and his co-defendant Russell Taylor spoke at the January 5 rally. On August 3, Hostetter replaced Pierce.

7, 8, 9. On June 30, Pierce filed to represent David Lesperance, and James and Casey Cusick. As I laid out here, the FBI arrested the Cusicks, a father and son that run a church, largely via information obtained from Lesperance, their parishioner. They are separately charged (Lesperance, James Cusick, Casey Cusick), all with just trespassing. The night before the riot, father and son posed in front of the Trump Hotel with a fourth person besides Lesperance (though Lesperance likely took the photo).

10. Kenneth Harrelson: On July 1, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Harrelson, who was first arrested on March 10. Leading up to January 6, Harrelson played a key role in Oath Keepers’ organizing in Florida, particularly meetings organized on GoToMeeting. On the day of the riot, Kelly Meggs had put him in charge of coordinating with state teams. Harrelson was on the East steps of the Capitol with Jason Dolan during the riot, as if waiting for the door to open and The Stack to arrive; with whom he entered the Capitol. With Meggs, Harrelson moved first towards the Senate, then towards Nancy Pelosi’s office. When the FBI searched his house upon his arrest, they found an AR-15 and a handgun, as well as a go-bag with a semi-automatic handgun and survivalist books, including Ted Kaczynski’s writings. Harrelson attempted to delete a slew of his Signal texts, including a video he sent Meggs showing the breach of the East door. Harrelson had previously been represented by Nina Ginsberg and Jeffrey Zimmerman, who are making quite sure to get removed from Harrelson’s team before Pierce gets too involved.

11. Leo Brent Bozell IV: It was, perhaps, predictable that Pierce would add Bozell to his stable of defendants. “Zeeker” Bozell is the scion of a right wing movement family including his father who has made a killing by attacking the so-called liberal media, and his grandfather, who was a speech writer for Joseph McCarthy. Because Bozell was released on personal recognizance there are details of his actions on January 6 that remain unexplained. But he made it to the Senate chamber, and while there, made efforts to prevent CSPAN cameras from continuing to record the proceedings. He was originally arrested on obstruction and trespassing charges on February 12; his indictment added an abetting the destruction of government property charge, the likes of which have been used to threaten a terrorism enhancement against militia members. Pierce joined Bozell’s defense team (thus far it seems David B. Deitch will remain on the team) on July 6.

12. Nate DeGrave: The night before DeGrave’s quasi co-conspirator Josiah Colt pled guilty, July 13, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nate DeGrave. DeGrave helped ensure both the East Door and the Senate door remained open.

14. Nathaniel Tuck: On July 19, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nathaniel Tuck, the Florida former cop Proud Boy.

14. Kevin Tuck: On July 20, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Kevin Tuck, Nathaniel’s father and still an active duty cop when he was charged.

15. Peter Schwartz: On July 26, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Peter Schwartz, the felon out on COVID-release who maced some cops.

16. Jeramiah Caplinger: On July 26, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Jeramiah Caplinger, who drove from Michigan and carried a flag on a tree branch through the Capitol.

Deborah Lee: On August 23, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Deborah Lee, who was arrested on trespass charges months after her friend Michael Rusyn. On September 2, Lee chose to be represented by public defender Cara Halverson.

17. Shane Jenkins: On August 25, Pierce colleague Ryan Marshall showed up at a status hearing for Jenkins and claimed a notice of appearance for Pierce had been filed the night before. In that same hearing, he revealed that Pierce was in a hospital with COVID, even claiming he was on a ventilator and not responsive. The notice of appearance was filed, using Pierce’s electronic signature, on August 30, just as DOJ started sending out notices that all Pierce cases were on hold awaiting signs of life. Jenkins is a felon accused of bringing a tomahawk to the Capitol and participating in the Lower West Tunnel assaults on cops.

As you can see, Pierce has assembled as cast of defendants as if writing a screenplay, with Proud Boys from key breach points, leading members of the other conspiracies, and other movement conservatives. There are just a few more scenes he would need to fill out to not only be able to write his screenplay, but also to be able to get broad discovery from the government.

This feat is all the more interesting given a detail from the New Yorker article: at one point, Pierce seemed to be claiming to represent Enrique Tarrio and part of his “defense” of Rittenhouse was linking the boy to the Proud Boys.

Six days after the Capitol assault, Rittenhouse and his mother flew with Pierce to Miami for three days. The person who picked them up at the airport was Enrique Tarrio—the Proud Boys leader. Tarrio was Pierce’s purported client, and not long after the shootings in Kenosha he had donated a hundred dollars or so to Rittenhouse’s legal-defense fund. They all went to a Cuban restaurant, for lunch.

Enrique Tarrio would be part of any coordinated Florida-based plan in advance of January 6 and if he wanted to, could well bring down whatever conspiracy there was. More likely, though, he’s attempting to protect any larger conspiracy.

A public authority defense claims the defendant thought they had authority to commit a crime

And with his ties to Tarrio, Pierce claims (to think) he’s going to mount a public authority defense. A public authority defense involves claiming that the defendant had reason to believe he had authority to commit the crimes he did. According to the Justice Manual, there are three possible arguments a defendant might make. The first is that the defendant honestly believed they were authorized to do what they did.

First, the defendant may offer evidence that he/she honestly, albeit mistakenly, believed he/she was performing the crimes charged in the indictment in cooperation with the government. More than an affirmative defense, this is a defense strategy relying on a “mistake of fact” to undermine the government’s proof of criminal intent, the mens rea element of the crime. United States v. Baptista-Rodriguez, 17 F.3d 1354, 1363-68 (11th Cir. 1994); United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d 1508, 1517-18 & n.4 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1004 (1989); United States v. Juan, 776 F.2d 256, 258 (11th Cir. 1985). The defendant must be allowed to offer evidence that negates his/her criminal intent, id., and, if that evidence is admitted, to a jury instruction on the issue of his/her intent, id., and if that evidence is admitted, he is entitled to a jury instruction on the issue of intent. United States v. Abcasis, 45 F.3d 39, 44 (2d Cir. 1995); United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d at 1517-1518 & n. In Anderson, the Eleventh Circuit approved the district court’s instruction to the jury that the defendants should be found not guilty if the jury had a reasonable doubt whether the defendants acted in good faith under the sincere belief that their activities were exempt from the law.

There are some defendants among Pierce’s stable for whom this might work. But taken as a whole and individually, most allegedly did things (including obstruction or lying to the FBI) that would seem to evince consciousness of guilt.

The second defense works best (and is invoked most often) for people — such as informants or CIA officers — who are sometimes allowed to commit crimes by the Federal government.

The second type of government authority defense is the affirmative defense of public authority, i.e., that the defendant knowingly committed a criminal act but did so in reasonable reliance upon a grant of authority from a government official to engage in illegal activity. This defense may lie, however, only when the government official in question had actual authority, as opposed to merely apparent authority, to empower the defendant to commit the criminal acts with which he is charged. United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d at 1513-15; United States v. Rosenthal, 793 F.2d 1214, 1236, modified on other grounds, 801 F.2d 378 (11th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 919 (1987). The genesis of the “apparent authority” defense was the decision in United States v. Barker, 546 F. 2d 940 (D.C. Cir. 1976). Barker involved defendants who had been recruited to participate in a national security operation led by Howard Hunt, whom the defendants had known before as a CIA agent but who was then working in the White House. In reversing the defendants’ convictions, the appellate court tried to carve out an exception to the mistake of law rule that would allow exoneration of a defendant who relied on authority that was merely apparent, not real. Due perhaps to the unique intent requirement involved in the charges at issue in the Barker case, the courts have generally not followed its “apparent authority” defense. E.g., United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d 59, 83-84 (2d Cir. 1984); United States v. Rosenthal, 793 F.2d at 1235-36. If the government official lacked actual or real authority, however, the defendant will be deemed to have made a mistake of law, which generally does not excuse criminal conduct. United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d at 1515; United States v. Rosenthal, 793 F.2d at 1236; United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d at 83-84. But see discussion on “entrapment by estoppel,” infra.

Often, spooked up defendants try this as a way to launch a graymail defense, to make such broad requests for classified information to push the government to drop its case. Usually, this effort fails.

I could see someone claiming that Trump really did order the defendants to march on the Capitol and assassinate Mike Pence. Some of the defendants’ co-conspirators (especially Harrelson’s) even suggested they expected Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act. But to make that case would require not extensive review of Capitol video, as Pierce says he wants, but review of Trump’s actions, which would seem to be the opposite of what this crowd might want. Indeed, attempting such a defense might allow prosecutors a way to introduce damning information on Trump that wouldn’t help the defense cause.

The final defense is when a defendant claims that a Federal officer misled them into thinking their crime was sanctioned.

The last of the possible government authority defenses is “entrapment by estoppel,” which is somewhat similar to public authority. In the defense of public authority, it is the defendant whose mistake leads to the commission of the crime; with “entrapment by estoppel,” a government official commits an error and, in reliance thereon, the defendant thereby violates the law. United States v. Burrows, 36 F.3d 875, 882 (9th Cir. 1994); United States v. Hedges, 912 F.2d 1397, 1405 (11th Cir. 1990); United States v. Clegg, 846 F.2d 1221, 1222 (9th Cir. 1988); United States v. Tallmadge, 829 F.2d 767, 773-75 (9th Cir. 1987). Such a defense has been recognized as an exception to the mistake of law rule. In Tallmadge, for example, a Federally licensed gun dealer sold a gun to the defendant after informing him that his circumstances fit into an exception to the prohibition against felons owning firearms. After finding that licensed firearms dealers were Federal agents for gathering and dispensing information on the purchase of firearms, the Court held that a buyer has the right to rely on the representations made by them. Id. at 774. See United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d at 83 (citations omitted); but, to assert such a defense, the defendant bears the burden of proving that he\she was reasonable in believing that his/her conduct was sanctioned by the government. United States v. Lansing, 424 F.2d 225, 226-27 (9th Cir. 1970). See United States v . Burrows, 36 F.3d at 882 (citing United States v. Lansing, 424 F.2d at 225-27).

This is an extreme form of what defendants have already argued. And in fact, Chief Judge Beryl Howell already addressed this defense in denying Billy Chrestman (a Proud Boy from whose cell Pierce doesn’t yet have a representative) bail. After reviewing the precedents where such a defense had been successful, Howell then explained why it wouldn’t work here. First, because where it has worked, it involved a narrow misstatement of the law that led defendants to unknowingly break the law, whereas here, defendants would have known they were breaking the law because of the efforts from police to prevent their actions. Howell then suggested that a belief that Trump had authorized this behavior would not have been rational. And she concludes by noting that this defense requires that the person leading the defendant to misunderstand the law must have the authority over such law. But Trump doesn’t have the authority, Howell continued, to authorize an assault on the Constitution itself.

Together, this trilogy of cases gives rise to an entrapment by estoppel defense under the Due Process Clause. That defense, however, is far more restricted than the capacious interpretation suggested by defendant, that “[i]f a federal official directs or permits a citizen to perform an act, the federal government cannot punish that act under the Due Process Clause.” Def.’s Mem. at 7. The few courts of appeals decisions to have addressed the reach of this trilogy of cases beyond their facts have distilled the limitations inherent in the facts of Raley, Cox, and PICCO into a fairly restrictive definition of the entrapment by estoppel defense that sets a high bar for defendants seeking to invoke it. Thus, “[t]o win an entrapment-by-estoppel claim, a defendant criminally prosecuted for an offense must prove (1) that a government agent actively misled him about the state of the law defining the offense; (2) that the government agent was responsible for interpreting, administering, or enforcing the law defining the offense; (3) that the defendant actually relied on the agent’s misleading pronouncement in committing the offense; and (4) that the defendant’s reliance was reasonable in light of the identity of the agent, the point of law misrepresented, and the substance of the misrepresentation.” Cox, 906 F.3d at 1191 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The Court need not dally over the particulars of the defense to observe that, as applied generally to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, an entrapment by estoppel defense is likely to fail. Central to Raley, Cox, and PICCO is the fact that the government actors in question provided relatively narrow misstatements of the law that bore directly on a defendant’s specific conduct. Each case involved either a misunderstanding of the controlling law or an effort by a government actor to answer to complex or ambiguous legal questions defining the scope of prohibited conduct under a given statute. Though the impact of the misrepresentations in these cases was ultimately to “forgive a breach of the criminal laws,” Cox, 379 U.S. at 588 (Clark, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), none of the statements made by these actors implicated the potential “waiver of law,” or indeed, any intention to encourage the defendants to circumvent the law, that the Cox majority suggested would fall beyond the reach of the entrapment by estoppel defense, id. at 569. Moreover, in all three cases, the government actors’ statements were made in the specific exercise of the powers lawfully entrusted to them, of examining witnesses at Commission hearings, monitoring the location of demonstrations, and issuing technical regulations under a particular statute, respectively.

In contrast, January 6 defendants asserting the entrapment by estoppel defense could not argue that they were at all uncertain as to whether their conduct ran afoul of the criminal law, given the obvious police barricades, police lines, and police orders restricting entry at the Capitol. Rather, they would contend, as defendant does here, that “[t]he former President gave th[e] permission and privilege to the assembled mob on January 6” to violate the law. Def.’s Mem. at 11. The defense would not be premised, as it was in Raley, Cox, and PICCO, on a defendant’s confusion about the state of the law and a government official’s clarifying, if inaccurate, representations. It would instead rely on the premise that a defendant, though aware that his intended conduct was illegal, acted under the belief President Trump had waived the entire corpus of criminal law as it applied to the mob.

Setting aside the question of whether such a belief was reasonable or rational, as the entrapment by estoppel defense requires, Cox unambiguously forecloses the availability of the defense in cases where a government actor’s statements constitute “a waiver of law” beyond his or her lawful authority. 379 U.S. at 569. Defendant argues that former President Trump’s position on January 6 as “[t]he American head of state” clothed his statements to the mob with authority. Def.’s Mem. at 11. No American President holds the power to sanction unlawful actions because this would make a farce of the rule of law. Just as the Supreme Court made clear in Cox that no Chief of Police could sanction “murder[] or robbery,” 379 U.S. at 569, notwithstanding this position of authority, no President may unilaterally abrogate criminal laws duly enacted by Congress as they apply to a subgroup of his most vehement supporters. Accepting that premise, even for the limited purpose of immunizing defendant and others similarly situated from criminal liability, would require this Court to accept that the President may prospectively shield whomever he pleases from prosecution simply by advising them that their conduct is lawful, in dereliction of his constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” U.S. Const. art. II, § 3. That proposition is beyond the constitutional pale, and thus beyond the lawful powers of the President.

Even more troubling than the implication that the President can waive statutory law is the suggestion that the President can sanction conduct that strikes at the very heart of the Constitution and thus immunize from criminal liability those who seek to destabilize or even topple the constitutional order. [my emphasis]

In spite of Howell’s warning, we’re bound to see some defense attorneys trying to make this defense anyway. But for various reasons, most of the specific clients that Pierce has collected will have a problem making such claims because of public admissions they’ve already made, specific interactions they had with cops the day of the insurrection, or comments about Trump himself they or their co-conspirators made.

And those problems will grow more acute as the defendants’ co-conspirators continue to enter into cooperation agreements against them.

Or maybe this is a MyPillow defense?

But I’m not sure that Pierce — who, remember, is a civil litigator, not a defense attorney — really intends to mount a public authority defense. His Twitter feed of late suggests he plans, instead, to mount a conspiracy theory defense that the entire thing was a big set-up: the kind of conspiracy theory floated by Tucker Carlson but with the panache of people that Pierce has worked with, like Lin Wood (though even Lin Wood has soured on Pierce).

For example, the other day Pierce asserted that defense attorneys need to see every minute of Capitol Police footage for a week before and after.

And one of his absurd number of Twitter polls suggests he doesn’t believe that January 6 was a Trump inspired [armed] insurrection.

I asked on twitter which he was going to wage, a public authority defense or one based on a claim that this was all informants.

He responded by saying he doesn’t know what the question means.

I asked if he really meant he didn’t know what a public authority defense is, given that he told Judge Mehta he’d be waging one for his clients (or at least Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson).

He instead tried to change the subject with an attack on me.

In other words, rather than trying to claim that Trump ordered these people to assault the Capitol, Pierce seems to be suggesting it was all a big attempt to frame Trump and Pierce’s clients.

Don’t get me wrong, a well-planned defense claiming that Trump had authorized all this, one integrating details of what Enrique Tarrio might know about pre-meditation and coordination with Trump and his handlers, might be effective. Certainly, having the kind of broad view into discovery that Pierce is now getting would help. One thing he has done well — with the exception of Lesperance and the Cusicks, if it ever turns into felony charges, as well as Pepe and Samsel, depending on Samsel’s ultimate charges — is pick his clients so as to avoid obvious conflict problems And never forget that there’s a history of right wing terrorists going free based on the kind of screenplays, complete with engaging female characters, that Pierce seems to be planning.

But some of the stuff that Pierce has already done is undermining both of these goals, and the difficulty of juggling actual criminal procedure (as a civil litigator) while trying to write a screenplay could backfire