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The Tactics of the Louis Enrique Colon Cooperation Agreement

As Capitol Police attempted to lower a barricade protecting the tunnels of the Capitol on January 6, Proud Boy Louis Enrique Colon reached out and prevented it from closing, then placed a chair to further obstruct the gate.

While inside the Capitol building, defendant observed co-defendants Chrestman, Felicia Konold, and Cory Konold at various points inside of the building, including in a downstairs area of the Capitol near where several retractable doors were being lowered by police officers in an attempt to stop rioters from proceeding further into a portion of the building. To prevent one of the doors from closing, defendant used his hands to stop the door and placed a chair in the door’s path, while co-defendant Kuehne and another individual placed a podium in the path of another door.

That’s the basis of the single charge to which Colon pled guilty as part of a cooperation agreement yesterday, 18 USC 231, Civil Disorder.

Defendant knowingly obstructed, impeded, and interfered with law enforcement officers while those officers were lawfully engaged in their official duties incident to a civil disorder that was occurring inside of the Capitol. Among other things, defendant prevented officers from closing a retractable door which was intended to prevent rioters from advancing further into a portion of the restricted Capitol building.

In my opinion, this is, by any measure, the most lenient overt plea deal a January 6 defendant has gotten (and a comment that one of the lawyers in the plea hearing yesterday made suggested that it had recently been sweetened). On top of this charge and trespassing, Colon was originally charged in a conspiracy with other members of the Kansas City Proud Boys, as well as individually with obstruction. With credit for cooperation, according to his plea deal, the former cop may avoid any prison time.

That’s all the more remarkable given that Colon’s statement of offense reveals that he went to the Capitol with a pocket knife and an axe handle.

Among other things, defendant purchased and modified an axe handle to be used as both a walking stick and an improvised weapon

[snip]

Defendant and the group ultimately made their way to the west side of the Capitol’s grounds, outside of the restricted, fenced-off perimeter which had barricades staffed by USCP officers. At the time, defendant was wearing a backpack, pocket knife, tactical vest, tactical gloves, boots, and a helmet adorned with orange tape.

While the knife may be too short to trigger enhancements, carrying an acknowledged weapon has been used to enhance the penalties of others, though it is also the kind of thing prosecutors have used to flip people.

In other words, either Colon’s cooperation is so valuable, or DOJ needed it so badly, that he got a really sweet plea deal even in spite of bringing an “improvised weapon.”

So I’d like to discuss what DOJ may be doing tactically.

First, some background. The Oath Keepers investigation has been marked by a relentless march of new cooperators, publicly unveiled: Jon Schaffer, Graydon Young, Mark Grods, Caleb Berry, Jason Dolan, Joshua James. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. By contrast, just two of the overt Proud Boy cooperators have the kind of plea deal that implicates the wider conspiracy, Matthew Greene and Charles Donohoe. For whatever reason — apparently thinner staffing, greater numbers of participants, difficulties created by Enrique Tarrio’s arrest and delayed phone exploitation, investigative equities, corrupt lenient treatment, or a more important role in the overall investigation — DOJ has been using different tactics to get cooperation from Proud Boys and other key far right personalities. As an example, Jeff Finley (like Brandon Straka and likely, soon, Baked Alaska) seems to have cooperated in advance to avoid a felony altogether. So did Jeremy Grace, though his statement of offense implicated his far more complicit father who, if he ever cooperated, might implicate far more important tactical players. Ricky Willden’s statement of offense barely hints at what he knew that day.

Particularly given a reference made to Colon “continu[ing]” his cooperation in the hearing yesterday, this feels more like the kind of deal Finley got, where someone works their way out of more serious charges (which in Colon’s case would be obstruction with a weapons enhancement) ahead of time. That kind of cooperation makes it less visible, but also may make testimony harder to impeach down the road.

With that in mind, I’d like to look at four aspects of his statement of offense.

First, as virtually all conspirators who flip do, Colon implicated his co-conspirators, describing how:

  • Ryan Ashlock, Christopher Kuehne, and another individual traveled with Colon from Kansas City
  • Kuehne brought two AR-15 or similar assault rifles on the trip
  • Kuehne, at defendant’s suggestion, purchased orange, fluorescent tape so the group would be able to identify each other in a crowd
  • William Chrestman, Kuehne, and Ashlock, and others met on January 5 to talk about safety
  • The Konold siblings joined their group on the way to the meet-up at the Washington Memorial
  • Colon saw Chrestman, Felicia Konold, and Cory Konold as police officers attempted to stop rioters from proceeding further into a portion of the building (though the statement of offense doesn’t describe their efforts to prevent it) [my emphasis]

That is, at one level Colon’s cooperation simply shores up the third major Proud Boy conspiracy, just like Donohoe, Greene, and Finley provided direct evidence against the Leader conspiracy.

But consider this big story from Alan Feuer from September. According to 302s that defendants have gotten, one of just two known actively-handled informants among the Proud Boys that day said he had no advance knowledge of plans to disrupt the vote certification.

After meeting his fellow Proud Boys at the Washington Monument that morning, the informant described his path to the Capitol grounds where he saw barriers knocked down and Trump supporters streaming into the building, the records show. At one point, his handler appeared not to grasp that the building had been breached, the records show, and asked the informant to keep him in the loop — especially if there was any violence.

[snip]

On Jan. 6, and for months after, the records show, the informant, who was affiliated with a Midwest chapter of the Proud Boys, denied that the group intended to use violence that day. In lengthy interviews, the records say, he also denied that the extremist organization planned in advance to storm the Capitol. The informant’s identity was not disclosed in the records.

[snip]

But statements from the informant appear to counter the government’s assertion that the Proud Boys organized for an offensive assault on the Capitol intended to stop the peaceful transition from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden.

On the eve of the attack, the records show, the informant said that the group had no plans to engage in violence the next day except to defend itself from potential assaults from leftist activists — a narrative the Proud Boys have often used to excuse their own violent behavior.

Then, during an interview in April, the informant again told his handlers that Proud Boys leaders gave explicit orders to maintain a defensive posture on Jan. 6. At another point in the interview, he said that he never heard any discussion that day about stopping the Electoral College process.

As Feuer noted at the time, if you ignore that this Proud Boys showed up late, this informant’s testimony significantly undermines claims of prosecutors.

There are multiple clues in Feuer’s article and elsewhere — most notably the reference to a young woman (likely to be Felicia Konold) — that this informant was affiliated with the Kansas City cell.

He said that when he arrived, throngs of people were already streaming past the first barrier outside the building, which, he later learned, was taken down by one of his Proud Boy acquaintances and a young woman with him. [my emphasis]

In other words, until such time as DOJ secures testimony to contradict that of their informant, these interviews remain a weak point in the case against the Proud Boys.

They may have gotten that testimony yesterday.

Now consider what this particular cell of the Proud Boys did — and why that may have led DOJ to be satisfied with just the less serious 231 charge against Colon.

DOJ has charged conspiracy tied to January 6 in a bunch of ways: most spectacularly with some Oath Keepers, seditious conspiracy, also with those Oath Keepers (and the alleged Brian Sicknick assailants), conspiracy to injure an officer, and for most people charged with a conspiracy, either the conspiracy charge tied to the obstruction statute (18 USC 1512k, which carries greater penalties), or conspiracy under 18 USC 371.

But for a few of the Proud Boy conspiracies, including this Kansas City cell, the 371 conspiracy had two objects: to obstruct the vote count, but also to obstruct the cops. That’s basically a conspiracy to commit 18 USC 231, the charge Colon pled guilty to.

And the particular act of obstruction that this cell engaged in — preventing the cops from closing the gates leading to tunnels via which rioters correctly believed members of Congress had fled — is one of the most important tactically. That is, this may show not just a desire to mess with the cops, but a plan to go after members of Congress.

This cell is important for the means by which the Proud Boys made things work on January 6. And Colon may be a key witness to the tactical implementation of plans that went into that day.

Finally, consider the description, from Colon’s statement of offense, of this meeting the night before.

In the evening on January 5, 2021, defendant attended a meeting with co-defendants William Chrestman, Kuehne, and Ashlock, and others during which group safety was discussed. At some point during the meeting, another individual said that he did not come to Washington, D.C., to just march around and asked, “do we have patriots here willing to take it by force?” Defendant was shocked by this and understood that the individual was referring to using force against the government. Co-defendant Kuehne responded to the question by saying that he had his guns with him and, in essence, that he was ready to go. The individual who posed the question said that they should “go in there and take over.” [my emphasis]

DOJ has been doing a lot of work unpacking the degree to which coordination happened at meetings on January 5 (I expect we’ll see it in more expected plea agreements going forward). These meetings were critically important for getting everyone on the same page, including a bunch of people who weren’t otherwise affiliated.

We have no idea what this meeting was — we’re still looking for details on a meeting that Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean attended around 9PM the night before, though I doubt that’s what this is.

The description is important for several reasons. First, the focus on “group safety” seems to match the informant’s claim that, “On the eve of the attack … the group had no plans to engage in violence the next day except to defend itself from potential assaults from leftist activists.” Except if it’s that same meeting, then the informant would have also heard someone express a desire to take DC by force, in response to which Kuehne, who is a former Marine, said he was ready to go. At the very least, this description could correct the informant’s claims; it may prove them false.

But it also significantly advances the evidence that some of the Proud Boys, like some of the Oath Keepers, were thinking of using force against the government.

That’s the kind of evidence that has, with the Oath Keepers, helped persuade others to plead out and cooperate.

Update: Note that Robert Gieswein also wore orange tape to insurrection; he allegedly sprayed cops trying to close that barricade.

DOJ Finally Gets around to Sharing Discovery with Oath Keepers Mark Grods and Caleb Berry

As background for some other things, I’d like to lay out some of the information sharing DOJ has been doing since charging some of the the Oath Keepers with sedition on January 12.

After mistakenly asking to share information with defendants in the previously charged caption (US v. Caldwell) on January 13, on January 14, DOJ asked to share grand jury material with Jon Schaffer and also asked to share sealed material from the Schaffer case with the defendants in the Rhodes, Crowl, and Walden cases, the newly spun out captions after the sedition charges (I describe how those cases got spun out here). Judge Amit Mehta approved that sharing request on January 14.

Prosecutors got a protective order with Schaffer in April, just days before he pled guilty.

This seems to confirm that Schaffer’s cooperation was regarding some aspect of the Oath Keeper’s actions, which is consistent with a discovery letter DOJ sent in April (at that time, defendants included the Stack, plus Joshua James and Roberto Minuta) saying that defendants had been informed, “about whether Mr. Schaffer has had communications with your clients.” But there still seems to be some aspect of his cooperation that is hidden. A November status update on Schaffer’s cooperation explained that,

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

At the time, there were trial dates set for the main Oath Keepers case and several people charged in it had already flipped, suggesting Schaffer’s cooperation didn’t pertain directly to the main Oath Keeper conspiracy. One possible explanation is that the description is just inaccurate. Another is that Schaffer is directly cooperating against different Oath Keepers who were charged sometime before November 12 under seal, or someone like Jeremy Brown, not charged in the January 6 conspiracies, but potentially facing new weapons charges in Florida.

On January 21, for the first time, DOJ asked for a protective order and permission to share grand jury materials with Caleb Berry. Mehta approved those requests on January 24.

On January 25, also for the first time, DOJ asked for a protective order and permission to share grand jury materials with Mark Grods. Mehta approved those requests the next day, January 26.

(The other two known Oath Keeper cooperators, Graydon Young and Jason Dolan, would be covered by existing protective and grand jury sharing orders, so we wouldn’t know if they were newly seeing existing discovery.)

This seems to suggest that, for the entirety of the time Berry and Grods have been cooperating with DOJ, seven months, they’ve only been shown information that they themselves brought to the table. There would have been real limits on what was available, too, because both Berry and Grods admitted to deleting evidence about Oath Keeper organizing leading up to and on January 6. So for the first time since they deleted this evidence more than a year ago, they may be shown the specific comments not otherwise included in public charging documents from those organizing chats.

Perhaps prosecutors are just moving towards follow-up interviews in preparation for April and July trials.

But there are details about both men’s cooperation — notably, what Berry knew of Roger Stone’s ties with the Oath Keepers and the Oath Keepers coordination with the Proud Boys from Florida, what Berry witnessed of Kelly Meggs’ intentions as they walked down a hallway hunting Nancy Pelosi, what Grods knew of the disposition of his and Joshua James’ weapons, and what Grods witnessed at the Willard Hotel the morning of the insurrection — about which prosecutors were especially coy in the new set of indictments.

That suggests those topics — topics directly implicating Roger Stone — remain an active part of the investigation, one that cooperating Oath Keepers may get new questions about now that DOJ has obtained all the other assistance necessary to wrap up their more obvious co-conspirators in a sedition conspiracy.

In the recent round of indictments, DOJ purposely hid what they’ve learned about Roger Stone from witnesses whose testimony they needed to finalize the sedition conspiracy. And for the first time, overt cooperators may get more questions about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, some background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that question is significantly a question about equity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His improper advantage was undoubtedly the goal.

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

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

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

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

Other Posts

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

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

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

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

237 Days: Cooperation in Criminal Investigations Takes a Long Time

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

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

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

Jon Schaffer’s still unresolved cooperation

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

He hasn’t been.

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

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

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

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

Swedish Scarf still at large?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indicting a cop for fun and probation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiles is due to be sentenced on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Scott Fairlamb Pled Guilty to Obstruction and Assault; Does That Amount to Terrorism?

Two January 6 assault defendants pled guilty yesterday, Scott Fairlamb and Devlyn Thompson, the first defendants to plead to assault. Here’s my live tweet of Fairlamb’s sentencing.

There’s a detail of those plea agreements that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

While both plea agreements (Fairlamb, Thompson) include the Estimated Guidelines sentence for the crimes the men pled to, both allow DOJ to request an upward departure for a terrorism enhancement. That means that, while the existing guidelines make it look like these men face around four years in prison, DOJ may come back and argue they should be sentenced to something closer to ten years. I wouldn’t be surprised if DOJ did so with Fairlamb.

Here’s how the sentencing works for Fairlamb, who pled guilty to assault and obstruction.

It starts with the math for both crimes. In both cases, Fairlamb faces an enhancement off base level charges. On the obstruction charge, Fairlamb got penalized for both his physical threats and engaging in substantial interference. On the assault charge, he got an enhancement for punching a cop, an official victim.

From there, Fairlamb gets two-plus-one-points off for pleading guilty.

That results an Estimated Offense Level of 22, based on the assumption the sentences will be served concurrently. Once you factor in Fairlamb’s past assault convictions, his Estimated Guidelines sentence is 41 to 51 months.

But!

There’s a big *but* in the plea deal. The plea deal lays out what each side can argue about next month when Fairlamb will be sentenced.

The parties agree that, solely for the purposes of calculating the applicable range under the Sentencing Guidelines, neither a downward nor upward departure from the Estimated Guidelines Range set forth above is warranted, except the Government reserves the right to request an upward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4. Except as provided for in the “Reservation of Allocution” section below, the parties also agree that neither party will seek any offense-level calculation different from the Estimated Offense Level calculated above in subsection A. However, the parties are free to argue for a Criminal History Category different from that estimated above in subsection B. [my emphasis]

Neither side will deviate from this math except that both sides can argue that Fairlamb’s past assaults result in a different criminal history category than used to calculate these guidelines. Since the guidelines calculated here are based off the lowest category, this can only work against Fairlamb going forward.

More importantly — as AUSA Leslie Goemaat made a point of noting explicitly for the record in yesterday’s sentencing — the government reserves the right to argue for an upward departure under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4.

That’s a reference to a terrorism enhancement.

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

This language allows the judge to bump that Offense Level up 12 points, up to but no further than 32.

Even assuming the government does not argue that Fairlamb’s criminal history category should be higher, that would still bump up his potential Guidelines Sentence — if the government were to choose to exercise this option and if Royce Lamberth were to agree that Fairlamb’s crimes were an attempt to influence the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion — to 121 to 151 months.

In other words, while the headlines are saying that Fairlamb could face a roughly 4-year sentence, if the government argues that his actions had a political motive and Judge Lamberth agrees, then in reality Fairlamb could be facing a 10-year sentence or more. And in Fairlamb’s case, he already pled to a crime, obstruction, that admits to that political purpose.

As part of Fairlamb’s Statement of Offense, he agreed under oath that,

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

That is, he already admitted his actions were intended to intimidate or coerce the government, the language required to invoke the terrorism enhancement.

Even if this application of the obstruction statute were thrown out (meaning his sentence would start at 17 instead of 22), if Judge Lamberth decided the terrorism enhancement applied, he could still face an 87 to 108 month sentence.

The government will not necessarily invoke this language. The terrorism enhancement language also appeared in Paul Hodgkins’ plea agreement, but AUSA Mona Sedky specifically noted at sentencing that the government was not invoking it in Hodgkins’ case.

The language does not appear in the five known cooperation pleas (Caleb Berry, Josiah Colt, Mark Grods, Jon Schaffer, Graydon Young). Indeed, as I’ve noted, by pleading their way out of the existing Oath Keeper conspiracy, Young and the other Oath Keepers also got out of the depredation of government property charge that is explicitly among those that can carry a terrorism enhancement. There appear to be at least three Proud Boys charged in conspiracies considering pleading, and I imagine they’d be looking at the same deal, a way out of being treated as a terrorist in exchange for their cooperation. For those willing to cooperate against their buddies, it seems, the government is willing to trade away the possibility of calling the person’s actions terrorism.

There has already been at least one case where a defendant’s lawyer described reluctance to accept a plea offer because it included this terrorism enhancement language. I would imagine the inclusion of this language in plea deals is one reason why so few defendants have taken pleas even when faced with abundant video evidence of their own crimes.

I likewise imagine that the government won’t argue for the enhancement in all cases where it appears in a plea (as noted, Sedky specifically declined to invoke it with Hodgkins).

But in Fairlamb’s case, as part of their argument to hold Fairlamb in pretrial detention, the government has argued he was arming and preparing for war. And Fairlamb swore under oath both that he engaged in violence and that he did so with the intent of coercing the government to stop or delay the certification of a democratic election.

Fairlamb will be sentenced on September 27. So we may learn then whether Federal judges — and as I noted, many of the ones presiding over January 6 cases, including Lamberth, also had key roles in the War on Terror — consider January 6 to be terrorism.

Update: Here’s Lamberth’s order upholding the government request for pre-trial detention. It was one of the first he issued after he was sort-of reversed in Munschel, and as such may reflect more chastened language. But he clearly thinks that Fairlamb’s behavior on January 6 fairly exceptional.

Here’s how he described January 6 in the original Munchel decision, though.

The grand jury charged Munchel with grave offenses. In charging Munchel with “forcibly enter[ing] and remain[ing] in the Capitol to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote,” Indictment 1, ECF No. 21, the grand jury alleged that Munchel used force to subvert a democratic election and arrest the peaceful transfer of power. Such conduct threatens the republic itself. See George Washington, Farewell Address (Sept. 19, 1796) (“The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government. All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.”). Indeed, few offenses are more threatening to our way of life.

DOJ Unimpressed by Mo Brooks’ Kickass Conspiracy Defense

Last night, DOJ refused to certify that Mo Brooks’ actions laid out in a lawsuit by Eric Swalwell were done in the course of his employment as a Congressman. To understand why, and why Brooks may have given DOJ an easy way to prosecute him in conjunction with January 6, you have to look at the sworn declaration Brooks submitted in support of a claim that his call on Trump rally attendees to “kick ass” was part of his duty as a Congressperson.

Broadly, the Swalwell lawsuit accuses Brooks of conspiring with Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, and Rudy Giuliani to violate his civil rights by trying to prevent him from performing his official duties. One of the descriptions of the conspiracy is:

169. As described more fully in this Complaint, the Defendants, by force, intimidation, or threat, agreed and conspired among themselves and with others to prevent members of Congress, including the Plaintiff, and Vice President Mike Pence from counting the Electoral College Votes and certifying President Biden and Vice President Harris as the winners of the 2020 presidential election.

It alleges Brooks committed a number of overt acts, which include a series of Tweets that mirror and in one case anticipate the public claims the other alleged co-conspirators made, as well as his speech at the January 6 Trump rally where he incited listeners to “kick ass” to save the Republic.

Mo Brooks addressed the large crowd at the January 6 rally. He said “America is at risk unlike it has been in decades, and perhaps centuries.” He told the crowd to start “kicking ass,” and he spoke with reverence, at a purportedly peaceful demonstration, of how “our ancestors sacrificed their blood, sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives,” before shouting at the crowd “Are you willing to do the same?!” Brooks intended these words as a threat of violence or intimidation to block the certification vote from even occurring and/or to coerce members of Congress to disregard the results of the election.

In general, Brooks’ sworn declaration, submitted in support of a petition to certify that he was acting within the scope of his office as a Congressperson, claimed over and over that the actions he admits to (he claims all but one of the Tweets in question were sent by his staffers) were done,

pursuant to my duties and job as a United States Congressman concerning presidential election dispute resolution obligations imposed on Congress by the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 12 in particular, and the United States Code, 3 U.S.C. 15 in particular.

That includes, for example, when Brooks claims he,

drafted my January 6, 2021 Ellipse Speech in my office at the Rayburn House Office building on my Congressional Office computer. I also timed, reviewed and revised, and practiced my Ellipse Speech in my office at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Claiming such actions were part of his duties as a Congressperson is how Brooks responds to most of the allegations against him. One notable exception is when he claimed,

I only gave an Ellipse Speech because the White House asked me, in my capacity as a United States Congressman, to speak at the Ellipse Rally. But for the White House request, I would not have appeared at the Ellipse Rally.

The far more notable exception came when, presumably in an effort to disclaim intending to invite rally participants to “kick ass” on January 6, Brooks explains that the “kicking ass” was instead an effort to get Republicans to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Swalwell errs by splicing one sentence and omitting the preceding sentence in a two-sentence paragraph that emphasizes I am talking about “kicking ass” in the 2022 and 2024 ELECTIONSThe full paragraph states, in toto:

But lets be clear, regardless of today’s outcome, the 2022 and the 2024 elections are right around the corner, and America does not need and cannot stand, cannot tolerate any more weakling, cowering, wimpy Republican Congressmen and Senators who covet the power and the prestige the swamp has to offer, while groveling at the feet and the knees of the special interest group masters. As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start by taking down names and kicking ass.

My intent in uttering these words was to encourage Ellipse Rally attendees to put the 2020 elections behind them (and, in particular, the preceding day’s two GOP Senator losses in Georgia) and to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections.

“As such” is the key phrase in the second sentence because it emphasizes that the paragraph’s second sentence is in the context of the paragraph’s first sentence’s 2022 and 2024 election cycles (that began November 4, 2020).

Consisted with this is the middle part of the paragraph’s second sentence, which states, “taking down names”. Whose names are to be “taken down”? The names of those Senators and Congressmen who do not vote for honest and accurate elections after the House and Senate floor debates later in that afternoon and evening. Once we get and “take down” their names, our task is to “kick their ass” in the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. [emphasis original]

This claim is inconsistent with many of the other claims that Brooks makes. And claiming that he means to replace Senators and Congresspeople who don’t vote against the legal outcome of the election only defers the threats against those who don’t participate in an election scam.

But the most important part, for the purposes of Brooks’ efforts to dodge this lawsuit, is that he has just confessed, in a sworn declaration, to have been campaigning when he delivered the speech that he wrote using official resources.

That’s one of the points that Zoe Lofgren made, in her role as Chair of the Committee on House Administration, when providing a response from Congress in lieu of one from the House General Counsel. After noting that Members of Congress cannot, as part of their official duties, commit a crime, she then notes that members are also prohibited from using official resources for campaign purposes.

Conduct that is campaign or political in nature is also outside the scope of official duties and not permissible official activity. For example, regulations of the Committee on House Administration provide that a Member may use their official funds only for “official and representational expenses,” and “may not pay for campaign expenses” or “campaign-related political party expenses with such funds.”5

Similarly, the Committee on Ethics notes that, “Official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes.”6 For purposes of this rule, “official resources” includes not only official funds, but “goods and services purchased with those funds,” “House buildings, and House rooms and offices,” “congressional office equipment,” “office supplies,” and “congressional staff time.”7 The limitations on the authorized use of official time and space for campaign or political purposes extends to activities such as “the drafting of campaign speeches, statements, press releases, or literature.”8 Moreover, the scope of campaign or political activities that may not be conducted with official resources is not limited to the Member’s own reelection campaign. As the Committee on Ethics explains:

Members and staff should be aware that the general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking. Thus the prohibition applies to, for example, campaigns for the presidency, the U.S. Senate, or a state or local office, and it applies to such campaigns whether the Member is a candidate or is merely seeking to support or assist (or oppose) a candidate in such a campaign.9

In his motion, Representative Brooks represents to the court that he intended his January 6, 2021, speech to incite action by the thousands of attendees with respect to election activity. Representative Brooks states that he sought “to encourage Ellipse Rally attendees to put the 2020 elections behind them (and, in particular, the preceding day’s two Georgia GOP Senate losses) and to inspire listeners to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections, which had already begun.”10 For example, Representative Brooks affirms that in his speech, he said, “Today is a time of choosing, and tomorrow is a time for fighting.” 11 According to Representative Brooks, the first half of that statement, “Today is a time of choosing,” is not a “call for violence,” but is instead a reference to “[w]hich Senators and Congressmen to support, and oppose, in future elections.”12 Further, he explains that the second half of that statement, “tomorrow is a time for fighting,” is a reference to “fighting” “[t]hose who don’t vote like citizens prefer … in future elections, as is emphasized later in the speech.”13

Similarly, Representative Brooks also declares that in his speech, he said, that “the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner” and that “As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” 14 As he said “the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner,” Representative Brooks withdrew a red cap that stated “FIRE PELOSI” from his coat, donned the cap, and wore it for the remainder of his speech.15 Representative Brooks says that, “The phrase, ‘As such’ emphasizes that the second sentence is in the context of the first sentence’s ‘2022 and 2024 elections’ time frame … and the desire to beat offending Republicans in those elections!”16 He asks and answers his own question about the timing: “When do citizens kick those Republican asses? As stated in the first sentence, in the ‘2022 and 2024 elections that are right around the corner.’”17 He later affirms that, “My ‘kicking ass’ comment referred to what patriotic Republicans needed to do in the 2022 and 2024 elections and had zero to do with the Capitol riot.”18

For Lofgren’s purpose, the important part is that Brooks has sworn under oath that the specific language that seemed to invite violence was instead campaign activity outside the scope of his official duties.

Essentially, in deflecting the allegation that his speech was an incitement to violence, Representative Brooks has sworn under oath to the court that his conduct was instead in furtherance of political campaigns. As noted, standards of conduct that apply to Members and precedents of the House are clear that campaign activity is outside the scope of official duties and not a permissible use of official resources.

She doesn’t say it, but Brooks’ declaration, including his confession that he wrote the speech in his office, is also a sworn declaration that he violated campaign finance laws by using his office for campaign activities.

The DOJ response to Brooks’ request for certification cites Lofgren’s letter while adopting a similar approach to it, one that would extend beyond Brooks’ actions to Trump himself. The entire rally, they say, was a campaign rally, and therefore outside the scope of Brooks’ employment as a Congressperson — or the scope of employment of any elected official.

The record indicates that the January 6 rally was an electioneering or campaign activity that Brooks would ordinarily be presumed to have undertaken in an unofficial capacity. Activities specifically directed toward the success of a candidate for a partisan political office in a campaign context—electioneering or campaign activities—are not within the scope of the office or employment of a Member of the House of Representatives. Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

This understanding that the scope of federal office excludes campaign activity is broadly reflected in numerous authorities. This Court, for example, emphasized “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection” in holding that House or Senate mailings aimed at that purpose are “unofficial communication[s].” Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982) (upholding statute that provided franking privileges for official communications but not unofficial communications).

The current House Ethics Manual confirms that the official business of Members of the House does not include seeking election or reelection for themselves or others. House resources generally cannot be used for campaign purposes, and Members’ staff may engage in campaign work only “on their own time and outside the congressional office.” House Ethics Manual, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, 110th Cong., 2d Sess., at 121 (2008). For instance, Representatives cannot conduct campaign activities from House buildings or offices or use official letterhead or insignia, and congressional staff on official time should terminate interviews that focus on campaign issues. See id. at 127–29, 133. Of direct relevance here, a Member of Congress also cannot use official resources to engage in presidential campaigns: “[T]he general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking,” and this “prohibition applies to, for example, campaigns for the Presidency.” Id. at 124; see Lofgren Letter 2.

First, the record indicates that Brooks’s conduct was undertaken as part of a campaign-type rally, and campaign activity is not “of the kind he is employed to perform,” or “within the authorized time and space limits” for a Member of Congress. Restatement §§ 228(1)(a), (b). Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c). Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. [my emphasis]

Brooks might object to DOJ’s determination that the entire rally was a campaign event; he claims the other parts of his speech were part of his duty as a Congressperson. But if pressed on that point, the inconsistencies within his own sworn declaration would either support the view that Trump’s actions also weren’t part of his official duties, or that he himself meant the “kick ass” comment to refer to events of the day and therefore did incite violence. That is, the inconsistencies in Brooks’ sworn declaration may corner him into statements that go against Trump’s interests as well.

Importantly, DOJ’s filing treats the question of whether Brooks committed a crime as a separate issue entirely, asking Judge Amit Mehta not to rule in Brooks’ favor without first analyzing Brooks’ conduct to determine if the conduct alleged in the complaint — which happens to be but which DOJ doesn’t spell out — is a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, the same charge used against three different militias charged in January 6.

Once again, DOJ emphasizes that this language applies to any Federal employee.

Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint.

[snip]

Here, the Complaint alleges that Brooks conspired with the other Defendants and the “rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6” to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes. Compl. ¶ 12. To serve that end, the Complaint alleges that, among other things, the Defendants conspired amongst themselves and with others to “injure members of Congress . . . and Vice President Pence” in an effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 12, 171, 179. Such a conspiracy would clearly be outside the scope of the office of a Member of Congress: Inciting or conspiring to foment a violent attack on the United States Congress is not within the scope of employment of a Representative—or any federal employee— and thus is not the sort of conduct for which the United States is properly substituted as a defendant under the Westfall Act.

Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations that he conspired to incite the attack on the Capitol. See Brooks Aff. 17–18.5 The Department of Justice does not address that issue here. The campaign or electioneering nature of Brooks’s participation in the January 6 rally independently warrants denial of certification, and the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more broadly.6 But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. Cf. Osborn v. Haley, 549 U.S. 225, 252 (2007) (recognizing that scope-of-employment questions may overlap substantially with the merits of a tort claim).

6 As this Court is aware, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for several months continued their investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack. This investigation is ongoing. More than 535 defendants have been arrested across the country and at least 165 defendants have been charged on counts ranging from destruction of government property to conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding. See Department of Justice Statement, https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/six-monthsjanuary-6th-attack-capitol. [my emphasis]

Someone could write a book on how many important cases Judge Mehta has presided over in recent years. But he’s got a slew of January 6 defendants, including all the Oath Keeper conspirators. And so Mehta is not just aware that DOJ is conducting an ongoing investigation, he has also presided over four guilty pleas for conspiring to obstruct the vote count, close to (but charged under a different law) as the claim Swalwell made in his complaint.

So Mehta has already accepted that it is a crime to obstruct the vote count, four different times, with Jon Schaffer, Graydon Young, Mark Grods, and Caleb Berry. He’d have a hard time ruling that, if Swalwell’s allegations are true (as noted, Brooks contends that some of them are not, and they certainly don’t yet present enough proof to support a criminal prosecution), Brooks would be exempt from the same criminal conspiracy charges that the Oath Keepers are pleading guilty to.

DOJ’s declaration is not (just) an attempt to create space — by distinguishing campaign activities from official duties — between this and DOJ’s decision to substitute for Trump in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit. It is an effort to preserve the principle that not just Congresspeople, but all Federal employees, may be charged and convicted of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, particularly for actions taken as part of campaign activities.

The Grand Jury Secrets Hiding the Proud Boys’ East Door Activities

By my very quick review, there have just been a handful of January 6 defendants charged individually via indictment, without first being charged by complaint.

Lewis Cantwell was arrested in February for civil disorder and obstruction, but whose actions on January 6 are not laid out in any public court documents.

Richard Harris was arrested via indictment in March for resisting arrest and obstruction. A motion supporting detention revealed that Harris persuaded cops to back down at one of the entrances and picked up a phone and purported to threaten Nancy Pelosi; he had assaulted a journalist at a protest in December in Oregon and — though this is contested — lived out of his car after that time.

Daniel Rodriguez was arrested via indictment in March for tasing Michael Fanone, among other things. A HuffPo article, which in turn relied on the work of various volunteer Sedition Hunters, had already provided ample introduction on Rodriguez.

The Klein brothers — Matthew and Jonathanpeter — probably count as one unit. They were charged via conspiracy indictment in March. Their drawn out detention fight showed one or both have ties to the Proud Boys, they followed Dominic Pezzola in the Senate side door, and then later successfully breached the North Door.

Other than that, people have been initially charged via indictment in group or conspiracy indictments: Verden Nalley got indicted along with William Calhoun a month after Calhoun was first charged. Albuquerque Cosper Head and Kyle Young were indicted for assault along with Thomas Sibick, who had already been charged. Taylor Johnatakis and Isaac Sturgeon were indicted on assault charges with Craig Bingert, who had already been charged. A now sprawling assault indictment including Jack Whitton, Clayton Mullins, and Michael Lopatic started with complaints against Jeffrey Sabol and Peter Stager. Another sprawling assault indictment including Tristan Stevens, David Judd, Christopher Quaglin, Robert Morss, and Geoffrey Sills built off a Patrick McCaughey complaint.

When some of the militia members got added to one or another indictment — Matthew Greene to one of the Proud Boys indictment, and several Oath Keepers to that omnibus indictment — they were indicted without a complaint first.

Which is to say, in this investigation, it has been very rare for an individual to be initially charged via indictment.

That’s why it’s notable that the government arrested Ricky Willden yesterday, a Proud Boy from Northern California, on assault and civil disorder charges via an indictment obtained a week earlier. The government issued a press release that describes that Willden was on the East side cheering as a bunch of Marines and one co-traveller opened the door, then sprayed some stuff at cops guarding the door.

The Proud Boys is a group self-described as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists.” In publicly available videos recorded on Jan. 6, Willden can be seen in a crowd near the east door of the Capitol at 2:24 p.m. (according to time stamps in one of the videos) wearing a dark jacket, beanie cap and gloves, and cheering as the doors to the Capitol opened. At 2:35 p.m., he can be seen raising his hand and spraying an unknown substance from a green can toward police officers who were standing guard at the east door.

But because the government arrested Willden via indictment, they don’t have to release a public explanation of their probable cause to arrest him. Indeed, the press release pointedly cites “publicly available videos” to back the only allegation it makes.

One reason to charge someone on indictment rather than complaint is to hide the identity of witnesses who have testified. I find that particularly interesting, in part, because there were several people who posed in Joe Biggs’ picture on the East side, but thus far, just Paul Rae and Arthur Jackman have been identified from the picture (though Biggs surely knows who the others are). While the government has ostentatiously rolled out one after another Oath Keeper cooperator — first Jon Schaffer, then Graydon Young, and yesterday Mark Grods — aside from an unindicted co-conspirator identified in some of the Proud Boy indictments (UCC-1), whose identity those charged also know, the government has hidden the cooperators it has surely recruited from the notoriously back-stabbing group.  The hybrid approach the government has used — charging five overlapping conspiracies but also charging a bunch of Proud Boys who worked in concert with others individually — has (surely by design) made it harder for both participants and observers to understand what the government has in hand. There have been a few inconclusive hints that one or another person has flipped (or that Judge Tim Kelly, who has presided over most of the Proud Boys cases, had a sealed hearing that might reflect a plea deal), but nothing concrete.

For weeks it has been clear that unpacking how it happened that two militias and a bunch of Marines converged on the East Door as if all had advance warning would be one key to demonstrating the larger conspiracy behind the January 6 insurrection.

But just as DOJ has rolled out a new player in those events, they’ve moved everything to a grand jury to hide its secrets.

Graydon Young: Trading a Potential Terrorism Enhancement for Testimony against His Sister

As of this moment, the government has obtained five misdemeanor guilty pleas, one straight up felony plea, and two cooperation pleas in the January 6 investigation. With an eye towards understanding the Graydon Young plea, I’d like to look at the stories — or lack thereof — that the government is telling with its Statements of Offense.

DOJ’s reticent Statements of Offense

Thus far, the government is using Statements of Offense for their functional purpose, to lay out how the defendant’s behavior meets the elements of the offense to which they plead guilty, and not to tell a larger story about the investigation (as, for example, in the Robert Mueller did with some of his guilty pleas).

Generally, the misdemeanor SOO are more succinct than the arrest affidavit for the same defendant. For example, in their SOO, there’s less detail of Jessica and Joshua Bustle’s social media postings or evidence from the geofence warrants than in their arrest affidavit. Instead the SOO lays out that they were in the Capitol, that they carried anti-vaccine signs (which supports their parading charge), and adds that the reason they were there was to “demonstrate against the certification of the vote count.” Similarly, Robert Reeder’s SOO doesn’t include details of the pictures he took while inside the Capitol, which were described in his arrest warrant; it focuses on the alarms ringing when Reeder entered the building, that Reeder ignored a cop’s response that “We don’t have any water in here, sir” when he walked past the cop into the building, and his second trip inside, all evidence making it clear his trespass was knowing and intentional. There is something new in Bryan Ivey’s SOO that wasn’t in his arrest affidavit: that he deleted all the photos and videos he took inside the Capitol which, if the FBI wasn’t able to restore them, would represent the loss of valuable evidence about the first rioters inside the building.

That will likely be used in sentencing to distinguish Ivey at sentencing from someone like Anna Morgan-Lloyd who was able to fully cooperate with law enforcement.

Similarly, the SOO for the one straight felony plea, that of Paul Hodgkins, adds almost nothing from his arrest affidavit, aside from a paragraph establishing his intent to obstruct the vote count, which is an element of the obstruction charge he pled guilt to.

Hodgkins knew at the time he entered the U.S. Capitol Building that that he did not have permission to enter the building, and the defendant did so with the intent to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, a proceeding before Congress, specifically, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote as set out in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and 3 U.S.C. §§ 15-18.

There’s not even any language explaining the import of Hodgkins having helped occupy the Senate, as compared to those charged with misdemeanors.

There’s nothing at all wrong with this. Indeed, with the conveyor belt of plea deals that are about to go forward, doing this as efficiently and soundly, from a legal standpoint, as possible makes sense.

The cooperation deals also don’t tip DOJ’s hand

It’s not surprising, then, that the SOOs for the two cooperation deals provide little hint of what the men, Oath Keepers Jon Schaffer and Graydon Young, traded in hopes of working off their sentences. Admittedly, Schaffer’s SOO included two comments he made at the Million MAGA March on November 14, 2020 that were also included in his arrest affidavit. But like the arrest affidavit, the only link made between Schaffer’s actions on January 6 and the Oath Keepers is the Oath Keepers hat he wore to insurrection.

Instead, Schaffer’s SOO focuses on the elements needed to sustain Schaffer’s obstruction and trespassing with a deadly weapon (bear spray) charges.

Wearing a tactical vest and armed with bear spray, SCHAFFER unlawfully entered the building with the purpose of influencing, affecting, and retaliating against the conduct of government by stopping or delaying the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion.

We know that Schaffer is cooperating against other Oath Keepers. A discovery letter Kathryn Rakoczy sent on April 23 explained that,

On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, we emailed you about Jon Schaffer, who pled guilty last week, with respect to the information we have at this time about whether Mr. Schaffer has had communications with your clients.

But the SOO doesn’t reveal any of what Schaffer might say.

Similarly, Graydon Young’s SOO doesn’t reveal what he might have offered prosecutors in hopes of working away the estimated 63 to 78 months he faces on the charges to which he pled guilty. Though by examining the history of the charges against him with what did get included in his SOO, we might guess what he offered.

How Graydon Young ended up pleading out of terrorism exposure

The government was prepared to arrest Young with a January 18 arrest warrant charging him with trespassing, obstruction of the vote count, and obstruction for deleting his Facebook account. Instead, they held off until February, when they arrested Young along with his sister, Laura Steele, and Kelly and Connie Meggs as part of the First Superseding Indictment, which added conspiracy and aiding and abetting the destruction of government property (18 U.S.C. §1361) charges to Young’s legal woes. The Third Superseding Indictment added no charges against Young. But the Fourth added a civil disorder charge that also implicated his sister and Jessica Watkins (as well as civil disorder, assault, and obstruction charges for some others). As I described at the time, the government was effectively turning the screws, enhancing most defendants’ legal jeopardy — albeit with charges that were already foreshadowed in case filings — as they awaited discovery. It was utterly ruthless, and about par for the course for DOJ, particularly for a complex conspiracy case.

By pleading guilty, Young not only got 3 levels of credit for pleading guilty, but the civil disorder and damage to the building charge were dismissed. Notably, the latter charge is what can be used to add a terrorism enhancement at sentencing, so by pleading, Young basically avoided being treated, legally, as a terrorist if and when DOJ decides to go there. In addition, Young’s initial charge for deleting his Facebook account got added as a two level enhancement to his obstruction charge. Had he been convicted of everything at trial, Young probably would have been sentenced to that as a separate crime concurrently, so effectively by pleading it just made his existing obstruction exposure worse.

Here’s what all that looks like in the mumbo jumbo of sentencing levels, which gives a sense of how DOJ is treating the Oath Keepers’ obstruction of the vote count as distinct from Paul Hodgkins, whose base level calculation (which did not include the threats of violence and damage, the extensive planning, or the obstruction charged against Young himself) was 17.

U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2 Base Offense Level 14

U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(1)(B) Causing/Threatening Injury or Damage +8

U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(2) Substantial Interference With Justice +3

U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(3)(C) Extensive Scope, Planning, or Preparation +2

U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 Obstruction (destroying documents) +2

Total 29

Apropos of nothing (except that this conspiracy is getting closer to Roger Stone), this is precisely the same guidelines calculation as DOJ used with Stone, and — except for threatening a judge rather than deleting Facebook — for the same reasons.

So Paul Hodgkins, who obstructed the vote by going alone to the Senate floor and occupying that space with people like Jacob Chansley, faces 15 to 21 months, whereas Young, by planning ahead with a militia and going into the day planning for violence, faces 63 to 78 months (though avoids the terrorism enhancement that DOJ has been hinting they may use against the conspirators).

What is and is not in Young’s Statement of Offense

With that as background, I’d like to look at what got included and excluded in Young’s SOO, and what got excluded (which I’ll argue may hint at what he’ll cooperate with DOJ on).

The core of Young’s SOO substantiates the obstruction charge in language similar to that used with Hodgkins:

16. At the time Mr. Young forcibly entered the building, Mr. Young believed that he and the co-conspirators were trying to obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, a proceeding before Congress, specifically, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote as set out in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and the statutes listed in sections 15 through 18 of title 3 of the U.S. Code.

17. Mr. Young acted to affect the government by stopping or delaying the Congressional proceeding, and, in fact, did so. He accomplished this by intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting the Congressional proceeding.

In addition, ¶¶20-21 describe Young deleting his Facebook account and some of what he deleted, and ¶¶8-15 and ¶¶18-20 describe most of the overt acts attributed to him in the Fourth Superseding, correlating this way:

¶8 of the SOO describes making plans.

¶9 describes Young and “at least some of the co-conspirators” discussing the need for operational security includes a Proton Mail exchange in which Joseph Hackett described sending pictures to discuss, “locations, identities, Ops planning … to avoid digital reads.”

¶10 describes Young traveling with “at least one of the co-conspirators” — language of his SOO that will be used as evidence against his own sister, Laura Steele — to DC.

¶11 describes the Trump rally in very oblique terms: “an event near the White House.”

¶12 describes — again, in innocuous terms, “marched with at least some of the co-conspirators towards the U.S. Capitol” — as described as The Stack “preparing for battle and marching to the Capitol” in ¶101 of the Fourth Superseding.

¶13 describes entering the restricted grounds of the Capitol (one of the trespass charges) and what gear he wore.

¶14 describes The Stack entering the Capitol, as described in ¶132 of the Fourth Superseding.

¶15 describes The Stack walking through a damaged door (substantiating the 18 USC 1361 charge Young is no longer charged with) and tussling with cops.

As noted, ¶¶16-17 allocute the obstruction of the vote count.

¶18 describes six members of The Stack specifically pushing against a line of cops guarding the hallway (substantiating the Civil Disorder charge Young is no longer charged with but his sister is).

¶19 describes Young exiting the Capitol.

¶20 describes the content of something Young tried to delete from his Facebook account: “At around 4:22 p.m., Mr. Young posted on Facebook, “We stormed and got inside.'”

Even on its face, the SOO has Young admitting to overt acts, under oath, that implicate a number of his co-conspirators, especially Jessica Watkins, Hackett, and his sister, Laura Steele. That’s part of what DOJ got from Young in this plea deal: sworn testimony and therefore more pressure to plead against other alleged conspirators. This probably won’t be the last time in the January 6 investigation — possibly even in this conspiracy — that DOJ requires family members to testify against family members to get a plea deal.

But there are other things described in the Fourth Superseding that either don’t show up in the SOO or show up in such oblique fashion that they likely point to area where Young gave prosecutors something they didn’t have.

For example, the Fourth Superseding describes Young’s own effort to join the Oath Keepers, his efforts to recruit others, and his role in rushing his sister through the process (an utterly disastrous favor that Steele’s big brother did for her). If that’s covered in his SOO, it’s only in this vague language.

In advance of January 6, 2021, Mr. Young coordinated with certain individuals and affiliates of the Oath Keepers – referred to here as “the co-conspirators” – in making plans for what Mr. Young and the co-conspirators would be doing in Washington, D.C., on January 6.

In addition, the Fourth Superseding included details of a Signal planning chat in which Young was included.

At least as early as January 3, 2021, WATKINS, KELLY MEGGS, YOUNG, HARRELSON, HACKETT, DOLAN, ISAACS, and others known and unknown joined an invitation-only encrypted Signal group message titled “OK FL DC OP Jan 6” (hereinafter the “Florida Signal Chat”).

We know nothing of what was said on this chat. The uncertainty about when it was established suggests that the government may have obtained what it has of this chat via someone whose phone took some time to exploit, someone (possibly including Young) who was a relatively late addition to it. But certainly, whatever did take place on this chat would be one of the things incorporated into the “making plans” bullet described in the indictment, and key to showing not just that the Oath Keepers had entered into a conspiracy to conduct this operation, but probably details of how they coordinated with other militias in Florida

Relatedly, there’s the firearms training session Young set up, which is not included in his SOO but is included in the larger conspiracy.

47. On December 26, 2020, YOUNG wrote an email to a Florida company that conducts training on firearms and combat. YOUNG wrote, in part, “I trained with you not long ago. Since then I have joined Oath Keepers. I recommended your training to the team. To that effect, four of us would like to train with you, specifically in your UTM10 rifle class.”

Given how obliquely the SOO refers both to Young’s activities at the Trump rally and the decision to leave before it ended to head to the Capitol, I suspect he provided new details on that, as well.

We may not learn these details for weeks if not months (we still have no idea what Schaffer has been doing since he pled in April).

All DOJ’s telling us is that Graydon Young’s plea deal will make things worse for his co-conspirators, giving them even more incentive to flip on their own right.

Update: Benny Bryant reminds me that we do know some stuff about that Florida Signal chat, because it shows up in the government’s response to Kenneth Harrelson’s bid for bail. He also argues that the weapons training Young signed up for is not the training that the Meggses set up. [Deleted reference to Stone there.]

The January 6 Plea Deals: Cooperation, Felony, and Misdemeanor Plea Deals

Later today, Graydon Young, one of the people charged in the Oath Keeper conspiracy, will plead guilty. We won’t know until then whether his plea includes a cooperation agreement or not. He only joined the Oath Keepers in December 2020, but because he was in Florida, he may know about some key events leading up to January 6, including this book event with Roger Stone and Kelly Meggs’ wife, Connie.

Days after the event, Kelly Meggs described having set up an organized alliance between Florida militias.

Also this afternoon, Anna Morgan-Lloyd will be the first January 6 defendant to be sentenced; the government has recommended she get a three year probation sentence.

In anticipation of what will soon turn into a flood of pleas, I wanted to lay out what we’ve seen so far.

Update: Judge Lamberth did give Anna Morgan-Lloyd probation, but gave her 3 times the community service — 120 hours rather than 40 — as the government requested. Update: it was docketed as 40 hours. So I guess she got exactly what prosecutors asked for.

Cooperation Agreement

Jon Schaffer: Schaffer is the only cooperation agreement we know about, but that may be because of a docket fail. There are certainly other people I suspect are cooperating, and there are sealed filings that could suggest cooperators. He pled to obstruction and entering the building with a deadly weapon. His guidelines sentence is 41-51 months.

Plea (includes 5K1), but no assigned restitution amount

Graydon Young: Young also entered into a cooperation agreement. He is pleading to conspiracy and obstruction, and faces a guideline sentence of 63-78 months.

Plea (includes 5K1) and restitution

Felony Plea

In spite of Paul Hodgkins’ notable use of latex gloves (which he put on in an attempt to offer Joshua Black First Aid), his was a straight plea. As a felony plea, his includes sentencing guidelines for pleading to obstruction, 18 U.S.C. §1512 (which for Hodgkins was 15 to 21 months) and $2,000 restitution.

Paul Hodgkins (my post on his plea)

Misdemeanor Plea

The misdemeanor pleas we’ve seen so far require the defendant to plead to one of what is often four trespass charges. The pleas include $500 restitution and, for most (but not Reeder), a “cooperation with additional investigation” paragraph requiring an interview and a review of social media with law enforcement.

Jessica Bustle

Joshua Bustle

Bryan Ivey

Anna Morgan-Lloyd (my post on her effort to express remorse)

Robert Reeder