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“I’m Just There to Open the Envelopes:” The Select Committee and DOJ Investigations Converge at Mike Pence

You might not understand this from following just traditional news outlets, but over the course of a year, the news-friendly January 6 Select Committee and even the public parts of the locked-down DOJ investigation have met at a common pivot point in their investigation of January 6: on Trump’s efforts to pressure Mike Pence to violate the Constitution.

Trump did so, first, with personal pressure. Then he sent his mob.

The pressure on Pence is how Trump’s plotting in advance of January 6 affirmatively led  directly to — not just through inaction, but through action — specific steps taken by confessed mobsters to assault the Capitol.

Already in February of last year, both the House Impeachment Managers and I recognized the centrality of Trump’s treatment of his Vice President to his liability for the January 6 insurrection.

Trump had nothing to say in defense of his actions with regards to Mike Pence.

The House brief mentions Pence, by title and sometimes by name, 36 times. Those mentions include a description of how Pence was presiding over the counting of the electoral vote, how he fled when Trump’s mobsters flooded into the Capitol, how the attackers targeted him by name, how Secret Service barely kept him safe, how Trump’s own actions made Pence’s danger worse.

The House brief dedicates a section to how Pence refused to do what Trump explicitly asked him to do, to unilaterally discount certain electoral votes.

C. Vice President Pence Refuses to Overturn the Election Results

By the time the rally began, President Trump had nearly run out of options. He had only one card left to play: his Vice President. But in an act that President Trump saw as an unforgivable betrayal, Vice President Pence refused to violate his oath and constitutional duty—and, just hours later, had to be rushed from the Senate chamber to escape an armed mob seeking vengeance.

In the weeks leading up to the rally, President Trump had furiously lobbied Vice President Pence to refuse to count electoral votes for President Biden from any of the swing states.68 These demands ignored the reality that the Vice President has no constitutional or statutory authority to take that step. Over and over again, President Trump publicly declared that if Vice President Pence refused to block the Joint Session from finalizing President Biden’s victory, then the election, the party, and the country would be lost. “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” President Trump said in Georgia on January 4.69 The next day, he tweeted: “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency.”70 President Trump reiterated this demand just hours before the rally: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”71 On the morning of January 6, President Trump reportedly told Vice President Pence, “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy.”72

Later that day, while President Trump was speaking at his rally, Vice President Pence issued a public letter rejecting President Trump’s threats. “It is my considered judgment,” he wrote, “that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”73

This letter sounded the death knell to any peaceful methods of overturning the election outcome. It was well known that the House and Senate were going to count the lawfully certified electoral votes they had received. President Trump’s efforts to coerce election officials, state legislatures, the DOJ, Members of Congress, and his own Vice President had all failed. But he had long made it clear that he would never accept defeat. He would fight until the bitter end. And all that remained for President Trump was the seething crowd before him—known to be poised for violence at his instigation—and the Capitol building just a short march away, where Vice President Pence presided over the final, definitive accounting of President Trump’s electoral loss.

[snip]

In other words, a key part of the House brief describes Trump giving Pence an illegal order, and then, after Pence refused to follow that order and announced he would do his own Constitutional duty, Trump took actions to focus the anger of the mob on his own Vice President.

It’s not just what Trump said about Pence, the incitement of an assassination attempt against his Vice President that Trump claims is protected by the First Amendment, but it’s about an illegal order Trump gave to Pence, which Pence duly ignored.

That order was unconstitutional, and as such is not protected by the First Amendment.

Trump’s brief, by contrast, mentions the Vice President (only by title) just three times, two of which are simply citations from the House brief. The sole mention of the man he almost got hanged involves a concession that the Vice President was, indeed, presiding over the counting of the votes.

It is admitted that on January 6, 2021 a joint session of Congress met with the Vice President, the House and the Senate, to count the votes of the Electoral College.

But in response to the second citation from the House brief mentioning Pence, Trump instead pivots to defending the Republican members of Congress challenging state results. As part of that discussion, Trump denies any intention of interfering with the counting of Electoral votes. That denial focuses exclusively on the actions of Members of Congress, not Pence.

Since that time, Congress has been investigating from the top down, aided by the press and a healthy bunch of Pence staffers horrified by what happened to their boss. DOJ has been investigating (at a minimum) from the crime scene up.

The Select Committee appears to have corroborated stories told by Bobs Woodward and Costa in Peril. After losing all their attempts to challenge the election in the courts and backed by a coup memo from John Eastman, in December 2020, Trump’s people started demanding that Pence refuse the vote totals from a select group of states.

At the end, he announces that because of the ongoing disputes in the 7 States, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States. That means the total number of “electors appointed” – the language of the 12th Amendment — is 454. This reading of the 12th Amendment has also been advanced by Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe (here). A “majority of the electors appointed” would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.

Howls, of course, from the Democrats, who now claim, contrary to Tribe’s prior position, that 270 is required. So Pence says, fine. Pursuant to the 12th Amendment, no candidate has achieved the necessary majority. That sends the matter to the House, where the “the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote . . . .” Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is re-elected there as well.

Pence conducted a series of consultations, most notably with his predecessor Dan Quayle, who counseled Pence could only open the ballots. In the hours before the riot, conservative legal stars John Yoo and Michael Luttig backed the Vice President as well.

That led to the remarkable scene on January 5 (as described in Peril, though Keith Kellogg is among the witnesses who cooperated with the Select Committee under a friendly subpoena and Peril’s account relies heavily on him and other Pence aides), as Trump invited Pence to call on unconstitutional power from the mob.

On the evening of January 5, as he waited for Pence to arrive from a coronavirus task force meeting, an aide informed Trump his supporters were gathering near the White House on Freedom Plaza near Pennsylvania Avenue.

Despite the bitter cold, the supporters were cheering loudly and chanting his name. They were waving “Make America Great Again” flags.

When Pence arrived, Trump told him about the thousands of supporters. They love me, he said.

Pence nodded. “Of course, they’re here to support you,” he said. “They love you, Mr. President.

“But,” Pence added, “they also love our Constitution.”

Trump grimaced.

That may be, Trump said, but they agree with him regardless: Pence could and should throw Biden’s electors out. Make it fair. Take it back.

That is all I want you to do, Mike, Trump said. Let the House decide the election. Trump was not ready to give up, especially to a man he maligned as “Sleepy Joe.”

“What do you think, Mike?” Trump asked.

Pence returned to his mantra: He did not have the authority to do anything other than count the electoral votes.

“Well, what if these people say you do?” Trump asked, gesturing beyond the White House to the crowds outside. Raucous cheering and blasting bullhorns could be heard through the Oval Office windows.

“If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.

“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.

“But wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” Trump asked.

“No,” Pence said. “Look, I’ve read this, and I don’t see a way to do it.

“We’ve exhausted every option. I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible. My interpretation is: No.

“I’ve met with all of these people,” Pence said, “they’re all on the same page. I personally believe these are the limits to what I can do. So, if you have a strategy for the 6th, it really shouldn’t involve me because I’m just there to open the envelopes. You should be talking to the House and Senate. Your team should be talking to them about what kind of evidence they’re going to present.”

In spite of Pence’s refusals, Trump released a false statement that the Vice President would, in fact, do Trump’s dirty work.

Late Tuesday evening, January 5, as word dripped out in the press that Pence was holding, Trump directed his campaign to issue a statement claiming that he and Pence were in “total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.”

This set the expectation with the already enraged mob that their efforts to keep Trump in office might just work.

As the Select Committee revealed last night, the White House Counsel’s Office was objecting to all of this, and threatening to resign if Trump tried it. Sean Hannity learned about those threats as early as December 31 and shared his concerns with Mark Meadows.

We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. [sic] He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity.

Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen.

The night of January 5, the same night Trump falsely claimed that Pence would go along with the plan, Hannity again told Mark Meadows he was worried the White House Counsel lawyers would quit.

Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave.

Whether or not Hannity sits for an interview with the Select Committee, the release of texts showing that Trump or Meadows shared privileged advice that the White House Counsel gave to Trump (thereby waiving any privilege claim) may have made the testimony of those lawyers themselves accessible, if not to the Select Committee, then under subpoena from DOJ.

That’s important, because as the DOJ prosecutor guiding DOJ’s use of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to charge those who participated in the insurrection, James Pearce, has already noted, 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.”

By publicly releasing those Hannity texts, the Select Committee may have made proof that Trump knew his request to Pence was illegal available to DOJ.

Still, any testimony Hannity could offer is important for what came next: because Hannity seems to have known that Trump’s persistence would lead to trouble.

Already knowing that Pence would not reject the vote tallies, already knowing Pence didn’t have that power, Trump riled up his mob in his speech by making it clear everything came down to Pence.

And he looked at Mike Pence, and I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so.

Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do, all this is, this is from the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We’re supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our Constitution, and protect our constitution.

States want to revote. The states got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.

And I actually, I just spoke to Mike. I said: “Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage.” And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We’re just not going to let that happen.

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

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

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

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

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

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congress is currently focused on showing what Trump did during the 187 minutes after his mob had breached the Capitol — aside from his tweet focusing again on Pence.

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

DOJ is finalizing its understanding of the coordinated effort, using the mobs Alex Jones lured to the Capitol and to a second front, that resulted in multiple breaches of the building and vastly inflated risk to Pence and members of Congress.

But on one point, both investigations have already converged: the motive of a vast many involved, from Trump to his scheming associates to organized militias to unwitting trespassers, was to was pressure Mike Pence to violate his duty.

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.

Dabney Friedrich Rejects Challenge to January 6 Obstruction Application

I have written — a lot — about the application of obstruction (18 USC 1512(c)(2)) at the heart of the way DOJ has approached the January 6 prosecution. (July; July; August; August; September; September; December; December)

The government has, thus far, chosen not to charge January 6ers with Seditious Conspiracy (18 USC 2384), a crime which carries a sentence of 20 years but requires the government show specific intent to overthrow the government. DOJ has a history of spectacular failure when trying to charge white terrorists with sedition, in part because the bar to proving the elements of the offense is quite high, and in part because white terrorists have long known how to package their extremism in heroic terms. Sedition would be particularly hard to prove with regards to January 6, since it was an attack launched by one branch of government on another.

Instead, the government has charged those Jan6ers against whom they had solid evidence of a specific intent to stop the vote certification with obstruction of an official proceeding under 18 USC 1512(c)(2). Like sedition, that crime can carry a 20 year sentence. But the base offense carries a range closer to 18 months (or the eight months to which Paul Hodgkins was sentenced). To get to stiffer sentences, DOJ would have to demonstrate any of a number of exacerbating behaviors, most notably, the threat of violence or an attempt to assassinate someone, but also destruction of evidence. That’s how DOJ got to very different guideline ranges for five men, all of whom pled guilty to the same obstruction offense:

That is, using obstruction offers the possibility of the same sentence as sedition for the more serious perpetrators, without the same political blowback and legal risk, while giving DOJ more flexibility in punishing different kinds of actions that day as felonies.

Only, using obstruction in this fashion is without precedent, in part because no one has ever tried to prevent the vote certification by violently attacking the Capitol before.

Because of that, January 6 defense attorneys have launched a concerted legal attack on the application, variously claiming:

  • This application of obstruction can’t be applied to the vote certification because 18 USC 1512(c)(2) is limited to those proceedings for which there is some kind investigation and adjudication of evidence (like an impeachment)
  • If DOJ wanted to charge obstruction, they should have used some other part of the law (that didn’t carry a potential 20 year sentence)
  • A recent Supreme Court ruling in Yates v United States that ruled fish could not be evidence of obstruction, which pivoted largely on grammar and conjunctions, would apply to using a mob to stop a vote certification
  • January 6 rioters had no way of knowing that the vote certification counted as an official proceeding the obstruction of which would carry a felony charge
  • The same confusion about what “corruptly” means that saved John Poindexter exists here

Yesterday, Judge Dabney Friedrich denied Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave’s motion to dismiss their conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction charges. The opinion is succinct, step-by-step dismissal of each of those challenges (I’ve put the bullets above in the order she addresses them to make it easier to read along).

There are three other major efforts (by Brady Knowlton before Randolph Moss, by Proud Boy Ethan Nordean before Tim Kelly, by Thomas Caldwell before Amit Mehta in the Oath Keeper case) and a slew of other more minor efforts to overturn this application. So the viability of this application of obstruction is by no means a done deal. If any of those other judges ruled against the government, it would set off interlocutory appeals that could upend this decision.

But one judge, at least, has now sanctioned DOJ’s novel application, at least as used with these two defendants.

It’s significant that Friedrich has ruled against this motion (she’s facing a similar one from 3%er Guy Reffitt), for a number of reasons. That’s true, for one, because she’s one of four Trump appointees in the DC District. While all four are (unlike some Trump appointees on the DC Circuit or Supreme Court) quite serious judges, Friedrich is, with Trevor McFadden, one of the judges who might be more sympathetic to the Trump-supporting defendants before her.

Friedrich had also raised questions as to why DOJ hadn’t used a different clause of the obstruction statute, 1512(d)(1) that might also apply to January 6, but which carries just a three year sentence. That makes her sustained treatment of how the law works — citing a Scalia opinion that defendants have raised repeatedly — of particular interest, because it’s the question she seemed to have the most doubt about.

Indeed, § 1512(c)(2) is more akin to the omnibus clause in 18 U.S.C. § 15035 than it is to “tangible object” in § 1519. The specific provisions in § 1503 cover actions related to jurors and court officers and the omnibus clause “serves as a catchall, prohibiting persons from endeavoring to influence, obstruct, or impede the due administration of justice.” As such, it is “far more general in scope.” United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593, 598 (1995). The ejusdem generus canon does not apply to limit § 1503’s omnibus clause to acts directed at jurors and court officers, because the clause “is not a general or collective term following a list of specific items.” Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 615 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (emphasis omitted). Instead, “it is one of the several distinct and independent prohibitions contained in § 1503 that share only the word ‘Whoever,’ which begins the statute, and the penalty provision that ends it.” Id. So too here.

[snip]

Nor does the plain text of § 1512(c)(2) create “intolerable” surplusage. Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 616 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). To be sure, interpreting subsection (c)(2) to include any and all obstructive, impeding, or influencing acts creates substantial overlap with the rest of § 1512, and with other provisions in Chapter 73. But the Court does not find that it creates intolerable overlap.

To start, a broad interpretation of § 1512(c)(2) does not entirely subsume numerous provisions with the chapter. For instance, § 1512(a)(1)(C), (a)(2)(C), (b)(3), and (d)(2)–(4) proscribe conduct unrelated to an “official proceeding.” Sections 1503 and 1505 prohibit obstructive acts related to the “due administration of justice” and congressional inquiries or investigations, respectively, which may have no relation to an official proceeding. Section 1513, meanwhile, prohibits retaliatory conduct that occurs after a person participates in an official proceeding. Section 1512(c)(2), on the other hand, concerns obstructive conduct that occurs either before or during such proceedings.

It is true that killing a witness to prevent his testimony at an official proceeding, see § 1512(a)(1)(A), or intimidating a person so that he withholds a record from the proceeding, see § 1512(b)(2)(A), among others, could be charged under § 1512(c)(2). But the fact that there is overlap between § 1512(c)(2) and the rest of § 1512, or other provisions in Chapter 73, is hardly remarkable; “[i]t is not unusual for a particular act to violate more than one criminal statute, and in such situations the Government may proceed under any statute that applies.” Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 616 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (internal citations omitted); see also Loughrin, 573 U.S. at 358 n.4.

In the Reffitt case, Friedrich had made DOJ provide a Bill of Particulars to explain how they understand Reffitt to have obstructed the vote certification, which was a different approach than other judges have taken. Moss and Mehta, for example, seem most concerned about limiting principles that distinguish obstruction as charged here from otherwise protected political speech (which also might give them a different basis to reject this application, particularly given that Donovan Crowl attorney Carmen Hernandez has focused on the First Amendment in the Oath Keeper case).

One other factor that makes Friedrich’s quicker decision on this issue (this challenge came before her after all the others I’ve listed as major above) interesting is that her spouse, Matthew Friedrich, was an Enron prosecutor. And — as Judge Friedrich’s opinion makes clear — Congress passed this specific clause in response to lessons learned in Enron.

In 2002, following the collapse of Enron, Congress enacted a new obstruction provision in Section 1102 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745, 807: “Tampering with a record or otherwise impeding an official proceeding.” It was codified as subsection (c) of a pre-existing statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1512. Section 1512(c), in full, states:

Whoever corruptly—

(1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or

(2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2).

[snip]

As noted, Congress enacted § 1512(c) as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 following “Enron’s massive accounting fraud and revelations that the company’s outside auditor, Arthur Andersen LLP, had systematically destroyed potentially incriminating documents.” Yates, 574 U.S. at 535–36. That Congress acted due to concerns about document destruction and the integrity of investigations of corporate criminality does not define the statute’s scope. Statutes often reach beyond the principal evil that animated them. See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 79 (1998).

She has personal reason to know this history and the import of the statute well.

Friedrich looked to the Enron history to map how “corruptly” might apply in this case, too.

In considering the meaning of “corruptly” (or wrongfully), courts have drawn a clear distinction between lawful and unlawful conduct. In Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696 (2005), the Supreme Court explained, in the context of § 1512(b), that “corruptly” is “associated with wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil.” Id. at 705 (internal quotations omitted).

[snip]

The ordinary meaning of “wrongful,” along with the judicial opinions construing it, identify a core set of conduct against which § 1512(c)(2) may be constitutionally applied—“independently criminal” conduct, North, 910 F.2d at 943 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) that is “inherently malign,” Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 704, and committed with the intent to obstruct an official proceeding, see Friske, 640 F.3d at 1291–92. “Corruptly” (or wrongfully) also acts to shield those who engage in lawful, innocent conduct—even when done with the intent to obstruct, impede, or influence the official proceeding—from falling within the ambit of § 1512(c)(2). See Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 705–06.

All in all, this was a no-nonsense opinion that didn’t rely on distinct aspects of this case, such as that Sandlin encouraged others in the Senate to look for and seize laptops and papers, the kind of destruction of evidence that makes the question easier.

Her opinion laid out just one limiting factor, though given how DOJ has charged conspiracy to obstruct the vote certification in all the conspiracy cases, an important one. This case was easy, Friedrich suggests, because so much of what else Sandlin and DeGrave are accused was obviously illegal (even moreso than Reffitt, who didn’t enter the building and whose resistance to cops was not charged as assault).

The indictment in this case alleges obstructive acts that fall on the obviously unlawful side of the line. It alleges that the defendants obstructed and impeded the congressional proceeding to certify the election results. Superseding Indictment ¶ 37. And it further alleges that the defendants engaged in advance planning, forcibly breached the Capitol building, assaulted Capitol police officers, and encouraged others to steal laptops and paperwork from the Senate Chamber. Id. ¶¶ 15-33. This alleged conduct is both “independently criminal,” North, 910 F.2d at 943 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) and “inherently malign,” Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 704. And it was allegedly done with the intent to obstruct the congressional proceeding, see Friske, 640 F.3d at 1291. Assuming that the government can meet its burden at trial, which is appropriate to assume for purposes of this motion, the defendants were sufficiently on notice that they corruptly obstructed, or attempted to obstruct, an official proceeding under § 1512(c)(2).

The Court recognizes that other cases, such as those involving lawful means, see, e.g., Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 703, will present closer questions.14 But the Court need not decide here what constitutes the outer contours of a “corrupt purpose.” Because the indictment alleges that the defendants used obvious criminal means with the intent to obstruct an official proceeding, their conduct falls squarely within the core coverage of “corruptly” as used in § 1512(c)(2). See Edwards, 869 F.3d at 502 (“While the corrupt-persuasion element might raise vagueness questions at the margins, the wrongdoing alleged here falls comfortably within the ambit of the statute.”). The Court will address further refinements of the definition of “corruptly” with jury instructions.

14 As courts have noted, difficult questions arise when lawful means are used with a corrupt purpose and with the intent to obstruct, influence, or impede an official proceeding. See, e.g., United States v. Doss, 630 F.3d 1181, 1189 (9th Cir. 2011); North, 910 F.2d at 943 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). In Judge Silberman’s view, the purpose inquiry should focus narrowly on whether the defendant “was attempting to secure some advantage for himself or for others than was improper or not in accordance with the legal rights and duties of himself or others.” North, 910 F.2d at 944 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); see also Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 616 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (the “longstanding and well-accepted meaning” of “corruptly” is “[a]n act done with an intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others”) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also United States v. Kanchanalak, 37 F. Supp. 2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1999) (noting that it may be too vague to require only that a defendant “act[ed] with an improper purpose”). This case, which allegedly involves unlawful means engaged in with the intent to obstruct, does not raise these challenging questions.

Whether Sandlin and DeGrave corruptly attempted to halt the vote count is easy, Friedrich suggests, because they are accused of so much else that was clearly illegal, including both trespassing and assaulting cops. Whether this application of obstruction holds for overt acts that are not, themselves illegal, will be a much harder question, but it was not one before her in this case.

This question is already before other judges though, significantly (for DOJ’s efforts to hold what I’ve termed, “organizer inciters” accountable) in the 3%er SoCal conspiracy. And, as the AUSA dealing with the legal application of all this, James Pearce, responded in yet another challenge to this application of obstruction, it goes to the core of whether this application of obstruction could be used with the former President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Trump honestly believed that Mike Pence could blow off the vote certification when he ordered him to do so on January 6, this application of obstruction would be far more problematic, as even DOJ’s expert on this application concedes. But if Trump knew the demand violated the law (or the Constitution), then it would meet the definition of “corruptly” under this application of the statute.

The entire course of the January 6 prosecution has been waiting on these decisions about DOJ’s use of obstruction. And while Friedrich’s opinion does not decide the issue, DOJ has notched one significant opinion in support for the approach they’re using. If a few other judges match her opinion, we could begin to see a wave of plea deals to felony convictions.

Update: Here’s the order Friedrich issued in Reffitt’s case, deferring the 1512 question until trial unless he gives her a good reason not to:

MINUTE ORDER. Before the Court is the defendant’s [38] Motion to Dismiss Count Two of the Indictment on multiple grounds, including that Count Two is unconstitutionally vague as applied. On a motion to dismiss, the Court “is limited to reviewing the face of the indictment,” United States v. Sunia , 643 F. Supp. 2d 51, 60 (D.D.C. 2009), and it must assume the truth of the indictment’s factual allegations, United States v. Bowdoin , 770 F. Supp. 2d 142, 149 (D.D.C. 2011). The question for the Court at this stage of the proceedings is “whether the allegations, if proven, would be sufficient to permit a jury to find that the crimes charged were committed.” Id. at 146.

A criminal statute is not unconstitutionally vague on its face unless it is “impermissibly vague in all of its applications.” Vill. of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates , 455 U.S. 489, 497 (1982). And “[o]ne to whose conduct a statute clearly applies may not successfully challenge it for vagueness.” Parker v. Levy , 417 U.S. 733, 756 (1974). Numerous courts have rejected vagueness challenges the word corruptly as used in obstruction statutes. See, e.g.United States v. Shotts , 145 F.3d 1289, 1300 (11th Cir. 1998); United States v. Edwards, 869 F.3d 490, 50102 (7th Cir. 2017); see also Mem. Op. issued December 10, 2021 in United States v. Sandlin , 21-cr-88, Dkt. 63 (holding that § 1512(c)(2) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to defendants who allegedly forcibly breached the Capitol and assaulted Capitol police officers with the intent to impede the official proceeding).

In contrast to the indictment at issue in Sandlin, the Indictment in this case does not allege any facts in support of the § 1512(c)(2) charge. Count Two merely alleges that Reffitt “attempted to, and did, 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.” [34] Second Superseding Indictment at 2. The government proffers in its brief, however, that “[w]hile at the Capitol, the defendant, armed with his handgun in a holster on his waist, confronted U.S. Capitol Police officers on the west side stairs, just north of the temporary scaffolding. The defendant charged at the officers, who unsuccessfully tried to repel him with two different types of less-than-lethal projectiles before successfully halting his advances with pepper spray. The defendant encouraged other rioters to charge forward at the officers, which they did. The officers were forced to fall back, the Capitol was invaded.” [40] Gov’t Opp’n at 1. Reffitt disputes this in his briefing. [38] Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 13-15.

Because it is unclear, based on the indictment alone, what actions Reffitt allegedly engaged in to obstruct and impede the official proceeding, the Court cannot determine at this early stage of the proceeding whether the charges are unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. For this reason, the Court is inclined to defer ruling on his vagueness challenge until the facts have been established at trial and the jury has had an opportunity to consider that evidence. See United States v. Kettles , No. CR 3:16-00163-1, 2017 WL 2080181, at *3 (M.D. Tenn. May 15, 2017) (finding that pretrial as-applied challenge to § 1591(a) was premature because “[t]he court cannot determine the nature and extent of [defendant’s] conduct in this case and, therefore, also cannot determine whether § 1591(a) is void for vagueness as applied to that conduct”); United States v. Raniere , 384 F. Supp. 3d 282, 320 (E.D.N.Y. 2019).

Accordingly, the defendant is directed to file, on or before December 15, 2021, a supplemental brief of no more than 5 pages in length explaining why the Court should not defer ruling on his motion until the evidence has been presented at trial. Upon review of the defendant’s supplemental brief, the Court will consider whether a response from the government is necessary.

Felipe Marquez’ Plugged-In Misdemeanor Guilty Plea

Seven January 6 defendants are known to have pled guilty on Friday:

  • (Reportedly, though it hasn’t been docketed yet) Terry Brown, the last of a group of people arrested in the Capitol Visitor’s Center the day of the riot to plead out
  • Brandon Harrison and Douglas Wangler, who traveled to DC from Illinois together and, after Trump’s rally, walked to the Capitol and entered the East door after the Oath Keepers had already done so; they saw a pile of wood on the floor when they entered
  • Brandon and Stephanie Miller, an Ohio couple who bragged about witnessing history on Facebook
  • Cleveland Meredith Jr, who showed up — armed, but late — to insurrection but made credible threats against Nancy Pelosi (and did something else that remains sealed)
  • Felipe Marquez, who drove his Tesla Model 3 from Miami and claimed while inside the Capitol that, “we only broke some windows”

The Meredith plea — the only one that wasn’t a misdemeanor trespassing plea — was pretty interesting because his prosecutors still haven’t revealed the substance of some sealed filings that will be taken into consideration at sentencing. Plus, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was threatened by Roger Stone and some Proud Boys two years before they teamed up to set off an attack on the Capitol, seemed unimpressed with Meredith’s claims that his threats against Pelosi weren’t all that serious.

But the Marquez plea may be more interesting over time. At the very least, that’s because he may mark a decision by DOJ to let edge obstruction defendants plead down to 18 USC 1752, the more serious of the two misdemeanor trespassing charges.

As I’ve laid out repeatedly, DOJ has used 18 USC 1512(c)(2), part of the crime of obstruction, to charge those who allegedly expressed the clear intent to prevent the vote certification with a felony. Upwards of 200 people, total, have been charged with obstruction, including Marquez. But among those charged with obstruction, there’s a great range of actions taken on January 6. Those charged include those who participated in a conspiracy — like Graydon Young and Josiah Colt, Jacob Chansley, who left ominous comments for Mike Pence on his dais seat and blew off repeated orders to vacate the Senate Chamber, and Paul Hodgkins, who brought his Trump flag to the Senate floor but left when the cops instructed him to.

I laid out here how Hodgkins, after he was the first to plead guilty, was sentenced to 8 months in prison after getting a three level enhancement for significantly obstructing the vote certification. But since that happened, at least ten different defendants have challenged this application of obstruction, posing difficult decisions for a number of judges.

Indeed, in the last several days, a number of defendants charged with obstruction have explicitly waived Speedy Trial rights to await the outcome of these challenges. That’s going to create a backlog in the already enormous logjam of January 6 defendants.

So I wonder whether DOJ will begin let the edge 1512 cases plead down to 1752. Particularly given judges’ apparent willingness to jail the misdemeanor defendants, for defendants not given a “significant obstruction” enhancement like Hodgkins got, the sentencing guideline is not that different, with up to a year available under 1752 (and probation after that), versus a range of 8 to 14 months on obstruction (that in reality might be closer to 3 to 8 months). The primary (but nevertheless significant) difference would be the felony conviction.

To be clear, Marquez is not the first to plead down like this. Eliel Rosa pled to the less serious trespass charge, 40 USC 5104 after being charged with obstruction, but there may have been evidentiary reasons DOJ agreed to do that, and as an immigrant from Brazil, he risks deportation after his sentence in any case. Karl Dresch was charged with obstruction but pled to 5104 after serving six months in pre-trial confinement. Kevin Cordon, who was charged with obstruction but pled guilty at the same time as his brother — who was charged only with trespassing — pled to 1752 instead of obstruction, just like Marquez did.

In other words, in cases where there are other circumstances that make such a plea worthwhile to DOJ, they’re certainly willing to consider it.

Still, it’s possible that Marquez represents a shift on DOJ’s part to do that for more defendants, as part of an effort to avoid a big backlog pending the review of the 1512 charge.

Or, maybe not.

There were several other details of Marquez’ plea hearing of interest. The hearing started by talking about some kind of pretrial violation (possibly some kind of non-arrest run-in with law enforcement), which led to two new conditions being added to Marquez’s release, a mental health evaluation and a specific requirement to alert the government of any contact with law enforcement. That’s not how plea hearings usually start, but AUSA Jeffrey Nestler reaffirmed that DOJ wanted to go forward anyway. Judge Rudolph Contreras even asked whether the request for mental health evaluation raised questions about Marquez’ competency to plead guilty, though neither his attorney, Cara Halverson, nor Nestler, had any concerns about that.

Nestler, by the way, is one of the key prosecutors on the omnibus Oath Keeper case, and ably defended DOJ’s application of obstruction in that case in a hearing on Wednesday. Aside from that large group and cooperating Oath Keeper witness Caleb Berry, the only other January 6 case, besides Marquez’, that he is prosecuting is that of Guy Reffitt, who has ties to the 3%ers.

In addition to the oddities in Marquez’ plea hearing, there’s something not in his plea agreement that is standard boilerplate for all the plea agreements thus far: a cooperation paragraph. That paragraph is not a full cooperation agreement; rather, it simply requires the defendant to agree to be debriefed by the FBI. Here’s how it appears in Cordon’s plea agreement down from obstruction to 1752.

Your client agrees to allow law enforcement agents to review any social media accounts operated by your client for statements and postings in and around January 6, 2021, and conduct an interview of your client regarding the events in and around January 6, 2021 prior to sentencing.

Its absence suggests that Marquez has already been debriefed. Indeed, an April motion to continue the case described that the evidence against Marquez included, “social media data, cell phone extraction data, as well as custodial interview files,” suggesting he was interviewed on his arrest.

That Marquez may have already provided truthful information is of interest because he spent part of the riot in Jeff Merkley’s office. His statement of offense describes his actions there obliquely:

While inside the Capitol, Marquez entered the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley where he sat at a conference table with other rioters.

His arrest affidavit describes a video Marquez posted to Snapchat from his time there.

3:45 to 4:11 – This clip is from inside a conference room.2 Several people are seated and standing around a mahogany table. Some people say, “No stealing; don’t steal anything.” At 4:02, a hand is visible, holding a light-tan colored vape pen similar to the one MARQUEZ was holding in the car in the clip from 0:54 to 1:54. At 4:04, someone pushes over a table lamp and says, “Why would I want to steal this bullshit.”

4:11 to 4:20 (end) – In this clip MARQUEZ turns the camera lens to film himself. He is wearing a red “KEEP AMERICA GREAT” hat and has a yellow gaiter around his neck, similar to what he was wearing in the earlier clip from 0:54 to 1:54. MARQUEZ appears to still be indoors, with a distinctive blue piece of artwork – the same as seen in Senator Merkley’s hideaway office – on the wall behind him. This is a screenshot of MARQUEZ’s face from the video:

2 Based upon conversations with representatives of the United States Capitol Police, the conference room in which MARQUEZ is present appears to be Senate room S140, the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley within the U.S. Capitol. The artwork visible on the walls of the conference room in MARQUEZ’s Snapchat video is also visible on a video that Senator Merkley posted to Twitter on January 6, 2021, at 11:36 pm, documenting some of the damage to his office.

Still, none of these descriptions reveals what Marquez might have seen (and subsequently shared) while in Merkley’s office.

Presumably partly because there’s little to no security footage of what went down, the investigation into what happened in Merkley’s office is one of the most interesting subplots of the investigation. There have been a number of trespassers who seem to have been arrested just to get their footage of what happened.  There’s a defendant who has never been charged who was, nevertheless, given discovery on the laptop that got stolen from Merkley’s office. And in the last few weeks, Brandon Fellows (who like Marquez has been charged with just obstruction but spent time in Merkley’s office) got a CIPA notice, meaning the government wants to use classified evidence against him.

In short, we simply don’t know. There’s something interesting about this plea. But it’s unclear what that is.

How Jacob Chansley Proved Patrick LeDuc Right

I have written repeatedly about how charging January 6 rioters with obstruction provides DOJ a really elegant way of holding people accountable, while providing the flexibility to distinguish between different levels of seriousness (until such time as some judge overturns this application of 18 USC 1512).

A review of what has happened with five men who’ve pled guilty to obstruction so far illustrates not only the range of sentences possible from the same charge, but also the factors DOJ is using to distinguish defendants based on their actions on January 6.

Before I lay out what has happened, first a word of explanation: To get to sentences, the two sides in a plea deal first agree on a  “Estimated Offense Level,” then (if someone pleads guilty), knocks a few points (usually 3) off for pleading. That gives a number that gets plugged into the Sentencing Table to figure out the guidelines sentence, in months, based on whether someone has a criminal record.

So in what follows, I’m showing the initial calculation (before the 3 points taken off for pleading guilty), and then showing what the plea agreement says the guidelines will be. In the table, I’ve marked the four different guidelines calculated in the five cases I discuss here (Scott Fairlamb has some criminal background so may get bumped up a level, but the others have no criminal background).

Paul Hodgkins, who traveled alone to bring his Trump flag to the floor of the Senate, pled guilty to obstruction, and went into sentencing facing a 15 to 21-month sentence (and ultimately got an 8-month sentence).

The number you’ll see Patrick LeDuc mention — 14 — in an email below is obtained by knocking 3 points off 17. And the 15-21 months is taken by checking the “0” criminal record column for an offense level of 14.

Scott Fairlamb. who didn’t plan for insurrection but while there punched a cop, pled guilty to obstruction and assault and goes into sentencing facing 41 to 51 months. DOJ has reserved the right to invoke a terrorist enhancement (including in his plea colloquy) that, if Judge Lamberth agreed, could result in a far stiffer sentence, up to 10 years.

Josiah Colt, who planned his trip to DC with two others, came to DC armed, and rappelled onto the Senate floor, pled guilty to obstruction, but faces (before getting credit for cooperation) 51 to 63 months.

Graydon Young, who planned in advance with a militia, entered the Capitol as part of a Stack, and tried to destroy evidence, pled guilty to obstruction, but faces (before getting credit for cooperation) 63 to 78 months. The difference in guideline between him and Colt is not that Colt’s “militia” was disorganized (a couple of guys he met online), but rather that Young tried to destroy evidence. Otherwise, they’re the same.

These four men all pled guilty to the same crime, obstruction of the vote count, but all faced and are facing dramatically different sentences based on the context of what they had done. And for those who deliberately used violence in pursuit of obstruction could face longer sentences, up to 20 years, which happens to be the same sentence that some sedition-related charges carry, but (again, unless judges overturn this application of obstruction) would be far easier to prove to a jury.

Somewhere around 200 January 6 defendants have been charged with obstruction, but among those 200, there’s a great range of actions they took in their alleged effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, including:

  • How obstructive their actions were (a 3 point enhancement)
  • Whether they used violence or threats thereof (an 8 point enhancement)
  • Whether they planned in advance to obstruct the vote count (a 2 point enhancement)
  • Whether they engaged in further obstruction (a further 2 point enhancement)
  • Whether someone did or abetted more than $1,000 in damage to the Capitol (which will likely get a terrorism enhancement)

And this is an issue that will play out in Paul Hodgkins’ effort to appeal his sentence.

According to claims made in court, Hodgkins decided to admit his guilt early on, which led to him being the first person to plead guilty to that obstruction charge. His lawyer at the time was a guy named Patrick LeDuc, a JAG Reserve Officer who learned after he started representing Hodgkins he had to deploy to the Middle East. Immediately after he was sentenced to a below guidelines sentence, per representations a new lawyer has now made, he asked if he could appeal (Friday, Judge Randolph Moss granted his request to extend his time to appeal). What LeDuc said in response will likely be the matter of a legal fight. We do know that on August 21, LeDuc told Hodgkins, “You have no right to appeal the sentenced [sic] pursuant to our plea agreement,” which suggests that at that point, LeDuc understood Hodgkins’ complaint to be with the sentence, not the competence of his representation.

But we know, for sure, that LeDuc told Carolyn Stewart, Hodgkins’ new lawyer, that other January 6 defendants who made it to the Senate floor were going to be charged with more enhancements to the base obstruction charge than Hodgkins.

Here is what you should know. Capitol Hill Defendants found in the Senate are all being offered a felony (same as Paul)(some more than one felony) with an 8 level enhancement (you might consider obtaining a Federal Sentencing manual for your reference). I was able to get the DOJ to agree to only a 3 level enhancement. You ought to know that my plea deal was adopted at the highest level to include the AG of the United States. That meant that my client was at level 14 instead vice level 19. Other Capitol Hill defendant [sic] are looking at 46 months low end. The AG instructed AUSA Sedky to argue for mid range – 18 months. And you would suggest that is evidenced [sic] of malpractice. I would argue that an attorney of 6 months accusing an attorney with over 250 jury trials at both the State and Federal level, and with 30 years of experience is unprofessional on your part.

If you think the plea deal was insufficient, then you ought to know that the United States makes offers with a a [sic] take it or leave it attitude. Everything in the plea deal was boilerplate with one exception that did not bother me. That was a provision that required me to agree that level 14 was good to go and that I would not object to the PSR. I was allowed to argue for a variance under 3553, which was my strategy all along, and the judge did indeed vary 3 levels into ZONE B. Ms. Sedky is a very experienced prosecutor, and the plea deal was arranged over many lengthy phone calls over a period of 3 months. Being the first felony case to be resolved was something that DOJ had to concur in because my case was going to set the precedent for every one to follow and the stakes were high for both sides.

My strategy paid off to Paul’s benefit. No other Federal defendant who is pleading to a felony will get a sentence better than Paul (nearly 250 others)  We had a very good judge who understood the issues, and the sentence was a fair reflection of the fats.

LeDuc is obviously furious at being called incompetent (and writing from Qatar where he is also juggling a huge influx of refugees from Afghanistan). But in this passage he describes a lot of the background to the plea deals that was evident to those  of us following closely, but for which there had been only off the record confirmation.

I think things may intervene that change DOJ’s plans (particularly if any of the challenges to 1512 are successful). But LeDuc describes that the plan when he was involved was to give Hodgkins a good deal and then use that as the precedent for everyone else. With other judges an 8-month sentence may not actually be the floor, but it is the base level treatment DOJ thinks it will adopt for those charged with felonies.

We’ve seen a few people plead down from felonies to 18 USC 1752, but thus far those people are looking at close to the same sentence as Hodgkins, 6 months, a difference of 2 months and the onerous felony conviction.

One thing LeDuc did say is that other defendants who made it to the Senate floor will face 8 level enhancements. Again, I’m virtually certain there will be others who made it to the Senate that will avoid this treatment.

But yesterday, with Jacob Chansley’s sentence, LeDuc was proven correct: another defendant, with whom Hodgkins stormed the Senate floor, got an 8 point enhancement for doing so.

.

Note that, as with Fairlamb, the government reserved the right to ask for a terrorist enhancement, though I did not hear AUSA Kimberly Paschall make a record of that in yesterday’s plea hearing, as AUSA Leslie Goemaat did in Fairlamb’s plea hearing.

To be sure, Chansley’s Statement of Offense includes multiple things that weren’t present with Hodgkins (nor will they be present for some others who made it to the Senate floor). According to his sworn Statement of Offense, Chansley defied orders from Officer KR four different times, and made public and written comments while in the Senate that might be deemed a threat, including to Mike Pence personally.

11. At approximately 2:16 p.m., the defendant and other rioters ascended the stairs to the second floor to the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building. In a clearing on the second floor, the defendant and other rioters were met by a line of U.S. Capitol Police officers, instructing them to peacefully leave the building. The defendant challenged U.S. Capitol Police Officer K.R. to let them pass, ultimately using his bullhorn to rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out.

12. Instead of obeying the instructions of the U.S. Capitol Police to leave the building, the defendant traversed another staircase to the third floor of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building. At approximately 2:52 p.m., the defendant entered the Gallery of the Senate alone. The defendant then proceeded to scream obscenities in the Gallery, while other rioters flooded the Chamber below.

13. The defendant then left the Gallery and proceeded down a staircase in an attempt to gain entry to the Senate floor. There, the defendant once again encountered Officer K.R., who once again asked him to leave the building. The defendant insisted that others were already on the Senate floor and he was going to join them. Officer K.R. then followed the defendant on to the Senate floor.

14. The defendant then scaled the Senate dais, taking the seat that Vice President Mike Pence had occupied less than an hour before. The defendant proceeded to take pictures of himself on the dais and refused to vacate the seat when Officer K.R., the lone law enforcement officer in the Chamber at the time, asked him to do so. Instead, the defendant stated that “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor” and wrote a note on available paper on the dais, stating “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

15. After Officer K.R. again asked the defendant to vacate the seat, the defendant remained, calling other rioters up to the dais and leading them in an incantation over his bullhorn, which included giving thanks for the opportunity “to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow America, the American way of the United States of America to go down.” The defendant went on to say “[t]hank you for allowing the United States to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government.”

16. Finally, at approximately 3:09 p.m., other law enforcement officers arrived to support Officer K.R., and cleared the defendant and other rioters from the Chamber. [my emphasis]

While it’s a puzzle to compare who posed more of a threat, Scott Fairlamb or Jacob Chansley, DOJ is treating both as people who deliberately tried to prevent the vote count by using violence or threats thereof. And because of that, DOJ has gotten their attorneys to agree, they should face a sentence more than twice as long as Hodgkins faced.

And that’s precisely what Patrick LeDuc told Hodgkins’ new lawyer would happen.

Update: I’ve corrected that these are the only five men who’ve pled guilty to obstruction. Some other Oath Keepers also did.

Stop the Steal: Hints of the January 5 Rallies in the January 6 Riot Investigation

With the charges against Owen Shroyer, the government has now charged three people who had a speaking part in several rallies tied to Stop the Steal the day before the insurrection: Brandon Straka, Russell Taylor and his co-conspirators, and Shroyer. Because I’m working on some gaps in the government’s story — gaps that must be intentional, for investigative or prosecutorial reasons — I want to look at how DOJ is beginning to fill in the story about January 5.

With Walk Away founder Brandon Straka, who was arrested on January 25, the mention of his speech at the Stop the Steal rally at Freedom Plaza in his arrest affidavit was almost incidental, included along with the rest of his incendiary speech directly tied to the riot (but the affidavit didn’t include his other public comments over a broader period — for example, it doesn’t mention Straka’s role in sowing suspicion of the Michigan vote tally).

My review of STRAKA’s Twitter account on January 11, also found a video he had posted of himself speaking at a “Stop the Steal” rally held at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. on January 5, 2021. As of January 13, STRAKA had removed this video from his Twitter account, but a video of the entire event had been posted to YouTube. The video showed that STRAKA was introduced by name and brought onto stage. STRAKA spoke for about five minutes during which time he repeatedly referred to the attendees as “Patriots” and referenced the “revolution” multiple times. STRAKA told the attendees to “fight back” and ended by saying, “We are sending a message to the Democrats, we are not going away, you’ve got a problem!”

Though Straka was charged with civil disorder for encouraging others to strip an officer of his riot shield, he has not yet been indicted, with or without obstruction, which these statements would seem to support. Instead, the government has gotten two 90-plus day continuances in this case with Straka’s consent, offering the explanation that, “are continuing to communicate in an effort to resolve this matter.” Straka currently has a status hearing scheduled on August 25, Wednesday, though these things do get moved quickly.

The January 5 rally at the Supreme Court (which featured some of the same people as the Freedom Plaza one) appears in the So Cal Three Percenter conspiracy indictment in part for the logistical challenges it posed.

On December 30, 2020, KINNISON sent a text message to MELE, WARNER, and MARTINEZ in which he attached a flyer advertising the January 5, 2021 rally outside the Supreme Court, at which TAYLOR, HOSTETTER, and PERSON ONE were named speakers for the American Phoenix Project. After KINNISON set this message, MELE wrote, “We need to make sure we roll into town earlier on the 5th now,” to which KINNISON responded, “We can leave Saturday.”

But it still provided cause for DOJ to mention that by December 30, Russell Taylor knew of a Stop the Steal plan to “surround the Capitol.”

On December 30, 2020, TAYLOR posted to his “russ.taylor” Instagram account:

Spread the word to other CALIFORNIA Patriots to join us as we March into the Capitol Jan 6. The Plan right now is to meet up at two occasions and locations: 1. Jan 5th 2pm at the Supreme Court steps for a rally. (Myself, Alan, [and others] will be speaking) 2. Jan 6th early 7am meet in front of the Kimpton George Hotel…we will leave at 7:30am sharp and March (15 mins) to the Capital [sic] to meet up with the stop the steal organization and surround the capital. [sic] There will be speakers there and we will be part of the large effort for the “Wild Rally” that Trump has asked us all to be part of. [my emphasis]

Mentioning this rally also gave DOJ an opportunity to describe Taylor promising to “fight” and “bleed” in his speech at the rally.

On January 5, 2021, TAYLOR spoke at a Virginia Women for Trump rally in front of the United States Supreme Court as part of a panel of American Phoenix Project speakers. In his speech, he stated:

I am Russell Taylor and I am a free American. And I stand here in the streets with you in defiance of a communist coup that is set to take over America. But we are awake and we are never going back to sleep. We are free Americans and in these streets we will fight and we will bleed before we allow our freedom to be taken from us. We declare that we will never bend a knee to the Marxists within Antifa, to the tyrannical Democrat governors who are puppets, and to the deep state commie actors who threaten to destroy America…. But now these anti-Americans have made the fatal mistake, and they have brought out the Patriot’s fury onto these streets and they did so without knowing that we will not return to our peaceful way of life until this election is made right, our freedoms are restored, and American is preserved.

That is, in the conspiracy indictment charging 3 percenters with organizing not just themselves to come armed to the Capitol, but others in Southern California, the earlier rally serves as both an organizational focus and a platform to sow violence.

Shroyer’s affidavit mentions several things he said on January 5

SHROYER traveled to Washington, D.C. in January 2021, and in advance of January 6, 2021, spoke of stopping the certification of the Electoral College vote. In a video1 posted to the Infowars website on January 5, 2021, SHROYER gave an address in Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C., during which he stated: “Americans are ready to fight. We’re not exactly sure what that’s going to look like perhaps in a couple of weeks if we can’t stop this certification of the fraudulent election . . . we are the new revolution! We are going to restore and we are going to save the republic!”

In another video2 posted to the Infowars website on January 5, 2021, SHROYER called into an Infowars live broadcast and said: “what I’m afraid of is if we do not get this false certification of Biden stopped this week. I’m afraid of what this means for the rest of the month . . . Everybody knows election was stolen . . . are we just going to sit here and become activists for 4 years or are going to actually do something about this . . . whatever that cause or course of cause may be?”3

In addition, SHROYER was featured in promotional material circulated by Infowars. One promotional video urged listeners to “come to the big D.C. marches on the 5th and 6th of January, I’ll see you there.”4 The video ended with an edited graphic of SHROYER and others in front of the Capitol building. That graphic is depicted below:

1 https://banned.video/watch?id=5ff4aebaa285a02ed04c4d6e.

2 https://banned.video/watch?id=5ff511bb5a212330029f5a9c.

3 https://banned.video/watch?id=5ff511bb5a212330029f5a9c.

4 https://www.banned.video/watch?id=5ff22bb71f93a8267a6432ee.

While Shroyer is circled in that graphic — which demonstrates that Jones had a plan to go to the Capitol (significantly, this is the East front) days in advance — it really is all about Jones.

As I noted, this is just a trespass arrest, like hundreds of other trespass arrests (though by charging Shroyer with violating a pre-existing Deferred Prosecution Agreement, they lessen any claims of persecution that will come as they investigate Shroyer further).

But what these three arrests together show is that those involved as speakers on January 5 seem to have had advance knowledge of what would happen the next day.

One of the other mentions of January 5 rallies thus far appears in the filings for Josiah Colt, Ronnie Sandlin, and Nate DeGrave, three random guys who hooked up on the Internet and armed themselves for violence in advance of January 6. Though they have no ties to any organized militia, the day after they went to a January 5 rally, they seemed to know there would be a second front opening at the East door, and Sandlin and DeGrave were among those charged with forcibly ensuring that door was opened.

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

Jeffrey Toobin wrote a shitty piece arguing — seemingly based exclusively on Trump’s request to Jeffrey Rosen to delegitimize the election results in Georgia and Trump’s January 6 speech — that Merrick Garland should not prosecute Trump.

Toobin’s piece sucks for the same reason that all the mirror image articles written by TV lawyers, the ones explaining how DOJ might prosecute Trump, also suck: because none exhibit the least familiarity with how DOJ is approaching January 6, much less what allegations it has already made in charging documents. They are, effectively, nothing more than throwing a bunch of laws at the wall to see whether any stick (and in Toobin’s estimation, none do).

Almost none of these TV lawyers engage with how DOJ is applying obstruction as the cornerstone of its January 6 prosecutions. For example, Toobin considers whether Trump obstructed justice, but he only analyzes whether, when, “Trump encouraged the crowd to march to Capitol Hill but he did not explicitly encourage violence,” Trump obstructed the vote certification. Of around 200 January 6 defendants charged with obstruction, I can think of few if any against whom obstruction has been charged based solely on their actions on the day of the riot, and Trump is not going to be the exception to that rule. As with other January 6 defendants, DOJ would rely on Trump’s words and actions leading up to the event to prove his intent.

In this post, I want to lay out how a DOJ prosecution of Trump for January 6 would work. I’m not doing this because I’m sure DOJ will prosecute. I’m doing it to make the commentary on the question less insufferably stupid than it currently is.

Assumptions

The piece makes three assumptions.

First, it assumes that DOJ’s current application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to cover the vote certification survives judicial review. It’s not at all clear it will, either because the courts (this will go to SCOTUS) don’t believe Congress intended to include Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings like the vote certification in a law covering official proceedings, because the courts will decide that rioters had no way of knowing that interrupting Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings was illegal, or because courts will decide that rioters (all of them, as opposed to one or another making a compelling case to a jury) did not have the requisite corrupt purpose. There are currently at least nine challenges to the application of the law (at least two more have been raised since Judge Randolph Moss had prosecutors put together this list). If TV lawyers want to argue about something, this might be a more productive use of their time than arguing about whether Trump can be prosecuted more generally, because the question doesn’t require knowing many actual facts from the investigation.

This piece also assumes that DOJ would apply two things they asserted in a filing pertaining to Mo Brooks to Trump as well. That filing said that the scope of federal office holder’s job excludes campaign activity, so any campaign activity a federal office holder engages in does not count as part of that person’s duties.

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).

DOJ also said that conspiring to attack your employer would not be included in a federal office holder’s scope of employment.

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).

These two principles, taken together, would get beyond some of the challenges involved in investigating someone covered by Executive Privilege and making orders as Commander-in-Chief. Importantly, it would make Trump’s activities in conjunction with the January 6 rally subject to investigation, whereas they broadly wouldn’t be if they were done in Trump’s official capacity.

Finally, if DOJ were to charge Trump, they would charge him in a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count that intersected with some of the other conspiracies to obstruct the vote count, possibly with obstruction charges against him personally. In general, I don’t think DOJ would charge most of Trump’s discrete acts, at least those conducted before January 20, as a crime. There are two possible exceptions, however. His call to Brad Raffensperger, particularly in the context of all his other efforts to tamper in the Georgia election, would have been conducted as part of campaigning (and therefore would not have been conducted as President). It seems a clearcut case of using threats to get a desired electoral outcome. It’s unclear whether Trump’s request that Mike Pence to commit the unconstitutional action — that is, refusing to certify the winning electoral votes — would be treated as Presidential or electoral. But that demand, followed closely with Trump’s public statements that had the effect of making Pence a target for assassination threats, seems like it could be charged on its own. Both of those actions, however, could and would, in the way DOJ is approaching this, also be overt acts in the conspiracy charged against Trump.

The other conspiracies

If DOJ would only charge Trump in the context of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote (with whatever other charges added in) that intersects with some or all of the other conspiracies charged, it helps to understand what DOJ has done with those other conspiracies. Here’s what the currently charged conspiracies look like:

DOJ has been treating the multiple Proud Boy conspiracies as one (about which Ethan Nordean is complaining); I think they’re doing that — and excluding other key players who could be in one of the conspiracies, including all the most serious assaults committed by Proud Boy members — as a way to show how the cell structure used on the day worked together to serve a unified purpose, while also managing visibility on different parts of their ongoing investigation. For my purposes here, I’ll focus on the Leadership conspiracy, with the understanding that (notwithstanding Nordean’s complaints) DOJ credibly treats the others as the implementation of the conspiracy the Proud Boy Leaders themselves have laid out.

All of these conspiracies, as well as a disorganized militia conspiracy DOJ has been saying they’ll charge, share the same object: to stop, delay, or hinder Congress’ certification of the Electoral College win. Basically, all these conspiracies, as well as a hypothetical one that DOJ might use against Trump, would involve ensuring that he still had a route to remain in power, that he lived to fight another day. By themselves they did not involve a plan to remain in power (though Trump could be charged in a broader conspiracy attempting to do that, too).

They also all allege common Manners and Means (to be clear, these defendants are all presumed innocent and I’m speaking here of what DOJ claims it will prove). Those include:

  • Agreeing to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging as many people as possible, including outside their own groups, to attend the operation
  • Funding the operation
  • Preparing to make participants in the operation as effective as possible, in all cases including communication methods and in most cases including some kind of defensive or offensive protections
  • Illegally entering the Capitol or its grounds and occupying that space during the period when Congress would otherwise have been certifying the vote

While all of those conspiracies follow the same model, there are some unique characteristics in four that deserve further mention:

Proud Boy Leaders Conspiracy: Operationally, those charged in the Proud Boy Leaders conspiracy managed to assemble a mob, including Proud Boy members (many organized in sub-cells like the Kansas City cell Billy Chrestman led), fellow travelers who met up and marched with the Proud Boys that morning, and those who knew to show up at 1PM (while Trump was still speaking). With apparent guidance from the charged co-conspirators, the Proud Boys managed to kick off the riot and — in the form of the Proud Boy Front Door co-conspirator Dominic Pezzola wielding a stolen shield — break into the building. Thus far (probably in part because Enrique Tarrio is not currently charged in this or any conspiracy), the government has been coy about what evidence it has of coordination with others, including at a December MAGA March in DC. Key planning steps, however, involve deciding not to show Proud Boy colors the day of the riot and fundraising to buy gear and support travel (Christopher Worrell got to DC on a bus paid for by the Proud Boys but that has not yet been charged in any conspiracy). On top of radios and blow horns, two Telegram channels — the larger of which had 60 members — appear to have played key roles in organizing events the day of the riot. To the extent that Proud Boys came armed, they appear to have done so individually, and thus far, DOJ has not included the worst assaults committed by Proud Boys in any of the conspiracies. Several of the charged co-conspirators started talking about war in the days and weeks after the election and those who gathered with the Proud Boys on the morning of the riot skipped Trump’s rally, making their focus on the vote certification much clearer than many others that day.

Oath Keeper Conspiracy: The indictment alleges this conspiracy started on November 9 with a plan both to use Antifa as a foil to excuse violence and in expectation that that violence would be Trump’s excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and/or respond to that call. The conspiracy used the promise of serving as security — both at the rally and for Roger Stone and other “dignitaries” — to recruit people to come to DC, and in fact a number of the charged co-conspirators were present with Stone the morning of the riot. In addition to kitting out in various Oath Keeper gear at different events on the day of the event, the militia had a serious stash of weapons at the Ballston Comfort Inn in case things did turn violent. The key thing, operationally, this conspiracy achieved was to provide organized brawn to an effort to open a second front to the attack via the East Door of the Capitol. The nominal head of this conspiracy, Florida State head Kelly Meggs, claimed to have set up an alliance with other militias in Florida (he first made the claim a day after the militia had provided “security” for Stone at an event in Florida). Over the course of the investigation, the government has also gotten closer to alleging that Meggs expressed the desire to and took steps to target Nancy Pelosi personally while inside the Capitol.

3%er Southern California Conspiracy: The men charged in this conspiracy — who occupy the overlap between 3%ers and the anti-mask community in Southern California — organized themselves and others to come armed to the Capitol. As alleged, they started organizing formally in explicit response to Trump’s December 19 advertisement for the event. Both online and in an appearance by Russell Taylor at the rally on January 5, they called for violence. They organized in advance via Telegram chat and on the day with radios. Operationally, these men personally participated in the fighting on the west side of the Capitol (most never went in the building but the government contends they were in restricted space outside). But from a larger standpoint, these men form one intersection between the more formal Trump organization behind the rallies and a group of radicalized Trump supporters from across the country.

Disorganized Conspiracy: You’ve likely never heard of Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave, nor should you have. Their conspiracy (DOJ has not yet charged it but has been planning to do so since April) started when Sandlin responded to Trump’s calls for people to attend the event on December 23 and started looking online to join up with others. “Who is going to Washington D.C. on the 6th of January? I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon.” They’re an excellent example of a bunch of guys — along with Josiah Colt, who entered into a cooperation agreement against the other two — who got radicalized via a messy stew of ideologies online, armed themselves for insurrection, raised money and traveled to DC together planning for violence, and allegedly engaged in assaults at two key points inside the Capitol that allowed the occupation of the Senate chamber, and in Colt’s case, Mike Pence’s chair itself. Here’s a video of the two (in orange and all black) fighting to get into the Senate just released today:

Colt has admitted (and may have GoPro video showing) that the three went from learning that Pence had refused Trump’s demand — the government doesn’t say whether they learned this via Trump’s tweet — to forcibly occupying the Senate in response. So while you haven’t heard of them and they’re not members of an organized militia, they still played a tactically critical role in forcibly occupying the Capitol in direct response to Trump’s exhortations.

Questions

There are still a slew of questions about Trump’s actions that have — publicly at least — not been answered. Some that would be pertinent to whether he could be charged with conspiracy include:

  • When Trump said, “stand back and stand by” to the Proud Boys on September 29 — after they had already threatened a Federal judge to serve Trump’s interest, and whose threats had been dismissed by Bill Barr as a technicality — did he intend to signal some kind of relationship with the Proud Boys as the Proud Boys in fact took it to be? Was this part of an agreement to enter into a conspiracy?
  • When both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers started planning their January 6 operation in the days after the election, speaking already then of being called by the President to commit violence, was that based on any direct communications, or was it based on things like the earlier Proud Boys comment?
  • When Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who would later lead the operation on January 6 formed an alliance to keep Trump in office in December at an event with Roger Stone, was Stone involved?
  • What conversations did Trump and Stone have about his pardon even as these militia plans were being put in place?
  • What evidence does DOJ have about the Proud Boys’ decision — and their communication of that decision to at least 60 people — not to attend the Trump speech but instead to form a mob that would later march on the Capitol and lead the breach of it while Trump was still speaking?
  • Did Trump time the specific lines in his speech to the Proud Boys’ actions, which were already starting at the Capitol?
  • What orders were given to the Park Police about various crowd sizes and planned events that explains their failure to prepare?
  • Trump told Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to use the National Guard to protect his protestors on January 3. On January 6, some Proud Boys expressed surprise that the Guard was not protecting them. Did the Proud Boys have reason to believe the Guard would not protect the Capitol but instead would protect them? Why was the Guard delayed 4 hours in responding? Why was there a 32 minute delay during a period when the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were considering a second assault in relaying an order from Miller to the Guard Commander who had the Guard in buses waiting to deploy? Did the militias call off their second assault based on advance information that the Guard was finally being deployed?
  • Both Rudy and Trump made calls to Members of Congress on January 6 making specific asks for delays at a time when the rioters had already breached the building. Did that include a request to Paul Gosar, and did that result in the delay in evacuating the House side that led to Ashli Babbitt’s death, which Gosar (and Trump) have been key figures in celebrating? Would DOJ be able to get either Gosar or Tuberville’s testimony (they already have the voice mail Rudy left for Tuberville, and because Rudy’s phones have otherwise been seized, if they can show probable cause they have access to anything on his phone).
  • Rudy had texts from a Proud Boy affiliate within 9 days after the riot about implementing a plan to blame it all on Antifa. That guy  had, in turn, been in contact with at least six people at the riot. Were they in contact before and during the riot? Again, DOJ has the phones on which Rudy conducted those conversations, and they happen to have his cell location for other purposes, so the question is do they have probable cause to get the same data for the Jan 6 operation?

What a Trump conspiracy might look like

Even without answers to those questions, however, there are a number of things that Trump did that might form part of a conspiracy charge against him (this timeline from Just Security has a bunch more, including magnifying threats from people who would later take part in the insurrection). The Manners and Means would mirror those that appear in all the charged conspiracies:

  • Agreeing (and ordering subordinates) to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging the Proud Boys to believe they are his army
  • Personally sowing the Big Lie about voter fraud to lead supporters to believe Trump has been robbed of his rightful election win
  • Asking subordinates and Republican politicians to lie about the vote to encourage supporters to feel they were robbed
  • Encouraging surrogates and campaign staffers to fund buses to make travel to DC easier
  • Using the January 6 rally to encourage as many people as possible to come to DC
  • Applauding violence in advance of January 6 and tacitly encouraging it on the day
  • Recruiting members of Congress to raise challenges to the vote count
  • Asking members of Congress to delay evacuation even as the rioters entered the building, heightening the chance of direct physical threat (and likely contributing to Ashli Babbitt’s death)
  • Asking Mike Pence to do something unconstitutional, then targeting him after he refused, virtually ensuring he would be personally threatened
  • Possibly muddling the line of command on which civilian agency would coordinate response, ensuring there would be none
  • Possibly taking steps to delay any Guard response at the Capitol
  • Possibly ignoring immediate requests from help from leaders of Congress

DOJ knows exactly what happened with Trump’s requests that DOJ serve as the civilian agency to lead response on Janaury 6, and some of the witnesses have given transcribed interviews to Congress and probably DOJ IG. Some details about which there remain questions — who delayed the National Guard — would be available to subpoena. The big question, and it’s a big one, is what kind of communications Trump had with members of Congress to ensure there was maximal conflict and physical risk on that day.

But much of this, including the illegal request of Mike Pence and the specific targeting of him in the aftermath, which directly affected the actions of the disorganized conspiracy, are already public. Both the computer Enrique Tarrio brought to DC and Rudy’s phones have been accessible if DOJ wanted to obtain a warrant for them.

None of this addresses the complexities of whether DOJ would charge a former President. None of this guarantees that DOJ will get key charged defendants to flip, whose cooperation might be necessary to move higher in the conspiracy.

I’m not saying DOJ will charge Trump.

But if they were considering it, it’s most likely this is how they would do so.

Update: Per Quake’s suggestion I’ve added the funding of buses.

Update: Reuters reports that FBI has found “scant” evidence of central coordination in the attack, specifically naming Stone.

The Rebellion Rorschach: The Many Faces of the January 6 Investigation

Four different things happened yesterday to demonstrate how differently judges presiding over the January 6 trial view it, and how little they seem to understand the intersecting nature of this investigation.

DC Circuit ignores its own language about co-conspirators and abettors

The final event was the reversal, by a per curiam panel including Karen Henderson, Judith Rogers, and Justin Walker, of Thomas Hogan’s decision to hold George Tanios pretrial.

As a reminder, Tanios is accused of both conspiring and abetting in Julian Khater’s attack on three cops, including Brian Sicknick, with some toxic substance.

I’m not going to complain about Tanios’ release. By way of comparison, Josiah Colt has never been detained, and he pled out of a conspiracy with Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave in which they, like Tanios and Khater, planned to arm themselves before traveling to DC together, and in which Sandlin and DeGrave, like Khater, are accused of assaulting cops that played a key role in successfully breaching the Capitol. The main difference is that Khater’s attack injured the three officers he targeted using a toxic spray purchased by Tanios.

It’s how the DC Circuit got there that’s of interest. Tanios had argued that Hogan had used the same language from the Munchel decision everyone else does, distinguishing those who assault or abet in assaulting police which the DC Circuit has returned to in upholding detention decisions since, and in so doing had applied a presumption of detention for those accused of assault and abetting assault.

In assessing Tanios’s risk of danger, the District Court placed too much emphasis on this sentence from Munchel: “In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.” Id. at 1284.

This is only one line in a ten-page opinion written by Judge Wilkins. It is dicta. It was not quoted or adopted by Judge Katsas’s separate opinion. This line does not create a new approach for evaluating detention issues in this Circuit. It does not mandate that defendants be placed in two separate categories. It does not require a separate, harsher treatment for defendants accused of specific violent offenses. Critically, it does not create a presumption of future dangerousness and should not create a presumption of detention. Rather, it seems that the line is merely intended to remind district court judges that violence is one factor to consider in making a determination about dangerousness. [my emphasis]

The DC Circuit specifically ruled against Tanios on his claim that Hogan had misapplied Munchel.

[A]ppellant has not shown that the district court applied a presumption of detention in contravention of the Bail Reform Act and precedent, see United States v. Khater, No. 21-3033, Judgment at *2 (D.C. Cir. July 27, 2021)

They had to! As their citation makes clear, just two weeks ago, a per curiam panel of Patricia Millet, Robert Wilkins, and Ketanji Brown Jackson upheld the very same detention order (which covered both defendants), holding that the same line of the Hogan statement that Tanios pointed to did not do what both Tanios and Khater claimed it had, presume that assault defendants must be detained.

Appellant contends that the district court misapplied our decision in United States v. Munchel, 991 F.3d 1273 (D.C. Cir. 2021), by making a categorical finding, based solely on the nature of the offense charged (assaultive conduct on January 6), that no conditions of release could ever mitigate the per se prospective threat that such a defendant poses. If the district court had proceeded in that fashion and applied some sort of non-rebuttable presumption of future dangerousness in favor of detention, it would have been legal error. See id. at 1283 (“Detention determinations must be made individually and, in the final analysis, must be based on the evidence which is before the court regarding the particular defendant. The inquiry is factbound.”) (quoting United States v. Tortora, 922 F.2d 880, 888 (1st Cir. 1990)). However, while the district court stated, “Munchel delineates an elevated category of dangerousness applied [to] those that fall into the category that necessarily impose a concrete prospective threat,” the district court also explained, “I think Munchel does not set a hard-line rule. I don’t think that the categories are solely determinative, but it creates something like a guideline for the Court to follow . . . .” Detention Hr’g Tr. at 42:21-24; 43:11-13, ECF No. 26 (emphasis added). In making its ruling, the district court discussed at length the facts of this case, and expressly noted that “we have to decide whether the defendant is too dangerous based upon that conduct to be released or is not,” “every circumstance is different in every case, and you have to look at individual cases,” and that “the government may well not overcome the concrete and clear and convincing evidence requirement.” Id. at 43:8-10, 43:16-18, 43:20-21. Based on our careful review of the record, we find that the district court made an individualized assessment of future dangerousness as required by the Bail Reform Act and that appellant has not shown that the district court applied an irrefutable presumption of mandatory detention in contravention of the statute and our precedent.

Yesterday’s panel cited the earlier affirmation of the very same opinion that detained Tanios.

It’s in distinguishing Tanios where the panel got crazy. The panel could have argued that the evidence that Tanios conspired with or abetted Khater’s assault was too weak to hold him — Tanios made a non-frivolous argument that in refusing to give Khater one of the two canisters of bear spray he carried, he specifically refused to join in Khater’s attack on the cops. But they don’t mention conspiracy or abetting charges.

Instead, the DC Circuit argued that Hogan clearly erred in finding Khater’s accused co-conspirator to be dangerous.

[T]he district court clearly erred in its individualized assessment of appellant’s dangerousness. The record reflects that Tanios has no past felony convictions, no ties to any extremist organizations, and no post-January 6 criminal behavior that would otherwise show him to pose a danger to the community within the meaning of the Bail Reform Act. Cf. Munchel, 991 F.3d at 1282-84 (remanding pretrial detention orders where the district court did not demonstrate it adequately considered whether the defendants present an articulable threat to the community in light of the absence of record evidence that defendants committed violence or were involved in planning or coordinating the events of January 6).

Munchel isn’t actually a precedent here, because that decision remanded for further consideration. The DC Circuit ordered Hogan to release Tanios. Crazier still, in citing the same passage from Munchel everyone else does, the DC Circuit edited out the language referring to those who abetted or conspired with those who assaulted cops, the language used to hold Tanios. It simply ignores the basis Hogan used to hold Tanios entirely, his liability in a premeditated attack he allegedly helped to make possible, and in so doing argues the very same attack presents a danger to the community for one but not the other of the guys charged in it.

If this were a published opinion, it would do all kinds of havoc to precedent on conspiracy and abetting liability. But with two short paragraphs that don’t, at all, address the basis for Tanios’ detention, the DC Circuit dodges those issues.

Beryl Howell has no reasonable doubt about January 6

Earlier in the day, DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell grew exasperated with another plea hearing.

This time, it was Glenn Wes Lee Croy, another guy pleading guilty to a misdemeanor “parading” charge. The plea colloquy stumbled on whether Croy should have known he wasn’t permitted on the Capitol steps — he claimed, in part, that because this was his first trip to DC, he didn’t know he shouldn’t have been on the steps, even in spite of the barricades. Croy was fine admitting he shouldn’t have been in the building, though.

Things really heated up when Howell started asking Croy why he was parading (Josh Gerstein has a more detailed description of this colloquy here).

Under oath, pleading to a misdemeanor as part of a deal that prohibits DOJ from charging Croy with anything further for his actions on January 6, he made some kind of admission that Howell took to mean he was there to support Trump’s challenge to the election, an admission that his intent was the same as the intent required to charge obstruction of the vote count.

When she quizzed AUSA Clayton O’Connor why Croy hadn’t been charged with felony obstruction for his efforts to obstruct the vote certification, the prosecutor explained that while the government agreed that contextually that’s what Croy had been doing, the government didn’t find direct evidence that would allow him to prove obstruction beyond a reasonable doubt, a sound prosecutorial decision.

O’Connor is what (with no disrespect intended) might be deemed a journeyman prosecutor on the January 6 cases. He has seven cases, five of which charge two buddies or family members. Of those, just Kevin Cordon was charged with the obstruction charge Howell seems to think most defendants should face, in Cordon’s case for explicitly laying out his intent in an interview the day of the riot.

We’re here to take back our democratic republic. It’s clear that this election is stolen, there’s just so much overwhelming evidence and the establishment, the media, big tech are just completely ignoring all of it. And we’re here to show them we’re not having it. We’re not- we’re not just gonna take this laying down. We’re standing up and we’re taking our country back. This is just the beginning.

O’Connor is prosecuting Clifford Mackrell and Jamie Buteau for assault and civil disorder. But otherwise, all his cases are trespass cases like Croy’s (including that of Croy’s codefendant Terry Lindsey).

This was the guy who, with no warning, had the task of explaining to the Chief Judge DOJ’s logic in distinguishing misdemeanor cases from felonies. Unsurprisingly, it’s all about what the government thinks they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, based on evidence like that which Cordon shared with a journalist or, just as often, what people write in their social media accounts. This process has made sense to the few of us who have covered all these cases, but like O’Connor, Howell is dealing primarily with the misdemeanor cases and my not see how DOJ appears to be making the distinction.

Howell also demanded an explanation from O’Connor in Croy’s sentencing memo why DOJ is not including the cost of the National Guard deployment in the restitution payments required of January 6 defendants.

Both according to its own prosecutorial guidelines and the practical limitations of prosecuting 560 defendants, DOJ can’t use a novel application of the obstruction statute to charge everyone arrested in conjunction with January 6 with a felony. It’s a reality that deserves a better, more formal explanation than the one O’Connor offered the Chief Judge extemporaneously.

Trevor McFadden believes a conspiracy to overthrow democracy is not a complex case

Meanwhile, the Discovery Coordinator for the entire investigation, Emily Miller, missed an opportunity to explain to Trevor McFadden the logic behind ongoing January 6 arrests.

In advance of a hearing for Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin, prosecutor Janani Iyengar submitted a motion for a 60-day continuance to allow for the government to work through discovery. She brought Miller along to a status hearing to explain those discovery challenges to McFadden, who had complained about them in the past and refused to toll the Speedy Trial Act in this case. Because Iyengar recently offered Griffin a plea deal, his attorney Nick Smith was fairly amenable to whatever McFadden decided.

Not so the judge. He expressed a sentiment he has in this and other cases, that the government made a decision to start arresting immediately after the attack and continues to do so. “There seems to be no end in sight,” McFadden complained, suggesting that if DOJ arrested someone in three months who offered up exculpatory evidence that affected hundreds of cases, those would have to be delayed again. In spite of the fact that several prosecutors have explained that the bulk of the evidence was created on January 6, McFadden persists in the belief that the trouble with discovery is the ingestion of new evidence with each new arrest.

Miller noted that the government could start trials based on the Brady obligation of turning over all exculpatory evidence in their possession, so future arrests wouldn’t prohibit trials. The problem is in making the universe of video evidence available to all defense attorneys so they have the opportunity of finding evidence to support theories of defense (such as that the cops actually welcomed the rioters) that would require such broad review of the video.

McFadden then suggested that because Griffin is one of the rare January 6 defendants who never entered the Capitol, Miller’s team ought to be able to segregate out an imagined smaller body of evidence collected outside. “Were that it were so, your honor,” Miller responded, pointing out that there were thousands of hours of surveillance cameras collected from outside, the police moved in and outside as they took breaks or cleaned the bear spray from their eyes so their Body Worn Cameras couldn’t be segregated, and the Geofence warrant includes the perimeter of the Capitol where Griffin stood.

McFadden then said two things that suggested he doesn’t understand this investigation, and certainly doesn’t regard the attack as a threat to democracy (he has, in other hearings, noted that the government hasn’t charged insurrection so it must not have been one). First, he complained that, “In other cases,” the government had dealt with a large number of defendants by giving many deferred prosecutions or focusing just on the worst of the worst, a clear comparison to Portland that right wingers like to make. But that’s an inapt comparison. After noting the data somersaults one has to do to even make this comparison, a filing submitted to Judge Carl Nichols in response to a selective prosecution claim from Garret Miller explained the real differences between Portland and January 6: There was far less evidence in the Portland cases, meaning prosecutions often came down to the word of a cop against that of a defendant and so resulted in a deferred prosecution.

This comparison fails, first and foremost, because the government actually charged nearly all defendants in the listed Oregon cases with civil-disorder or assault offenses. See Doc. 32-1 (Attachments 2-31). Miller has accordingly shown no disparate treatment in the government’s charging approaches. He instead focuses on the manner in which the government ultimately resolved the Oregon cases, and contrasts it with, in his opinion, the “one-sided and draconian plea agreement offer” that the government recently transmitted to him. Doc. 32, at 6. This presentation—which compares the government’s initial plea offer to him with the government’s final resolution in 45 hand-picked Oregon cases—“falls woefully short of demonstrating a consistent pattern of unequal administration of the law.”3 United States v. Bernal-Rojas, 933 F.2d 97, 99 (1st Cir. 1991). In fact, the government’s initial plea offer here rebuts any inference that that it has “refused to plea bargain with [Miller], yet regularly reached agreements with otherwise similarly situated defendants.” Ibid.

More fundamentally, the 45 Oregon cases serve as improper “comparator[s]” because those defendants and Miller are not similarly situated. Stone, 394 F. Supp. 3d at 31. Miller unlawfully entered the U.S. Capitol and resisted the law enforcement officers who tried to move him. Doc. 16, at 4. He did so while elected lawmakers and the Vice President of the United States were present in the building and attempting to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential Election in accordance with Article II of the Constitution. Id. at 2-3. And he committed a host of federal offenses attendant to this riot, including threatening to kill a Congresswoman and a USCP officer. Id. at 5-6. All this was captured on video and Miller’s social-media posts. See 4/1/21 Hr’g Tr. 19:14-15 (“[T]he evidence against Mr. Miller is strong.”). Contrast that with the 45 Oregon defendants, who—despite committing serious offenses—never entered the federal courthouse structure, impeded a congressional proceeding, or targeted a specific federal official or officer for assassination. Additionally, the government’s evidence in those cases often relied on officer recollections (e.g., identifying the particular offender on a darkened plaza with throngs of people) that could be challenged at trial—rather than video and well-documented incriminating statements available in this case. These situational and evidentiary differences represent “distinguishable legitimate prosecutorial factors that might justify making different prosecutorial decisions” in Miller’s case. Branch Ministries, 211 F.3d at 145 (quoting United States v. Hastings, 126 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 1997)); see also Price v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 865 F.3d 676, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (observing that a prosecutor may legitimately consider “concerns such as rehabilitation, allocation of criminal justice resources, the strength of the evidence against the defendant, and the extent of a defendant’s cooperation” in plea negotiations) (brackets and citation omitted).

3 Miller’s motion notably omits reference to the remaining 29 Oregon cases in his survey, presumably because the government’s litigation decisions in those cases do not conform to his inference of selective treatment. [my emphasis]

McFadden ended with one of his most alarming comments. He said something to the effect of, he doesn’t feel that the January 6 investigation was a complex type of case akin to those (often white collar cases) where a year delay before trial was not that unusual.

This was a fairly breathtaking comment, because it suggests that McFadden sees this event as the magical convergence of thousands of criminals at the Capitol rather than the result of a sustained conspiracy to get a mass of bodies to the building, a conspiracy that started at least as early as the days after the election. While McFadden’s highest profile January 6 case is a sprawling assault case against Patrick McCaughey and others (the one that trapped Officer Daniel Hodges in the Capitol door), this view seems not to appreciate some larger investigative questions pertinent to some of his other defendants. For example, what happened to the laptops stolen from various offices, including the theft that Brandon Fellows may have witnessed in Jeff Merkley’s office. Did America First engaged in a conspiracy to gets its members, including Christian Secor, to the Capitol (and did a huge foreign windfall that Nick Fuentes got days before the insurrection have anything to do with that). What kind of coordination, if any, led a bunch of Marines to successfully open a second front to the attack by opening the East Doors also implicates Secor’s case. One of the delays in Griffin’s own case probably pertained to whether he was among the Trump speakers, as members of the 3-Percenter conspiracy allegedly were, who tied their public speaking role to the recruitment of violent, armed rioters (given that he has been given a plea offer, I assume the government has answered that in the negative).

It has become increasingly clear that one of the visible ways that DOJ is attempting to answer these and other, even bigger questions, is to collect selected pieces of evidence from identifiable trespassers with their arrest. For example, Anthony Puma likely got arrested when he did because he captured images of the Golf Cart Conspiracy with his GoPro. He has since been charged with obstruction — unsurprisingly, since he spoke in detailed terms about preventing the vote certification in advance. But his prosecution will be an important step in validating and prosecuting the larger conspiracy, one that may implicate the former President’s closest associates.

This is white collar and complex conspiracy investigation floating on top of a riot prosecution, one on which the fate of our democracy rests.

Melody Steele-Smith evaded the surveillance cameras

A report filed yesterday helps to explain the import of all this. Melody Steele-Smith was arrested within weeks of the riot on trespass charges, then indicted on trespass and obstruction charges. She’s of particular interest in the larger investigation because — per photos she posted on Facebook — she was in Nancy Pelosi’s office and might be a witness to things that happened there, including the theft of Pelosi’s laptop.

At a hearing last week, the second attorney who has represented her in this case, Elizabeth Mullin, said she had received no discovery, particularly as compared to other January 6 defendants. So the judge in that case, Randolph Moss, ordered a status report and disclosure of discovery by this Friday.

That status report admits that there hasn’t been much discovery, in particular because, aside from the surveillance photos used in her arrest warrant, the government hasn’t found many images of Steele-Smith in surveillance footage.

The United States files this memorandum for the purpose of describing the status of discovery. As an initial matter, the government has provided preliminary discovery in this case. On or about June 4, 2021, the government provided counsel for defendant preliminary discovery in this matter. This production had been made previously to the defendant’s initial counsel of record. Counsel for defendant received the preliminary production that had been provided to previous counsel. This preliminary production included the FBI 302 of defendant’s sole interview, the recorded interview of defendant which formed the basis of the aforementioned FBI 302, over one thousand pages of content extracted from defendant’s Facebook account, and thirty-nine photographs confiscated from defendant’s telephone.

The government is prepared to produce an additional discovery production no later than August 13, 2021. The production will include additional items that have been obtained by the government from the FBI. These items include, additional FBI investigative reports and the Facebook search warrant dated January 21, 2021. The FBI has provided the government with the full extent of the materials in its possession. While these items are few in number, the government is continuing to review body worn camera footage in an attempt to locate the defendant. Camera footage will be provided if it is located. The government has been diligent in its efforts to obtain all discoverable items in possession of the FBI.

That still leaves a thousand Facebook pages and 39 photos, some of them taken at a key scene in the Capitol a scene that — given the evidence against Steele-Smith and in other cases — is a relative blind spot in the surveillance of the Capitol. The interview described here is not reflected in her arrest warrant, and so may include non-public information used to support the obstruction case.

Beryl Howell might argue this is sufficient evidence to prove the government’s obstruction case. Trevor McFadden might argue that this case can’t wait for more video evidence obtained from future arrestees of what Steele-Smith did while “storm[ing] the castle” (in her own words), including the office of the Speaker of the House. But the theft of the Pelosi laptop — including whether Groypers like Riley Williams were involved — remains unsolved.

If a single terrorist with suspect ties to foreign entities broke into the office of the Speaker of the House and stole one of her laptops, no one would even think twice if DOJ were still investigating seven months later. But here, because the specific means of investigation include prosecuting the 1,000 people who made that break-in possible, there’s a push to curtail the investigation.

I don’t know what the answer is because the Speedy Trial issues are very real, particularly for people who are detained. But I do know it’s very hard for anyone to get their mind around this investigation.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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