Posts

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.

Former Presiding FISA Judge John Bates’ Curious Treatment of White Person Terrorism

By chance of logistics, the men and women who have presided over a two decade war on Islamic terrorism are now presiding over the trials of those charged in January 6.

To deal with the flood of defendants, the Senior Judges in the DC District have agreed to pick up some cases. And because FISA mandates that at least three of the eleven FISA judges presiding at any given time come from the DC area, and because the presiding judge has traditionally been from among those three, it means a disproportionate number of DC’s Senior Judges have served on the FISA Court, often on terms as presiding judge or at the very least ruling over programmatic decisions that have subjected millions of Americans to collection in the name of the war on terror. Between those and several other still-active DC judges, over 60 January 6 cases will be adjudicated by a current or former FISA judge.

Current and former FISA judges have taken a range of cases with a range of complexity and notoriety:

  • Royce Lamberth served as FISC’s presiding judge from 1995 until 2002 and failed in his effort to limit the effect of the elimination of the wall between intelligence and criminal collection passed in the PATRIOT Act. And during a stint as DC’s Chief Judge he dealt with the aftermath of the Boumediene decision and fought to make the hard won detention reviews won by Gitmo detainees more than a rubber stamp. Lamberth is presiding over 10 cases with 14 defendants. A number of those are high profile cases, like that of Jacob Chansley (the Q Shaman), Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother, bullhorn lady and mask refusenik Rachel Powell, and Proud Boy assault defendant Christopher Worrell.
  • Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is still an active DC District judge, but she served as FISC presiding judge starting way back in 2002, inheriting the difficulties created by Stellar Wind from Lamberth. She’s the one who redefined “relevant to” in an effort to bring the Internet dragnet back under court review. She is presiding over ten January 6 cases with 12 defendants. That includes Lonnie Coffman, who showed up to the insurrection with a truck full of Molotov cocktails, as well as some other assault cases.
  • John Bates took over as presiding judge of FISC on May 19, 2009. In 2010, he redefined “metadata” so as to permit the government to continue to use the Internet dragnet; the government ultimately failed to make that program work but FISC has retained that twisted definition of “metadata” nevertheless. In 2011, he authorized the use of “back door searches” on content collected under FISA’s Section 702. In 2013, Bates appears to have ruled that for Islamic terrorists, the FBI can get around restrictions prohibiting surveillance solely for First Amendment reasons by pointing to the conduct of an American citizen suspect’s associates, rather than his or her own. And while not a FISA case, Bates also dismissed Anwar al-Awlaki’s effort to require the government to give him some due process before executing him by drone strike; at the time, the government had presented no public evidence that Awlaki had done more than incite violence. Bates has eight January 6 cases with nine defendants (as well as some unrelated cases), but he is presiding over several high profile ones, including the other Zip Tie Guy, Larry Brock, the scion of a right wing activist family, Leo Bozell IV, and former State Department official Freddie Klein.
  • Reggie Walton, who took over as presiding judge in 2013 but who, even before that, oversaw key programmatic decisions starting in 2008, showed a willingness both on FISC and overseeing the Scooter Libby trial to stand up to the Executive. That includes his extended effort to clean up the phone and Internet dragnet after Bush left in 2009, during which he even shut down part or all of the two dragnets temporarily. Walton is presiding over six cases with eight defendants, most for MAGA tourism.
  • Thomas Hogan was DC District’s head judge in the 2000s. In that role, he presided over the initial Gitmo detainees’ challenges to their detention (though many of the key precedential decisions on those cases were made by other judges who have since retired). Hogan then joined FISC and ultimately took over the presiding role in 2014 and in that role, affirmatively authorized the use of Section 702 back door searches for FBI assessments. Hogan is presiding over 13 cases with 18 defendants, a number of cases involving multiple defendants (including another set of mother-son defendants, the Sandovals). The most important is the case against alleged Brian Sicknick assailants, Julian Khater and George Tanios.
  • James Boasberg, who took over the presiding position on FISC on January 1, 2020 but had started making initial efforts to rein in back door searches even before that, is presiding over about eight cases with ten defendants, the most interesting of which is the case of Aaron Mostofsky, who is himself the son of a judge.
  • Rudolph Contreras, who like Kollar-Kotelly and Boasberg is not a senior judge, is currently a FISC judge. He has six January 6 cases with seven defendants, most MAGA tourists accused of trespassing. There’s a decent chance he’ll take over as presiding judge when Boasberg’s term on FISC expires next month.

Of the most important FISA judges since 9/11, then, just Rosemary Collyer is not presiding over any January 6 cases.

Mind you, it’s not a bad thing that FISA judges will preside over January 6 cases. These are highly experienced judges with a long established history of presiding over other cases, ranging the gamut and including other politically charged high profile cases, as DC District judges do.

That said, in their role as FISA judges — particularly when reviewing programmatic applications — most of these judges have been placed in a fairly unique role on two fronts. First, most of these judges have been forced to weigh fairly dramatic legal questions, in secret, in a context in which the Executive Branch routinely threatens to move entire programs under EO 12333, thereby shielding those programs from any oversight by a judge. These judges responded to such situations with a range of deference, with Royce Lamberth and Reggie Walton raising real stinks and — the latter case — hand-holding on oversight over the course of most of a year, to John Bates and to a lesser degree Thomas Hogan, who often complained at length about abuses before expanding the same programs being abused. Several — perhaps most notably Kollar-Kotelly when she was asked to bring parts of Stellar Wind under FISA — have likewise had to fight to affirm the authority of the entire Article III branch, all in secret.

Ruling on these programmatic FISA applications also involved hearing expansive government claims about the threat of terrorism, the difficulty and necessity of identifying potential terrorists before they attack, and the efficacy of the secret programs devised to do that (the judges who also presided over Gitmo challenges, which includes several on this list, also fielded similar secret claims about the risk of terrorism). Some of those claims — most notably, about the efficacy of the Section 215 phone dragnet — were wildly overblown. In other words, to a degree unmatched by most other judges, these men and women were asked to balance the rights of Americans against secret government claims about the risks of terrorism.

Now these same judges are part of a group being asked to weigh similar questions, but about a huge number of predominantly white, sometimes extremist Christian, defendants, but to do so in public, with defense attorneys challenging their every decision. Here, the balance between extremist affiliation and First Amendment rights will play out in public, but against the background of a two decade war on terror where similar affiliation was criminalized, often in secret.

Generally, the District judges in these cases have not done much on the cases yet, as either Magistrates (on initial pre-indictment appearances) or Chief Judge Beryl Howell (on initial detention disputes) have handled some of the more controversial issues, and in a few cases, Ketanji Brown Jackson presided over arraignments before she started handing off cases in anticipation of her Circuit confirmation process.

But several of the judges have written key opinions on detention, opinions that embody how differently the conduct of January 6 defendants looks to different people.

Lamberth, for example, authored the original detention order for “Zip Tie Guy” Eric Munchel and his mom, Lisa Eisenhart. Even while admitting that Munchel made efforts to limit any vandalization during the riot, Lamberth nevertheless deemed Munchel’s actions a threat to our constitutional government.

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.

Munchel ‘s alleged conduct demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the rule of law. Munchel is alleged to have taken part in a mob, which displaced the elected legislature in an effort to subvert our constitutional government and the will of more than 81 million voters. Munchel’ s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends. Such conduct poses a clear risk to the community.

Defense counsel’s portrayal of the alleged offenses as mere trespassing or civil disobedience is both unpersuasive and detached from reality. First, Munchel’s alleged conduct carried great potential for violence. Munchel went into the Capitol armed with a taser. He carried plastic handcuffs. He threatened to “break” anyone who vandalized the Capitol.3 These were not peaceful acts. Second, Munchel ‘s alleged conduct occurred while Congress was finalizing the results of a Presidential election. Storming the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral votes is not the akin to a peaceful sit-in.

For those reasons, the nature and circumstances of the charged offenses strongly support a finding that no conditions of release would protect the community.

[snip]

Munchel gleefully entered the Capitol in the midst of a riot. He did so, the grand jury alleges, to stop or delay the peaceful transfer of power. And he did so carrying a dangerous weapon. Munchel took these actions in front of hundreds of police officers, indicating that he cannot be deterred easily.

Moreover, after the riots, Munchel indicated that he was willing to undertake such actions again. He compared himself-and the other insurrectionists-to the revolutionaries of 1776, indicating that he believes that violent revolt is appropriate. See Pullman, supra. And he said “[t]he point of getting inside the building is to show them that we can, and we will.” Id. That statement, particularly its final clause, connotes a willingness to engage in such behavior again.

By word and deed, Munchel has supported the violent overthrow of the United States government. He poses a clear danger to our republic.

This is the opinion that the DC Circuit remanded, finding that Lamberth had not sufficiently considered whether Munchel and his mother would pose a grave future threat absent the specific circumstances present on January 6. They contrasted the mother and son with those who engaged in violence or planned in advance.

[W]e conclude that the District Court did not demonstrate that it adequately considered, in light of all the record evidence, whether Munchel and Eisenhart present an identified and articulable threat to the community. Accordingly, we remand for further factfinding. Cf. Nwokoro, 651 F.3d at 111–12.

[snip]

Here, the District Court did not adequately demonstrate that it considered whether Munchel and Eisenhart posed an articulable threat to the community in view of their conduct on January 6, and the particular circumstances of January 6. The District Court based its dangerousness determination on a finding that “Munchel’s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends,” and that “[s]uch conduct poses a clear risk to the community.” Munchel, 2021 WL 620236, at *6. In making this determination, however, the Court did not explain how it reached that conclusion notwithstanding the countervailing finding that “the record contains no evidence indicating that, while inside the Capitol, Munchel or Eisenhart vandalized any property or physically harmed any person,” id. at *3, and the absence of any record evidence that either Munchel or Eisenhart committed any violence on January 6. That Munchel and Eisenhart assaulted no one on January 6; that they did not enter the Capitol by force; and that they vandalized no property are all factors that weigh against a finding that either pose a threat of “using force to promote [their] political ends,” and that the District Court should consider on remand. If, in light of the lack of evidence that Munchel or Eisenhart committed violence on January 6, the District Court finds that they do not in fact pose a threat of committing violence in the future, the District Court should consider this finding in making its dangerousness determination. 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. See Simpkins, 826 F.2d at 96 (“[W]here the future misconduct that is anticipated concerns violent criminal activity, no issue arises concerning the outer limits of the meaning of ‘danger to the community,’ an issue that would otherwise require a legal interpretation of the applicable standard.” (internal quotation and alteration omitted)). And while the District Court stated that it was not satisfied that either appellant would comply with release conditions, that finding, as noted above, does not obviate a proper dangerousness determination to justify detention.

The District Court also failed to demonstrate that it considered the specific circumstances that made it possible, on January 6, for Munchel and Eisenhart to threaten the peaceful transfer of power. The appellants had a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy on January 6 because of the electoral college vote tally taking place that day, and the concurrently scheduled rallies and protests. Thus, Munchel and Eisenhart were able to attempt to obstruct the electoral college vote by entering the Capitol together with a large group of people who had gathered at the Capitol in protest that day. Because Munchel and Eisenhart did not vandalize any property or commit violence, the presence of the group was critical to their ability to obstruct the vote and to cause danger to the community. Without it, Munchel and Eisenhart—two individuals who did not engage in any violence and who were not involved in planning or coordinating the activities— seemingly would have posed little threat. The District Court found that appellants were a danger to “act against Congress” in the future, but there was no explanation of how the appellants would be capable of doing so now that the specific circumstances of January 6 have passed. This, too, is a factor that the District Court should consider on remand. [my emphasis]

The DC Circuit opinion (joined by Judith Rogers, who ruled for Gitmo detainees in Bahlul and a Boumediene dissent) was absolutely a fair decision. But it is also arguably inconsistent with the way that the federal government treated Islamic terrorism, in which every time the government identified someone who might engage in terrorism (often using one of the secret programs approved by this handful of FISA judges, and often based off far less than waltzing into the Senate hoping to prevent the certification of an election while wielding zip ties and a taser), the FBI would continue to pursue those people as intolerably dangerous threats. Again, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, but that is how it did work, in significant part with the approval of FISA judges.

That is, with Islamic terrorism, the government treated potential threats as threats, whereas here CADC required Lamberth to look more closely at what could make an individual predisposed to an assault on our government — a potential threat — as dangerous going forward. Again, particularly given the numbers involved, that’s a better application of due process than what has been used for the last twenty years, but it’s not what happened during the War on Terror (and in weeks ahead, this will be relitigated with consideration of whether Trump’s continued incitement makes these defendants an ongoing threat).

Now compare Lamberth’s order to an order John Bates issued in the wake of and specifically citing the CADC ruling, releasing former State Department official Freddie Klein from pretrial detention. Klein is accused of fighting with cops in the Lower West Terrace over the course of half an hour.

Bates found that Klein, in using a stolen riot shield to push against cops in an attempt to breach the Capitol, was eligible for pre-trial detention, though he expressed skepticism of the government’s argument that Klein had wielded the shield as a dangerous weapon).

The Court finds that Klein is eligible for pretrial detention based on Count 3. Under the BRA, a “crime of violence” includes “an offense that has as an element of the offense the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” 18 U.S.C. § 3156(a)(4)(A). The Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States defined “physical force” as “force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person.” 559 U.S. 133, 140 (2010); see also Def.’s Br. at 9.

[snip]

6 The Court has some doubts about whether Klein “used” the stolen riot shield as a dangerous weapon. The BRA does not define the term, but at least for purposes of § 111(b), courts have held that a dangerous weapon is any “object that is either inherently dangerous or is used in a way that is likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” See United States v. Chansley, 2021 WL 861079, at *7 (D.D.C. Mar. 8, 2021) (Lamberth, J.) (collecting cases). A plastic riot shield is not an “inherently dangerous” weapon, and therefore the question is whether Klein used it in a way “that is likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” The standard riot shield “is approximately forty-eight inches tall and twenty-four inches wide,” see Gov’t’s Br. at 13, and the Court disagrees with defense counsel’s suggestion that a riot shield might never qualify as a dangerous weapon, even if swung at an officer’s head, Hr’g Tr. 18:18–25, 19:1–11. See, e.g., United States v. Johnson, 324 F.2d 264, 266 (4th Cir. 1963) (finding that metal and plastic chair qualified as a dangerous weapon when “wielded from an upright (overhead) position and brought down upon the victim’s head”). But it is a close call whether Klein’s efforts to press the shield against officers’ bodies and shields were “likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” See Chansley, 2021 WL 861079, at *7.

But Bates ruled that there were certain things about the case against Klein — that he didn’t come prepared for combat, that he didn’t bring a weapon with him and instead just made use of what he found there, that any coordination he did involved ad hoc cooperation with other rioters rather than leadership throughout the event — that distinguished him from other defendants who (he suggested) should be detained, thereby limiting the guidelines laid out by CDC.

Bates’ decision on those points is absolutely fair. He has distinguished Klein from other January 6 defendants who, he judges, contributed more to the violence.

But there are two aspects of Bates’ decision I find shocking, especially from the guy who consistently deferred to Executive Authority on matters of national security and who sacrificed all of our communicative privacy in the service of finding hidden terrorist threats to the country. First, Bates dismissed the import of Klein’s sustained fight against cops because — he judged — Klein was only using force to advance the position of the mob, not trying to injure anyone.

The government’s contention that Klein engaged in “what can only be described as hand-to-hand combat” for “approximately thirty minutes” also overstates what occurred. See Gov’t’s Br. at 6. Klein consistently positioned himself face-to-face with multiple officers and also repeatedly pressed a stolen riot shield against their bodies and shields. His objective, as far as the Court can tell, however, appeared to be to advance, or at times maintain, the mob’s position in the tunnel, and not to inflict injury. He is not charged with injuring anyone and, unlike with other defendants, the government does not submit that Klein intended to injure officers. Compare Hr’g Tr. 57:12–18 (government conceding that the evidence does not establish Klein intended to injure anyone, only that “there was a disregard of care whether he would injure anyone or not” in his attempt to enter the Capitol), with Gov’t’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. to Reopen Detention Hearing & For Release on Conditions, ECF No. 30 (“Gov’t’s Opp’n to McCaughey’s Release”), United States v. McCaughey, III, 21-CR-040-1, at 11 (D.D.C. Apr. 7, 2021) (government emphasizing defendant’s “intent to injure” an officer who he had pinned against a door using a stolen riot shield as grounds for pretrial detention). And during the time period before Klein obtained the riot shield, he made no attempts to “battle” or “fight” the officers with his bare hands or other objects, such as the flagpole he retrieved. That does not mean that Klein could not have caused serious injury— particularly given the chaotic and cramped atmosphere inside the tunnel. But his actions are distinguishable from other detained defendants charged under § 111(b) who clearly sought to incapacitate and injure members of law enforcement by striking them with fists, batons, baseball bats, poles, or other dangerous weapons.

[snip]

Klein’s conduct was forceful, relentless, and defiant, but his confrontations with law enforcement were considerably less violent than many others that day, and the record does not establish that he intended to injure others. [my emphasis]

Bates describes that Klein wanted to use force in the service of occupying the building, not harming individual cops.

Of course, using force to occupy a building in service of halting the vote count is terrorism, but Bates doesn’t treat it as such.

Even more alarmingly, Bates flips how Magistrate Zia Faruqui viewed a government employee like Klein turning on his own government. The government had argued — and Faruqui agreed — that when a federal employee with Top Secret clearance attacks his own government, it is not just a crime but a violation of the Constitutional oath he swore to protect the country against enemies foreign and domestic.

Bates — after simply dismissing the import of Klein’s admittedly limited criminal history that under any other Administration might have disqualified him from retaining clearance — describes what Klein did as a “deeply concerning breach of trust.”

The government also argues that “Klein abdicated his responsibilities to the country and the Constitution” on January 6 by violating his oath of office as a federal employee to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Id. at 24–25 (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 3331). The fact that, as a federal employee, Klein actively participated in an assault on our democracy to thwart the peaceful transfer of power constitutes a substantial and deeply concerning breach of trust. More so, too, because he had been entrusted by this country to handle “top secret” classified information to protect the United States’ most sensitive interests. In light of his background, Klein had, as Magistrate Judge Faruqui put it, every “reason to know the acts he committed” on January 6 “were wrong,” and yet he took them anyway. Order of Detention Pending Trial at 4. Klein’s position as a federal employee thus may render him highly culpable for his conduct on January 6. But it is less clear that his now-former employment at the State Department heightens his “prospective” threat to the community. See Munchel, 2021 WL 1149196, at *4. Klein no longer works for or is affiliated with the federal government, and there is no suggestion that he might misuse previously obtained classified information to the detriment of the United States. Nor, importantly, is he alleged to have any contacts—past or present—with individuals who might wish to take action against this country. [my emphasis]

Bates then argues that Klein’s ability to obtain clearance proves not that he violates oaths he takes (the government argument adopted by Faruqui), but that he has the potential to live a law-abiding life.

Ultimately, Klein’s history—including his ability to obtain a top-level security clearance—shows his potential to live a law-abiding life. His actions on January 6, of course, stand in direct conflict with that narrative. Klein has not—unlike some other defendants who have been released pending trial for conduct in connection with the events of January 6—exhibited remorse for his actions. See, e.g., United States v. Cua, 2021 WL 918255, at *7–8 (D.D.C. Mar. 10, 2021) (Moss, J.) (weighing defendant’s deep remorse and regret in favor of pretrial release). But nor has he made any public statements celebrating his misconduct or suggesting that he would participate in similar actions again. And it is Klein’s constitutional right to challenge the allegations against him and hold the government to its burden of proof without incriminating himself at this stage of the proceedings. See United States v. Lawrence, 662 F.3d 551, 562 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (“[A] district court may not pressure a defendant into expressing remorse such that the failure to express remorse is met with punishment.”). Hence, despite his very troubling conduct on January 6, the Court finds on balance that Klein’s history and characteristics point slightly toward release.

In short, Bates takes the fact that Klein turned on the government he had sworn to protect and finds that that act weighs in favor of release.

Bates judges that this man, whom he described as having committed violence to advance the goal of undermining an election, nevertheless finds that — having already done that — Klein does not pose an unmanageable prospective threat.

Therefore, although it is a close call, the Court ultimately does not find that Klein poses a substantial prospective threat to the community or any other person. He does not pose no continuing danger, as he contends, given his demonstrated willingness to use force to advance his personal beliefs over legitimate government objectives. But what future risk he does present can be mitigated with supervision and other strict conditions on his release.

Again, it’s not the decision itself that is troubling. It’s the thought process Bates used, both for the way Bates flips Klein’s betrayal of his oath on its head, and for the way that Bates views the threat posed by a man who already used force in an attempt to coerce a political end. And it’s all the more troubling knowing how Bates has deferred to the Executive’s claims about the nascent threat posed even by people who have not, yet, engaged in violence to coerce a political end.

Bates similarly showed no deference to the government’s argument that Larry Brock, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who also brought zip ties into the Senate chamber, should have no access to the Internet given really inflammatory statements on social media, including a call for “fire and blood” as early as November. Bates decided on his own that Probation could sufficiently monitor Brock’s Internet use, comparing Brock to (in my opinion) two unlike defendants to justify the decision. Again, the decision itself is absolutely reasonable, but for the guy who decided the government could monitor significant swaths of transnational Internet traffic out of a necessity to identify potential terrorists, for a guy who okayed the access of US person’s content with no warrant, it’s fairly remarkable that he hasn’t deferred to the government about the danger Brock poses on the Internet (to say nothing of Brock’s likely sophistication at evading surveillance).

Again, I’m not complaining about any of these opinions. The outcomes are all reasonable. It is genuinely difficult to fit the events of January 6 into our existing framework (and perhaps that’s a good thing). Plus, there is such a range of fact patterns that even in the Munchel opinion give force to the mob even while trying to adjudicate individuals’ actions.

But either because these discussions are public, or because we simply think about white person terrorism differently, less foreign, perhaps, than we do Islamic terrorism, the very same judges who’ve grappled with these questions for the past two decades don’t necessarily have the ready answers they had in the past.

FISA Judges January 6 cases

Lamberth:

Kollar-Kotelly:

Bates:

Walton:

Hogan:

Boasberg:

Contreras:

Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel Gets a Second Chance at Release

The DC Circuit just remanded the case of Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother Lisa Eisenhart for reconsideration of their bid for release. Robert Wilkins wrote the opinion, joined by Judith Rogers; Gregory Katsas dissented in some but not all of the opinion.

I wrote here and here about how this was a close case. As such, this opinion will provide important guideposts for other January 6 making similar arguments.

The opinion agreed that January 6 posed an urgent risk to our democracy, generally presenting a broad authority to detain people. But it also emphasized that only some of the participants in the insurrection pose enough of a danger to afford exceptional authority to detain people.

It cannot be gainsaid that the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6 was a grave danger to our democracy, and that those who participated could rightly be subject to detention to safeguard the community. Cf. Salerno, 481 U.S. at 748 (“[I]n times of war or insurrection, when society’s interest is at its peak, the Government may detain individuals whom the government believes to be dangerous.” (citations omitted)). But we have a grave constitutional obligation to ensure that the facts and circumstances of each case warrant this exceptional treatment.

In the case of Munchel and his mom, the opinion found that the analysis of the danger that Munchel and his mom present to the community was not forward looking, and because they had not done a number of things — actually broken through barricades, assaulted cops, planned the operation, or abetted that process — their dangerousness was not sufficient to make their unwillingness to follow release conditions a factor. In particular, without the special circumstances of the vote certification and the violent mob, the mother and son likely would not pose the same threat to our country.

Here, the District Court did not adequately demonstrate that it considered whether Munchel and Eisenhart posed an articulable threat to the community in view of their conduct on January 6, and the particular circumstances of January 6. The District Court based its dangerousness determination on a finding that “Munchel’s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends,” and that “[s]uch conduct poses a clear risk to the community.” Munchel, 2021 WL 620236, at *6. In making this determination, however, the Court did not explain how it reached that conclusion notwithstanding the countervailing finding that “the record contains no evidence indicating that, while inside the Capitol, Munchel or Eisenhart vandalized any property or physically harmed any person,” id. at *3, and the absence of any record evidence that either Munchel or Eisenhart committed any violence on January 6. That Munchel and Eisenhart assaulted no one on January 6; that they did not enter the Capitol by force; and that they vandalized no property are all factors that weigh against a finding that either pose a threat of “using force to promote [their] political ends,” and that the District Court should consider on remand. If, in light of the lack of evidence that Munchel or Eisenhart committed violence on January 6, the District Court finds that they do not in fact pose a threat of committing violence in the future, the District Court should consider this finding in making its dangerousness determination. 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.

[snip]

The District Court also failed to demonstrate that it considered the specific circumstances that made it possible, on January 6, for Munchel and Eisenhart to threaten the peaceful transfer of power. The appellants had a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy on January 6 because of the electoral college vote tally taking place that day, and the concurrently scheduled rallies and protests. Thus, Munchel and Eisenhart were able to attempt to obstruct the electoral college vote by entering the Capitol together with a large group of people who had gathered at the Capitol in protest that day. Because Munchel and Eisenhart did not vandalize any property or commit violence, the presence of the group was critical to their ability to obstruct the vote and to cause danger to the community. Without it, Munchel and Eisenhart—two individuals who did not engage in any violence and who were not involved in planning or coordinating the activities— seemingly would have posed little threat. The District Court found that appellants were a danger to “act against Congress” in the future, but there was no explanation of how the appellants would be capable of doing so now that the specific circumstances of January 6 have passed. This, too, is a factor that the District Court should consider on remand.

I suspect mom, at least, will get bail on remand. And I suspect other defendants will try to argue (some with likely success) that they fit the same categories as Munchel and his mom — willing participants in an insurrection, but not key enough players to detain awaiting trial.

Among the principles it lays out:

January 6 was a Constitutional risk, but some defendants were only a threat on that day with that mob

As noted, the Circuit agrees that January 6 presented such a risk to the country that extraordinary detention authorities may be necessary. It included a list of circumstances — similar to the ones that Beryl Howell laid out — that reach this heightened level of risk. Some defendants (particularly the far right lone actors who did not engage in violence personally) will likely be able to ask for review of their own detention. But others — including some of the Oath Keepers — will have the case for their detention reinforced because of their role aiding and abetting a concerted attack on democracy.

DC District judges can review detention remotely

While dicta, a footnote complains that it took so long — until they had been transported to DC — for the two to have a detention review in DC. It asks why a District judge could not have conducted the review remotely.

While COVID-19 issues caused a delay in the appellants’ transport to the District of Columbia, the record does not indicate why a D.C. District Judge could not have heard this matter prior to February 17, even if the appellants were in another location. Ultimately, this issue, while troubling, is not presented as a ground for reversal in this appeal.

This is something that has come up in other cases, repeatedly. This panel, at least, seems to agree that a DC District judge can review detention remotely.

DC District judges don’t have to defer to the local Magistrates’ decisions if there’s new evidence

Munchel and his mother argued that once the Magistrate in Tennessee judged them not to be a danger, the District had no authority to review that determination. The Circuit disagrees, but only with regards to the circumstances of this case, where the government provides new evidence to the District.

The statute concerning review of a Magistrate Judge’s release order says nothing about the standard of the district court’s review, see 18 U.S.C. § 3145(a), and we have not squarely decided the issue.3 We need not break new ground in this case, because as the appellants maintain in their briefing, Munchel Reply Mem. 8, n.3, the government submitted substantial additional evidence to the district judge that had not been presented to the Magistrate Judge, including the 50- minute iPhone video, a partial transcript of the video, and several videos from Capitol CCTV.4 As a result, this was not an instance where the District Court made its dangerousness finding based on the same record as was before the Magistrate Judge. Here, the situation was more akin to a new hearing, and as such, the issue before the District Court was not really whether to defer (or not) to a finding made by the Magistrate Judge on the same evidentiary record.

3 This court stated long ago, in dictum, in a case arising under the predecessor Bail Reform Act that district courts review such prior determinations with “broad discretion.” Wood v. United States, 391 F.2d 981, 984 (D.C. Cir. 1968) (“Evaluating the competing considerations is a task for the commissioner or judge in the first instance, and then the judges of the District Court (where they have original jurisdiction over the offense) have a broad discretion to amend the conditions imposed, or to grant release outright, if they feel that the balance has been improperly struck.”).

Before we’re done, I wouldn’t be surprised if the DC Circuit is asked to weigh in directly on the standard of review here.

DC District judges can consider whether a defendant will abide by release conditions

Munchel and his mother had tried to limit when a District judge can consider whether they will abide by release conditions, not to reconsider bail but only to revoke it.

Second, we reject the argument that the District Court inappropriately relied on a finding that appellants were unlikely to abide by release conditions to detain them, because that factor is applicable only to revocation of pretrial release. The District Court’s finding as to appellants’ potential compliance is relevant to the ultimate determination of “whether there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure . . . the safety of any other person and the community.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f) and (g). Indeed, other courts have found a defendant’s potential for compliance with release conditions relevant to the detention inquiry.

[snip]

While failure to abide by release conditions is an explicit ground for revocation of release in 18 U.S.C. § 3148(b), it defies logic to suggest that a court cannot consider whether it believes the defendant will actually abide by its conditions when making the release determination in the first instance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142.

This has come up with other defendants. That said, this opinion as a whole says that a refusal to abide by release conditions by itself is not enough to detain someone. This part of the ruling will be particularly impactful for those detained because either a belief in QAnon or Nazism suggests a general disdain for our existing government.

A taser counts as a weapon

Munchel and his mother also argued that their alleged crimes don’t merit detention because the taser Munchel brought with him is not a weapon. Not only did the Circuit disagree, but it also readily applied the analysis to Eisenhart’s abetting exposure.

Third, we reject Munchel and Eisenhart’s arguments that the charged offenses do not authorize detention. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(E), detention is permitted if the case involves “any felony . . . that involves the possession or use of a . . . dangerous weapon.” (emphasis added). Two of the charges in the indictment meet this description: Count Two— entering a restricted building “with intent to impede and disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business . . . while armed with a dangerous weapon,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(1) and (a)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (aiding and abetting charge for Eisenhart); and Count Three—violent entry or disorderly conduct, again “while armed with a dangerous weapon,” in violation of 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(1) and (e)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Indictment, ECF No. 21 at 2. The Bail Reform Act thus explicitly authorizes detention when a defendant is charged with committing certain felonies while possessing a dangerous weapon, as is alleged in this indictment.5

5 Eisenhart’s argument that a taser is not a dangerous weapon— which Eisenhart raises for the first time in reply, and which Munchel seeks to adopt in his reply—is without merit. The relevant statute, 40 U.S.C. § 5104(a)(2)(B), defines the term “dangerous weapon” to include “a device designed to expel or hurl a projectile capable of causing injury to individuals or property. . . .” While the record contains no evidence or proffer as to how Munchel’s taser operates, a taser is commonly understood as a device designed to expel a projectile capable of causing injury to individuals. See Cantu v. City of Dothan, 974 F.3d 1217, 1224–25 (11th Cir. 2020); Mattos v. Agarano, 661 F.3d 433, 443 (9th Cir. 2011) (“[A] taser uses compressed nitrogen to propel a pair of ‘probes’—aluminum darts tipped with stainless steel barbs connected to the taser by insulated wires—toward the target at a rate of over 160 feet per second. Upon striking a person, the taser delivers a 1200 volt, low ampere electrical charge. The electrical impulse instantly overrides the victim’s central nervous system, paralyzing the muscles throughout the body, rendering the target limp and helpless.” (internal alterations and quotation marks omitted)). Thus, at this stage, the evidence sufficiently demonstrates that Munchel’s taser is a dangerous weapon under the statute.

This ruling matters specifically for Richard “Bigo” Barnett (who also brought a taser with him), but also holds that the weapons enhancement on the 1752 and 5104 charges that other defendants face will merit detention. The Circuit also readily approved Eisenhart’s exposure on account of Munchel’s taser. That matters because many defendants are charged with abetting certain conduct that merits detention.

Detention analysis remains individualized

Munchel and his mom, like virtually all defendants arguing for release, have compared their own case to that of others who got released. Because Munchel only raised this in his reply, the Circuit didn’t address the comparison per se. But said that the District Court is in better position to review such claims.

Finally, Munchel and Eisenhart argue that the government’s proffer of dangerousness should be weighed against the fact that the government did not seek detention of defendants who admitted they pushed through the police barricades and defendants charged with punching officers, breaking windows, discharging tasers at officers, and with planning and fundraising for the riot. See Munchel Reply Mem. at 9–12. Appellants did not raise this claim before the District Court and the government did not substantively respond to it on appeal because Appellants raised it for the first time in Munchel’s reply. Whatever potential persuasiveness the government’s failure to seek detention in another case carries in the abstract, every such decision by the government is highly dependent on the specific facts and circumstances of each case, which are not fully before us. In addition, those facts and circumstances are best evaluated by the District Court in the first instance, and it should do so should appellants raise the issue upon remand.

As several people watching the hearing for Connie Meggs’ attempt to get release, every detention fight going forward will have to account for this one. With its broad support for holding conspirators accountable for the violence of others, it may not help Meggs all that much. But it will crystalize these ongoing detention disputes.

Update: I’m wrong. Judge Amit Mehta just released Meggs.

Neal Katyal Helps Mueller Write Monday’s Brief

As I noted in this thread, last week the DC Circuit asked Mueller and Andrew Miller’s teams to submit a 10-page brief next Monday, “addressing what, if any, effect the November 7, 2018 designation of an acting Attorney General different from the official who appointed Special Counsel Mueller has on this case.”

It shouldn’t have any role in Miller’s subpoena. After all, at the time that action was taken, Mueller’s authority had no defects (unless Miller wins this challenge, which is unlikely, even at SCOTUS). It might, however, have an effect going forward, and Monday’s brief is an opportunity for Mueller to make that case publicly, and make it both for this challenge and the Mystery Appellant challenge, if that one pertains to Mueller’s authority. (Sri Srinivasan and Judith Rogers, two of the three judges hearing Miller’s appeal, have been involved in the Mystery Appeal as well, so know the substance of it.)

As luck would have it, a key expert just provided Mueller’s team important material for their brief.

Neal Katyal was (as he has written extensively) the author for the special counsel regulations that Mueller works under. Last week, he teamed up with conservative lawyer George Conway to argue that Whitaker’s appointment is unconstitutional. Today, he published a piece arguing that Whitaker cannot supervise Mueller.

In it, he raises two problems: first, he says that he and his colleagues at DOJ — and those on Capitol Hill with whom Katyal consulted — did not envision something like what Trump has done to happen.

My Justice Department colleagues and I, along with a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill, worked through many possible scenarios before we settled on the rules that now govern Mueller’s investigation. Everyone in the debate recognized that any enhancement in the special counsel’s accountability had to come from additional supervision by the attorney general. After all, the power to supervise is the power to destroy. The attorney general can stop a special counsel from investigating altogether or stop them from taking a specific step (such as subpoenaing a president). He can read every file of the counsel, and he may even attempt to give information about the investigation to the president in real time. And he plays a crucial role in determining what report by Mueller, if any, is given to Congress and ultimately the public.

But no one — and I mean no one — ever thought the regulations we wrote would permit the president to install some staff member of his choice from the Justice Department to serve as acting attorney general and thereby oversee the special counsel. Such a proposal would have been laughed off Capitol Hill within a nanosecond as fundamentally at odds with the most cardinal principle that no one is above the law.

Mind you, this is just a regulation, so the several references Kaytal makes to Congress do not amount to legislative intent. Still, it does provide guidance about what the intent of the regulations were.

Katyal then describes the problem — one that directly relates to the substance of Miller’s argument. Even if Whitaker’s appointment is legal as an emergency appointment, he still needs a superior officer to supervise him. It would need to be either Rosenstein or Trump himself.

If the defenders’ claims were true, all that would mean is that Whitaker is an inferior officer who doesn’t need to be confirmed by the Senate. In that situation, someone else, a principal officer, would still need to be in place to supervise Mueller — who is also an inferior officer. That responsibility would fall once again to Rosenstein under the succession statute Congress authorized.

Sometimes, an inferior officer has to supervise other inferior officers with no principal — say, if no one else has been confirmed at the start of an administration. Or in a more hypothetical scenario, imagine a military conflict in which casualties meant there were no Senate-confirmed officials in a department. But fortunately, today’s Justice Department isn’t dealing with challenges anything like those. There are Senate-confirmed officials at the helm.

And regardless of those issues, there is yet another problem, specific to the Mueller investigation. In an emergency situation where an acting head is named, the president is, ultimately, the responsible official who supervises temporary, unconfirmed stand-ins. The idea is that there would at least be someone accountable to the public above the acting officer in those situations — and as Harry Truman put it, the buck always stops with the president.

Here, though, the idea that the president could be trusted to supervise Whitaker as he oversees Mueller’s work is absurd.

It was this kind of problem that made me ask whether bolloxing up the legality of Mueller’s action was the entire point (because otherwise I can’t imagine how Emmet Flood bought off on this action, given the troubles it may cause).

But as I’ve said, it actually seems that these issues would create a legal disability on Whitaker’s part, meaning his back-up — Rosenstein — would be required to take over.

Democrats have already asked DOJ’s top ethics official whether he has given Whitaker advice on another possible source of disability, recusal obligations.

I suspect, though, that Mueller will be just one party in a position to argue that Whitaker cannot legally supervise him.

Which, again, is what I don’t mind that Rosenstein sucked up to him so effusively last Friday. Because so long as he remains there, as the Senate-confirmed official with authority to supervise Mueller, he may well end up remaining in that position.

In Thursday Hearing, Mueller’s Team Gets Specific about What They Can Do without Whitaker’s Pre-Approval

Yesterday, the DC Circuit held a hearing on Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller’s challenge of a grand jury subpoena. To make it crystal clear that the issues may have changed when Trump forced Jeff Sessions’ resignation the day before, the very first thing Judge Karen Henderson did was to instruct the sides to “Argue this case as if it were being argued yesterday morning.” She said then that they’d probably ask the lawyers to brief how Matt Whitaker’s appointment changed things, and today the panel ordered 10 page briefs, “addressing what, if any, effect the November 7, 2018 designation of an acting Attorney General different from the official who appointed Special Counsel Mueller has on this case.” Those briefs aren’t due until November 19, suggesting there won’t be an immediate resolution to Miller’s testimony.

But it was just as interesting how the Whitaker hiring may have influenced what the parties said yesterday.

Whitaker’s nomination undermines the Miller/Concord challenge to Mueller

Whitaker’s nomination really undermines the arguments that Miller and Concord Management (who argued as an amici) were making about Mueller’s appointment, particularly their argument that he is a principal officer and therefore must be Senate confirmed, an argument that relies on one that Steven Calabresi made this spring. Indeed, Neal Katyal and George Conway began their argument that Whitaker’s appointment is illegal by hoisting Calabresi on his petard.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president.

While it may be true (as Conway argued at the link) that Calabresi’s arguments are wrong for Mueller, if they’re right for Mueller, then they’re all the more true for Whitaker. So if Mueller should have been Senate confirmed, then Whitaker more obviously would need to be.

Dreeben lays out the scope of what Mueller can do with Whitaker in charge

I’m more fascinated by subtle ways that the nomination may be reflected in Michael Dreeben’s comments, though.

In their response to Miller’s challenge, Mueller’s team laid out that they had close supervision from Rod Rosenstein, but they didn’t get into specifics. It describes how the Attorney General receives information (in the form of urgent memos), and the AG can demand an explanation and intervene if he finds an action to be “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”

The Special Counsel readily meets this test. The Attorney General receives a regular flow of information about the Special Counsel’s actions; he can demand an explanation for any of them; and he has power to intervene when he deems it appropriate to prevent a deviation from established Departmental practices. The regulation envisions deference by requiring the Attorney General to stay his hand unless he determines that an action is “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(b) (emphasis added). But while the Attorney General must “give great weight to the views of the Special Counsel,” id., the provision affords the Attorney General discretion to assert control if he finds the applicable standard satisfied. This authority—coupled with the Attorney General’s latitude to terminate the Special Counsel for “good cause, including violation of Departmental policies,” 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(d)—provides substantial means to direct and supervise the Special Counsel’s decisions.

And the brief describes how Mueller has to ask for resources (though describes that as happening on a yearly basis) and uphold DOJ rules and ethical duties.

The Special Counsel is subject to equally “pervasive” administrative supervision and oversight. The Attorney General controls whether to appoint a Special Counsel and the scope of his jurisdiction. 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)-(b). Once appointed, the Special Counsel must comply with Justice Department rules, regulations, and policies. Id. § 600.7(a). He must “request” that the Attorney General provide Department of Justice employees to assist him or allow him to hire personnel from outside the Department. Id. § 600.5. The Special Counsel and his staff are “subject to disciplinary action for misconduct and breach of ethical duties under the same standards and to the same extent as are other employees of the Department of Justice.” Id. § 600.7(c). And, each year, the Attorney General “establish[es] the budget” for the Special Counsel and “determine[s] whether the investigation should continue.” Id. § 600.8(a)(1)-(2). The Attorney General’s initial control over the existence and scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation; his ongoing control over personnel and budgetary matters; his power to impose discipline for misconduct or a breach of ethical duties; and his authority to end the investigation afford the Attorney General substantial supervision and oversight, which supplements the Attorney General’s regulatory power to countermand the Special Counsel’s investigative and prosecutorial decisions. [my emphasis]

Significantly (given the Calebresi argument) the Mueller team briefed that US Attorneys are also inferior officers, though they get to act without pre-approval.

Miller asserts that the Special Counsel has the authority to make final decisions on behalf of the United States because the regulation “nowhere require[s] the Special Counsel to seek approval or get permission from the [Attorney General] before making final decisions about who to investigate, indict, and prosecute.” Br. 22. That was also true of United States commissioners—who could issue warrants for the arrest and detention of defendants—but who nonetheless “are inferior officers.” Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344, 353 (1931). And it is true for United States Attorneys, 28 U.S.C. § 547, who are also inferior officers. See Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 159 (1926); Hilario, 218 F.3d at 25-26; United States v. Gantt, 194 F.3d 987, 999 (9th Cir. 1999); United States Attorneys—Suggested Appointment Power of the Attorney General— Constitutional Law (Article II, § 2, cl. 2), 2 Op. O.L.C. 58, 59 (1978) (“U.S. Attorneys can be considered to be inferior officers”).3 Few inferior-officer positions require a supervisor to review every single decision. See, e.g., Edmond, 520 U.S. at 665; C46 n.22. Thus, the Special Counsel’s authority to act without obtaining advance approval of every decision cannot transform the Special Counsel into a principal officer, requiring presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.

[snip]

More recently, Congress has enacted legislation allowing for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, 28 U.S.C. § 541(a); by a court, id. § 546(d); or by the Attorney General, id. § 546(a)—the latter two appointment authorities manifesting Congress’s understanding that U.S. Attorneys are inferior officers. And every court that has considered the question has concluded that U.S. Attorneys are inferior officers. Thus, to the extent that the Special Counsel “can be accurately characterized as a U.S. Attorney-at-Large,” Br. 17; see 28 C.F.R. § 600.6 (Special Counsel has the “investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States Attorney”), the Special Counsel, like any U.S. Attorney, would fall on the “inferior officer” side of the line.

This latter argument doesn’t address the Miller/Concord claim that Mueller should have been Senate approved, but that’s part of why the Whitaker appointment is so damaging to this argument.

Compare all that with what Dreeben did yesterday. He specifically listed things that prosecutors — whether they be AUSAs or US Attorneys (though a later argument could point out that AUSAs need the approval of a USA) — do all the time: seek immunity, make plea deals, and bring indictments.

Prosecutors do this all the time. They seek immunity. They make plea agreements,. They bring indictments.

Dreeben later specified specifically what they’d need to get pre-approval for: subpoenaing a member of the media or, in some cases, immunizing a witness.

We have to get approval requires just like US Attorneys do. If we want to subpoena a member of the media, or if we want to immunize a witness, we’re encouraged if we’re not sure what the policy or practice is, to consult with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice. If we wanted to appeal an adverse decision, we would have to get approval of the Solicitor General of the United States. So we’re operating within that sort of supervisory framework.

But otherwise, per Dreeben’s argument yesterday, they wouldn’t need Whitaker to pre-approve most actions, including indictments — only to respond to an urgent memo by saying such an action was outside normal DOJ behavior.

Given my suspicions that John Kelly may be the Mystery Appellant challenging a Mueller request, Dreeben’s very detailed description of US v. Nixon’s assumptions about special prosecutors is particularly notable. His comments were intended to use US v. Nixon to support the existence of prosecutors with some independence. He very specifically describes how US v. Nixon means that the President can’t decide what evidence a prosecutor obtains in an investigation.

The issue in that case was whether a dispute was justiciable when the President of the United States exerted executive privilege over particular tapes and a special prosecutor was preceding in court in the sovereign interests of the United States to obtain evidence for a pending criminal case. And the President’s position was, I’m President of the United States. I’m vested with all executive authority, I decide what evidence is to be used in a criminal case. This is just a dispute between me and someone who is carrying out on a delegated basis a portion of my authority, it is therefore not justiciable. And the Supreme Court’s reasoning was, well, it actually is, because under a legal framework, the President does not have day-to-day control over individual prosecutions. That authority is vested in the Attorney General who is the representative of the United States as sovereign, in court. And he, exercising the powers under 28 USC 515, 533, and a couple of other statutes that dealt with powers being vested in the Attorney General and powers being delegated down, but acting pursuant to those powers, appointed a special prosecutor and vested him with a unique set of powers and those powers enabled him to go into court and to meet head to head in an adversarial proceeding the President’s claim as President that particular tapes were covered by Executive Privilege as against the sovereign’s claim through the special prosecutor that these tapes were relevant and admissible in a pending criminal case. [my emphasis]

None of this is a revolutionary interpretation of US v. Nixon. But the mystery dispute pertains to Kelly’s testimony — or some other move on the part of the White House to dictate what Mueller can and cannot do — then the language is notable, particularly given that two of the judges in yesterday’s hearing, Judith Rogers and Sri Srinivasan, have been the judges working on the mystery appeal.

Notably, along with submitting their brief in that appeal yesterday, Mueller’s team submitted a sealed appendix.

This sealed supplemental appendix may pertain to something Mueller just got, which would suggest that appeal may have everything to do with why Sessions was fired right away.

We’ll learn more when Mueller submits his brief on November 19 (though by then this will likely be ancient history).

But it sure seems like Dreeben was making the first argument about limits to how much Whitaker can tamper in the Mueller investigation.