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Elmer Stewart Rhodes Found Guilty of Seditious Conspiracy

The verdicts are starting to come in on the Oath Keepers verdicts. The topline verdict: the jury found Elmer Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs guilty on the seditious conspiracy count. The other three defendants — Ken Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell — were found not guilty on that charge.

All five defendants were found guilty of some kind of obstruction, though not always as part of a conspiracy.

Here’s a thread with the verdicts from the superb Brandi Buchman.

Here’s a table of the verdicts from Jordan Fischer.

Former Secret Cooperator Enrique Tarrio Reveals a Secret Cooperation Deal

Last Friday, in the guise of arguing that Enrique Tarrio’s trial should be moved from DC to Miami, one of his attorneys, Sabino Jauregui, revealed that DOJ had gotten a plea agreement with Jeremy Bertino and “Stewart” in June, but only rolled them out recently, which he claimed was proof of politicization. That argument, like Jauregui’s arguments that the national media coverage that Tarrio himself had cultivated and a DC lawsuit against the Proud Boys that the judge presiding over the case, Tim Kelly, had never heard of, meant Tarrio could not be tried in DC was nonsensical and probably false as to motive. It was a painfully stupid argument from lawyers from one of the few people who could make a real case for moving his trial (though not to Miami, where there has been localized Proud Boy coverage).

But it revealed that the person identified as “Person Three” in many of the charging documents, John “Blackbeard” Stewart, had entered a plea agreement in June. After I tweeted that out, WaPo described a June 10 Information charging someone with conspiring to obstruct the vote certification.

The disclosure by Tarrio’s defense aligns with court records showing that prosecutors on June 10 charged a defendant who was expected to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators in a case related to Tarrio and four top lieutenants, who stand accused of planning in advance to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force. The unidentified defendant was charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress, according to the records — initially posted publicly by the court but removed from public view.

It’s unclear whether Jauregui really meant to argue that the non-disclosure of a June plea would harm his client — or even the early October disclosure of a Bertino plea that was signed in September — or whether this was the kind of happy accident that sometimes exposes a detail that might be useful for others. But it reveals that in the same period when DOJ charged Tarrio and his alleged co-conspirators with sedition, DOJ secretly added a cooperator against them.

That detail isn’t all that surprising — and it’s certainly not cause to move the trial to Miami. The government often keeps cooperation deals secret — indeed, the government kept at least some of Tarrio’s cooperation secret when he was cooperating against his codefendants and other medical fraudsters in the 2010s. They did so, in part, so he could conduct undercover operations.

But it raises other questions, such as what happened with Aaron Whallon Wolkind, who also figured prominently in charging documents as Person 2, but who was not mentioned in Bertino’s statement of offense. The recent silence about AWW’s role in January 6 is all the more telling given that Zach Rehl’s co-travelers, Isaiah Giddings, Brian Healion, and Freedom Vy just had their pre-indictment prosecution continued until February; along with Rehl, they’re the ones that interacted most closely with AWW on and leading up to January 6. We may learn more by Wednesday, which is the due date for the two sides to submit a new sentencing date for Jeff Finley, another co-traveler of this crowd.

There has long been reason to wonder about what was going on in the Proud Boy case behind the scenes. The revelation of hidden plea deals only confirms that.

The silence of most Oath Keeper cooperators

It’s not just the Proud Boys investigation where there’s uncertainty about cooperating witnesses.

A recent status report for Jon Schaffer, who was generally understood to be a cooperator against the Oath Keepers, reveals that his attorney,

has reached out to counsel for the government, Ahmed Baset, Esq., multiple times in regard to the Joint Statius Report as requested by this Court. Unfortunately, as of the filing of this report, undersigned counsel has not been able to reach Mr. Baset.

The status report includes the same description as used in earlier status reports, one that was always weird in conjunction with the Oath Keepers and now is completely incompatible with it.

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

That doesn’t rule out that his cooperation was for different militia defendants, or for Oath Keeper James Breheny, whose pre-indictment prosecution was recently continued until January (Breheny is most interesting for an event he attended in Lancaster, PA, not far from both John Stewart and AWW).

The continuing lack of clarity about Schaffer’s cooperation comes even as he has successfully hidden from DC process servers for months. He is one of the cooperators whose plea included the possibility of witness protection, but the process servers attempting to notify him of lawsuits against him seem to be chasing real addresses.

Schaffer aside, there are even interesting questions regarding cooperators in the main Oath Keeper conspiracy. After Graydon Young finished testifying yesterday (revealing, among other things, that he had learned that Kelly Meggs had high level ties to the Proud Boys), prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler revealed there is just one more civilian witness. If by “civilian” he includes cooperators, that means at most one more Oath Keeper cooperator — probably Joshua James, whose cooperation on post-January 6 development seems critical for the sedition charge — will testify. That would mean a bunch of the cooperators — Mark Grods, Caleb Berry, Brian Ulrich, and Todd Wilson — would not have taken the stand (Jason Dolan is the only other cooperator, in addition to Young, who has testified so far). While some of these cooperators were likely important for getting others to flip (for example, Grods would have implicated James), there are others, like Wilson, whose testimony might be uniquely valuable.

Or perhaps in the same way DOJ was attempting to hide at least one Proud Boy cooperator, the Oath Keeper team is hiding the substance that some of their cooperators have provided to protect ongoing investigations.

Mystery Green Berets

Then there’s a January 6 cooperation deal that has attracted almost no notice: that of Kurt Peterson. He’s a guy who broke a window of the Capitol and witnessed the shooting of Ashli Babbitt. Last December, DOJ was attempting to use the broken window to leverage him to plead guilty to obstruction as part of a cooperation deal. In September, he pled to trespassing with a dangerous weapon, one of the sweetest plea deals of any January 6 defendant, one that likely means he’ll avoid any jail time (which is consistent with how enthusiastically DOJ was pursuing his cooperation last year). In advance of his plea, the two sides got permission to seal two sentences in Peterson’s statement of offense.

Here, there are compelling interests that override the public’s presumptive right of access because the proposed plea agreement is conditioned upon Defendant’s continued cooperation with the government, and the statement of offense that accompanies the proposed plea agreement describes another individual who is under investigation for criminal wrongdoing on January 6, 2021. Publicly filing this information could lead to the identification of this individual and would be akin to a criminal accusation that could cause serious reputational or professional harm before formal charges are filed. Moreover, the need to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation justifies the requested partial sealing. See United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 323 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (“As to potential defendants not involved in the proceeding …premature publication can taint future prosecutions to the detriment of both the government and the defense.”). Furthermore, the partial sealing is justified by the need to protect the Defendant’s safety in light of his ongoing cooperation. Washington Post, 935 F.2d at 291 (“the safety of the defendant and his family, may well be sufficient to justify sealing a plea agreement”). See also United States v. Thompson, 199 F. Supp. 3d 3, 9 (D.D.C. 2016) (“sentencing memoranda that include information regarding a defendant’s cooperation are often filed under seal.”).

[snip]

No alternative to sealing will adequately protect the due process rights of an unnamed defendant; preserve the integrity of the government’s investigation; and help ensure the safety of the Defendant.

The two sentences in Peterson’s statement of offense (which follow these two sentences) clearly relate to the three people with whom he traveled from KY to DC.

The defendant, Kurt Peterson, lives in Hodgenville, Kentucky. On January 5, 2021, the defendant drove from his home to the Washington, D.C. area with three other people,

[snip]

After leaving the Capitol Building, the defendant met back up with his traveling companions.

He got separated from them on the way to the Capitol though; his cooperation likely pertains to what he learned they (or one of them) had done on the trip back.

His arrest affidavit describes a recording he made on January 10, 2021, when he had gone on the run. It reveals that his three companions were all former Special Forces guys in their sixties.

To my family and friends who are able to see this, I am writing it with a voice recognition program while driving. I feel the need to keep moving and trying to keep my phone wrapped such that it can’t be traced most of the time. I was at our nation’s capital for the rally and watched the presentations at the ellipse prior to walking to the Capitol building with at least a million and a 1-1/2 to 2 million people.

The people that were there at the ellipse were peaceable and loving and supporting our country. The people that were at the capital were also primarily peaceful and loving our country. But when there are huge crowds and there are people that are inciting violence the crowds will many times be pulled in to this action.

I was with 3 men who had served our country in special forces. All of us in our sixties.

[snip]

Sadly I do not trust many branches or people in our government particularly the federal bureau of investigation. So at this time I am moving continuously and wrapping my phone in such a way that I hope it cannot be tracked. If for any reason I am not available to see you or meet with you again know that my intentions are to keep our country free of oppression by an over zealous government.

Yet no one knows who these three (or one particular) suspects were that made them or him so interesting to DOJ to merit this sweet plea deal or the year of effort to get it.

The thing is, the suspect in question must have already been charged and probably arrested. Before the plea hearing formally started, there was discussion of a “related case” designation, which would ensure that Judge Carl Nichols would preside over it, as well as Peterson’s. That would only happen if there were already another indictment.

Besides, the three guys who were with Peterson know they were with him; redacting that language doesn’t hide the cooperation from them, at all.

The relentless public roll-out of cooperators in the Oath Keeper case is the exception, not the norm (as Amit Mehta noted when Schaffer first pled guilty). Even those of us who follow closely are not seeing all of what’s going on, even in the overt crime scene prosecutions.

And Tarrio, himself a former snitch, knows better than most how useful disclosing such details may be to help others evade justice.

Kash Patel’s Immunized Testimony Is about Premeditation, Not (Just) about Declassification

Thankfully, the NYT has written a second story reporting that DOJ is considering asking Beryl Howell to give Kash Patel use immunity in the Trump stolen document investigation, because I was about to go back and write about the first one.

Earlier this month, the prosecutors summoned Mr. Patel to testify before a grand jury in Washington hearing evidence about whether Mr. Trump had mishandled classified documents and obstructed justice when he refused to return the records to the government.

Mr. Patel repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In response, prosecutors asked a top federal judge in Washington to compel Mr. Patel to answer questions — a move Mr. Patel’s lawyers have strenuously opposed. The question now is whether the Justice Department will grant him immunity in order to secure his testimony.

The first was newsworthy — as I laid out in this thread and as Jay Kuo wrote up in this piece — for its silence about the fact that Stanley Woodward is the defense attorney for both people described in the story (the other was Walt Nauta, the valet who moved documents around before Evan Corcoran did a search of what was left).

Woodward represents a slew of key defendants who might serve as firewalls in a larger and much more damning crime: in addition to Patel and Nauta, Dan Scavino, Peter Navarro, Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs (who has ties to Roger Stone), and the guy who kicked off the entire riot, Ryan Samsel. Woodward’s a decent defense attorney (not least because, unlike many Trump attorneys, he is a defense attorney), but he’s got a conspiracy streak that should be accounted for when reporting on his representation of events.

Both NYT stories portray Patel’s unnamed attorneys as resisting the move to immunize him.

In response, prosecutors asked a top federal judge in Washington to force Mr. Patel to testify — a move fought by Mr. Patel’s lawyers, who are concerned the government wants to use Mr. Patel’s own statements to incriminate him. [first]

[snip]

The push for the testimony has also created friction between the Justice Department and Mr. Patel’s lawyers, who have argued that the department could use his statements against him if they build out a larger obstruction investigation. [second]

This is, frankly, silly reporting. Stanley Woodward doesn’t get a choice in whether Patel is immunized. That’s the point: You immunize a witness to compel his testimony. And defense attorneys and prosecutors are adversarial; there is supposed to be “friction” between them. That’s the nature of an adversarial system.

Including these claims in the story without explaining the import of compelled testimony does a disservice to readers and makes the story far more of vehicle for obstruction.

Best as I can tell (it’s hard to tell, because the part of the earlier story addressing immunity was so muddled), this version of the story adds no new news except for the self-congratulatory detail that Trump only learned that Kash took the Fifth from the earlier story.

Mr. Trump first learned that Mr. Patel had invoked the Fifth Amendment when The New York Times reported it on Monday, according to person briefed on the matter.

This is not actually interesting unless you’re a NYT reporter or someone like Stanley Woodward wanting to make clear he’s not directly consulting on these defense issues in advance with Trump himself, which is different than consulting with someone like Boris Epshteyn, who (unlike Woodward) is not a defense attorney but nevertheless is purportedly in charge of Trump’s defense. It just so happens that these anonymously sourced stories provide all the details that Trump would need and Woodward would want public to make sure he still got paid. (Not addressed, however, is a reference in the earlier story boasting about the treatment of the video surveillance that would have led to changed testimony from Nauta.)

Sadly, this story utterly misses several key points about the import of Kash Patel’s testimony.

First, consider Kash’s potential responses if Beryl Howell does grant him use immunity. Either he testifies truthfully, he lies, or he still refuses to testify and gets jailed for contempt. This is the real tension that Woodward is getting at — what should Kash do if he is immunized, as if the story is begging for directions from those paying the bills. While Trump was still President, the answer was easy: lie and await a pardon. It’s more complicated when you’re firewalling someone who may not return to the presidency anytime soon.

More importantly, consider possible reasons why Kash might have invoked the Fifth, if it was anything more than an attempt to avoid testifying in the absence of Executive Privilege claims.

NYT — which has spread the cover story that the only Russian documents Trump attempted to disseminate as he left office were the unclassified Strzok-Page texts (ABC had a detailed story about what really happened) — says that this is all about whether Kash’s claims that Trump declassified the documents he stole are true.

Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of national security documents want to question one of his confidants about a claim that Mr. Trump had declassified national security documents he took when he left the White House.

[snip]

But the Justice Department’s interest in questioning Mr. Patel about the claim shows that prosecutors see it as potentially relevant to their investigation into the handling of the documents and whether Mr. Trump or his aides obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.

If all Kash was asked about was whether — at a time when he was supposed to be running the Pentagon but instead happened to be at the White House at the precise moment Trump waved a magic wand to mass declassify documents he intended to steal — Trump had really declassified those documents, there’d be little cause to invoke the Fifth and he would have invoked Executive Privilege instead. If Trump didn’t declassify the documents, Kash would be admitting to lying in Breitbart, which is not only not a crime, but it is generally assumed of columns that appear in Breitbart.

If Trump actually did declassify these documents with Kash as a witness, Kash has no legal exposure whatsoever.

So (again assuming Kash invoked the Fifth because he believed he had real exposure himself, which may not be the case), what might be those possible areas of exposure? Some possibilities include [these are hypotheticals]:

  • At some time before January 20, 2021, Kash and Trump coordinated to select a group of documents — including the Russian binder, but also (per the Breitbart piece quoted in the search affidavit) the Ukraine quid pro quo and other topics of national security import — that Trump would steal when he left; this is consistent with a great deal of what Kash has said publicly.
  • The Russian binder did circulate and because the declassification process was never finalized before Trump left office — and appears not to have been finalized at all — any classified documents in it would expose the person circulating the binder to Espionage Act charges himself. If an unredacted Carter Page application were included, it would expose the person to FISA violations as well, as I noted in August.
  • Trump and Kash both know that he never declassified the documents he stole, but leading up to May 5 — at a time when Trump was trying to stave off further investigation and even before FBI reviewed the boxes returned in January — they coordinated the false Breitbart column and the false claims about declassification since.
  • The decision to make Kash and John Solomon Trump’s representatives to the Archives was an effort to assess what was stolen.
  • Kash was in some way part of the curating process of choosing which stolen classified documents to retain after 2021, effectively a continuation of the role he started to play in 2017, for which he was rewarded handsomely.

Again, all of these are strictly hypothetical! But they more closely match the known facts than the cover story that Trump was only disseminating unclassified Strzok texts.

And for all the NYT’s focus on obstruction — goddamnit, Mike Schmidt, will you never tire of reporting that Trump is primarily exposed to obstruction?!?! — many of these actions would expose Patel not just to obstruction, but to charges under the Espionage Act himself (and, as I noted, potentially FISA).

I described on August 12 — four days after the search — that if Trump asked Kash or John Solomon to access the stolen classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, then it would expand Trump’s exposure under the Espionage Act.

If Trump and Kash worked together while still in the White House to select a bunch of classified documents to steal and further disseminate, it might expose one or both to 793d.

(d)Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it; or

If, before DOJ started making the more formalized requests for Trump to return the stolen documents (and so at a time when Trump might plausibly claim he was still sorting through his documents), Kash disseminated them forward from Mar-a-Lago, it might expose one or both to 793f.

(f)Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer—

If Kash coordinated with Trump to try to create post hoc justification to keep the stolen classified documents — including with the Breitbart column and his subsequent claims about declassification — it might expose both to 793g.

(g)If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions of this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.

Again, this post involves a lot of hypotheses (though with the advantage that, unlike the NYT, I’m not under the illusion that the only Russian documents Trump planned to disseminate were unclassified Strzok texts). But this is an absolutely critical thought experiment (especially when trying to assess venue, as Brandon Van Grack did here) because the question before DOJ is not, and never was, solely whether a former President refused to return documents he might implausibly claim to have declassified.

The question has always been about whether Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents, and what Trump did with the classified documents after he stole them. Every single one of Kash’s claims to be privy to a purported declassification are also claims about premeditation and dissemination to people not authorized to have classified documents.

And that’s why he’d have a credible Fifth Amendment claim.

It would be unprecedented to charge a former President with violating 18 USC 793e for refusing to return classified documents — though I think DOJ has a clear case (with the South Florida venue that Van Grack explains in his piece) for documents retained between June 3 and August 8.

But if DOJ had evidence that Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents and disseminate them to frothers — some with suspect associates — it would expand his exposure into crimes that are not close calls at all.

And that’s why the decision whether to immunize Kash is not the hard trade-off that people are making it out to be. DOJ may or may not be able to mount a case against Kash himself. But if he were a key witness in a 793g case, it would make the gravity of crimes charged under the Espionage Act far more clearcut, even if charged in Florida. It would make any case against Trump far easier to prove.

Kash Patel is not primarily a witness about whether Trump declassified the documents he stole. He’s a witness about whether Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents and disseminate them to people not entitled to have them. And that’s why the serial reports about DOJ seeking to immunize Kash’s testimony are interesting.

Three Months Later, DOJ Finally Gets Interested in Sidney Powell’s Militia Defense Fund

In the Oath Keepers case, the government just sent out a letter raising concerns about DC’s Rule 1.8(e) that governs the ethical obligations in cases where a third party pays for someone else’s defense. That’s allowed, but there are three necessary conditions: that the defendant make informed consent, that the payor not interfere in case decisions, and that information about the case may not be shared with the payor.

(1) The client gives informed consent after consultation;

(2) There is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and

(3) Information relating to representation of a client is protected as required by Rule 1.6.

At issue is the scheme that BuzzFeed revealed and Mother Jones later reported that describes that Sidney Powell is paying for some of the Oath Keepers’ defense.

As the government describes, in response to the government’s queries, lawyers for Stewart Rhodes and Jessica Watkins did not respond, the Meggs’ lawyers and that of Kenneth Harrelson say they’re in compliance with the rule, and William Shipley, who is representing Roberto Minuta, said he’d respond to Judge Mehta’s inquiries, but didn’t answer to DOJ.

1. Attorney David Fischer, who represents Thomas Caldwell, stated that he was in compliance with Rule 1.8(e) and that he “has received no funding from, and has no affiliation with, Defending the Republic.”

2. Attorney Scott Weinberg, who represents David Moerschel, stated he was in compliance with Rule 1.8(e) and that he was not receiving any funding from Defending the Republic.

3. Attorney Gene Rossi, on behalf of himself and co-counsel Natalie Napierala and Charles Greene, who represent William Isaacs, stated that they were in compliance with Rule 1.8(e) and that they were not receiving any funding from Defending the Republic.

4. Attorney Tommy Spina, on behalf of himself and co-counsel Edward B. MacMahon, Jr., who represent Jonathan Walden, stated that they were in compliance with Rule 1.8(e) and that they were not receiving any funding from Defending the Republic.

5. Attorneys Julia Haller and Stanley Woodward, who together represent Kelly Meggs and Connie Meggs, stated that they were in compliance with Rule 1.8(e). They did not specifically inform the government whether their fees were being paid by Defending the Republic.

6. Attorney William Shipley, who represents Roberto Minuta, declined to answer, but wrote, “Should Judge Mehta wish for my client or me to explain the arrangement for funding my client’s legal defense in order to confirm that my client’s Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free counsel are being afforded – or waived – we will provide him with whatever information he requests.”

7. Attorney Bradford Geyer, who represents Kenneth Harrelson, stated that he was in compliance with Rule 1.8(e). He declined to inform the government whether his fees were being paid by Defending the Republic.

The other defense counsel whom the government believes to be retained rather than court-appointed – Phillip Linder and James Lee Bright for Stewart Rhodes, and Jonathan Crisp for Jessica Watkins – have not yet responded to the government’s letter.

The letter DOJ sent to the defense attorneys suggested that Powell’s interests may diverge from these defendants.

The Supreme Court has said that “inherent dangers . . . arise when a criminal defendant is represented by a lawyer hired and paid by a third party.” Wood v. Georgia, 450 U.S. 261, 269 (1981). In Wood, the third-party payer was the “operator of the alleged criminal enterprise,” and thus the lawyer had an interest in the clients not testifying against the third-party payer or taking other actions contrary to the payer’s interest.4 Id. Indeed, comment 10 to Rule 1.8 explains that “third-party payers frequently have interests that differ from those of the client.” Here, Defending the Republic may have interests that diverge from these defendants.

4 As Defendant Kelly Meggs’s former counsel Jonathon Moseley told Mother Jones, Defending the Republic’s “financial support has the effect of making plea bargains less likely.” This fact could be against the interest of a particular defendant.

I’m happy DOJ is addressing this. The lawyers who are reported to be on Powell’s dole seem to be pushing conspiracy theories in lieu of a real defense.

What I don’t understand is the timing. BuzzFeed first reported this on March 9. DOJ only sent out its inquiry letter on June 16, over three months later.

And thus far, DOJ is only raising this in the Oath Keepers’ case. At the very least, you’d think DOJ would make similar inquiries in the Ryan Samsel case; he’s represented by the same team, Stanley Woodward and Juli Haller, as is representing the Meggses. And after he was assaulted, Samsel seemed to decide not to cooperate (against what would be Joe Biggs).

Similarly, William Shipley is representing a slew of defendants, including many of the Proud Boys who might most immediately implicate Biggs.

Finally, Jimmy Haffner, one of the Proud Boys accused of helping to open up the East Door of the Capitol, posed with Powell when her fundraising bus came through town in 2020.

Of course, DOJ has been investigating Powell herself since at least September, so maybe they’re learning of new conflicts only now.

So who else is Sidney Powell paying? And why is DOJ only doing something about it now?

Forty Feet: Trump Sicced a Murder Weapon on Mike Pence

Harry Litman observed after yesterday’s January 6 Committee hearing that you might be able to charge Trump with the attempted murder of Mike Pence.

This was not new news yesterday though.

I reported on the DOJ and the Committee’s mutual focus on the targeting of Pence on January 5. In a piece that described that Marc Short had not yet agreed to cooperate and Pence might never cooperate, NYT reported on the same focus of DOJ filings days later. Though, as sometimes happens, NYT got the timeline wrong; Gina Bisignano swore to her focus on Pence in August (and has not reneged on that point even as she attempts to withdraw her guilty plea), and Josiah Colt described how he and two co-conspirators responded to news that Pence would not stop the vote count by breaching the Senate in July 2021, almost a year ago.

DOJ has been focused on the effect of Trump’s targeting of Pence for over a year. In fact, to substantiate the seriousness of the threat facing Pence that day, the Committee cited witness testimony that has been public since January 13, 2021, in Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s original arrest affidavit.

W-1 further stated that members of this group, which included “Spaz,” said that they would have killed [Vice President] Mike Pence if given the chance. According to W-1, the group said it would be returning on the “20th,” which your affiant takes to mean the Presidential Inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2021, and that they plan to kill every single “m-fer” they can.

The allegation actually doesn’t show up in the Proud Boy sedition indictment, though Proud Boy Matthew Greene’s plea allocution talked about how the militia swarmed the Capitol with the intent of adding pressure to Pence.

To be sure, yesterday’s hearing laid out the following additional pieces of proof that Trump was specifically targeting Pence:

  • Jason Miller and Greg Jacob’s description of Trump’s deliberate misrepresentation, overnight on January 5, falsely claiming Pence agreed with him about the vote count
  • Descriptions about Trump calling Pence on around 11 on January 6 and calling him a whimp and a pussy, a call that distressed Ivanka because, “It was a different tone than I’ve heard him take with the Vice President before”
  • Trump’s addition references to Mike Pence in his January 6 speech, both in the prepared script and ad-libbed along the way
  • Details from White House aides confirming that Mark Meadows had informed Trump about the violence at the Capitol and how, instead of a tweet calling for calm, Trump instead “pour[ed] gasoline on the fire” (as Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews described it) by calling out Pence again in a tweet at 2:24 the day of the insurrection
  • Greg Jacob’s testimony about tensions with the Secret Service about evacuating the Capitol
  • Marc Short’s description of conversations with Kevin McCarthy expressing frustration that Trump wasn’t taking the circumstances seriously
  • Reconfirmation that Trump never called Pence to check on the Vice President’s safety
  • Tracking of Jacob’s “Thanks to your bullshit we are now under siege,” to events at the Capitol

Committee member Congressperson Pete Aguilar explained that at the moment Pence was evacuated from his ceremonial office, he and the mob were just forty feet apart.

The Committee looked at the threat posed by the Proud Boys to Pence.

It doesn’t look at something far more substantive, though potentially far more complex. Immediately after Trump’s tweet, the Oath Keepers indictment describes communications between Roger Stone associate Kelly Meggs and Stewart Rhodes, followed by a conference call involving those two and operational lead Mike Simmons. The Oath Keepers converged, and then the first Stack and the second (made up of men who had been providing security to Roger Stone that morning) breached the East doors, along with Joe Biggs and the mob brought by Alex Jones.

Once inside, the first Stack broke up, with Meggs and others heading towards Speaker Pelosi’s office to hunt her down.

103. Shortly thereafter, WATKINS and other members ofStack One exited the Rotunda through the northbound hallway toward the Senate Chamber.

104. Around this time, a member of Stack One yelled “the fight’ s not over” and waved !rioters down the hallways toward the Senate Chamber.

105. At 2:45 p.m. and afterward, WATKINS and other Stack One members joined the imob in pushing against a line of law enforcement officers guarding the hallway connecting the Rotunda to the Senate Chamber, as WATKINS commanded those around her to “push, push, !push,” and to, “get in there, get in there,” while exclaiming, “they can’t hold us.” When officers responded by deploying a chemical spray, the mob-including WATKINS and other Stack One members-retreated.

106. At 2:45 p.m., MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, MOERSCHEL, and other Stack One members walked southbound out of the Rotunda and toward the House of Representatives in search of Speaker Pelosi. They did not find Speaker Pelosi.

The others attempted to get to the Senate, whence Mike Pence had, minutes earlier, been evacuated.

As I’ve noted, with the sedition indictments, DOJ also added 18 USC 372 charges, conspiracy “to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person … from discharging any duties thereof.”

DOJ may never show that Trump and the mob he sicced on his Vice President conspired to kill him, or even that Trump’s 2:24PM tweet aided and abetted the attempts to find and assassinate Pence — though the judge presiding over the Oath Keepers case has deemed the possibility Trump could be held accountable for aiding and abetting to be plausible, at least for a lower civil standard. But there’s little doubt that Trump, his lawyers, two militias, and the mob entered into a common effort to prevent Pence from doing his duty that day. And with the militias, you can draw a line between Trump, his rat-fucker, Alex Jones, and the men at the Capitol to the threat and intimidation Trump sicced on his Vice President.

The Half of Trump’s Conspiracy to Obstruct JustSecurity Left Out: Inciting an Insurrection

Two days after Judge Amit Mehta ruled that it was plausible that Trump conspired with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, JustSecurity has posted an imagined prosecutor’s memo laying out the case that Trump, John Eastman, and Rudy Giuliani (and others known and unknown) conspired to obstruct the vote count that almost entirely leaves out the militias.

It has gotten a lot of attention among the TV lawyer set, who imagine that it would save Merrick Garland time.

With this obnoxious tweet, Laurence Tribe betrays (yet again) that he has completely missed what DOJ has been doing for the past year. What Barb McQuade did is lay out the theory of prosecution that DOJ has long been working on — as I laid out in August. Except that McQuade (of whom I’m a great fan both personally and professionally) misses great swaths of public evidence, and in so doing, makes her case far weaker than it would need to be to prosecute a former President.

Start with McQuade’s argument substantiating that Trump corruptly tried to obstruct the vote count.

Here, attempting to prevent the certification of the votes for president is illegal only it is wrongful or for an improper purpose. It would be wrongful or improper for Trump to seek to retain the presidency if he knew that he had been defeated in the November election. His public statements suggest that he genuinely believed that he had won the election, but, as discussed above, by Jan. 6, it was apparent that there was a complete absence of any evidence whatsoever to support his belief, which at this point had become merely a wish. The statements from Krebs, Barr, Rosen, Donoghue, Ratcliffe, and Raffensperger, and the memo from his own campaign team all permit a fair inference that Trump knew that there was no election fraud, and that his efforts to obstruct the certification was therefore corrupt.

Independently, regardless of his knowledge or belief in election fraud, it was an improper purpose to hold into power after the 50 states had certified their election results, the Electoral College had voted, and litigation had been exhausted after an across-the-board rejection by the federal courts.

This is the theory of prosecution where an obstruction case against Trump would succeed or fail. And I’m not sure it meets the understanding of obstruction already laid out by the judges who would preside over the case.

Defendants have been challenging DOJ’s application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the vote certification since at least April, and so there’s a great deal of background and seven written, one oral, and one minute opinions on the topic:

  1. Dabney Friedrich (my post on it and the obstruction application generally)
  2. Amit Mehta (my post on his intransitive application of it to the Oath Keepers)
  3. Tim Kelly (my post on its application to the Proud Boys)
  4. Randolph Moss (my post situating his application with his past OLC opinion on charging a President)
  5. John Bates
  6. James Boasberg
  7. My livetweet of Beryl Howell’s oral opinion
  8. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
  9. Richard Leon by minute order
  10. Christopher Cooper

One of the central issues addressed in these — and something any prosecution of Trump under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) would need to address — is how you establish that the effort to obstruct the vote count is “corrupt.” While thus far all judges have upheld the application, there’s some differentiation in their understanding of corruption (something that a site like JustSecurity might productively lay out).

Two key issues are whether corruption, under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) must be transitive (meaning someone tried to coerce another to do something improper) or intransitive (meaning someone exhibited corruption with their own actions), and the extent to which corruption is proven by doing acts that are otherwise illegal.

Importantly, Judge Friedrich’s opinion, and so the first jury instructions, only extends to illegal actions. In a recent hearing, she warned the Guy Reffitt prosecutors (both of whom also happen to be prosecuting cases charged as a conspiracy) that they will not prove him guilty of obstruction without first proving him guilty of other crimes at the riot.

Trump acted both transitively and intransitively corruptly

McQuade’s formulation is unnecessarily weak on the transitive/intransitive issue. There are at least two things that are missing.

First, citing some tax precedents, defendants wanted the application of obstruction to apply only to those who were obtaining an unfair personal advantage. That’s not the standard adopted in the opinions thus far, but it is a standard that some Justices one day might try to uphold. And while that standard was doable for the charged rioters (because they were attempting to make their own votes count more than the votes of the 81 million people who voted for Biden), it is a slam dunk for Trump. It’s not just that Trump was trying to win an election he knew he lost, he was trying to retain the power of the Presidency for himself. My complaint here, though, is mostly stylistic. McQuade could rewrite this paragraph easily to take advantage of the fact that, for Trump, obstruction of the vote count really was an attempt to gain personal advantage.

It’s in leaving out Trump’s transitive obstruction — even in a piece that focuses closely on the pressure of Pence — where McQuade’s memo could and I think might need to, to pass muster given the existing opinions on it — be vastly improved. That’s because it’s in Trump’s corruption of others where he clearly conspired in illegal acts.

Trump didn’t just do things an ethical President shouldn’t do (intransitive corruption). He carried out an extended campaign to pressure Pence to do something that violated Pence’s Constitutional obligations. That is, he tried to corrupt Pence (transitive corruption).

Trump transitively corrupted by conspiring with people who committed crimes

And it’s in the means by which Trump’s tried to corrupt Pence on the day of the insurrection that McQuade largely leaves out, and in the process forgoes an easy way to meet Friedrich’s current requirement (that those charged with obstruction commit a crime in attempting to obstruct the vote count).

Bizarrely, McQuade’s overt acts on January 6 are focused largely on John Eastman.

T. Trump Speaks at the Ellipse

On Jan. 6, 2021, Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters at approximately 1 p.m. on the Ellipse outside the White House.[129] During his remarks, Trump said, “If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election.”[130] He explained, “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.”[131] Trump then spoke directly to Pence: “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories.’”[132]

Giuliani, a former United States Attorney, also spoke at the rally. He declared that it would be “perfectly appropriate” for the Vice President to “cast [] aside” the laws governing the counting of electoral votes, and “decide on the validity of these crooked ballots or he can send it back to the state legislators, give them five to ten days to finally finish the work.”[133]

Another speaker at the rally was Eastman. “All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o’clock he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!” Eastman told the crowd. [134] “We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question!”[135]

According to reports, Trump was directly involved in planning the speaker lineup.[136]

U. Pence Issues Public Letter Rejecting Eastman’s Theory

On Jan. 6, at 1:02 p.m., Pence posted to Twitter a letter stating that as Vice President, he lacked “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the Joint Session of Congress.”[137] His duties, the letter stated, were “merely ministerial,” and were limited to counting the votes. The letter further stated that he would instead follow the Electoral Count Act, permitting members of Congress, as “the people’s representatives,” to resolve any disputes.[138] The letter had been drafted with the help of two conservative legal experts — former federal Judge J. Michael Luttig and former Justice Department official John Yoo.[139] Both have confirmed that they advised Pence’s staff and outside counsel that there was no basis for the vice president to intervene in the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6. “I advised that there was no factual basis for Mike Pence to intervene and overturn the results of the election,” said Yoo, who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley. “There are certain limited situations where I thought the Vice President does have a role, for example in the event that a state sends two different electoral results. . . . But none of those were present here.”[140]

Luttig wrote subsequently that “Professor Eastman was incorrect at every turn of the analysis,” including his suggestion that the vice president could delay the electoral vote count.[141]

V. U.S. Capitol Attack Begins

At about 2 p.m., protestors broke a window at the U.S. Capitol and climbed inside.[142] The Senate and House of Representatives soon went into recess and members evacuated the two chambers.[143] At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”[144] The Capitol would not be secured again until about 6 p.m.[145]

Her discussion here doesn’t explicitly mention a single one of the 750 people already being prosecuted for crimes for their actions on January 6. She mentions neither Alex Jones (whom Trump ordered to take the mob on an unpermitted march to the Capitol and two of whose employees are already among those 750 being prosecuted) nor Roger Stone (who has ties to the two militias that orchestrated events that day and who has been a subject in the Oath Keeper investigation from its early days).

It’s not just or even primarily that Trump grasped John Eastman’s crackpot theory and used it to pressure Pence (which is not  itself a crime). It’s that he incited thousands of people to take an unpermitted walk to the Capitol to physically threaten Pence and other members of Congress directly.

As I laid out last month, DOJ has already collected a great deal of evidence that those who did break the law at the Capitol did so in response to Trump’s incitement with the motive of pressuring Pence.

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 KePence. 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.

I would add (because Amit Mehta did in his oral ruling that Stewart Rhodes should be detained pre-trial), in addition to the explicit attempt by Kelly Meggs to hunt down Nancy Pelosi, the other group of Oath Keepers appears to have tried to find those in the Senate, presumably including Mike Pence. If prosecutors can prove that, then, the militia that was checking in with Stone the day of the riot took overt steps to physically threaten Mike Pence.

Importantly, with the exception of QAnoner Chansley, all of the January 6 defendants I’ve laid out here were part of a conspiracy (Colt and Bisignano, because they flipped on co-conspirators, are not charged with one). All of these Jan6ers are accused of conspiring with others to carry out Trump’s will to transitively corrupt Pence by physically pressuring him to violate his Constitutional duty.

And Judge Mehta has now ruled it plausible (though he was careful to note he was addressing the lower standard of a civil suit) that Trump’s incitement amounts to entering into a conspiracy with all of these people who acted on his incitement to pressure and in some cases physically hunt down Pence.

McQuade’s theory of corruption may not meet Judge Friedrich’s standard for corruption (which we should assume as a baseline of one that Brett Kavanaugh might find palatable).

Which is why you cannot ignore the other half of the conspiracy: Trump entering into an agreement with Roger Stone to coordinate with the militias, entering into an agreement with Alex Jones to lead the mob to the Capitol, and Trump entering into an agreement with those he incited to directly pressure Pence to violate his Constitutional duty.

750 people have been charged with committing crimes at the Capitol. And the easy way to demonstrate that Trump employed illegal means in his effort to obstruct the vote certification is to point to the mountains of evidence that he conspired both via his close associates Stone and Jones but more directly via incitement with a vast number of those 750 people who allegedly broke the law.

Update: One thing McQuade does focus on (she’s a Michigander who does a lot of work on voter protection) are the fake electors. That’s another illegal act that probably should be brought in any statement of corrupt intent for the same reason Trump’s ties to the rioters should be.

Update, 2/25: Added link to Kollar-Kotelly’s opinion and noted that Leon and Cooper have now ruled.

Judge Mehta’s Ruling that Donald Trump May Have Aided and Abetted Assaults on Cops Is More Important Than His Conspiracy Decision

As I laid out here, Judge Amit Mehta rejected Trump’s motion to dismiss three lawsuits against him last week. Click through for my explanation of why it matters that Judge Mehta — among the most respected of DC judges — issued this decision.

But there’s another reason why it matters that Mehta issued this ruling.

I was, frankly, unsurprised that Mehta ruled for plaintiffs on their claims that Trump entered into a conspiracy with two militias to attempt to prevent the vote certification. I’ve been laying out all the evidence Trump could be included in a conspiracy with the militias to obstruct the vote count for some time. And on a motion to dismiss, the judge must  assume all the alleged facts were true and only tests those claims for plausibility. Mehta didn’t rule that Trump did so; he ruled that plaintiffs will have a chance to make that case.

I was far more surprised that Judge Mehta also ruled it plausible that Trump aided and abetted the actual and threatened physical assaults committed by the rioters. Here’s how Eric Swalwell’s suit argued that Trump abetted the threatened attacks on Members of Congress, including Speaker Pelosi:

240. Many individuals in the mob either carried weapons or used objects such as poles and fire extinguishers as weapons before and after entering the building. Some individuals in the mob also carried restraints such as plastic handcuffs and rope.

241. The mob also unlawfully and intentionally entered non-public areas of the Capitol building, including the members’ private offices. Members of the mob damaged and vandalized personal and public property and stole documents, electronics, and other items from some members’ offices.

242. As the mob made its way through the Capitol looking for Members, participants threatened to kill numerous individuals, including, but not limited to, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The mob terrorized and injured scores of people inside and outside of the Capitol, including the Plaintiff.

[snip]

248. Before directing the mob to the Capitol, the Defendants instructed them to “fight like hell,” “start taking down names and kicking ass,” and that it was time for “trial by combat.”

249. The Defendants intended these words to be taken literally.

250. For several hours after the mob had stormed the Capitol, the Defendants refused to communicate anything to the mob that might discourage continued unlawful action.

251. The Defendants knowingly and substantially assisted in the assault that was perpetrated upon the Plaintiff. The Defendants riled up the crowd and directed and encouraged the mob to attack the Capitol and seek out members of Congress and assault them.

Here’s how Capitol Police officer Sidney Hemby, described being assaulted while trying to protect the East doors of the Capitol in his lawsuit with James Blassingame.

63. Officer Hemby ran to the East Front stairs to try to stop the crowd, but it was too late, and the crowd was too large and aggressive.

64. The crowd chased him and his fellow officers to the top of the stairs and forced them against the doors.

65. At 1:49 p.m. 1 , after Trump had returned to the White House, and was reportedly watching on TV as events were unfolding at the Capitol, he tweeted out the entirety of his speech:

66. At 1:59 p.m., insurrectionists pushed Capitol Police to the top of the east Capitol steps, and by 2:10 p.m., insurrectionists began attempting to break into the building through windows on the west side.

67. Officer Hemby was crushed against the doors on the east side trying to hold the insurrectionists back. Over and over, he tried to tell the insurrectionists that the doors opened outward and that pressing him into the door would do no good.

68. But the insurrectionists continued to scream, “Fight for Trump,” “Stop the Steal,” and various other slogans, as they struck him with their fists and whatever they had in their hands. Things were being thrown at him, and he was sprayed with chemicals that irritated his eyes, skin, and throat.

Judge Mehta rejected Trump’s bid to dismiss those arguments.

Next, the court takes up Plaintiffs’ common law assault claims based on an aiding-andabetting theory of liability. Swalwell Compl. ¶¶ 237–252; Blassingame Compl. ¶¶ 163–168. President Trump’s motion in Swalwell does not separately address the aiding-and-abetting-assault claim, but he extensively addresses it in his Blassingame motion. See generally Swalwell Trump Mot.; Blassingame Trump Mot. at 33–40. The court will exercise its discretion and consider those arguments in both cases.39

Halberstam v. Welch remains the high-water mark of the D.C. Circuit’s explanation of aiding-and-abetting liability. The court there articulated two particular principles pertinent to this case. It observed that “the fact of encouragement was enough to create joint liability” under an aiding-and-abetting theory, but “[m]ere presence . . . would not be sufficient.” 705 F.2d at 481. It also said that “[s]uggestive words may also be enough to create joint liability when they plant the seeds of action and are spoken by a person in an apparent position of authority.” Id. at 481–82. A “position of authority” gives a “suggestion extra weight.” Id. at 482.

Applying those principles here, Plaintiffs have plausibly pleaded a common law claim of assault based on an aiding-and-abetting theory of liability. A focus just on the January 6 Rally Speech—without discounting Plaintiffs’ other allegations—gets Plaintiffs there at this stage. President Trump’s January 6 Speech is alleged to have included “suggestive words” that “plant[ed] the seeds of action” and were “spoken by a person in an apparent position of authority.” He was not “merely present.” Additionally, Plaintiffs have plausibly established that had the President not urged rally-goers to march to the Capitol, an assault on the Capitol building would not have occurred, at least not on the scale that it did. That is enough to make out a theory of aiding-and-abetting liability at the pleadings stage.

39 President Trump contends for the first time in his Swalwell reply brief that aiding and abetting a tort is not a recognized cause of action under District of Columbia law. Swalwell Trump Reply at 25–26. That argument comes too late, and the court declines to consider it.

Again, this is just the first step. It will be appealed. This is not a final ruling. But Mehta’s decision means that both sets of plaintiffs may get a chance to hold Trump accountable for the violence attempted or committed by people who responded to the President’s command to, “fight like hell.”

This part of Mehta’s ruling is far more important than the conspiracy side. To understand why, consider some of the cases over which Judge Mehta is presiding, which would be what he might have in mind when he thinks of what it means that Trump may have abetted assaults.

Landon Copeland

Landon Copeland is an Iraq War veteran with PTSD that has contributed to some epic meltdowns in court hearings. He traveled to DC on January 6 from the Four Corners region of Utah, taking a full week off work. He said he made the trip, he told the FBI, because President Trump ordered him to be there.

The defendant said that he traveled to the Capitol in part because former President Trump ordered him and others to be there.

Copeland went to Trump’s rally, then went with the crowd to the Capitol. He’s a really big guy and is accused of several assaults at the first barricades.

At the front of this crowd, the defendant shouted at the officers; he was visibly angry. Shortly thereafter, another rioter approached a police officer, began shouting at the officer, and put his hands on or around the officer’s neck. Copeland pushed that other rioter, from behind, into the officer, causing that officer to fall to the ground. After this, other officers stepped forward in an apparent attempt to protect the fallen officer. Copeland grappled with and pushed them, grabbing onto one officer’s riot shield, another officer’s jacket, and then pushing against the riot shields of two other officers.

Thomas Webster

Thomas Webster is a former Marine and retired NYPD cop who traveled to DC from New York with a revolver, a bullet-proof vest, and some MREs. While he claims he left the revolver in his hotel room, he wore his bullet proof vest to the rally at the Ellipse, then walked to the Capitol, carrying a Marine flag. After verbally attacking one of the cops at a barricade, he pushed over it, wrestled the cop to the ground, and grabbed his helmet, seemingly (though not in fact) gouging the cop’s eyes.

Shane Woods

Shane Woods drove to DC from Illinois on January 5. Like the others, Woods went to the Trump rally and then walked with the crowd to the Capitol.  In some of the early fighting at the west side of the Capitol he is accused of tripping a female cop.

Then, a few hours later, Woods was involved in a group attack on some media, allegedly tackling a cameraman in similar fashion to the attack on the cop.

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a violent felon who traveled to DC while out on release from prison because of COVID. Schwartz is accused (along with a woman I believe to be his partner) of involvement in a range of assaults on cops protecting the Lower West Terrace and the Tunnel on January 6, including stealing mace from and then using it on cops and throwing a chair.

On January 7 he described his actions as being part of “What happened yesterday was the opening of a war. I was there and whether people will acknowledge it or not we are now at war.”

The Oath Keepers

As I’ve noted repeatedly, Mehta is also presiding over the Oath Keepers, who all entered the East door and therefore would be among those kitted out people who violently pushed past Sidney Hemby. A few of the Oath Keepers are individually accused of assault. For example, video shows veteran Joshua James fighting with a cop in the Rotunda, screaming, “Get out! … This is my fucking Capitol!”

But members of the Stack who pushed past Hemby as he was protecting that door are suspected of far more serious plans for assault. As Mehta noted in ruling for the pre-trial detention of Stewart Rhodes on Friday — the same day he issued this ruling — once the Stack broke into the Capitol, they split up, with part of the group trying to make it to the Senate and the other part going to Nancy Pelosi’s office.

The latter is of particular concern because, on Election Day, Kelly Meggs told his wife and kid he was “gonna go on a killing spree … Pelosi first.”

Then after he had gone to her office, he told someone (probably his kid again), that “we looked for[] her.”

Judge Mehta has good reason to suspect (and likely knows far more about how serious this plot was) that the Oath Keepers, after busting into the Capitol past Hemby, took steps to hunt down Nancy Pelosi, and possibly someone in the Senate, like Pence.

When Judge Mehta says he thinks it is plausible that Donald Trump abetted assaults and threatened assaults at the Capitol, he’s not speaking abstractly. Judge Mehta has a very specific understanding of the kinds of assaults that happened that day. Those were  violent attacks on cops — several allegedly committed by military veterans and one by a retired NYPD cop. Those include a gratuitous attack on the media. It includes an attempt to hunt down the Speaker of the House.

With this ruling, Trump may be on the hook for such assaults civilly.

But given that the judge presiding over some spectacularly violent assaults that day has judged that Trump’s actions may rise to an aid and abet standard, it may make DOJ more seriously consider Trump’s exposure for such acts criminally.

Related Post

How Judge Amit Mehta Argued It Plausible that Trump Conspired with Two Militias

Judge Mehta Observes that Roger Stone’s Role on January 6 “May Prove Significant in Discovery”

Stewart Rhodes’ Detention Hearing Clarifies Investigative Challenges

Last April, I noted that Stewart Rhodes was on overlapping phone calls with Kelly Meggs and Person Ten (since identified as Mike Simmons AKA Greene) that suggested Rhodes had conferenced the two together.

We now know that about a month after that, the FBI interviewed both Rhodes Simmons AKA Greene and obtained their phones. Here’s what Simmons AKA Greene said about his calls during this period in his second interview.

We have yet to see Rhodes’ interview report (it must not be that helpful, or Meggs or Kenneth Harrelson would have released it). Prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy described that there were tens of thousands of Signal texts on Rhodes phone, and it took a good deal of time to sift through that all for both exculpatory and inculpatory evidence.

Whether just those interviews or call records, the investigation has confirmed I was right. Here’s how that call appears in the sedition conspiracy indictment charging Rhodes and Meggs, but not Simmons, unsealed last month.

92. At 2:32pm., MEGGS placed a phone call to RHODES, who was already on the phone with the operation leader. RHODES conferenced MEGGS into the call.

The call was one of the contentious issues in a detention hearing for Rhodes before Judge Amit Mehta yesterday that illustrates why even this investigation has taken so long.

Prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy argued that the call suggested that, before the Stack busted into the Capitol, Rhodes encouraged the intrusion in some way. Rhodes’ attorney James Bright, on the other hand, noted that all three men have denied they talked about busting into the building. Mehta seemed reasonably convinced by Rakoczy’s inference — but absent more proof about what was said, wasn’t sure that was strong enough to hold Rhodes on.

Judge Mehta didn’t resolve the detention question yesterday. Rakoczy also presented evidence that the third party custodians proposed by Rhodes weren’t entirely forthright about their ties to the Oath Keepers in an earlier detention hearing. Plus, Mehta seemed unconvinced that placing Rhodes in the custody of family members who would be in a different house (he would share a building with no Internet access with older adults) would provide enough supervision. One way or another, though, Rhodes will either be under home incarceration or remain jailed.

Which made the hearing more interesting for the way it revealed certain things about the case.

Take Mike Simmons AKA Greene, currently referred to as the “operation leader” in indictments. He called into the hearing as a potential witness for Rhodes (he failed to keep his second pseudonym secret before other journalists called in), meaning he was willing to testify under oath and be cross-examined about the substance of that call. That makes it quite clear he is not cooperating with the government. Which, in turn, means that the government simply hasn’t found probable cause to charge him yet (unlike Rhodes, he hasn’t left a string of damning comments online and on his cell phone). The government believes he didn’t tell the truth in two interviews last May, but thus far they’re not prepared to charge him.

Part of the problem pertains to that phone call. The government has multiple cooperating witnesses to what Meggs did in Florida before the riot. They’ve got cooperating witnesses to what Meggs did inside the Capitol. They’ve got a cooperating witness implicating Joshua James’ actions that day. They may have a witness to James’ side of conversations with Simmons AKA Greene from the Willard Hotel, where the Oath Keepers were with Roger Stone.

But because all three men on that critical phone call — Rhodes, Simmons AKA Greene, and Meggs — remain uncooperative, the government can’t prove what happened on it. The government likely needs to flip one of them or James to get further.

Which may be why the attorney for Jonathan Walden, Thomas Spina, submitted a motion to continue yesterday, discussing a, “possible resolution of this case.” Notably, the motion was dated February 15, but it stated that a reverse proffer necessary to conduct what must be plea discussions couldn’t happen until February 11, which would have been last Friday. If Walden has key information prosecutors need to move further in its investigation into what the Oath Keepers were doing with Roger Stone, he can likely demand a pretty sweet plea deal.

There was one other really fascinating development yesterday. Rhodes’ attorney, Bright, argued that everything Rhodes did was designed to comply with the law. The Quick Reaction Force remained, all the time, in VA, even when Ed Vallejo offered to bring in arms. Bright argued that was proof that Rhodes didn’t take the opportunity to arm when he could have.

More interesting still, it’s clear Bright will argue that, under an interpretation of the Insurrection Act, the President can rely on private militias. That is, Rhodes is going to argue that an insurrection would be legal.

That’ll be an interesting legal debate!

There are factual problems with Rhodes’ story that I’ll let the prosecutors unpack at a future time.

But yesterday’s hearing confirms something I laid out some time ago: Each step prosecutors take away from those who trespassed, defendants will be able to make First Amendment challenges to their prosecution, however unbelievable, that will make prosecution more difficult. To get from Stewie to Roger Stone, I’m sure they’ll need some more cooperators.

And until then, DOJ will be able to make a persuasive inference about what happened on that phone, but not direct proof.

Update, February 19: Last night Judge Mehta detained Rhodes. Interestingly, AUSA Kathryn Rakoczy stated that she agrees Rhodes shouldn’t be housed in the DC jail with the other Jan6ers, so he may stay in Texas. The Oath Keepers investigation is run so much more smartly than the Proud Boys one.

Trump’s Coup Attempts: A Tale of Five Pardon Dangles

In an analysis piece earlier this week, the NYT reported as newsworthy that,

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump also dangled, for the first time, that he could issue pardons to anyone facing charges for participating in the Jan. 6 attack if he is elected president again — the latest example of a yearslong flirtation with political violence.

Politico followed that with a report that Trump at least considered blanket pardons for those who might be implicated in January 6.

“Is it everybody that had a Trump sign or everybody who walked into the Capitol” who could be pardoned? Trump asked, according to that adviser. “He said, ‘Some people think I should pardon them.’ He thought if he could do it, these people would never have to testify or be deposed.”

Offering preemptive pardons is not a new idea for Trump. According to Michael Cohen, Trump also entertained bulk pardons with the Russian investigation before Jay Sekulow figured out that it would make it easier for people to testify against him.

Q What is – you had a conversation with Jay Sekulow about something called a pre-pardon?

A Yes.

Q How many conversations did you have with him about pre-pardoning

A One or two.

Q And what did he say to you?

A The problem with a pre-pardon is that you have to answer every question because technically you have immunity, so you can’t assert any Fifth Amendment privilege.

Q Let’s back up for a second, because that presupposes that you’ve already discussed the idea of you getting a pardon. Did Jay Sekulow tell you that the President was considering giving you a pardon?

A That’s not the way that he stated it, but we had a conversation, one at least – I believe it may have been two – and I am not 100 percent certain of the exact date that that occurred, but the concept of a pre-pardon was discussed, yes.

Q Okay. So if you said that’s not exactly how he said it, what do you remember him saying about the idea of you getting a pardon?

A Well, it wasn’t just me. It was globally, in order to, I guess, shut down, you know, this investigation. And I had said to him, you know, what .. well, you know, there’s always the possibility of a pre-pardon. And –

Q Let’s take your time, because it’s important for us to understand not just the gist of the conversation but who said what exactly. All right? So you mentioned something called a global pardon. Did he use that term?

A No.

Q Okay. What do you mean by a global pardon?

A Okay. That in order to shut this whole thing down, that this is how they were potentially going to do it, and everybody would just get a pardon. And said, well, it wouldn’t be a pardon, it would be a pre-pardon, because nobody’s been charged yet. So it ultimately just became, that’s not really something that could be accomplished, because then they’d have the right, again, to ask you questions, everyone on the team.

Q So when you say everyone, who do you mean?

A I guess whoever it is that you started to request to come in, testify, subpoenaed.

And in Trump’s last days in office, he considered pre-emptive pardons, but — in part because of Pat Cipollone’s opposition — he did not do so.

It is the case that Trump has now dangled pardons at a time he doesn’t have the power to grant them. Even that is not new, though, given that Roger Stone was brokering a Julian Assange pardon no later than November 15, 2016 and probably starting even before the election, in October 2016.

This latest dangle is more newsworthy, though — and for reporters who don’t want to enable Trump’s authoritarian power, ought to be reported as — an attempt to reclaim power he already lost after reneging on promises of pardons made while he still had the power to grant them.

It is not news that Trump used pardon dangles as one tool to attempt a coup on January 6. At least five people directly involved in the coup attempt benefitted from pardons, some awarded at key times in the planning process, with Steve Bannon’s issued at the last possible moment.

It is not news that Trump is making pardon dangles publicly to try to bend the will and buy the silence of others. This latest pardon dangle comes in the wake of five events, all of which pose a direct threat to Trump:

  • December 15: The Select Committee contempt referral for Mark Meadows that puts him at risk of Presidential Records Act and obstruction prosecution
  • January 12: The indictment on sedition charges of the Oath Keepers whose testimony could most directly damage Trump
  • January 19: SCOTUS’ refusal to reverse the DC Circuit order allowing the Archives to share Trump records
  • January 19: The delivery to prosecutors, on January 19, of a large number of texts and messages from Rudy Giuliani’s phones
  • January 20: The Select Committee request for Ivanka’s testimony, which strongly suggested she has violated the Presidential Records Act
  • January 21: The report from Sidney Powell’s attorney that she is “cooperating” in her own prosecution and the Select Committee

What’s newsworthy is that Trump is trying this tack after reneging on promises to three of the people involved (during the last days of his Administration, there were reports that Meadows, Rudy, and Ivanka all might receive pardons) that Trump made in the course of planning for the coup.

So I’d like to tell the story of five pardons — three granted, and two withheld — in the context of Trump’s attempted coup on January 6.

Michael Cohen pardon dangle

This first pardon necessary to understand what Trump is up to is one that didn’t happen: The pardon dangle to try to silence Michael Cohen. As the Mueller Report described. in the wake of a raid on Cohen, Robert Costello started reaching out as an envoy for Rudy Giuliani, offering pardons.

On or about April 17, 2018, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

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

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

According to Cohen, Rudy Giuliani and Robert Costello were at the heart of Trump’s efforts to buy silence.

But Cohen couldn’t be silent about his own plight, and so facing prosecution from that and after a privilege review of his files discovered the recording Cohen made of Trump’s hush payments, he started cooperating with Mueller, helping them to understand what Trump was trying to hide about his ties with the Kremlin during the election.

Cohen paid for that decision, too. He did more time, for example, than Roger Stone, who (like Cohen) had kept blackmail material on Trump. As such, Cohen served as a useful example to Trump: if you cooperated against Trump, Trump would ensure that you suffered a worse outcome than those who had sustained the lies to protect him.

Roger Stone commutation

Roger Stone kept a notebook recording every conversation he had with Donald Trump during the 2016 election. After the election, according to an unreliable October 2018 interview that Steve Bannon had with Mueller’s team, Stone got a meeting to which he brought what appears to be that notebook. Trump asked Bannon to attend, it seems, to ensure that Stone would be kicked out after a short time.

While BANNON was at Breitbart in 2013-2015, BANNON had a strong relationship with [redacted]. BANNON heard from [redacted] STONE was still talking to Trump and was an advisor. STONE subsequently made those statements to BANNON as well. BANNON was suspect and upset. BANNON believed you had to eep TRUMP “on program.” While BANNON was on the Trump Campaign he never heard any mention of STONE from TRUMP or anyone else on the campaign. After the win, STONE tried a full court press in order to get a meeting with TRUMP. [redacted] eventually set up a meeting with TRUMP and STONE in early December 2016 on the 26th floor of Trump Tower. TRUMP didn’t want to take the meeting with STONE. TRUMP told BANNON to be in the meeting and that after 5 minutes, if the meeting hadn’t concluded, to throw STONE out. STONE came in with a book he wrote and possibly had a folder and notes. [full sentence redacted] TRUMP didn’t say much to STONE beyond “Thanks, thanks a lot.”. To BANNON, this reinforced STONE [redacted] After five to six minutes, the meeting was over and STONE was out. STONE was [redacted] due to the fact that during the meeting TRUMP just stared.

That was Bannon’s second-to-last interview with Mueller’s team. A week after his last interview, at which Bannon also appeared before the grand jury, the FBI raided Stone’s homes. One of the things they explicitly looked for was that notebook.

53. On May 8, 2018, a law enforcement interview of [redacted] was conducted. [redacted] was an employee of Stone’s from approximately June 2016 through approximately December 2016 and resided in Stone’s previous New York apartment for a period of time. [redacted] provided information technology support for Stone, but was not f0rmally trained to do so. [redacted] was aware that Stone communicated with Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and afterward, both in person and by telephone. [redated] provided information about a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump and Stone during the time [redacted] worked for him, to which Sterne carried a “file booklet” with him. Stone told [redacted] the file booklet was important and that no one should touch it. [redacted] also said Stone maintained the file booklet in his closet.

54. On December 3, 2018, law enforcement conducted an interview of an individual (“Person 1 “) who previously had a professional relationship with a reporter who provided Person 1 with information about Stone. The reporter relayed to Person 1 that in or around January and February 2016, Stone and Trump were in constant communication and that Stone kept contemporaneous notes of the conversations. Stone’s purpose in keeping notes was to later provide a “post mortem of what went wrong.”

In November 2019, Stone was convicted for lying about the nature and Trump’s awareness of his back-channel to the Russian operation. Billy Barr went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to minimize the punishment Stone would suffer for covering that up. He went so far as claiming threats against a federal judge by Roger Stone and the Proud Boys, threats which foreshadowed January 6, were a mere technicality.

But in July 2020, the moment when Stone would have to report to prison approached. Stone made several public appearances telling a story that was impossible as told, the gist of which was that prosecutors had promised Stone they would fight for leniency if he would testify about the content of a subset of the conversations he had with Trump during the election. That had the desired effect: Trump commuted Stone’s sentence before he reported for prison, protecting Stone in a way he had not done for Paul Manafort.

Billy Barr minimized the damage this should have done to Trump’s electoral chances. The Attorney General sat on a footnote of the Mueller Report that revealed when all this occurred, Roger Stone was still under investigation for the hack-and-leak with Russia. Barr released that literally on the eve of the 2020 election, and to this day no major outlet has reported that Stone was still under investigation for conspiring with Russia after the Mueller Report was released.

Mike Flynn pardon

As I laid out in this post, Mike Flynn got next to nothing out of his his two year attempt to renege on his plea agreement with Robert Mueller.

  • Replaced competent lawyers with incompetent TV grifters
  • Released evidence he lied to his lawyers doing the FARA filing
  • Consented to waive privilege so DOJ could find more proof he lied
  • Debunked a slew of conspiracy theories
  • Got really damning transcripts released
  • Served 708 days of supervised release
  • Joined a gang
  • Got one of his gang members prosecuted for death threats against Judge Sullivan
  • Got a ruling — and, later, a clear statement from DOJ — that no abuse occurred
  • Exposed his son to further prosecution
  • Exposed DOJ to further scrutiny
  • Proved Judge Sullivan’s point about selling the country out

After 18 months of making repeatedly debunked claims that he had been victimized by DOJ, however, he did get the most expansive pardon Trump gave, one pardoning not just his underlying crimes, but also the crimes he committed during the process of performing that victimization.

Given everything that has happened since, it’s worth considering Flynn’s performance as a victim as part of Trump’s reelection campaign.

That became most evident on September 29, 2020. Earlier in the day, in a status hearing, Sidney Powell confessed that weeks earlier, she had spoken to Trump about the case, and asked him not to pardon Flynn.

More curious still, she admitted she had spoken with Trump’s campaign attorney, Jenna Ellis.

THE COURT: Let me ask you this before you get to your other objections since we’re talking about — since I raised the issue about communications and correspondence with the Department of Justice. Have you had discussions with the President about this case?

MS. POWELL: I have not, Your Honor, while the case was pending pre-motion to dismiss or otherwise other than an update as to what happened in it.

THE COURT: I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understand your answer. The question is whether you’ve had any discussions at all with the President of the United States about Mr. Flynn and about this case. Yes or no.

MS. POWELL: I’m sorry, Your Honor. I can’t discuss that.

THE COURT: What’s the reason why you can’t discuss that?

MS. POWELL: I would think any conversations that I had with the President would be protected by executive privilege.

THE COURT: Well, you don’t work for the government.

MS. POWELL: I don’t think the executive privilege is limited to people who work for the government.

THE COURT: So you’re purporting to invoke executive privilege not to answer the Court’s question about whether you discussed Mr. Flynn’s case with the President of the United States. Is that correct?

MS. POWELL: Yes. Other than the fact that after the government moved to dismiss or at some point in the last month or so, I provided the White House an update on the overall status of the litigation.

THE COURT: How did you provide that update? Was it in writing?

MS. POWELL: No, sir.

THE COURT: How did you provide that update? Who did you speak with?

MS. POWELL: I provided it in person to counsel for the President.

THE COURT: I mean the White House counsel or a deputy or who did you speak to?

MS. POWELL: Your Honor, I spoke with Jenna [Ellis] and I spoke with the President himself to provide a brief update of the status of the litigation within the last couple of weeks.

THE COURT: And did you make any request of the President?

MS. POWELL: No, sir. Other than he not issue a pardon.

THE COURT: All right. Prior to that discussion with the President — how many discussions with the President have you had about this case?

MS. POWELL: That’s the only one I recall.

THE COURT: So you’re not ruling out other — well, certainly, you would recall a discussion with the President of the United States, wouldn’t you?

MS. POWELL: Well, I’ve had a number of discussions with the President of the United States. I think the New York Times reported I’ve had five. So it seems like they probably have a number better than I know.

THE COURT: Are the New York Times’ representations erroneous?

MS. POWELL: I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve actually spoken with the President, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. About this case. But there’s been more than one though.

MS. POWELL: No, sir. I can tell you I spoke with one time to the President about this case to inform him of the general status of the litigation.

THE COURT: And was that within the last two weeks?

MS. POWELL: Time has a way of getting by for me, but it’s certainly well after the government moved to dismiss and probably if I recall correctly after the writ of mandamus was entered.

THE COURT: All right. Did you ever ask the President of the United States to request his Attorney General to appoint more attorneys in this case?

MS. POWELL: Oh, heavens, no.

THE COURT: All right. So very succinctly just so I have a clear understanding, what precisely — during the first time you spoke with the President of the United States, what precisely did you ask him to do in connection with this case? What did you ask him to do in connection with this case?

MS. POWELL: I never discussed this case with the President until recently when I asked him not to issue a pardon and gave him the general update of the status of the litigation. [my emphasis]

On the same day Powell admitted to speaking, some weeks earlier, to Trump’s campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, Trump delivered a pre-arranged attack against Joe Biden in the first debate.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

This false claim was based off misrepresentations based on altered Peter Strzok notes released as part of Bill Barr’s efforts to reverse the prosecution of Flynn. There were other altered documents released for wider dissemination in this period, as well, including additional Strzok and Page texts that newly violated the Privacy Act, though after DOJ had to confess that they had altered those documents, any further focus on the altered documents were dropped.

And then, Trump pardoned his Agent of Turkey along with the Thanksgiving bird.

At the moment Trump would have informed Sidney Powell of that news, she was at Lin Wood’s plantation plotting ways to steal the election Trump had lost. If Flynn was not already with Powell plotting away at the moment he learned of his pardon, he would join her within 24 hours.

Within weeks, the recently-pardoned retired General and foreign agent that had been plotting away with Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne, someone who had been seduced by an admitted Russian agent, was calling for military intervention. Flynn’s calls for insurrection were reported in real time, but the news was buried and the fact that Trump had just pardoned the man calling for a coup did not make the coverage.

Roger Stone pardon

During the first half of December, Roger Stone was palling around with the accused terrorists who would help physically obstruct the vote certification on January 6.

Days later, one of the Oath Keepers that Stone palled around with, Kelly Meggs, bragged of arranging an alliance with other accused terrorists that Stone also palled around with, the Proud Boys that Trump had told to “Stand Back and Stand By” in that same debate on September 29 where Trump had used a campaign attack packaged up by Sidney Powell.

On December 23, Trump pardoned Stone for the crimes of which he was convicted (but not those that were still under investigation).

On Christmas, Meggs specifically tied protection, almost certainly of Stone, and coordination with a Proud Boy, almost certainly Enrique Tarrio, in the same text.

On December 26, Stone associate Kelly Meggs called this an insurrection (albeit in response to Trump’s order) explicitly.

On December 27, Stone went to Mar-a-Lago to thank Trump for the pardon directly and to discuss how he would “ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president.”

Roger Stone, who received a Christmas week pardon from President Donald Trump, delivered a personal thank you to the president on Sunday at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.

Stone wrote that he counseled the president on how he could “ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president.”

[snip]

Stone said via text that he deleted the words and images after he was notified the golf club has “a policy of prohibiting photos of club members or guests out of respect for their privacy.” He said he didn’t have any additional comment.

A photo posted and then removed from Roger Stone's Parler social media page shows President Donald Trump, left, Kimberly Guilfoyle, an unidentified man and Roger Stone at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Sunday.
A photo posted and then removed from Roger Stone’s Parler social media page shows President Donald Trump, left, Kimberly Guilfoyle, an unidentified man and Roger Stone at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Sunday.

One picture showed four people talking: Trump; Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend; Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the website and cable channel Newsmax, which is based in Boca Raton; and Stone.

“I thanked President Trump in person tonight for pardoning me,” he wrote. “I also told the president exactly how he can appoint a special counsel with full subpoena power to ensure that those who are attempting to steal the 2020 election through voter fraud are charged and convicted and to ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president #StopTheSteal #rogerstonedidnothingwrong.”

The next day, Stone deleted the pictures of his face-to-face meeting with Trump.

On January 5 and 6, Stone continued to interact closely with the Oath Keepers (and some Proud Boys). The morning of the insurrection, one of the Oath Keepers since charged with sedition, Joshua James, checked in with the operational leader for the Oath Keepers that day every time that someone — almost certainly Stone — moved.

Two days after the insurrection, Kristin Davis tweeted out a picture of Stone signing his pardon paperwork. (h/t gal_suburban)

Stone never hid it: His pardon was directly tied to his efforts to keep Trump in power. Given that Stone’s pardon was not as expansive as Flynn’s, he remains at some legal exposure for prosecution for his later efforts (including his June 2017 efforts to shut down the investigation into Julian Assange), so he had a real incentive to do anything he could to keep Trump in power.

Steve Bannon

Three days after Trump lost the election, Steve Bannon — in planning for an illegal second Trump term — threatened to assassinate Chris Wray and Anthony Fauci. The same day, his very competent lawyer, Bill Burck (the guy who got him through a bunch of serial lies in the Mueller investigation), fired him as a client, even as he was facing fraud charges for cheating Trump’s rubes.

It wasn’t until December 11, well into the plotting for a coup, that Robert Costello — the very same lawyer who dangled a pardon to Michael Cohen over two years earlier — noticed his appearance. Costello’s representation of Bannon also meant that the same lawyer represented both Rudy and Bannon, two of the masterminds in the Willard War Room.

December 11, when Costello formally filed as Bannon’s lawyer, is around the same time, according to Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence, that Paul Gosar’s Chief of Staff tied a pardon for their own involvement in Bannon’s fraud to their efforts to overturn the election results.

In December 2020, as the tour rolled around the country, Stockton and Lawrence say they got a call from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and his chief of staff, Thomas Van Flein. According to Stockton, Van Flein claimed he and the congressman had just met with Trump, who was considering giving them a “blanket pardon” to address the “We Build the Wall” investigation.

“We were just in the Oval Office speaking about pardons and your names came up,” Van Flein allegedly said. Van Flein did not respond to a request for comment.

Gosar suggested the bus tour was helping Stockton and Lawrence build support for a pardon from the caucus and Trump. “Keep up the good work,” Gosar said, according to Stockton. “Everybody’s seen what you’re doing.”

So it was probably assumed that, so long as Bannon kept helping Trump try to steal the election, he would would get a pardon. That was true even though Roger Stone made it clear after his trial that Bannon had testified in the grand jury against him.

But on the last day, among the very last pardons Trump granted, Trump pardoned Bannon not just for the crimes he had already been charged with, but any others that might arise from the Build the Wall project federally.

Rudy Giuliani left dangling

Almost three years after Rudy started helping Trump out of his legal troubles, in part by shamelessly dangling pardons to (at least) Cohen and Paul Manafort, Rudy got nothing. He got no pardon even though he was represented by Robert Costello, who had started the pardon dangles with him. He got no pardon even after working relentlessly — and exposing himself to further criminal exposure — trying to help Trump steal an election. Rudy got nothing, even though it was known that Barr had failed in his efforts to kill the Ukraine influence peddling investigation into Rudy.

While there had been abundant discussion of pardoning people who weren’t yet charged in early 2021, after Trump’s coup attempt, that plan was scotched.

It might not have happened in any case, given the conclusion Jay Sekulow had come to years earlier, the preemptive pardons make witnesses more likely to testify against Trump.

But because of the insurrection, Pat Cipollone got a lot more involved in pardons. And the insurrection made it virtually impossible to pardon the mastermind of the insurrection, Rudy Giuliani, even while making it all the more important to find a way to keep Rudy silent.

Ten days after (we now know) SDNY first obtained a warrant targeting Rudy Giuliani in the investigation used to justify seizing all his phones, Rudy boasted that he had “very, very good insurance.” Rudy certainly believed Trump would protect him.

But he didn’t.

That’s the angle through which Trump’s latest attempt to dangle pardons should be viewed. Rudy may be the most important person Trump needs to silence. But Trump had a chance to pardon Rudy when he had the authority, and he failed to do so.

Update: Added the SCOTUS decision to the list of things that must have Trump worried. h/t Brian Pillion

Key pardons of January 6 participants

February 18. 2020: Bernie Kerik

November 25, 2020: Mike Flynn

December 22, 2020: George Papadopoulos

December 23, 2020: Roger Stone and Paul Manafort

January 19, 2021: Steve Bannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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