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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

The December 17 cooperation update in the Oath Keepers investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stolen license plates…

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

False identification…

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

Burner phones…

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

[snip]

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

Cryptocurrency…

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

And (a poorly implemented) VPN…

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

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

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

Reuters Doesn’t Mention Terrorism When Claiming DOJ Won’t Charge Serious Offenses in the January 6 Investigation

Reuters has a story claiming to report that, “FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated,” that has elicited a lot of consternation. I’d like to look at what it does and does not say. Most of it is true — and not news — but somewhere along the way someone (either the reporters or the sources) misunderstood parts of what they’re looking at.

Reuters or its sources don’t understand how DOJ is charging this

One detail shows this to be true.

The Reuters piece makes much of the fact that DOJ is not charging what it calls “serious” charges.

Prosecutors have filed conspiracy charges against 40 of those defendants, alleging that they engaged in some degree of planning before the attack.

They alleged that one Proud Boy leader recruited members and urged them to stockpile bulletproof vests and other military-style equipment in the weeks before the attack and on Jan. 6 sent members forward with a plan to split into groups and make multiple entries to the Capitol.

But so far prosecutors have steered clear of more serious, politically-loaded charges that the sources said had been initially discussed by prosecutors, such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

[snip]

More than 170 people have been charged so far with assaulting or impeding a police officer, according to the Justice Department. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

But one source said there has been little, if any, recent discussion by senior Justice Department officials of filing charges such as “seditious conspiracy” to accuse defendants of trying to overthrow the government. They have also opted not to bring racketeering charges, often used against organized criminal gangs.

Not once does the story mention obstruction, which also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If you don’t mention obstruction — and your sources don’t explain that obstruction will get you to precisely where you’d get with a sedition charge, but with a lot more flexibility to distinguish between defendants and a far lower bar of proof (unless and until judges decide it has been misapplied) — then your sources are not describing what is going on with the investigation.

Furthermore, Reuters purports to rule out “more serious, politically-loaded charges,” but it never mentions terrorism.

One reason it wouldn’t, though, is because for domestic terrorists, you don’t charge terrorism, you charge crimes of terrorism or you argue for an enhancement under U.S.S.G. §3A1.4 at sentencing. And that has and will continue to happen. For example, both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys  conspiracies include 18 USC 1361 charges (damage to a government building exceeding $1,000, a charge that is a bit of a stretch for the Oath Keepers) that constitutes a crime of terrorism, and the government has raised that and noted it is a crime of terrorism in a number of bail disputes. Effectively, DOJ has already called the leaders of the militia conspiracies terrorists. But Reuters doesn’t think that’s worth noting.

Similarly, for both the assault pleas DOJ has obtained thus far, the government has reserved the right to invoke a terrorism enhancement at sentencing. In the case of Scott Fairlamb, who also pled guilty to obstruction, which effectively amounts to pleading guilty to having a political purpose for his assault, I suspect such an enhancement is likely.

Somehow this entire story got written without mentioning what DOJ is using instead of seditious conspiracy: obstruction (which has been charged against over 200 defendants) and terrorism enhancements; civil disorder is likewise not mentioned, but has been charged against around 150 defendants. DOJ isn’t using seditious conspiracy because it doesn’t need it (again, unless and until the courts reject this use of obstruction).

Reuters mis-describes the Proud Boys’ role in the riot

Much of the rest of the story includes details that are true, and public, but arguably misleading.

A “former senior law enforcement official” (most former senior people who had visibility on the investigation have been gone for some time) claims that 90 to 95% of these cases are “one-off” cases, seemingly distinguishing between the 40 people Reuters describes to have been charged in conspiracy from the 540 or so who have not been charged with a conspiracy.

“Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”

On paper, that’s true, and in key places a really important detail. But in other places it doesn’t mean what Reuters suggests it says.

For example, consider the nine men charged in the assault of Daniel Hodges. None of them knew each other before they started beating the shit out of some cops in the Tunnel of the Capitol. But several of the men charged nevertheless managed to orchestrate the assault (indeed, that’s most of what David Mehaffie did do — make other assailants more effective) and so, even while these individuals did not conspire to beat the shit out of cops, they worked in concert when they did so. The same is true for the men jointly accused of assaulting Michael Fanone (though Daniel Rodriguez has not been charged with the other men involved, many people believe because he’ll be charged in a conspiracy with others from Southern California).

Plus, the number cited to Reuters is probably wrong. Ten percent of the 580 people charged would be around 60. There were that many people on the Proud Boys’ organizational Telegram channel that day (though not all those people were present). There are a bunch of Proud Boys already charged individually, including some (like Dan Scott) who could easily be added to existing conspiracy indictments, others charged as groups (like the five Floridians on the Arthur Jackman indictment), and a father-son pair Jeffrey and Jeremy Grace who just got a terrorism prosecutor added. There are five Oath Keepers not included in that conspiracy (four cooperating against the others). And DOJ is only beginning to unwind the 3%er networks involved. So even just considering militias, the number is likely closer to 80.

And there are other important affiliations represented at the riot — with QAnon and anti-maskers being two of the most important — that actually created networks that were in some ways more effective than the militias. The QAnoners didn’t conspire with each other but they sure as hell were directed from the same place. And anti-mask protests were actually one place where a goodly number of rioters were radicalized, and those localized networks manifested as cells of cooperation in some key incidents in the riot.

More importantly, this claim can only have come from people who misunderstand what the investigation has shown:

Prosecutors have also not brought any charges alleging that any individual or group played a central role in organizing or leading the riot. Law-enforcement sources told Reuters no such charges appeared to be pending.

Conspiracy charges that have been filed allege that defendants discussed their plans in the weeks before the attack and worked together on the day itself. But prosecutors have not alleged that this activity was part of a broader plot.

It’s true that the Proud Boys are not known to have had a detailed plan describing who would move where in the Capitol. But it’s also true that both before and after the riot, the Proud Boys discussed mobilizing the “normies,” because normies have no adrenalin control. And the Proud Boys’ success at doing this is what made the initial assault on the West side of the Capitol work (and therefore the attack generally). The Proud Boys weren’t ordering the 1,000 rioters what to do at each step (though probably 100 people at the riot had some interaction with the Proud Boys), but they did give the riot a kind of structure that was crucial to its success.

Maybe Roger Stone isn’t involved?

Because of the other problems with this article, I don’t know what to make of the single piece of news in it. As noted above, a former senior law enforcement official claims that, “there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.” That makes sense with respect to Alex Jones; his videographer was arrested long ago and remains charged only with trespass.

But Stone has continued to appear in Oath Keeper filings long after the time that someone very senior would have left. And the two cooperators who might confirm or deny Stone’s involvement — Graydon Young (who did an Oath Keeper event with Stone in Florida) and Mark Grods (who was present with the Oath Keepers who were with Stone the day of the attack) — only pled guilty at the end of June, meaning if they confirmed Stone wasn’t involved (even in the planning for the attack known to have taken place in December, in Florida), it wouldn’t have happened all that long ago.

Particularly given the mention of kidnapping — which was a real question at the beginning of the investigation because of the zip ties that Larry Brock and Eric Munchel picked up inside the Capitol — this seems like a denial of a very dated misunderstanding of what happened.

I don’t think this story is meant maliciously. For example, I’m unimpressed with concerns raised about Tass’ ownership; this is Mark Hosenball and he’ll do the same reporting regardless of who signs his paycheck. Nor am I all that concerned by the anonymity of the sources; I’m more interested in how dated some of this information might be and which corners of the sprawling investigation those who actually worked on it were personally involved with.

It reads like the end result of a game of telephone asking questions that were raised in January, not a report about the investigation as public filings reveal it to be in August.

Update: DOJ just charged InfoWars host Owen Shroyer. The initial charges are just trespassing (leveraging a prior charge and Deferred Prosecution Agreement he entered), but he’s likely to be charged with obstruction based on stuff in his arrest affidavit.

Joseph Hackett’s Detention Argument: Guns, Operational Security, and Involvement in Kelly Meggs’ Plans for Nancy Pelosi

In a status hearing in the Oath Keeper conspiracy case on August 10, Kathryn Rakoczy revealed the government had provided “certain information” to defendants that might limit or shape defense theories. She then mentioned uncharged individuals or unindicted co-conspirators.

How Person Fifteen became D-2

Then yesterday, in a memo supporting continued pretrial detention for Joseph Hackett, the government rolled out a new way to refer to those who’ve entered into cooperation agreements against their former co-conspirators (and siblings): D-1 and D-4, as opposed to Person One, Person Two, and Person Ten.

D-1, who shared details of the organizational structure of the Florida Oath Keepers, may be Graydon Young, whom the indictment describes getting operational security instructions from Hackett shortly after he joined the Oath Keepers and who lives about 30 miles from Sarasota.

According to a defendant who has pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation plea agreement (and who will be referred to as D-1), Defendant Hackett was the “leader” of the Oath Keeper CPT5 group of approximately five men from the Sarasota area. According to D-1, the organization’s hierarchy had D-1 reporting to the CPT team leader (here, Hackett), who would report to the State lead (here, Kelly Meggs).

5 D-1 did not know what CPT stood for, but other Oath Keeper materials suggest it stood for “community preparedness team.”

D-4, who shared details of what Hackett did on January 7, may be Caleb Berry, who drove to and from the insurrection from Florida.

According to a defendant who has pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation plea agreement (and who will be referred to as D-4), Defendant Hackett was one of the members of the Oath Keepers who deposited long guns at the Comfort Inn Ballston on January 5 and collected them on January 7.

[snip]

In other words, while Defendant Hackett had his phone with him at the Capitol – he is seen on surveillance video holding it up to take a picture or video, and he admitted to D-4 that he had recorded a video that he later deleted – he took substantial efforts to ensure that he would not be linked to the phone, and that the phone would not be linked to the Capitol attack.

[snip]

According to D-4, on January 7, 2021, while Defendant Hackett was in a car driving from Washington, D.C., to Florida, with co-defendant Kelly Meggs and others, he admitted that he had already deleted from his iPhone a video he had taken while inside the Capitol the prior day

But the numbering system is bound to make Oath Keepers and conspiracists like Darren Beattie, Tucker Carlson, and Glenn Greenwald more paranoid. That’s because, if my assumptions above are correct, the counting appears to start with Young, not the first Oath Keeper known to enter a cooperation agreement, Jon Schaffer, who did so on April 14 (Young was second, Mark Grods was third, and Berry was fourth; the subtitle of this section is based on a wildarse guess that in this scheme, Grods, who was described before he flipped as Person Fifteen, would become D-2). That suggests someone else may have flipped, possibly between June 28 (when Grods pled) and July 7 (when Berry did).

Checking the East Door

The detention motion includes a long description of Hackett’s attempts to use operational security while hanging out with a bunch of people who weren’t, such as this picture showing him using his customary face covering while hanging out with a bunch of people who didn’t.

It also elaborates on a narrative that had shown up in earlier detention motions. It describes Hackett moving inside the Capitol with (it says) Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson, from the Rotunda to outside of Nancy Pelosi’s door. From there, Hackett walked back to the East Door of the Capitol, as if he was waiting for someone, and then returned to (the government presumes, though they may have video of this now from other defendants) Pelosi’s door.

Attached as Exhibit 3 is a compilation of Defendant Hackett’s movements within the Capitol for the approximately 12 minutes he remained inside, as captured on surveillance video. Notably, he spent most of his time with his co-conspirators Kelly Meggs, Moerschel, and Harrelson. At around 2:45 p.m., Defendant Hackett left the Rotunda through the south door, headed towards the House of Representatives (and the office of Speaker Pelosi).

[snip]

Defendant Hackett was not visible on camera for approximately one minute. He then went to check on the exterior doors through which the group entered, before returning to his coconspirators south of the Rotunda, near the Speaker’s office, where he remained, off camera, for approximately 5 minutes. This is the area and the time that Kelly Meggs and Harrelson were similarly not visible on surveillance video.

Exhibit 3 consists of 26 photos showing which of his actions from inside the Capitol were captured on CCTV — far more detail than the three paragraphs describing Hackett’s movement included in the indictment.

146. After they penetrated the Capitol building, CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, Young, STEELE, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, DOLAN, ISAACS, MOERSCHEL, Berry, and the others in the Stack collectively moved into an area inside the building known as the Capitol Rotunda.

[snip]

155. At2:45 p.m, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, DOLAN, MOERSCHEL, and Berry walked southbound outof the Rotunda and towards the House ofRepresentatives.

[snip]

158. At2:54 p.m. HACKETT and MOERSCHEL exited the Capitol.

After milling about the Rotunda, Hackett walks across it to talk to Meggs and Harrelson. Berry — who may be D-4, but who definitely has agreed to tell the government everything he knows — was present.

The detention memo suggests they — apparently including Berry and Connie Meggs, though the detention motion doesn’t mention them — went from here to stand outside Pelosi’s office, and then Hackett — apparently by himself — came back through the Rotunda, stood outside the East Door, looking outward, as if waiting to meet with someone.

Hackett then enters back into the Capitol, goes back to where he (apparently) left Moerschel, Harrelson, and Meggs, along with Berry and Connie Meggs (though they aren’t mentioned) and then he and Moerschel exit the building.

Joseph Hackett’s detention motion is about Kelly Meggs

The government largely substantiates their argument that Hackett is too much a threat to be released with their evidence that he’s a leader of an organized militia, armed, and went to great lengths — both in real time and after the fact — to obscure his actions. Hackett’s actions inside the Capitol — unlike many of his co-defendants, he is not charged with an additional resisting cops or civil disorder charge for anything he did inside the building — would seem to add little.

The government gets there, repeatedly, by tying Hackett’s own actions to those of Meggs, to whom (D-1 has testified) he reported in the Oath Keeper hierarchy. In Hackett’s detention motion, for example, the government adds to a text they had included, in similar associative fashion, in Kenneth Harrelson’s detention motion showing Meggs admitting that “we looked for[] her.

In Hackett’s detention memo, they show that the night of the election (they get the conversation from UTC wrong and falsely claim this happened very late the night of the election; it would have happened before polls closed in much of the country), Meggs was threatening to “go on a killing spree … Pelosi first.”

And, almost gratuitously, the government uses a reference to the DC Circuit’s decision upholding Christopher Worrell’s detention as a way to remind Judge Amit Mehta that Meggs had purportedly orchestrated a plan with the Proud Boys.

In Worrell, the D.C. Circuit held that the “district court’s dangerousness determination was [not] clearly erroneous,” based in part on the defendant’s “membership in and alleged coordination with the Proud Boys, some of whose members have been indicted for conspiring to attack Congress.” 848 F. App’x at 5-6.8 The same heightened dangerousness applies here, as the actions of self-proclaimed members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are similarly situated in terms of their dangerousness based both on their personal actions and their coordination with their coconspirators. And not only have 18 Oath Keeper members and affiliates (Defendant Hackett included) been indicted in this case, but there is also evidence of coordination between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. (See Gov’t Opp to Kelly Meggs’ Motion for Pretrial Release (ECF 98) at 8 (quoting December 22, 2020, Facebook message: “we have made Contact with PB and they always have a big group”)), and 10 (quoting December 25, 2020, Facebook message: “we have orchestrated a plan with the proud boys. I have been communicating with [redacted] the leader.”).)

It’s as if to say that Hackett is dangerous by himself, but he’s especially dangerous (or just as likely, important to flip) because he was part of what Kelly Meggs was involved with on the day of the insurrection.

The pictures included as an exhibit seem to suggest that not just Hackett — but also Connie Meggs (who would have spousal privilege but who also just got a new lawyer) and Caleb Berry, who may be D-4, a witness to efforts to try to destroy evidence about what happened during the insurrection — were witnesses to whatever Meggs was up to when he went to the office of the woman he threatened to kill on the night Biden won the election. What Hackett would know is why he went back to the door of the Capitol, as if awaiting someone.

According to the government, that makes him dangerous and likely to obstruct the investigation.

Update: This analysis adds to the evidence that Berry is the guy standing by the stair doors at the QRF hotel, and therefore almost certainly D-4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But!

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

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

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

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

That’s a reference to a terrorism enhancement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ Unimpressed by Mo Brooks’ Kickass Conspiracy Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That includes, for example, when Brooks claims he,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One if By Land, Two if By Sea:” What We Know of the Oath Keepers’ January 6 Quick Reaction Force

On Twitter yesterday, some folks asked me whether there’s any credibility to the government’s claims that the Oath Keepers had an armed Quick Reaction Force ready to rush to DC in case things devolved to armed battles on January 6.

At first, it appeared that the government might just be unduly crediting the wild boasts of Thomas Caldwell, who spoke repeatedly of arranging such a force in the days leading up to January 6. But over the course of a series of filings, the government has shown that after a sustained discussion about whether Oath Keepers should come armed to DC for the insurrection, it was decided to instead amass guns in (at a minimum) the Ballston, VA Comfort Inn. The evidence thus far submitted shows that multiple participants knew of the stash, called it the QRF, and deposited their own weapons at the stash. The record is less certain about what plans the Oath Keepers had to transport that arsenal to DC, but in a remarkable comment on January 3, Kelly Meggs — who appears to have played a key role in organizing security for Roger Stone, inter-militia negotiations, and The Stack that pushed into the Rotunda on January 6, and who may have paid for two rooms to use for the QRF — suggested two rally points to receive the weapons: “1 if by land North side of Lincoln Memorial 2 if by sea Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!”

This post will pull together the evidence shown to date.

On December 25, according to the Fourth Superseding indictment and other filings, Kelly Meggs noted on Facebook what a lot of other militia members were at the time: guns are prohibited in DC. “We are all staying in DC near the Capitol we are at the Hilton garden inn but I think it’s full. Dc is no guns. So mace and gas masks, some batons. If you have armor that’s good.”

But within days, on December 30, Thomas Caldwell (who is not a member of the Oath Keepers but who coordinated closely with, at least, contingents from Ohio and North Carolina) told Jessica Watkins that an Oath Keeper from North Carolina had committed to serve as the Quick Reaction Force in Virginia — he was aiming to get reservations at the Comfort Inn in Ballston. The idea was he’d bring weapons into Virginia in his truck.

As we speak he is trying to book a room at Comfort Inn Ballston/Arlington because of its close-in location and easy access to downtown because he feels 1) he’s too broken down to be on the ground all day and 2) he is committed to being the quick reaction force anf bringing the tools if something goes to hell. That way the boys don’t have to try to schlep weps on the bus. He’ll bring them in his truck day before

Over the course of that same conversation, Caldwell updated Watkins that the North Carolina Oath Keeper had indeed gotten reservations at the Ballston Comfort Inn. “Just got a text from him he WAS able to book a room in that hotel I recommended which is on Glebe Road in Arlington.”

The next day, Meggs seems to have come to the same understanding. On December 31, he asked someone else if they were bringing weapons to DC. “You guys Gonna carry?” After the other person said, “No,” they weren’t, Meggs explained that the Oath Keepers had a Quick Reaction Force 10 minutes away. “Ok we aren’t either, we have a heavy QRF 10 Min out though.”

The Comfort Inn in Ballston would be a 7-minute drive without traffic.

That same day, December 31, someone offered up to Joshua James assistance from friends close to DC if the Oath Keepers got in trouble. “i have friends not far from DC with a lot of weapons and ammo if you get un trouble i ca. Coordinate help.” James suggested they might not need it on account of the QRF, “That might be helpful, but we have a shitload of QRF on standby with an arsenal.” The next day an Oath Keeper asked James how to get the guns to VA if the Alabaman Oath Keepers were staying in DC. “Hey we told to bring guns and maybe stage them in VA?? But you are showing hotels in DC for Alabama. Are we bring guns or no if so how will that work?” James suggested a farm might still be in play. “Were working on a Farm location Some are bringing long rifles some sidearms… I’m bringing sidearm.” By that point, then, it appears the Oath Keepers had committed to keeping weapons in VA with a QRF. But the logistics of it remained uncertain.

On January 2, Kelly Meggs texted a Leadership Signal chat with those two proposed meeting points for the QRF in DC: the Lincoln Memorial if the bridge was still open, and south of there at Ohio and West Basin if the bridges did get shut. “1 if by land North side of Lincoln Memorial 2 if by sea Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !! QRF rally points Water of the bridges get closed.” The next day, Caldwell sent out a text message to a Three Percenter looking for a boat to ferry weapons.

Can’t believe I just thought of this: how many people either in the militia or not (who are still supportive of our efforts to save the Republic) have a boat on a trailer that could handle a Potomac crossing? If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms. I’m not talking about a bass boat. Anyone who would be interested in supporting the team this way? I will buy the fuel. More or less be hanging around sipping coffee and maybe scooting on the river a bit and pretending to fish, then if it all went to shit, our guy loads our weps AND Blue Ridge Militia weps and ferries them across. Dude! If we had 2 boats, we could ferry across and never drive into D.C. at all!!!!

But the next day, January 3, Caldwell sent an email with maps to the person in charge of the QRF with the subject line, “NEW MAPS RELATIVE TO HOTEL AND INGRESS FOR QRF,” that seemed to assume he would drive from the hotel to “the target area,” via a route that went nowhere near the Lincoln Memorial. “These maps walk you from the hotel into D.C. and east toward the target area on multiple roads running west to east including M street and P street, two of my favorites . . . .”

Similarly, it remained unsettled whether or not individual participants would contribute their own weapons to the stash. On January 2, for example, Mark Grods asked Joshua James if he should bring weapons to insurrection. “So, I guess I am taking full gear less weapons? Just reading through all the posts. Would rather have it and not need it.” James instructed him to leave his weapons home, because the QRF would have weapons. “Yeah full gear… QRF will have weapons Just leave em home.”

On January 3, Jessica Watkins told Bennie Parker that they didn’t need to bring weapons because the QRF would be there. “We are not bringing firearms. QRF will be our Law Enforcement members of Oathkeepers.”  But then that same day she reversed the instruction. “Weapons are ok now as well. Sorry for the confusion.”

On January 4, Stewart Rhodes made the Oath Keepers’ plan to have a QRF nearby public.

As we have done on all recent DC Ops, we will also have well armed and equipped QRF1 teams on standby, outside DC, in the event of a worst case scenario, where the President calls us up as part of the militia to to assist him inside DC. We don’t expect a need for him to call on us for that at this time, but we stand ready if he does (and we also stand ready to answer the call to serve as militia anytime in the future, and anywhere in our nation, if he does invoke the Insurrection Act).

Both Watkins and Grods appear to have brought their own weapons. On January 4, before she got to the Comfort Inn, Watkins asked the Florida Signal list where to drop weapons off before any operations. “Where can we drop off weapons to the QRF team? I’d like to have the weapons secured prior to the Op tomorrow.” According to Mark Grods’ Information, he “brought firearms to Washington, D.C.” — which may have exposed him to further criminal liability — “and eventually provided them to another individual to store in a Virginia hotel.”

Kenneth Harrelson also appears to have dropped guns at the Ballston Comfort Inn. On the 5th, Harrelson asked for the location of the “QRF hotel.” Kelly Meggs responded by asking for a DM. Three hours later, Harrelson showed up at the Comfort Inn for an hour.

Caldwell, too, appears to have dropped off a weapon to the QRF room, as this surveillance video from mid-afternoon on January 5 suggests (the government alleges he is holding the long sheet-wrapped item).

After Caldwell returned from the Capitol on January 6, the North Carolina Oath Keeper brought a similarly blanket-wrapped long item to Caldwell’s room.

The newly accused alleged Stack participant David Moerschel also appears to have left a gun at the Comfort Inn. Early on January 7, according to his complaint, Moerschel made two comments on the Oath Keepers’ “OK FL DC OP Jan 6″ Signal chat about leaving stuff for others at the QRF — the Ballston Comfort Inn.

“We have your bag, We will leave it with Kane at the QRF. We are en route there now.”

“Anyone else leave anything in the white van? We can leave it for you at QRF.”

Moerschel sent the first text, saying “we are en route” at 6:35AM. Twenty-four minutes later, a person that the government alleges is Moerschel appeared in Comfort Inn surveillance video carting a gun case around.

According to a detention memo for Joseph Hackett, he and Kelly Meggs, along with another person, showed up shortly thereafter.

Kenneth Harrelson got a later start than the others. At 8:55 on January 7, he texted to the Florida Signal chat, asking where his “shit” was at.

So we’re just leaving DC and I would like to know where my shits at since it seems everyone’s gone already.

In response, someone replied,

We are headed out now. Did you leave it [his shit] at Comfort Inn in that room?

Starting twenty minutes later, Harrelson was at the Comfort Inn along with Jason Dolan, with whom Harrelson drove in a rental car.

In Moerschel’s complaint, the North Carolinians alleged to have watched this QRF room while others were at insurrection are described without comment as co-conspirators. None have been charged (at least not publicly). But if and when they are, I imagine we’ll see still more video of weapons being moved around the Ballston Quality Inn.

Again, the precise plan for all these weapons remains unclear. But the government has provided evidence that at least six people already charged (Caldwell, Watkins, Moerschel, Harrelson, Grods, and Dolan) dropped off weapons. Given that Kelly Meggs paid for two hotel rooms there even though he stayed in DC, the implication may be that the same guy planning, “1 if by land, 2 if by sea,” paid for the rooms in question.

Update, August 18: Added footage with Hackett and Meggs.

The Oath Keepers Dilemma: The Government Has Threatened Yet Another Indictment

The remaining 15 Oath Keeper conspiracy defendants have a status hearing today.

A lot has happened since the last status hearing the bulk of them had on June 1, 2021. Most notably, Graydon Young — co-defendant Laura Steele’s brother — pled guilty on June 23, just over a week ago. His cooperation with prosecutors will implicate the entire Stack, especially Joseph Hackett, Jessica Watkins, his sister, as well as the participants on a OK FL DC OP Jan 6 listserv (in addition to Watkins and Hackett, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jason Dolan, and William Isaacs).

Then, on Wednesday, Mark Grods pled guilty. His cooperation will implicate fellow Alabaman Joshua James (who got Grods to delete some files), Meggs, Watkins, Robert Minuta, Stewart Rhodes, and others who were on chats Grods was part of, as well as everyone involved in the Golf Cart chase and prior events at the Willard Hotel, adding Jonathan Walden to the mix.

Yesterday (or today, depending on which defendant you ask) was a deadline that Judge Amit Mehta set on June 1 for all motions unrelated to discovery (with the expectation that the late added defendants would probably need more time).

Thomas Caldwell (who can be implicated primarily by the Ohioans, the still unindicted Person Three, Grods, and possibly some other VA militia members not charged in this conspiracy) has been filing motions. He filed a marginally serious motion to dismiss everything on June 15, and filed a frivolous motion to transfer venue yesterday.

Yesterday, the deadline, both Joshua James and Kenneth Harrelson filed some motions. The former filed a motion to dismiss an assault charge and an obstruction charge against himself, as well as for a Bill of Particulars. The latter filed a motion to dismiss the counts of the indictment charged against him. The Meggses had earlier filed a motion for a Bill of Particulars.

But thus far, almost everyone is asking for an extension to file their own motions. Here’s a summary of what’s on the books thus far (Dolan, Hackett, Isaacs, and Walden would have an extension in any case, on account of their late addition):

  1. Thomas Caldwell: Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Change Venue, Motion for Extension
  2. Dominick Crowl: Motion for 60 Day Extension, Motion to Adopt
  3. Jason Dolan: Motion for Extension
  4. Joseph Hackett
  5. Kenneth Harrelson: Motion to Adopt Caldwell and James Motions, Motion for Extension, Motion to Dismiss Charges against Him
  6. William Isaacs
  7. Joshua James: Motion to Adopt, Motion to Dismiss Counts 8 and 13, Motion for Bill of Particulars, Motion for Extension
  8. Connie Meggs: Motion to Join Caldwell’s Motion, Motion for 60 Day Extension
  9. Kelly Meggs: Motion to Adopt Caldwell’s Motion (including a cursory adoption of his obstruction charge)
  10. Roberto Minuta (Minuta’s attorney has had some health limitations so would need an extension anyway): Motion for 30 Day Extension
  11. Benny Parker: Motion for at least 60 Day Extension, Motion to Adopt Harrelson and Caldwell, though not adopting Caldwell’s “partisan surplusage”
  12. Sandi Parker: Motion to Join Caldwell Motion, Motion for Extension
  13. Laura Steele: Motion to be able to go on vacation, Motion to Join Caldwell, Motion for at least 60-Day Extension
  14. Jonathan Walden
  15. Jessica Watkins: Motion to Join Caldwell’s Dismissal, Motion for 60 Day Extension

Between these requests, the government has gotten defendants to waive Speedy Trial for at least 30 more days as they contemplate the legal dilemma they’re facing.

It’s true that most defendants cite the voluminous discovery before them. A few claim they have not yet had an adequate tour of the Capitol. Harrelson’s motion quotes several paragraphs of boilerplate from the government.

But a comment from James’ Motion for Extension is perhaps the most telling. It asserts that defendants have been told there’s still yet another indictment on the way.

Because the government has made clear that an additional indictment (which could include more charges or more defendants) is possible, and because Mr. James is unaware of which, if any, currently charged defendant will be proceeding to trial, it is impossible to assess, prepare, and file motions regarding severance of counts or defendants at this time.

It also suggests that it’s possible none of the currently charged defendants will actually proceed to trial.

Short of adding Stewart Rhodes, there are few places this indictment will go except to make the terrorism or insurrection claims more explicit.

Which may explain why James, one of the remaining key players who would be able to trade a lesser sentence for a cooperation deal, suggests no one may go to trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Person Fifteen (AKA Mark Grods), Another Roger Stone Security Staffer, Flips

Sometime in the recent history of Tucker Carlson’s fever dreams, he claimed that the long list of numbered unindicted co-conspirators in the Oath Keepers case were actually paid FBI informants setting up the militia members.

I guess with the news that Person Fifteen, AKA Mark Grods, will plead guilty and enter into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors today, Tucker gets partial credit: the government asked and received permission to keep Grods’ charges sealed so he could testify to the grand jury before pleading guilty today.

Delaying the government’s need to notify other defendants about Mark Grod[’]s related case between the filing of the criminal Information on June 28 and his public plea hearing on June 30, 2021, will ensure the defendant’s safety while he cooperates pursuant to his plea agreement and testifies before the grand jury.

So, it turns out, Grods was informing on his buddies. But not for pay, but in hopes of lenience at sentencing for a conspiracy and an obstruction charge.

Here are all the things — based on comparing the Fourth Superseding Indictment with Grods’ Statement of Offense— to which Grods is a direct witness:

55. At least as early as December 31, 2020, [Jessica] WATKINS, KELLY MEGGS, [Joshua] JAMES, [Roberto] MINUTA, PERSON ONE [Stewart Rhodes], PERSON THREE, PERSON TEN, and others known and unknown joined an invitation-only encrypted Signal group message titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21” (hereinafter the “Leadership Signal Chat”).

[snip]

58. On December 31, 2020, KELLY MEGGS and JAMES attended a 4-participant GoToMeeting titled “SE leaders dc 1/6/21 op call.” KELLY MEGGS was the organizer of the meeting.

[snip]

67. On January 2, 2021, [Grods] messaged JAMES on Signal and asked, “So, I guess I am taking full gear less weapons? Just reading through all the posts. Would rather have it and not need it.” JAMES responded, “Yeah full gear… QRF will have weapons Just leave em home.”

[snip]

95. MINUTA, using his personal email address and his personal home address, reserved three rooms at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., under the names of MINUTA, JAMES, and PERSON TWENTY. A debit card associated with [Grods] was used to pay for the room reserved under MINUTA’s name. A credit card associated with JAMES was used to pay for the room reserved under JAMES’s name.

[snip]

128. Between 2:30 and 2:33 p.m., MINUTA, JAMES, WALDEN, and others rode in a pair of golf carts towards the Capitol, at times swerving around law enforcement vehicles, with MINUTA stating: “Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there’s violence against patriots by the D.C. Police; so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now . . . it’s going down, guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building . . . fucking war in the streets right now . . . word is they got in the building . . . let’s go.”

[snip]

129. At 2:33 p.m., MINUTA, JAMES, WALDEN, and others parked the golf carts near the intersection of Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest. They then continued on foot towards the Capitol.

[snip]

165. Shortly after 4:00 p.m., individuals who breached the Capitol, to include YOUNG, STEELE, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, HARRELSON, MINUTA, JAMES, WALDEN, HACKETT, DOLAN, and ISAACS, among others, gathered together with PERSON ONE and PERSON TEN approximately 100 feet from the Capitol, near the northeast corner of the building.

[snip]

195. On January 8, 2021, JAMES instructed [Grods] to “make sure that all signal comms about the op has been deleted and burned,” and [Grods] confirmed [Grods] did in fact do so.

In addition, Grods entered the Capitol shortly after others allegedly assaulted the cops.

And because he was at the Willard with Roberto Minuta, Joshua James, and Jonathan Walden, he may have been witness to the James side of key conversations involving Person Ten.

And Grods is one of nine Oath Keepers who provided security for Roger Stone, and the second to have entered a cooperation agreement.