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The Structure of the January 6 Assault: “I will settle with seeing [normies] smash some pigs to dust”

Before 8AM on the morning of the insurrection, the Proud Boys had this discussion on their organizing Telegram thread.

UCC-1: I want to see thousands of normies burn that city to ash today

Person-2: Would be epic

UCC-1: The state is the enemy of the people

Person-2: We are the people

UCC-1: Fuck yea

Person-3: God let it happen . . . I will settle with seeing them smash some pigs to dust

Person-2: Fuck these commie traitors

Person-3 It’s going to happen. These normiecons have no adrenaline control . . . They are like a pack of wild dogs

UCC-1 has been reported to be Aaron Whallon-Wolkind, who cheered on the insurrection from Philadelphia and interacted with Zach Rehl and other Philly Proud Boys throughout the day. Persons 2 and 3 have not yet been publicly identified.

This discussion and others reveal a key part of the Proud Boy plan for January 6: to incite others — “normies” — to commit violence. And while a number of Proud Boys or close associates engaged in what I’ve called “tactical” violence that day, the vast majority of (and the worst) violence was done by others, mostly by people with either no known or just networking ties to militia groups (such as through anti-mask activism). The Proud Boys weren’t the only militia-linked people attempting to encourage others to engage in violence; it’s a key part of the anti-mask/3% conspiracy, for example. But a stated goal of at least some of the militia members who implemented the assault on the Capitol was to stoke others to engage in violence.

This detail is critical to understanding what DOJ has accomplished so far and where they might be headed. Many of those screeching that DOJ is not doing enough to investigate January 6 — like Elie Honig complaining that DOJ has arrested 700 indistinguishable “rioters” or Hussein Ibish claiming that “many foot soldiers” have “received mainly light prison sentences” but no “planners … have been held to account in any meaningful way” — seem not to understand it.

So I’d like to talk about what we know about the structure of the attack on the Capitol and how it related to things Trump and his minions were doing. Before I attempt to do that, let me rebut a straw man Honig and others have used in an attempt to ignore the facts I present. I share their alarm about the urgent need to respond to January 6 and Trump’s unlawfulness. I am not guaranteeing that Trump will be held accountable.

Where we differ is that I have read the public record on the investigation (and on other investigations that Honig, at least, has denied exist, like the investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting).

It is not the case that all 700 people who have been arrested were mere “rioters,” — and calling some of these people rioters adopts the preferred label of those championing the coup. And unless you consider mere rioters “foot soldiers,” then very few witting foot soldiers have yet been sentenced. While it is true that no planners have been sentenced, it is also the case that DOJ has arrested some key ones, a small number of whom have been jailed since their arrest, and a great deal of DOJ’s overt investigative focus lies in arresting those who can illuminate how the organizers worked and how they coordinated with others.

Before I lay this out, keep in mind the three main theories of liability for Trump for January 6 (as opposed to his call to Brad Raffensperger, though as I’ve noted, the call to Raffensperger goes a long way to showing Trump’s corrupt mens rea on January 6). At first, people argued that Trump incited the mob. There were problems with that claim, which Trump’s defense lawyers successfully exploited during his second impeachment trial, most notably that the Proud Boys had already kicked off the assault on the Capitol before the former President finished speaking. Still, to prove he incited a riot, you’d need to prove that the people who rioted did so in response to his speech at the Ellipse. Then, after Liz Cheney raised it, TV lawyers discovered what I’ve been pointing out for months. Trump’s actions (and inaction) fit squarely within the application of obstruction of the vote count that DOJ applied from the start. Finally, last week, Congress watchers discovered that Trump might actually have entered a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, “involv[ing] coordination between the ‘political elements’ of the White House plan communicated to Republican lawmakers and extremist groups that stormed the Capitol” — again, consistent with what I’ve laid out for months. That, though, would require mapping out how the various parties entered into agreements and how they communicated and coordinated (with conspiracy members as well as Congress and the mobsters). That’s why I keep pointing to the structure of the existing conspiracy charges: because what Trump did exactly mirrors the overt acts already charged, from getting bodies to DC, ensuring they get to the Capitol, and encouraging means to overtake it.

It’s all one networked conspiracy. Indeed, the judge presiding over the Oath Keeper conspiracy case, Amit Mehta, observed in the Trump lawsuit hearing the other day that there was evidence that militia conspired with the Proud Boys.

Which, if DOJ could ever prove that those Trump entered into an agreement with, like Alex Jones, also entered into an agreement with Alex Jones’ former employee Joe Biggs, it would network Trump right into the conspiracies that rolled out at the Capitol, potentially putting him on the hook for the things those at the Capitol did, including damaging the building (which brings the terrorism enhancement), potentially some tactical assaults, and (if it gets charged), possibly even Kelly Meggs’ effort to hunt down Nancy Pelosi.

That may not be your preferred model of to hold Trump accountable, but I’m fairly certain that’s how DOJ would do so, in addition to whatever liability for him arises out of investigations into people like Sidney Powell or Rudy Giuliani.

What the evidence thus far shows is that Trump brought huge numbers of people to DC and convinced them that, to defend their country, they needed to march to the Capitol and pressure Congress, via one of a number of means, to not certify the election. Alex Jones and Ali Alexander then delivered these bodies to the Capitol, and once there, to a second breach on the East side. The Proud Boys, seemingly anticipating that this influx of “normies,” kicked off and carefully focused the riot just in time to create a real threat to Congress (and Mike Pence) just as they started to certify the vote count. (This Sedition Hunter timeline makes a compelling argument, one consistent with Proud Boy Matthew Greene’s statement of offense, that the Proud Boys paused their assault to wait for the mobs Alex Jones was bringing.)

The plan required six types of participants to make it work:

  • People (Trump, Rudy, and Mo Brooks) to rile up large numbers of normies
  • Someone (Alex Jones) to guide the normies to the Capitol, probably while communicating with the Proud Boys as they kicked off the riot
  • People at the Capitol (Proud Boys and associates) to tactically deploy the normies as a weapon, both to occupy the Capitol and to create a very real risk to the members of Congress
  • Members of Congress (Paul Gosar and others) willing to create conflict that could be exploited in any of a number of ways
  • Masses and masses of people who, starting even before the election, had been led to believe false claims that their country was under threat; those masses did two things:
    • Enter the Capitol, with a varied level of vocal enthusiasm for the mayhem occurring, and make it far more difficult for cops to put down the assault
    • “Smash some pigs to dust”

Had any of a number of things gone differently — had Ashli Babbitt not been shot and had the amped up Zach Alam chased just behind her through the Speaker’s Lobby door before members of Congress escaped; had Officer Eugene Goodman not done several things to prevent both Mitt Romney and Mike Pence from running into the mob; had counter-protestors come out in large numbers to create the excuse for street skirmishes made lethal by arsenals of weapons stashed nearby; had DOD delayed deployment of the Guard even further, allowing a planned second assault to take place — the coup might well have succeeded.

With that has background, let’s turn to the DOJ investigation thus far. Politico has done the best public accounting of sentences here (though I treat Zoe Tillman’s numbers, along with GWU’s, as canonical). As Politico shows, the vast majority of those who’ve been sentenced — and almost as significant a majority of those who’ve pled guilty so far — are trespassers.

The vast majority of people sentenced so far were MAGA tourists, lured to the Capitol by Trump’s speech and the momentum of the crowd. While a sizable number knew of plans to obstruct the vote certification in advance (and a significant number of people were permitted to plead down from obstruction), a bunch of them really did arrive for the speech and stay for the riot.

One example of that is Anthony Scirica, who followed the crowd to the Capitol and decided to enter the Capitol even though he heard a window breaking and alarms going off.

After listening to the speeches at the rally, SCIRICA, along with a group of individuals, walked to the U.S. Capitol from the West. 10. As SCIRICA approached the Capitol, he saw people on the steps and on the scaffolding outside of the Capitol. SCIRICA saw a large crowd in front of him, and he decided to push his way to the front to see what was happening. He watched as other individuals entered the Capitol. He decided that he want to see it for himself and see what was happening with his own eyes. He heard people yelling and shouting “U.S.A.” chants and “Stop the Steal.” He heard what he believed to be a window breaking. He also heard an alarm going off inside the Capitol. He decided to enter the Capitol any way.

Eliel Rosa went to DC as much for the anti-certification rallies as the Trump speech.

Eliel Rosa and Jenny Cudd traveled from Texas to Washington, D.C. to participate in “Stop the Steal” rallies or protests and to connect with other “Patriots.” Mr. Rosa and Ms. Cudd understood that on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. at the United States Capitol, elected members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate were meeting to certify the vote count of the Electoral College of the 2020 Presidential Election, which had taken place on November 3, 2020.

But even still, he attributed his trespassing to being swept up in “mob rule.”

Rosa blamed himself for his unauthorized entry into the U.S. Capitol and stated that he was caught up in “mob rule” at the time.

Kevin Blakely, who traveled to DC with friends, made new friends while waiting for Trump’s speech to start and then joined in to experience history (a common theme among some defendants).

The defendant and three others stood in the Ellipse for more than four hours before the rally started and met with other attendees. After President Trump’s speech, the defendant joined others as they began to walk toward the U.S. Capitol Building. [Blakely] made a detour and returned to the Hyatt Regency, where he was staying during his visit to Washington, D.C. From his hotel room, the defendant watched the crowd as they gathered outside the Capitol Building nad sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m., [Blakely] decided to “get closer and more fully experience this ‘once in a lifetime’ event.”

Even those who did go to the Capitol from Trump’s speech knew, from communications including Trump’s, that it would be a mob. Here’s what Blakely’s friend Paul Conover, who just recently pled guilty, said he was doing.

Prior to January 6, on or about December 24, 2020, defendant posted a message on social media that states in sum and substance: GOING TO WASHINGTON DC WITH BLAKEY [SIC] TO JOIN THE MOB JAN 5TH CMON JOIN US.

Conover appears to be one of the misdemeanants whose arrest DOJ prioritized because they took videos in key locations. After he busted through the East doors closely behind the Oath Keepers and Joe Biggs, Conover narrated as he took a video panning the Rotunda:

This is it, boys and girls. This is the Capitol. Apparently, there’s some crazy shit going on in the Senate today and the certification. They’ve had enough. Well, uh, here we are! Ha ha ha! I pray to god that nobody does any damage to the stuff in here, ’cause I’m not down with that. But I’m kind of, kind of proud of the people that stood up and said you know what? Enough.

The statement of offense for Stacie Getsinger, who described on Facebook going to the East steps because Alex Jones told a crowd that Trump would speak, offered few details, describing only that she “walked to onto U.S. Capitol grounds and up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol with others, including her husband John Getsinger. Once Getsinger got to the outside of the Rotunda North doors, she observed others engaged with law enforcement who tried to stop individuals from entering the U.S. Capitol building.”

Adam Johnson described how he went from hearing Mo Brooks call for violence to running towards the Capitol.

At the rally, JOHNSON listened to several speeches, including by former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and an unknown older member of Congress–the latter whom JOHNSON heard stating that it was time for action and violence. In response to these comments, JOHNSON saw members of the crowd nodding their heads in agreement.

Following these speeches, JOHNSON and. Person 1 began marching to the Capitol with the crowd. While marching, JOHNSON heard someone say “Pence didn’t do it.” JOHNSON also saw police running towards the Capitol and heard members of the crowd shout,”they broke into the Capitol!” JOHNSON and Person 1 started running towards the Capitol as well.

Others who came over from the Ellipse more explicitly discussed intimidating Congress. For example, here’s how Michael Stepakoff (who will be sentenced in coming days) narrated his approach to the Capitol.

So we’re marching up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol building. The Senate and House of Representatives are in session . . . There’s nothing like the presence of at least a million Americans who are fed up and pissed off and are not going to stand for having our vote stolen because it’s the sacred right of our people to be able to vote for our president . . . so a million strong, at least a million standing outside the Capitol, storming the gates, so to speak, is going to make them think twice about what they are going to do today . . . God bless America.

While some people cheered the violence and a few got away with violence DOJ only discovered after their plea, the majority of the almost 200 people who’ve pled guilty so far did not engage in violence. With a few exceptions, below, these people weren’t wittingly part of the more organized plans to storm the Capitol. They were the bodies turned into an orchestrated mob, in part by Trump’s tweets and other social media advertising, and in part by those channeling the mob at the Capitol.

If you want to prove Trump incited the riot, you would need to collect these individual stories to prove it. That’s not the only reason DOJ has prosecuted these people, but it does provide evidence showing how people responded to Trump’s calls after he riled them up.

Some of the movement operatives wandered to the Capitol too

Among those who’ve been permitted to plead to misdemeanors, even some that I’d call “movement operatives,” wandered to the Capitol.

For example, right wing podcaster William Tryon, plausibly described following the crowd to the Capitol after Trump’s speech. Frank Scavo, a local PA politician who arranged busses for 200 people to travel to DC, tied his decision to walk to the Capitol to Pence’s decision to certify the vote; he’s one of the defendants sentenced to a longer sentence than the government requested.

There are a few exceptions. America Firster, Leonard Ridge, unsurprisingly seemed to know there’d be an attempt to shut down the vote count ahead of time, telling a friend, “I think we are going to try to block the session of congress” (he was one of the people permitted to plead down from obstruction to the more serious trespassing charge).

Two cases defy explanation. Micajah Jackson, a Proud Boy who denied a pre-January 6 affiliation and continued to attend Proud Boy events during pretrial release, mentioned nothing about that in his statement of offense. We might find out more about this in February, when Jackson is due to be sentenced.

The statement of offense for Brandon Straka, who is perhaps the senior-most inciter-organizer to plead guilty thus far, describes only that Straka took the metro directly to the Capitol, where he was scheduled to speak: “Knowing that Congress was in session to certify the election results at the U.S. Capitol and that Vice President Pence intended to certify the election, Straka got off the metro on January 6, 2021 sometime between 2 p.m. and 2:20 p.m.”

It’s not clear how these men were given misdemeanor pleas, when they were clearly part of an organized attempt to prevent the transfer of power. There’s no sign either man cooperated before entering their pleas, though Straka’s sentencing has been held up because, “the defendant provided counsel for the government with information that may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation.” If the current schedule holds, Straka’s sentencing memos will come in tomorrow and he’ll be sentenced next week.

That said, movement operatives like Jackson and Straka are, thus far, the minority among those moving towards sentencing. Most were part of a self-described mob.

About half the felony pleas charged people who wandered to the Capitol

Even two of the three people who’ve pled guilty to assault thus far showed up without any pre-conceived plan to attack the Capitol. Devlyn Thompson, in an unsuccessful bid to use his autism diagnosis to get lenient treatment, described that he went to the Capitol because believed Trump would give another speech, a lie that motivated a good number of mobsters.

When I was leaving, my intention was to listen to another speech at the capitol. I had gotten text messages. I got a text that there was a planned speech. There was supposed to be two speeches at the capitol. One from an Arizona legislator and one from Women for Trump. I thought Alex Jones would be there and Trump.

After getting riled up by clashes between cops and rioters in the earlier part of the assault, Thompson joined in the Tunnel assault, eventually using a baton to hit one of the officers trying to help John Anderson respond to respiratory distress.

Robert Palmer similarly described being lured to the Capitol by a false belief in Trump’s claims.

In Mr. Palmer’s warped mind, on the day in question, he was acting as a patriot and for the good of the nation. While his intent was misplaced and his actions inexcusable, he sincerely believed that he was acting as a patriot on the day in question. Unfortunately, that mindset, coupled with the crowd mob effect, saw an otherwise law-abiding and successful father and business owner assault Capitol police.

Palmer was at the Capitol for hours, cheering the violence, before he got sucked in and participated in it by throwing a series of things at cops.

Just Scott Fairlamb, who was sentenced for punching a cop, clearly knew shit was going to go down in advance. He RTed a Steve Bannon prediction that “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” and asked, “How far are you willing to go to defend our Constitution?” Those statements are one of the reasons why Fairlamb, uniquely thus far, pled to both obstruction and assault and, if not for some mitigating circumstances that came out at sentencing, might have faced a terrorism enhancement.

There are two straight obstruction defendants sentenced so far, Paul Hodgkins and Jacob Chansley. Like many of the trespassers, Hodgkins simply followed the crowd after Trump’s speech (he was charged with a felony because he made it to the Senate floor).

Just Chansley, then, turned a central role in the right wing movement — importantly, as a celebrity in QAnon — into a key role obstructing the vote count and threatening Pence. There’s far more to say about the success QAnon had in mobilizing bodies to where they could be the most useful (and the Podcast Finding Q revealed that FBI was investigating that in the weeks after the attack). But the operational model by which people like Chansley got to the Senate floor is different than for other MAGA tourists who were turned onsite.

There are more known cooperators than straight felony pleas

To a great degree, this entire exercise is misleading, which is why pat comments from people trying to dismiss the investigation are so misleading. There are a number of reasons the stats skew where they are now: Obviously, people will plead to a misdemeanor more quickly than a felony. Virtually all of those charged with obstruction have been waiting for judges to rule on challenges to that application, and as those people move towards pleading out (as they have started to do), it still will take some weeks to finalize pleas. One reason for that hold-up: DOJ is only now making the final bits of global discovery available, without which many attorneys, for due diligence reasons, will not advise taking a plea.

A more important reason claims about who has been sentenced are misleading is that there have been more felony cooperators than straight felony pleas thus far. With two people convicted for making threats, there have been seven people who pled to a felony sentenced. There are nine overt cooperators (and presumably more we don’t know about). And while two cooperators — Josiah Colt and Gina Bisignano — are cooperating against their own limited network of more serious defendants, cooperation deals like Colt’s structured under 18 USC 371 networks into any larger conspiracy, potentially putting conspirators on the hook for the assaults of his co-conspirators. The other cooperating witnesses, though, have provided information about how the planners who’ve been in custody for most of a year — Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson for the Oath Keepers, Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean for the Proud Boys — and those who have not yet been arrested orchestrated the attack.

This was a fairly flat conspiracy, with Proud Boys on the scene implementing orders from Proud Boy leaders who are, themselves, just one degree from Donald Trump through people like Alex Jones and Roger Stone. In addition to the 17 plus four Oath Keepers charged in a conspiracy, there are several more Oath Keepers being prosecuted. In addition to the 16 Proud Boys plus one cooperator charged with conspiracy, there are a slew more arrested individually and in co-traveler groups (some of whom are at risk of being added to conspiracy charges once they’re formally charged) who can offer information about the funding for all this, what Proud Boy leaders were saying during the riot, and some key tactical organization. Some of the 3%ers charged so far networked with key right wing funders, January 5 speakers, and even Ted Cruz.

So yes, 700 people have been arrested so far, and half of those are normies whose non-violent presence was operationalized in a well-planned assault on the Capitol. Many of the 150 assault defendants were “normiecons [who] have no adrenaline control.” But 200 of the arrestees are accused of more witting participation in a plan to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and of those 100 have networked insight into how that worked. Those people haven’t been sentenced yet because discovery and legal challenges have delayed most from accepting plea offers.

The most chilling passage in any statement of offense, in my opinion, is Matthew Greene’s description of realizing — from his service in Afghanistan — the moment the mob turned into an insurrection.

Greene noticed that during and following the chanting, the mood in the crowd changed, and it reminded him of his time in Afghanistan while stationed there with the U.S. Army, when protests changed from peaceful to violent.

In the days and weeks after he recognized Americans turning insurgent in their own country, Greene returned home and started assembling a (seemingly illegal) arsenal and preparing for war.

He told another acquaintance in the days following the riot to be prepared to do uncomfortable things. He ordered over 2,000 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition and a gas mask. And he engaged in conversations with other Proud Boys on encrypted messaging platforms in which he stated a continuing desire to “take back our country” – in Greene’s own words, written in chat platforms post-January 6, “this is a 4th generation” war, and “we must stand together now or end up in the gulag separately.”

The effort to spark an insurrection at the Capitol was not one implemented by “foot solders,” but some highly trained veterans who were onsite, including an alarming number of Marines in most key tactical locations. And the network of people who stoked the normies to serve as useful bodies to this effort ties, via just one or two steps, right to Trump.

That’s the conspiracy DOJ has been investigating for a year.

Update: Took out detail that Straka was not at Ellipse. The key detail is he claims he took the Metro, didn’t walk.

DOJ Is Treating January 6 as an Act of Terrorism, But Not All January 6 Defendants Are Terrorists

It turns out that Ted Cruz is (partially) right: Some of the people who participated in January 6 are being treated as terrorists. But not all January 6 participants are terrorists.

Though, predictably, Cancun Ted misstates which insurrectionists have been or might be labeled as terrorists — in part out of some urgency to avoid calling himself or Tucker Carlson as such.

While some defendants accused of assaulting cops will, I expect, eventually be slapped with a terrorism enhancement at sentencing, thus far, the people DOJ has labeled terrorists have been key members of the militia conspiracies, including a number who never came close to assaulting a cop (instead, they intentionally incited a shit-ton of “normies” to do so).

Ted Cruz wants to treat those who threatened to kill cops as terrorists, but not those who set up the Vice President to be killed.

The problem is, even the journalists who know how domestic terrorism works are giving incomplete descriptions of how it is working in this investigation. For example, Charlie Savage has a good explainer of how domestic terrorism works legally, but he only addresses one of two ways DOJ is leveraging it in the January 6 investigation. Josh Gerstein does, almost as an aside, talk about how terrorism enhancements have already been used (in detention hearings), but then quotes a bullshit comment from Ethan Nordean’s lawyer to tee up a discussion of domestic terrorism as a civil rights issue. More importantly, Gerstein suggests there’s a mystery about why prosecutors haven’t argued for a terrorism enhancement at sentencing; I disagree.

As numerous people have laid out, domestic terrorism is defined at 18 USC 2331(5):

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States; and

As both Savage and Gerstein point out, under 18 USC 2332b(g)(5) there are a limited number of crimes that, if they’re done, “to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” can be treated as crimes of terrorism. One of those, 18 USC 1361, has been charged against 40-some January 6 defendants for doing over $1,000 of damage to the Capitol, including most defendants in the core militia conspiracies. Another (as Savage notes), involves weapons of mass destruction, which likely would be used if DOJ ever found the person who left bombs at the RNC and DNC. Two more involve targeting members of Congress or Presidential staffers (including the Vice President and Vice President-elect) for kidnapping or assassination.

If two or more persons conspire to kill or kidnap any individual designated in subsection (a) of this section and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished (1) by imprisonment for any term of years or for life,

There’s very good reason to believe that DOJ is investigating Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs for conspiring to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, starting on election day and continuing as he went to her office after breaking into the Capitol, so it’s not unreasonable to think we may see these two laws invoked as well, even if DOJ never charges anyone with conspiring to assassinate Mike Pence.

Being accused of such crimes does not, however, amount to being charged as a terrorist. The terrorist label would be applied, in conjunction with a sentencing enhancement, at sentencing. But it is incorrect to say DOJ is not already treating January 6 defendants as terrorists.

DOJ has been using 18 USC 1361 to invoke a presumption of detention with militia leaders and their co-conspirators, starting with Jessica Watkins last February. Even then, the government seemed to suggest Watkins might be at risk for one of the kidnapping statutes as well.

[B]ecause the defendant has been indicted on an enumerated offense “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government,” the defendant has been charged with a federal crime of terrorism as defined under 18 U.S.C §§ 2332b(g)(5). Therefore, an additional basis for detention under 18 U.S.C § 3142(g)(1) is applicable. Indeed, the purpose of the aforementioned “plan” that the defendant stated they were “sticking to” in the Zello app channel became startlingly clear when the command over that same Zello app channel was made that, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” Id. [my emphasis]

DOJ has invoked 18 USC 1361 as a crime of terrorism for detention disputes with the central Proud Boys conspirators as well. It’s unclear how broadly DOJ might otherwise do this, because another key figure who is an obvious a candidate for such a presumption, Danny Rodriguez (accused of tasing Michael Fanone and doing damage to a window of the Capitol), didn’t fight detention as aggressively as the militia members have, presumably because his alleged actions targeting Fanone clearly merit detention by themselves. That said, I believe his failed attempt to suppress his FBI interview, in which he admitted to helping break a window, was an attempt to limit his exposure to a terrorism enhancement.

We have abundant evidence that DOJ is using the threat of terrorism enhancement to get people to enter cooperation agreements. Six of nine known cooperators thus far (Oath Keepers Graydon Young, Mark Grods, Caleb Berry, and Jason Dolan, Proud Boy Matthew Greene, and SoCal anti-masker Gina Bisignano) have eliminated 18 USC 1361 from their criminal exposure by entering into a cooperation agreement. And prosecutor Alison Prout’s description of the plea deal offered to Kurt Peterson, in which he would trade a 210 to 262 month sentencing guideline for 41 to 51 months for cooperating, only makes sense if a terrorism enhancement for breaking a window is on the table.

You can’t say that DOJ is not invoking terrorism enhancements if most cooperating witnesses are trading out of one.

For those involved in coordinating the multi-pronged breaches of the Capitol, I expect DOJ will use 18 USC 1361 to argue for a terrorism enhancement at sentencing, which is how being labeled as a terrorist happens if you’re a white terrorist.

But there is another way people might get labeled as terrorists at sentencing, and DOJ is reserving the right to do so in virtually all non-cooperation plea deals for crimes other than trespassing. For all pleas involving the boilerplate plea deal DOJ is using (even including those pleading, as Jenny Cudd did, to 18 USC 1752, the more serious of two trespassing statutes), the plea deal includes this language.

the Government reserves the right to request an upward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4.

That’s a reference to the terrorism enhancement included in sentencing guidelines which envisions applying a terrorism enhancement for either (A) a crime involving coercion other than those enumerated under 18 USC 2332b or (B) an effort to promote a crime of terrorism.

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. [my emphasis]

The point is, you can have a terrorism enhancement applied even if you don’t commit one of those crimes listed as a crime of terrorism.

In a directly relevant example, the government recently succeeded in getting a judge to apply the latter application of this enhancement by pointing to how several members of the neo-Nazi group, The Base, who pled guilty to weapons charges, had talked about plans to commit acts of terrorism and explained their intent to be coercion. Here’s the docket for more on this debate; the defendants are appealing to the Fourth Circuit. This language from the sentencing memo is worth quoting at length to show the kind of argument the government would have to make to get this kind of terrorism enhancement at sentencing.

“Federal crime of terrorism” is defined at U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, app. note 1 and 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5). According to this definition, a “federal crime of terrorism” has two components. First, it must be a violation of one of several enumerated statutes. 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B). Second, it must be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(A). By § 3A1.4’s plain wording, there is no requirement that the defendant have committed a federal crime of terrorism. All that is required is that the crimes of conviction (or relevant conduct) involved or were intended to promote a federal crime of terrorism.

[snip]

To apply the enhancement, this Court needs to identify which specific enumerated federal crime(s) of terrorism the defendants intended to promote, and the Court’s findings need to be supported by only a preponderance of the evidence. Id.17

The defendants repeatedly confirmed, on tape, that their crimes were intended to promote enumerated federal crimes of terrorism. They intended to kill federal employees, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114. Exhibit 19; Exhibit 20; Exhibit 28; Exhibit 33; Exhibit 34; Exhibit 44; Exhibit 45. They intended to damage communication lines, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1362. Exhibit 37. They intended to damage an energy facility, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1366(a). Exhibit 30; Exhibit 35; Exhibit 36; Exhibit 45. They intended to damage rail facilities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1992. Exhibit 29; Exhibit 30; Exhibit 38; Exhibit 45. And they intended to commit arson or bombing of any building, vehicle, or other property used in interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). Exhibit 45.

Furthermore, there can be no serious dispute that the defendants’ intentions were “to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion.” Coercion and capitulation were core purposes of The Base. And specific to the defendants, they themselves said this is what they wanted. Exhibit 39 (“Desperation leads to martyr. Leads to asking what we want. Now that’s where we would have to simply keep the violence up, and increase the scope of our demands. And say if these demands are not met, we’re going to cause a lot of trouble. And when those demands are met, then increase them, and continue the violence. You just keep doing this, until the system’s gone. Until it can’t fight anymore and it capitulates.”). It was their express purpose to “bring the system down.” Exhibit 36

Given how many people were talking about hanging Mike Pence on January 6, this is not a frivolous threat for January 6 defendants. But as noted, such a terrorism enhancement doesn’t even require the plan to promote assassinating the Vice President. It takes just acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States and an attempt to coerce the government.

Contra Gerstein, I think there’s a pretty easy explanation for why the government hasn’t asked for a terrorism enhancement yet. The way the government is relying on obstruction to prosecute those who intended to prevent the peaceful transfer of power sets up terrorism enhancements for some of the most violent participants, but we’ve just not gotten to most of the defendants for whom that applies.

Thus far, there have been just three defendants who’ve been sentenced for assault so far, the acts “dangerous to human life” most at issue: Robert Palmer, Scott Fairlamb, and Devlyn Thompson. But Palmer and Thompson pled only to assault.

Fairlamb, as I noted at the time, pled guilty to both assault and obstruction. Unlike the two others, Fairlamb admitted that his intent, in punching a cop, was to, “stop[] or delay[] the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion.”

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.

Fairlamb, by pleading to assault and obstruction, admitted to both elements of terrorism: violence, and the intent of coercing the government.

On paper, Fairlamb made a great candidate to try applying a terrorism enhancement to. But the sentencing process ended up revealing that, on the same day that Fairlamb punched a cop as part of his plan to overturn the election, he also shepherded some cops through a mob in an effort, he said with some evidence shown at sentencing, to keep them safe.

That is, on paper, the single defendant to have pled guilty to both assault and obstruction looked like a likely candidate for a terrorism enhancement. But when it came to the actual context of his crimes, such an enhancement became unviable.

I fully expect that if the January 6 prosecution runs its course (a big if), then DOJ will end up asking for and getting terrorism enhancements at sentencing, both for militia members as well as some of the more brutal assault defendants, both for those who plead guilty and those convicted at trial. But in the case of assault defendants, it’s not enough (as Ted Cruz says) to just beat cops. With a goodly number of the people who did that, there’s no evidence of the intent to commit violence with the intent of disrupting the peaceful transfer of power. They just got swept up in mob violence.

I expect DOJ will only ask for terrorism enhancements against those who made it clear in advance and afterwards that their intent in resorting to violence was to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

But until that happens, DOJ has already achieved tangible results, both in detention disputes and plea negotiations, by invoking crimes of terrorism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. Vice President Pence Refuses to Overturn the Election Results

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump grimaced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave.

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

That’s important, because as the DOJ prosecutor guiding DOJ’s use of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to charge those who participated in the insurrection, James Pearce, has already noted, one way an unnamed person just like Trump might act corruptly would be by asking someone else to violate their duty: If that person, “calls Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way … knowing it is not an available argument [and is] asking the vice president to do something the individual knows is wrongful … one of the definitions of ‘corruptly’ is trying to get someone to violate a legal duty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

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

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

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, some background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that question is significantly a question about equity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His improper advantage was undoubtedly the goal.

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

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

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

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

Other Posts

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

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

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

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

Judge Tim Kelly Releases Opinion on Obstruction Affecting as Many as Two Dozen Proud Boys

Judge Tim Kelly released his order denying Ethan Nordean’s motion to dismiss the Proud Boys’ conspiracy indictment, a challenge largely focused on DOJ’s application of the obstruction statute to January 6 (here’s my Twitter thread on the opinion). The opinion cites Dabney Friedrich’s opinion in Sandlin seven times, Amit Mehta’s opinion in Caldwell three times, and Trevor McFadden’s opinion in Couy Griffin (on one of the trespassing charges) ten times, suggesting that DC District judges (three of them Trump appointees) are coming to a consensus approving the way DOJ has charged these January 6 cases.

Perhaps the most notable language in the opinion rejects a comparison Nordean tried to make with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court protests.

Arguing that the statute invites discriminatory enforcement, Defendants repeatedly point to charging decisions and plea deals related to other January 6 defendants, see ECF No. 226 at 12– 13, and the uncharged protestors on the Capitol steps during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, see ECF No. 113 at 13–16. But neither provides evidence of vagueness. Both merely show “the Executive’s exercise of discretion over charging determinations.” United States v. Fokker Servs. B.V., 818 F.3d 733, 741 (D.C. Cir. 2016). And “Supreme Court precedent teaches that the presence of enforcement discretion alone does not render a statutory scheme unconstitutionally vague.” Kincaid v. Gov’t of D.C., 854 F.3d 721, 729 (D.C. Cir. 2017); see also United States v. Griffin, — F. Supp. 3d —- , 2021 WL 2778557, at *7 (D.D.C. July 2, 2021) (rejecting argument that defendant’s prosecution was discriminatory given large numbers of similarly situated, uncharged individuals from January 6 and uncharged protestors at Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings). “As always, enforcement requires the exercise of some degree of police judgment, but, as confined, that degree of judgment here is permissible.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 114 (1972).

That’s because eventually Kavanaugh will get to weigh in on this issue, and because DOJ’s response to Nordean’s comparison was weaker than it should have been.

In a feat of procedural wizardry, Nordean already appealed today’s decision, yesterday, by sticking it onto an appeal of Kelly’s refusal to reopen bail.

The denial of his motion to dismiss normally would not be appealable until after trial (at which point Kavanaugh can have his say).

One reason Nordean may have done that is to attempt to stave off a flood of Proud Boys rushing to join Matthew Greene in pleading out. That’s because Judge Kelly’s decision will also apply to the following groups of Proud Boys and Proud Boy adjacent defendants whose cases he is also presiding over, as well as a number of others who might get added in if — as I expect — DOJ consolidates its Proud Boy conspiracy cases in the weeks ahead:

  • Nordean (4 defendants)
  • Pezzola (2 remaining defendants after Greene’s change of plea)
  • Chrestman (6 defendants)
  • Jackman (5 defendants charged individually with obstruction, but not with conspiracy)
  • Hughes (2 defendants)
  • Pruitt
  • Samsel (2 defendants)*

All defendants charged with obstruction have been waiting for these opinions. But as it happens, almost two dozen people currently or potentially charged with obstruction will be covered by this opinion. And if the attorneys are seeing the same signs of an imminent superseding Proud Boy indictment, if they don’t think there’ll be any fresh uncertainty from another judge, they may rush for the exits before that happens.

Thus far, with assistance from Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys have prevented the kinds of (visible) defections we’ve seen from the Oath Keepers. But this decision — coming at the same time as Greene’s plea deal — may change that.

*DOJ has been talking about consolidating Samsel’s case with that of Paul Johnson and Stephen Chase Randolph, along with another not-yet arrested defendant. If they do that, it would normally be kept under Judge Paul Friedman since he had the case first.

Update: Corrected McFadden’s first name.

Update: Judge Randolph Moss has also issued his opinion, similarly upholding the application of obstruction. Here’s my thread on it.

Chekhov’s Riot Shield: How Proud Boy Matthew Greene’s Cooperation Helps Prove the Conspiracy

In a chat among the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys on January 17, according to a June detention motion, Matthew Greene stated that, “we must stand together now or end up in the gulag separately.” Yesterday, Greene entered into a cooperation plea deal that may accelerate his transfer into a Federal prison and even contemplates witness protection.

The press has made much of Greene’s cooperation deal — and I agree that the first public cooperation agreement from a Proud Boy is newsworthy. But I think the press is overstating the singular importance of Greene’s plea deal, for two reasons.

Greene is the first (public) cooperator but there are probably more senior Proud Boys close to flipping

First, there is very good reason to believe there are other non-public Proud Boy cooperators (or people, like Greene, who have been discussing a plea deal for months but who have not yet publicly pled guilty). Tim Kelly, the Judge presiding over the most Proud Boy cases, only just revealed that he will uphold DOJ’s application of the obstruction charge (though he has yet to issue his opinion), which is likely to accelerate the public entry of plea deals from other Proud Boys close to flipping. In other words, Greene is the only cooperator we can point to docketed proof of, but there are others, almost certainly others who are better situated to expose the full contours of the senior Proud Boys’ plans for the Capitol.

The other reason Greene’s welcome cooperation is being overstated is because — as Greene’s statement of offense makes clear — the Proud Boys used a cell organization on January 6 and Greene was, by his own telling, just a “first-degree member of the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys,” making him one of the “least senior members.” But as I show below, that also means his cooperation is a good way of showing that a low level Proud Boy was aware of and following the instructions of the most senior Proud Boys.

To be clear: Greene’s statement of offense states that it “is not intended to constitute a complete statement of all facts known by Greene.” But the things that he does and appears not to know illustrates how DOJ is either going to need to flip one of the most senior Proud Boys and/or get cooperators from multiple different parts of the network to get a full understanding (and proof beyond a reasonable doubt) to describe all that the Proud Boys did on January 6.

That said, even given what is public, Greene’s cooperation will be useful in the following ways:

  • Confirming intent to obstruct the vote count by intimidating Mike Pence and others
  • Providing first-hand evidence on the “Front Door” conspiracy
  • Tying the Front Door cell to the Leader conspiracy
  • Describing the lead-up to January 6

Confirming intent to obstruct the vote count by intimidating Mike Pence and others

As this post explains, Greene’s intent statement confirms that:

  • The goal that day was to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress to get them to help Trump’s cause
  • Trespassing was one way to serve that goal of obstruction because it was more intimidating
  • The damage to the Capitol was a foreseeable consequence of the plan to obstruct the vote count

These three intent statements will be important in prosecuting other Proud Boys — and indeed, other rioters in January 6. They show that even low level Proud Boy participants understood this — and not some bullshit cover story about Antifa — to be the goal.

Providing first-hand evidence on the “Front Door” conspiracy

As a reminder, Greene was indicted, along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, in what I’ve dubbed the “Front Door” conspiracy. The three were indicted together, it appears, because they’re all from NY (though Pepe is from a different chapter of the Proud Boys) and DOJ has a witness who spent time with them after the riot on January 6 who shared that they had said they would have gone after Pelosi or Pence had they found them.

The FBI also spoke to a witness, referred to as W-1 for purposes of this memorandum. W1 stated that Greene was one of a group of individuals who told W-1 about what they did on January 6. According to W-1, members of this group said that anyone they got their hands on they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi.5 W-1 further stated that members of this group, which included Greene, said that they would have killed [Vice President] Mike Pence if given the chance.

The Front Door conspiracy is utterly critical because the terrorism enhancement hanging over all the other Proud Boys charged with conspiracy goes through the stolen shield with which Pezzola broke a window in the first breach of the Capitol.

While I expect some consolidation among the Proud Boy cases in the near future, DOJ needs this prosecution to succeed because it gives them leverage over the other Proud Boys they’re using to get other conspirators to cooperate.

And Greene’s statement of offense does provide evidence that he and Pezzola and Pepe entered into an agreement to obstruct the vote count and took overt steps, in concert, to make that happen. It describes that Greene:

  • Made hotel reservations with his chapter of the Proud Boys and drove from Syracuse with them — including Pezzola — to DC.
  • Allowed Pepe, who showed up overnight, to sleep on his floor.
  • Programmed the Baofeng radios used by the Central New York Proud Boys (which also means Greene shared a channel with Pezzola and therefore heard what Pezzola was hearing).
  • Eschewed Proud Boys colors.
  • Traveled with Pezzola throughout the day, including through the first toppled barricade to a line of fences, away from there (in what researchers believe was a regrouping effort to wait for more numbers), then up the stairs.
  • Stayed at the same hotel as Pezzola and Pepe after the riot (as demonstrated by security footage from the hotel).

Tying the Front Door cell to the Leader conspiracy

As noted above, in the Proud Boys hierarchy, Greene was just a schlub, a first level Proud Boy just weeks into joining the organization.

But that makes him useful for showing that orders issued by Enrique Tarrio, Joe Biggs, and Ethan Nordean trickled down to him. The order not to wear Proud Boy colors, for example, is one Tarrio and Biggs issued publicly. Greene followed that order.

Similarly, around 9:30PM on January 5, the Leader co-conspirators agreed to set the meetup point on the side of the Washington Monument facing the White House at 10AM. This agreement is part of the proof they had entered into a conspiracy with each other.

The next day, Greene, this schlub from Syracuse, followed these instructions.

On the morning of January 6, 2021, Greene, along with Pezzola, Pepe, and the others he had traveled with from Syracuse, met up at the Washington Monument with members of the Proud Boys from across the country, as instructed by Proud Boys leadership. As also instructed by leadership, neither Greene, Pezzola, Pepe, nor any of the other individuals in their group wore the Proud Boys’ traditional colors of black and yellow.

Greene, Pezzola, and the others they traveled with from Syracuse, then followed the Proud Boys leadership in departing from the Washington Monument and marching on the National Mall towards the U.S. Capitol.

In other words, precisely because someone so low level was obviously following instructions developed in private by the Proud Boys’ top leadership, it ties the Syracuse cell with the Leadership cell in the same conspiracy.

And one remarkable moment of Greene’s testimony demonstrates this particularly well. His statement of offense describes that,

After Pezzola had stolen a riot shield belonging to the U.S. Capitol Police, Greene followed him away from the scene of the robbery, through the crowd, away from the Capitol, and to the back of the West Plaza. During this journey, Pezzola met up and traveled with at least two other individuals, one of whom jointly carried the riot shield with Pezzola.

It appears that Greene did not know — perhaps still does not know — who the person carrying the shield with Pezzola was. It was Charles Donohoe, one of the four people currently charged in the Leader Conspiracy.

This moment is like the Chekhov’s Riot Shield of the entire January 6, the moment where the crucial weapon (in this case, that would inflict the damage to the Capitol window that puts all the co-conspirators on the hook for terrorism enhancements) shows up early in the story as if foretelling where the story will (and in this case, did) go. Greene is a witness to this moment. But by witnessing it this way, with no idea of Donohoe’s seniority, Greene again demonstrates how the actions of low level Proud Boys tie directly up with its top leadership.

And Greene’s experience in DC tied to the most senior Proud Boy, Tarrio. His statement of offense notes that as Greene was setting the Baofeng’s, Pezzola told Greene that Tarrio would stop by to have his own radio programmed as well.

Pezzola told Greene that the National Chairman of the Proud Boys would stop by to have his radio programmed, but the National Chairman did not in fact stop by, nor did Greene program his radio.

This seems to prove that Pezzola was in touch, personally, with Tarrio on that confusing day as the Proud Boys attempted to regroup after Tarrio’s arrest, but not in such close touch that Pezzola knew immediately that Tarrio had moved to Baltimore after his release and stay-away order. It might suggest that Tarrio was on the Baofeng’s that day, in addition to participating in the Telegram chat. If DOJ can prove that, then it makes it a lot easier to charge Tarrio personally.

Describing the lead-up to January 6

As Greene’s statement of offense describes it, he only joined the Proud Boys after the December 12, 2020 MAGA March.

As of January 6, 2021, Greene was a first-degree member of the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys. He had officially joined the group following a rally that took place in Washington D.C. in December 2020.

A detention filing for Pezzola suggests this was his first Proud Boy event as well.

[D]efendant’s only other “action” as a Proud Boy was that on December 12, 2020, he attended a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) rally in support of then President Trump. There is no alleged criminal activity by defendant in relation to that event. This occurred shortly after defendant’s introduction to the Proud Boys. Upon information and belief, his only other activity as a Proud Boy was discussing politics over drinks at bars on occasion.

As Greene’s detention memo made clear, Greene met Pezzola in the early days of joining the group, possibly in DC.

The FBI also recovered a photograph of a group of Proud Boys, apparently taken inside a bar, which metadata indicates was taken in December 2020, that includes both Greene and Pezzola.

Greene’s statement of offense describes that he decided to attend January 6 in response to Trump’s call on December 19.

On December 19, 2021, when Greene saw then-President Donald Trump’s tweet referencing a “wild” protest to take place on January 6, 2021, he decided that he would attend the event, and he booked a hotel in Washington, D.C. for January 5-7, 2021.

On December 20, Greene ordered some AR-15 magazines that may cause legal trouble in NY (and was one of the key reasons why Greene was held in pre-trial detention). 

The FBI also located a camouflage tactical vest filled with eight detachable magazines for an AR-15 (Hr’g Ex. 2-4). Each of the eight magazines with loaded with 30 rounds of AR-15 ammunition. Although undersigned counsel does not practice law in the state of New York, I have been informed by a New York State Police officer, who is cross-designated to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and participated in the search, that Greene’s possession of the AR-15 and the detachable magazines was illegal under New York state law

FBI’s review of the defendant’s Gmail account as contained on his personal phone that was seized in connection with the January 18 search warrant, revealed that the defendant placed the following orders, among others: (1) six AR-15 magazines, ordered on December 20

Over the following weeks, Greene planned with the other NY State Proud Boys (presumably including Pezzola and, given that this appears to have been state-wide, Pepe).

In advance of January 6, 2021, Greene coordinated with Pezzola and other members of the Proud Boys to make plans to come to Washington, D.C. for the events surrounding January 6. Greene used an encrypted messaging application and was part of planning channel among Proud Boy chapters from New York State whose members planned to come to Washington, D.C.

As this was happening, Pezzola appears to have deepened ties to the national organization. A government response to a Pezzola detention motion shows that Tarrio used an image of Pezzola — labeled “Lords of War” — to advertise for J6 and J20.

I have repeatedly noted that DOJ has remained coy about the role that the December MAGA March and the January 5 events had as crucial networking and planning events to prepare for January 6. But Greene was obviously part of that. Greene, in part because he shows how someone could join up and then play a role that intersected with top leaders of the group, encapsulates that process personally.

And, importantly, he shows how Trump and Tarrio were key motivators in that process.

As a cooperator, Matthew Greene won’t be able to tell prosecutors what top Proud Boys were planning. Nor will he be able to reveal how top Proud Boys networked with Trump’s associates and coordinated a plan for January 6. But he does offer proof that low level Proud Boys were in a conspiracy with the group’s top leadership. And his testimony will make it more likely that others will also cooperate.

On January 17, Greene called for the Proud Boys to stand together. His cooperation with prosecutors will make it more likely that others will “end up in the gulag,” together.

Three Crimes Included in Proud Boy Matthew Greene’s Intent Statement

I’m writing a post on the limits of Matthew Greene’s knowledge of the larger Proud Boy plot on January 6, and therefore the bounds of his value as a cooperator (though his cooperation is really important, not least because it’ll lead others to follow his lead). Before I do so, I wanted to talk about the long motive paragraph included in his statement of offense.

He attested under oath yesterday that his intent on January 6 was to cause legislators and Mike Pence to act differently — implicitly, to either not certify any winner of the electoral college or name Trump the winner.

Greene’s intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President Pence. Greene knew the 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 College 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, than if Green and others had stayed outside the restricted area. Green knew that the Capitol grounds he intended to enter were lawfully guarded by U.S. Capitol Police at the time he entered. Greene agrees that a reasonable foreseeable outcome, based on all the circumstances, taking into account the actions of other individuals, including Pezzola and Pepe, of his joining with members of the Proud Boys, to charge up the pedestrian walkway, into the West Plaza, and up the stairs under the Inauguration stage was that destruction of and/or damage to the U.S. Capitol or Capitol Grounds property would occur. [my emphasis]

This intent statement ties together several crimes used against a good many of the rioters on January 6, and not just Proud Boys:

Obstruction: The intent to cause Pence and others to act differently fulfills the mens rea requirement for obstruction. It does so in a transitive way, meaning the intent was to intimidate other people to act in a way counter to what their duty and justice demanded. That’s interesting because Judge Amit Mehta’s opinion on obstruction saw the mens rea requirement as intransitive. While this intent statement has evidence of intransitive mens rea as well, I think intimidation is the strongest application of obstruction on January 6. This, then, is a low level Proud Boy stating that the point of the riot was to intimidate Pence and others to get them to act a certain way.

Damage to the Capitol: As I have discussed repeatedly, the government is using the damage done to the Capitol, specifically the window that Dominic Pezzola broke in the first breach of the Capitol, to get to a terrorist enhancement that may expose defendants to far longer sentences. DOJ needs to prove that the damage Pezzola and others did was a reasonably foreseeable outcome of their efforts to obstruct the vote count to hold all the Proud Boys charged as co-conspirators accountable for the damage that Pezzola did. Here, Greene admits that that damage was foreseeable, and therefore exposes Pezzola, along with all the Proud Boys charged as co-conspirators, to that terrorist enhancement.

Trespassing: While there are ways that Greene’s cooperation is limited, it is significant that the first Proud Boy entering into a cooperation agreement did not enter the Capitol, as Greene did not. That’s because his intent statement adopts a broader understanding of the geographic area that might be deemed to contribute to the obstruction, to include the restricted area outside the building. This means it might incorporate others, like 3%er Guy Reffitt, Oath Keeper associates Thomas Caldwell and Bennie Parker, anti-masker Alan Hostetter, and Pied Piper of insurrection Alex Jones, in the scope of obstructive behavior, even if they didn’t enter the building. To be sure, DOJ will need to similarly prove the intent of each of these people; but by adopting this intent statement, Greene adopts it as the scope envisioned by the Proud Boys, the organizers of the entire assault.

Broken Windows Policing and January 6 Plea Deals

Before Proud Boy Matthew Greene entered into a cooperation plea deal yesterday — the January 6 investigation event that generated a lot of press attention — something else happened that helps to explain the Greene (and most other) pleas thus far.

In a status hearing for Kurt Peterson, AUSA Alison Prout described that the government had offered Peterson a plea deal that she wanted to put on the record. He could plead guilty, Prout explained, to one count of obstruction, which would give him a guidelines range of 41 to 51 months. That compares to the sentence he faces if he were to go to trial on the other 7 counts, including a destruction of government property count, which Prout claimed might be 210 to 262 months. Prout claimed there had even been a meeting in Louisville to discuss such a deal and explicitly acknowledged the plea would include cooperation.

Only after that did Peterson’s attorney, Laura Wyrosdick, ask that the hearing — which I had just tweeted out in real time — be sealed to hide the discussion of cooperation.

Whatever effect Prout’s comments will have on her ability to finalize a plea deal with Peterson, she has confirmed something I pointed out when Graydon Young pled guilty. The government is using the terrorism enhancement that can come with 18 USC 1361 charges for damage to government property to convince people to plead to the obstruction charges and gain their cooperation. And because Peterson broke a window while at the Capitol, such a deal will look preferable by comparison.

It’s unclear what the government believes he can offer in cooperation (though the meeting in Louisville suggests he has already proffered testimony). On Facebook after the riot, he revealed he, “was with 3 men who had served our country in special forces. All of us in our sixties. They were patriots and not an [sic] anarchists.” Thus far, just two Special Forces veterans, Jeffrey McKellop and Jeremy Brown, have been arrested so far. McKellop would likely would be younger than his 60s (he completed 22 years of service in 2010) and I think Brown would be too. So it may be DOJ has an interest in Peterson’s co-travelers.

It’s also possible DOJ wants Peterson’s testimony about the attempts to break into, first, the House Chamber and then the Speaker’s Lobby. He was present as Ashli Babbitt was killed (and claimed to be calling the crowd to stop, though that doesn’t show up on the video I’ve seen). He’s not being prosecuted by AUSA Candice Wong in the group of men from that scene that seem to be clustered together. If that’s the case, then the government would be seeking to use the testimony of someone who had himself damaged the building to help prosecute men (at least Zach Alam, the guy who punched through the Speaker’s Lobby door) who likely do merit a terrorism enhancement for their efforts to hunt down members of Congress.

We’ll see whether Peterson ultimately decides to cooperate. But a similar calculation seems to have convinced Matthew Greene to flip on his Proud Boys.

Greene was charged, along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, in what I call the “Front Door Proud Boys Conspiracy,” for the way the three of them worked towards Pezzola’s breach of a Northwest window, the first breach of the building on January 6. Greene was charged with conspiracy to obstruct the vote count (18 USC 371), obstruction (18 USC 1512(c)(2)), civil disorder (18 USC 231), destruction of government property (18 USC 1361, the charge that can carry a terrorism enhancement), as well as three trespassing counts.

His plea agreement shows that he pled to conspiracy — which the plea agreement claims included both obstruction and civil disorder (the first indictment did include both) — and the obstruction charge. Rather than a separate charge for vicarious responsibility for Pezzola’s break of the window (on an abetting charge), that liability is added to the obstruction charge as an “offense involving property damage.” At the hearing yesterday, it was said his guidelines range would be 41 to 51 before accounting for the cooperation.

That is, Matthew Greene made effectively the same deal that Peterson is contemplating, though he was probably working from a much higher guidelines range because of the additional civil disorder charge, not to mention possible weapons violations based off an AR-15 seized at his arrest.

Curiously, Greene’s written plea agreement still permits the government to request a terrorism enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4, which normally is being taken out of cooperation plea deals. But the entire proceeding yesterday was dismayingly discombobulated, with the plea itself just signed by Greene’s attorney and some clauses in the elements of the offense requiring tweaking. So it’s possible the prosecutors just used boilerplate and forgot to take that out. Greene’s attorney, Michael Kasmarek, spoke about the detailed discussions he has had with prosecutors, so he seems to trust them, but I’d still make sure everything were better captured in writing.

Perhaps it reflects the overwhelming workload of this investigation (the Proud Boys team has significantly fewer prosecutors — at least that have noticed appearances — than the team prosecuting the Oath Keepers), but I remain concerned that the team prosecuting the Proud Boys seems less organized than a bunch of the people prosecuting non-militia trespassers.

Greene’s deal differs from others thus far in that he’s moving immediately to sentencing on March 10 (he’s the only publicly identified cooperator in custody), with the understanding that even after sentencing the government may file for another downward departure while he serves his sentence.

The plea agreement contemplates the possibility of witness protection.

Update: Corrected to add Jeremy Brown as a Special Forces arrestee.

Update: Gina Bisignano’s August plea agreement has now been released. She, too, dodged the property damage crime by cooperating. She also faces the same 41 to 51 month sentence.

Three Tea Leaves in Judge Tim Kelly’s Matthew Greene Detention Decision

Judge Tim Kelly, the judge presiding over most of the Proud Boy cases, just ruled that Matthew Greene must remain detained until his trial as a threat to the community. Greene’s defense attorney Michael Kasmarek made a compelling argument that the things Greene did at the Capitol weren’t as bad as some other defendants and a witness who testified that Greene had suggested they would have killed Nancy Pelosi if they had found her is unreliable (here is his brief). Prosecutor Erik Kenerson argued that the things Greene did since January 6 — such as stocking up on ammunition and calling for war — were the things that merited detention (here’s the government brief).

It didn’t help Greene that since these filings New York State indicted him because some of the guns he possessed when the FBI showed up were not legal in NY.

But I found the hearing most interesting for how Kelly got to the decision and something he said along the way.

First, after Kenerson said that two of the defendants were at least considering pleading, Kelly said he didn’t think he’d rule on the co-defendant William Pepe’s pending motions — a motion to dismiss the obstruction count, a motion to sever Pepe from Greene and Dominic Pezzola, and a motion to transfer the case out of DC — until after defendants decided they were going to trial.

Given my focus on pending challenges to the obstruction count, it’s significant that Kelly would defer ruling on it. According to a list of all the pending 1512 challenges submitted to Judge Randolph Moss by Brady Knowlton, Kelly has similar challenges from Ethan Nordean (which I wrote about here) and Joshua Pruitt.

But two other comments Kelly made suggest it may not matter.

As he began his analysis of the detention decision for Greene, he noted that the obstruction charge he and the others face may carry a sentence of up to 20 years; he characterized the charged crime as the obstruction of the peaceful transfer of power and described it as a gravely serious crime.

That doesn’t sound like the language of a judge who finds the obstruction charge inapt.

And then from that discussion Kelly described how the damage to the window of the Capitol he is charged with as a co-conspirator of Pezzola carries a terrorism enhancement.

It does — I’ve written about it several times, and such allegations have been before Kelly since a detention dispute for Pezzola in February. But I don’t remember Kelly emphasizing it as much in the past.

To be very clear: Kelly was talking about these legal implications in terms of what the grand jury had decided to charge these Proud Boys with. He wasn’t judging that the Proud Boys are terrorists; rather, he is noting that the grand jury charged them in such a way to be treated as such.

Still, it reflected a thought process I don’t recall him expressing in the same way before. And that’s of particular interest, because Kelly ruled Greene should stay in jail almost entirely because of the risk he — and the Proud Boys — posed going forward.

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.