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The Eight Month Investigation into the January 6 Investigation Didn’t End in March

I was going to hold off responding to this Spencer Ackerman op-ed in the NYT — which attempts to superimpose conclusions of his book onto ensuing events that have disproven some of his predictions — until I finish a half-written review of the book itself (tl;dr: it’s a great history of the war on terror, but entirely unpersuasive as to its main argument and especially sloppy when it attempts to discuss politics). But I got a bit fed up by the way he claims to be speaking about the response to January 6 with an op-ed that doesn’t incorporate anything more recent than March.

“Eight months later, there is no political response to the insurrection at all,” — Spencer claims, linking an article dated March 26 reporting, “Dem Hearings Bend Over Backward to Ignore GOP Complicity in Capitol Riot –“only a security response aimed at its foot soldiers.” That’s his most recent reference in the entire op-ed, as demonstrated by the links he uses:

Elissa Slotkin: 2/1/21

Somali plot: 1/25/19

Somali plot: 10/14/16

Mike Flynn: 7/9/16

Trump on terrorism: 8/15/16

Trump’s birtherism: 9/19/15

How the January 6 insurrectionists saw themselves: 1/5/21

Veterans: 2/4/21

Non-veteran Mariposa Castro declaring war: 1/21/21

Describing the Jan 6 investigation based on what Michael Sherwin’s comments about sedition, while ignoring what he said about holding everyone accountable: 1/13/21

[Sherwin’s resignation: 3/23/21]

Trump sent them: 1/9/21

Opting against 14A: 2/3/21

Dems on empowering the FBI: 2/5/21

DOJ seeking new domestic terror powers: 2/26/21

Slotkin again on monitoring domestic extremists: 3/23/21

“I am not a terrorist:” 1/13/21

Spencer makes no mention of any of the developments you’d look at to understand how the Biden Administration was responding to January 6, including:

  • A new domestic terrorism response that includes social media monitoring of the sort that might have prevented the attack on the Capitol, but few of the other things Spencer and others have never stopped predicting since January 6.
  • A discussion of the actions of the January 6 Select Committee, on which committee Elissa Slotkin (the Democrat Spencer quoted twice and on whom his book focuses) doesn’t sit. The committee has provided a way around the need to placate Republicans trying to avoid angering Trump, to say nothing of committees (like the House Oversight Committee) packed with key figures in the events of January 6. The committee has already moved to obtain the records of the people that Spencer claims have escaped accountability.
  • A description of Merrick Garland’s repeated comments, starting in his February 22 confirmation hearing and continuing since, that DOJ would go where the evidence leads, including to those who incited it. Garland’s DOJ has also found important ways to avoid sheltering Mo Brooks (and by association all other people who were Federal employees the day of the riot, as Trump was), and to waive executive privilege to allow multiple investigations into Trump’s actions to proceed.
  • How DOJ under Merrick Garland and Lisa Monaco has approached the January 6 investigation, notably with its use of the unpoliticized obstruction statute to charge felonies rather than (thus far at least) sedition, the use of interlocking conspiracies that have already started incorporating some organizers and which could easily be used with Trump and his flunkies, and the possibility of terrorism enhancements that would be decided at sentencing, by judges, rather than by categorical application at the start of investigation.

There are definitely ways that the two decade war on terror played a big role on January 6.

More important than the 22 veterans charged by early February is which figures in the organizing conspiracies applied their military experience to ensuring the success of the operation. Key among those is former Staff Sargeant Joe Biggs, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before he went on to play a key propaganda role in the 2016 election; as I’ve described, Biggs was at the head of both major fronts (East Side, West Side) of the attack, and his network incorporates the key organizers of the larger event. Charles Donohoe, Dominic Pezzola, Gabriel Garcia, Jessica Watkins, and Joshua James are other veterans who allegedly turned their war on terror training to play key roles leading an attack on the Capitol. The second front of the attack on the Capitol that Biggs seemed to have anticipated was opened — either coincidentally, or not — by a bunch of Marines, including one on active duty.

If you’re going to talk about the import of the war on terror on January 6, you also have to talk about the mental scars that veterans have brought back. That was made spectacularly clear by Landon Copeland’s PTSD-driven meltdown in a detention hearing. But even Jacob Chansley’s mental illness has ties to his service. These two are not alone among the men and women whose service scars led them to embrace the false promises Donald Trump was offering.

In his book, Spencer rightly complains about the Wanted Dead or Alive rhetoric motivating the War on Terror. He also complains about an, “obsession with the baroque, fragmentary details of what became #Russiagate,” (mistaking the equally baroque counter-propaganda hashtag for those focusing in varying degrees of obsessiveness on the investigation itself) that nevertheless ended with Bill Barr corruptly intervening to protect Trump. But Spencer apparently feels the best way to deal with something else — a plodding, but ambitious, attempt to conduct a law enforcement investigation from the attack itself to its kingpins — is to largely ignore it even while claiming to speak for it.

The January 6 investigation, even in conjunction with the Select Committee, will not fix all the problems with the War on Terror. The two together may not hold the most powerful culprits for January 6 accountable — but that’s not for lack of ambition to do just that. But — in large part because this is an investigation of mostly-white people, which goes to the core of how America’s racism and other demons almost brought down its democracy and still could — it looks more like how the US should have responded to the 9/11 attack and not the caricature that Spencer arrives at by ignoring the last six months.

Following 600 cases as DOJ meticulously obtains the camera footage to see how Alex Jones lured unwitting participants to a second front or attempts to document whether key militia members made an attempt on Nancy Pelosi’s life is not sexy. But it’s what Spencer claims we should have done in response to 9/11.

The Available Evidence Says Merrick Garland *Is* Prosecuting Controversial Cases from Trump Years

I’m waiting for the arraignment hearing for the Chair of the former President’s Inauguration Committee, which I thought would be a good time to respond to this Jennifer Rubin column that starts by discussing whether DOJ will rule that Mo Brooks’ actions related to the insurrection are his job (and therefore DOJ must substitute themselves for Brooks as a defendant); as Michael Stern laid out, that question is actually a complex one legally.

But Rubin goes from there, a civil lawsuit, to conclude that that Merrick Garland is “determined to sweep” Trump’s misconduct around January 6 “under the rug.” She goes from there to conclude that Garland is “refusing prosecution of controversial cases from the Trump years.”

We are not talking only about Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 or about possible misconduct (e.g., obstruction of justice, misleading courts) in the Justice Department that Garland seems determined to sweep under the rug. Trump’s attempts to strong-arm Michigan and Georgia election officials after he lost the 2020 election were not only a violation of his oath but also may have violated state and federal law prohibiting election fraud and manipulation.

In the case of Georgia, we have Trump on tape telling the secretary of state to “find” enough votes for him to win. What stronger indication of a serious election crime could possibly exist? So far the Justice Department seems to have left any investigation to the Fulton County prosecutor, who unsurprisingly has more pressing priorities. There is no legitimate reason for the feds’ refusal to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute Trump for conduct that no other president in history ever contemplated. If any other American’s participation in this set of facts would prompt a serious federal investigation, Garland must not exempt the former president. That is the meaning of “no one is above the law.”

Garland may think he is attempting to avoid politics by refusing prosecution of controversial cases stemming from the Trump years. If so, he has it backward. If the current president wants to pardon individuals from the previous administration for political reasons, that is his prerogative — not Garland’s. Especially when it comes to any post-election conduct abetting sedition and attempting to corrupt the ballot tabulation, we need an attorney general to aggressively pursue facts and bring actions against Trump and his supporters where warranted. If not, Garland would have inadvertently affirmed Trump’s argument that he was above the law.

As noted above, I’m on hold awaiting the arraignment for Tom Barrack, believed to be worth around a billion dollars and someone whose business ties to Trump go back four decades, on charges that he served as an agent (not a lobbyist!) for the United Arab Emirates to change the policy of the United States to benefit that country.

Now’s a good time to respond to this column, I guess, and all the hundreds like it, not least because it’s insane to say that Garland is refusing controversial prosecutions when he is prosecuting this one (and investigating Rudy Giuliani, in spite of serving as the former President’s lawyer while he was President).

Not only is the fact that this case is being prosecuted evidence that Garland is not shying away from such prosecutions, but it tells us two more things about any hypothetical controversial prosecutions.

First, even for a prosecution that was largely set to go over a year ago, those cases might not be charged — for whatever reason — yet, 137 days into Garland’s tenure. (It’s worth noting that grand juries have been backed up on account of COVID.) So it’s too early to say whether Garland is refusing to prosecute other controversial cases, in addition to this one, because for any such prosecution that wasn’t all wrapped up in a bow over a year ago, it might still take some investigative work.

Additionally, this case didn’t leak!! Unlike Billy Barr’s hyper-politicized DOJ, we’re not getting leaks about what’s coming via Sidney Powell or other Fox News talking heads.

So even if there were ten more similarly controversial prosecutions coming down the pike, we might not know about them. Which is how it’s supposed to be.

Both item one — prosecutions take time — and item two — with the exception of Michael Sherwin’s public support for sedition charges, in response to which Garland referred him to OPR for investigation, Garland’s DOJ is not leaking like a sieve — presumably also apply to any investigations involving Trump and those close to him that didn’t take place 4 years ago.

What I do know is that Garland has repeatedly told prosecutors to go wherever the evidence leads on January 6. What I also know is that the complex militia conspiracy cases most likely to lead in that direction (as well as the one defendant who was discussed by the President’s lawyer) are making progress, in the Oath Keeper case, at a faster clip than many of the other prosecutions. What I also know is that complex conspiracy cases take time, more than seven months.

I get that people have gripes about the decisions Garland made about sustaining the Barr DOJ’s position on civil cases. But you simply cannot draw conclusions from that about whether Garland is opposing certain prosecutions. The only evidence we have so far — in cases taking aggressive actions against the former President’s lawyer and the former President’s long-time friend — is that Garland is happy to let prosecutors pursue cases for which they have evidence.

Update: I want to add one more point because people seem to believe that unless Garland appoints a Special Counsel, there’s no way DOJ is investigating the controversial cases. That misunderstands why Special Counsels get appointed: not because cases are important, but because DOJ or a particular prosecutor has a conflict that must be managed in some other way. There’s no known conflict for any potential Trump investigations, so we shouldn’t expect a Special Counsel.

Update: Thanks to those who pointed out I had made Rudy Trump’s client instead of his lawyer.

Update: Because a bunch of people on Twitter appear to continue to believe the false claim that Garland declined Wilbur Ross’ prosecution for lying to Congress, I’m going to link to this post noting that the declination happened under Billy Barr and also noting that DOJ IG likely had their own investigation into the allegations the outcome of which is not yet public.

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald Are Outraged that Bill Barr Set Up Antifa!!!! [Just Kidding]

You’ve no doubt seen the conspiracy theory championed by Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald claiming that the unnamed Oath Keeper associates described in those indictments are actually FBI informants.


As happened with earlier propaganda campaigns (notably the one downplaying Brian Sicknick’s death), the conspiracy theory started with Revolver News, got magnified by Tucker Carlson, and got normalized by Glenn Greenwald (the latter of whose central role largely escaped attention because commentators don’t identify him, yet, as a right wing propagandist).In his first appearance, Carlson grotesquely accused Sharon Caldwell, who was described in later Oath Keeper documents as Person Two but was identified clearly in earlier documents by her first name and as Thomas Caldwell’s spouse, of being an informant who framed her husband.

Person Two and Person Three were organizers of the riot. The government knows who they are. But the government has not charged them. Why is that? You know why. They were almost certainly working for the FBI. So FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6, according to government documents. And those two are not alone! In all Revolver News reported there were, quote, “upwards of 20 unindicted co-conspirators in the Oath Keepers indictments, all playing various roles in the conspiracy, who have not been charged for virtually the exact same activities — and in some cases much, much more severe activities — as those named alongside them in indictments.”

Huh????

So it turns out that this white supremacist insurrection was, again, by the government’s own admission in these documents organized at least in part, by government agents.

This little campaign has led compromised members of Congress to embrace this excuse for the insurrection they previously have claimed was not an insurrection at all.


Thomas Caldwell’s wife, Sharon, is Person Two

To show that “Person Two,” whom Tucker Carlson alleges for framing Thomas Caldwell, is actually his wife, Sharon, you can compare this filing, where her name is not redacted, with this one, where “Person Two” has substituted for her name.

1. Sharon Caldwell is Thomas’ wife:

2. “Sharon and I are setting up shop there” (at the Comfort Inn Ballston) and then “Sharon and I are going our way.”

3. “Sharon was right with me!”

Later filings over release conditions confirm the selfies posted to Facebook were of Thomas’ wife, describe Thomas agreeing to be accompanied by his wife, Sharon, to Sunday Mass starting on Easter, expressing concern that his wife has to do all the chores on their 30-acre farm which has led to the loss of farm income, and describing that he rarely travels anywhere without his wife, Sharon Caldwell, and she’s willing to go with him every time he does leave their property.


Glenn and Tucker must be outraged that Billy Barr set up Antifa

Parts of this campaign are pathetic, even for the men involved, and may reflect a desperate attempt to repackage their own past claims.

For example, after parroting a bunch of obviously self-serving PR from Parler in the days after the attack (such as that the insurrectionists organized on Facebook, not Parler), Glenn now shows that Parler was actually sharing threats of violence with the FBI in advance, without noting that that undermines several things he said in the past, such as that the insurrectionists didn’t plan on Parler. This must be dizzying and embarrassing for Glenn.

And because Glenn has to package this — like he did his never-ending obsession with Hunter Biden’s laptop — as a failure of Democrats and liberal media, he remarkably claims that the left — which has so relentlessly asked why the FBI was caught unawares that Glenn even screen caps an example of Ryan Goodman linking to Carolyn Maloney doing so — is resistant to questioning the FBI’s role in the riot.

What accounts for this furious liberal #Resistance to questioning the FBI’s role in the January 6 riot and asking whether there are vital facts that are being concealed?

Maybe Glenn has a harder time getting CSPAN in Brazil than I do in Ireland, because when I’ve watched the multiple hearings Democratic Chairs of various committees (including Maloney) have had with FBI Director Chris Wray or now-National Security Branch EAD Jill Sanborn, they question the FBI about it over and over and over. Glenn literally made up this hash-tagged resistance out of thin air because he needs it to be true, when in fact the opposite is true.

But it’s important to look at what this propaganda campaign obscures.

Probably, this campaign got started because a number of people implicated in the investigation, now realizing that it won’t go away, are trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility. It has already happened with those charged for crimes committed on January 6. Dominic Pezzola suggested that a key witness against him was actually more involved in the riot than he was, only to learn he guessed wrong and that the government was going to invoke a terrorism enhancement with him. Similarly, top Proud Boys were hinting at challenges to the UCC-1 described in their indictment, before they grew conspicuously silent about it, as if they learned something that undercut such claims. [see update below]

The other reason people are talking about informants is that (FBI’s failure to respond notwithstanding) it’s not that far-fetched. Importantly, multiple Proud Boys have claimed to be informants, though Glenn only mentions Enrique Tarrio. Maybe that’s because the implication of the claims from the others leads to a place Glenn and Tucker don’t want to go. Of the four Proud Boys that Aram Rostom described as being FBI informants prior to January 6, three claimed to be sharing information about Antifa.

Reuters interviewed two Proud Boys members who spoke on the condition of anonymity about some members’ interactions with the FBI. Reuters also interviewed Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, examined court records and interviewed sources close to the federal investigation.

The reporting showed:

– One Proud Boy left the group in December after telling other members he was cooperating with the FBI by providing information about Antifa, say Tarrio and two other Proud Boy sources. The former member, whom Reuters was unable to identify, insisted to group leaders that he had not revealed information about the Proud Boys, these people say.

– A second Proud Boy leader bragged in 2019 about sharing information with the FBI about Antifa, according to private chats leaked on social media. The chats’ authenticity was confirmed by a source familiar with the Proud Boys and the Jan. 6 case.

– A third Proud Boy leader, Joseph Biggs, who was indicted and charged with conspiracy in the January attack, has said in court papers he reported information to the FBI about Antifa for months. Reuters spoke to Biggs two days before the riot. In that interview, he said he had specific plans for Jan. 6, but declined to disclose them. But, he volunteered to Reuters in that call, he was willing to tell his FBI contact of his plans for the coming rally, if asked. Reuters wasn’t able to determine whether such a contact took place. [my emphasis]

What this suggests is not that the FBI set up the Proud Boys with paid informants, but the opposite: that under a President who “denounced” the Proud Boys by saying they should “Stand back and stand by,” and under an Attorney General who dismissed threats against a judge involving the Proud Boys as a technicality, the Proud Boys were viewed not as an equivalent (or greater) threat than Antifa, but instead were able to disguise their use of Antifa as a foil to sow violence by serving as informants against them.

If these three self-proclaimed informants are right (there’s good reason to doubt them), then it means under Bill Barr, the FBI was using informants not to set up the Proud Boys, but instead to set up Antifa.

If Tucker and Glenn were good faith actors and not paid propagandists, you would fully expect them to be outraged that the FBI set up Antifa.

Especially because of the possibility that the FBI didn’t take the Proud Boys threat seriously because (on top of being endorsed by the President and downplayed by the Attorney General), they prioritized investigating Antifa over investigating the Proud Boys. With that possibility in mind, read the framing of Glenn’s Substack post:

The original report, published by Revolver News and then amplified by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, documented ample evidence of FBI infiltration of the three key groups at the center of the 1/6 investigation — the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters — and noted how many alleged riot leaders from these groups have not yet been indicted. While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

The implications of these facts are obvious. It seems extremely likely that the FBI had numerous ways to know of any organized plots regarding the January 6 riot (just as the U.S. intelligence community, by its own admission, had ample advanced clues of the 9/11 attack but, according to their excuse, tragically failed to “connect the dots”).

[snip]

What would be shocking and strange is not if the FBI had embedded informants and other infiltrators in the groups planning the January 6 Capitol riot. What would be shocking and strange — bizarre and inexplicable — is if the FBI did not have those groups under tight control.

It is fucking insane that Glenn claims to be mystified by the possibility that a group endorsed in the President’s first Presidential debate and dismissed by the Attorney General would not get the proper scrutiny by the FBI. Trump very effectively punished people — especially at the FBI — for investigating entities close to him. And on September 29, 2020, Donald Trump made it quite clear the Proud Boys should get special treatment. That’s all the explanation you need. Though it is, indeed, reason for closer scrutiny, the kind of scrutiny that Democrats have been demanding, Glenn’s false claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

But if you want to raise the possibility that FBI had informants in the group, then the explanation may be equally as damning: That the FBI didn’t see January 6 coming because it was too busy treating Antifa as a terrorist threat.

Indeed, everything we know about the threat reporting on that day — which claimed the big risk of violence arose from the possibility of clashes between counter-protestors and right wing militias — suggests that may be what happened: that the FBI was looking the other way, possibly in conjunction with the militia that played a key role in planning the attack. That certainly accords with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller’s claim that Trump told him to use the National Guard to protect Trump supporters.

Since Glenn claims to be very familiar with the role of informants, surely he knows that multiple terrorists — definitely David Headley and allegedly Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Omar Mateen — have planned attacks under the cover of serving as informants (or in the case of Mateen, his father doing so). There were also at least two former FBI informants that played key parts in the Russian operation in 2016. The most logical answer to the questions that Glenn pretends to entertain is that the FBI didn’t look too closely at what Joe Biggs was planning (as part of a Kelly Meggs-brokered Florida alliance of militia groups with ties to Roger Stone), because they treated him as a credible source of reporting on Antifa.

The propaganda that goes unnoticed

The absurdity of accusing Sharon Caldwell of entrapping her spouse has, justifiably, gotten all the attention from this campaign.

But there’s a piece of propaganda that it incorporates — one parroted by Members of Congress — that deserves focus of its own: in framing his piece, Glenn not only claims that the plot leaders have been shielded from charges, he also states as fact that, “low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail.”

While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

In making this claim, Glenn is mindlessly parroting something that appears in the original Revolver piece.

The first category is the group of mostly harmless tourists who walked through already opened doors and already-removed barricades, and at most were guilty of minor trespassing charges and light property offenses. The second group consists of those who were violent with police officers, broke down barricades, smashed windows, belonged to a “militia” group engaged in military-style planning prior to the event, discussed transporting heavy weaponry, and so forth.

Up until now, the overwhelming (perhaps exclusive) share of counter-establishment reporting on 1/6 has focused on absolving the first group. And this is a valuable thing. The notion that these harmless “MAGA moms” wandering around the Capitol were domestic terrorists engaged in an insurrection is absurd. That many of these people are being held in prison, without bail, under harsh conditions, amounts to an unacceptable and outrageous abuse of basic human rights.

The only way to sustain a claim that “low-level protestors” have been charged with major felonies and held without bail is to claim that alleged plot leaders — people like Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Billy Chrestman, and Kelly Meggs — were actually just protestors.

That’s because with perhaps two exceptions (people like Karl Dresch whose criminal records were cited as the reason for their detention), the only people who remain in jail are either those charged with planning the insurrection, or people who engaged in violence or came armed. And even many of those people were released. Just going in alphabetical order, Christopher Alberts brought a gun and a magazine to the insurrection but was released on bail. John Anderson is accused of assault but is out on bail. Richard Barnett, who entered Nancy Pelosi’s office with a high voltage stun gun, was initially jailed but has since been released. Bradley Bennett, whom the government argued went on the lam for weeks and destroyed his phone, got released on bail. Craig Bingert, involved in one of the conflicts with cops at a barricade, was released on bail. Gina Bisignano, accused of inciting violence and destruction with a bullhorn, was released on bail. Joshua Black, who was involved in confrontations with cops before heading to the Senate Chamber and said God ordered him to riot, was released on bail. James Breheny, an Oath Keeper who allegedly lied to the FBI and attended a key inter-militia planning event, is out on bail. Both men who brought zip ties to the Senate Chamber on the day of the riot, Eric Munchel and Larry Brock, are out on bail (and Brock isn’t even charged with a felony).

Even Brandon Fellows, charged with obstruction and present when Jeff Merkley’s office was trashed and laptop stolen, thus far remains out on bail, even after several bail violations.

Perhaps the only two people who remain in custody who weren’t either associated with a group being treated as a militia or involved in assault are Doug Jensen and Jacob Chansley. Both, though, played a kind of leadership role during the attack, both brought blades with them to the insurrection, both had direct confrontations with cops, and the government has argued (Jensen, Chansley) both exhibit the kind of fervor in their QAnon beliefs that pose a particular danger.

Given that QAnon had better success placing bodies where they were useful during the insurrection, I’m not sure it even makes sense to treat them differently than the more traditional militia.

Other than that, the men detained pre-trial are accused of leading the insurrection, precisely the people that this conspiracy theory falsely claims have been shielded from charges. Among the Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Charles Donohoe, Zack Rehl, and Kansas City cell leader Billy Chrestman remain jailed. Among the Oath Keepers, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins remain jailed. All are accused of playing key leadership roles in the insurrection.

There were some questionable detention decisions early on. At this stage, however, there are no cases where people still detained are simply protestors on the wrong side of the law.

And yet even Glenn makes that false claim without any evidence.

Donald Trump’s FBI Director and Bill Barr’s hand-picked US Attorney called these defendants terrorists

There’s one more aspect of this conspiracy that is confounding.

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald suggest this is a Deep State plot to harm Trump and his supporters. Even Andrew McCarthy, who wrote a long and worthwhile piece debunking Tucker and Glenn’s conspiracies, nevertheless claims the prosecutorial decisions in this case reflect Democratic politicization.

Although Schaffer is plainly a member of the Oath Keepers conspiracy, the Biden Justice Department did not have him plead guilty to the conspiracy charge in the Oath Keepers indictment. That’s undoubtedly because, for the purposes of helping Democrats hype a white-supremacist terrorism narrative, the conspiracy charge is too minor. Although that charge has been portrayed by the media and the Justice Department as if it were a terrorism allegation, it actually involves a statute that criminalizes comparatively minor conspiracy offenses, fit for a maximum penalty of just five years’ imprisonment (with the possibility of no jail time at all).

So instead, DOJ had Schaffer plead guilty to a two-count criminal information, charging him with the substantive crimes of obstructing Congress and illegally carrying a dangerous weapon (bear spray) on restricted federal grounds. That allowed government officials to bray that Schaffer could be looking at 30 years in prison, which sure sounds a lot worse than five years. But it’s a feint. The 30-year level is just an aggregation of the maximum sentences prescribed by the two statutes in Schaffer’s guilty plea — i.e., the highest possible sentence that could potentially apply to anyone who violated these laws. The sentence a judge actually imposes within that 30-year range depends on the circumstances, with only the worst offenders getting the maximum sentence. Realistically, then, what matters in Schaffer’s case are the federal sentencing guidelines that apply specifically to him. In the plea agreement’s fine print, prosecutors concede that the guidelines call for a relatively paltry 41- to 51-month term, which may be reduced if his cooperation proves to be valuable.

I suspect that Schaffer is one of the unnamed, numbered “Persons” referred to in the Oath Keepers indictment.

[snip]

To be clear, Carlson is right that it is ridiculous for Attorney General Merrick Garland to portray the Capitol riot as if it were a terrorist attack and the people behind it as the most dangerous national-security threat we face. As noted above, the conspiracy allegation is not a terrorism charge: It carries a penalty of no more than five years. Carlson is right to point out that, despite the government’s and the media’s claims to the contrary, there is no indication that racism motivated the riot (the Oath Keepers, for example, are not a white-supremacist organization, and the indictment does not even hint that race had anything to do with January 6). Carlson is right that, even as congressional Democrats posture about the supposed need for a commission to fully expose the events of January 6, the government is withholding mounds of information — including the identity of the security official who killed rioter Ashli Babbitt, a concealment that would be unfathomable in a case where a police officer killed an African-American criminal suspect or a Black Lives Matter rioter. And Carlson was right to call out the ludicrous suggestion by Frank Figliuzzi, a former top FBI national-security official, that congressional Republicans who cynically supported Trump’s scheme to overturn the election result are the equivalent of a terrorist organization’s “command and control element.”

Christopher Wray — the FBI Director chosen by Donald Trump — has, from day one, called this a terrorist attack.

More importantly, the person leading this investigation for the first two months was the US Attorney Bill Barr installed with no input from Congress, Michael Sherwin. If Sherwin had his way, these people would be charged with seditious conspiracy. Under Sherwin, Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s crimes were labeled terrorism. Under Michael Sherwin, Jessica Watkins’ crimes were labeled terrorism. And while the Jon Schaffer cooperation agreement that McCarthy disdains was finalized after Sherwin left, signs of it were already evident before Sherwin left (note, McCarthy is probably wrong in his belief that Schaffer is one of the people identified thus far in the Oath Keepers conspiracy, and he misunderstands why prosecutors charged Schaffer like the did). A Sherwin-friendly article written after his departure quotes him stating these were not close cases (and also taking credit for making the bulk of the cases).

“These were not complicated cases,” Sherwin said of the Capitol breach probe. “What made these cases so unusual were the scope and scale of the crime,” reaching into almost every state in the country, including Florida.

Sherwin’s tour of duty as acting U.S. Attorney ended soon after the Biden administration took over the Justice Department. He was asked to stay on as the lead prosecutor in the Capitol breach probe, but Sherwin said it was time to move on after making the bulk of the cases in the investigation.

If you have a problem with the way this investigation unfolded, you have a problem not with Joe Biden’s DOJ, but instead with the guy Bill Barr installed into a politicized US Attorney role with no input from Congress.

Which may be why those who need to downplay the seriousness of the attack have instead resorted to baseless conspiracy theories.

Update: Because some dead-enders still don’t believe that Tucker Carlson has accused Sharon Caldwell of entrapping her husband Thomas, I’ve done an entire section showing how the same references to Person Two in a later filing show up as Thomas’ wife Sharon in an earlier one. I also describe all the efforts Sharon is making to keep her husband out of jail.

Update, July 25: Above, I noted that the Proud Boy leaders seem to have learned something that sated their curiosity about whether UCC-1 was an FBI informant. Indeed they did. At a recent hearing, one of the AUSAs on the case revealed that they had been provided this person’s identity and confirmation he was not an informant.

Several more relevant updates: First, Larry Brock has since been charged with obstruction, a felony, but remains out on bail. Doug Jensen, one of the last remaining people who wasn’t either a leader or charged with assault still being detained, was released on bail. Michael Curzio, one of just a few exceptions who got jailed because of past crimes, got released after serving a six month time served sentence for his misdemeanor trespass charge. Two non-violent defendants — Brandon Fellows and Thomas Robertson — have since had pretrial released revoked for violating their conditions.

Finally, the friend of former DEA officer Mark Ibrahim — who may himself serve as an FBI informant — not only debunked Ibrahim’s excuse for being at the insurrection, but made it clear that the FBI did not formally ask him to attend the event.

IBRAHIM said he went along with his friend, who had been asked by the FBI to document the event, and that he went along with his friend to assist with that effort.

Your affiant also interviewed IBRAHIM’s friend. According to the friend, IBRAHIM crafted this story about how his friend was at the Capitol to assist the FBI and that IBRAHIM was there helping him. IBRAHIM’s friend told your affiant that he was not there in any formal capacity for the FBI and that the FBI was not giving him directions or marching orders. He said that IBRAHIM crafted this story in an effort to “cover his ass.” According to IBRAHIM’s friend, IBRAHIM went to the rally in order to promote himself—IBRAHIM had been thinking about his next move after leaving the DEA and wanted the protests to be his stage for launching a “Liberty Tavern” political podcast and cigar brand.

Ibrahim, who brought another of the guns that Glenn claims no one brought to January 6 and displayed it publicly, is out on bail.

Politico Claims It Embarrasses Joe Biden that Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Merits Little or No Jail Time

Last week, Politico reported as news that non-violent January 6 trespassers might get little to no jail time which — it further claimed — might embarrass the Biden Administration.

Many Capitol rioters unlikely to serve jail time

The cases could embarrass the Biden administration, which has portrayed the Jan. 6 siege as a dire threat to democracy.

I have tremendous respect for the reporters involved, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney. Yet the fact that experienced DOJ beat reporters could claim, as news, that non-violent civil disobedience might get no jail time made me really rethink the reporting on January 6, including my own. It’s crazier still that reporters might claim — generally, or in this situation — that a Democratic President might be embarrassed by DOJ treating civil disobedience as a misdemeanor offense.

In fact, Gerstein and Cheney are reporting on a subset of all the January 6 defendants, fewer than 60 of the 230 who had been formally charged by the time they wrote this, which they nevertheless describe as “many” of them.

A POLITICO analysis of the Capitol riot-related cases shows that almost a quarter of the more than 230 defendants formally and publicly charged so far face only misdemeanors. Dozens of those arrested are awaiting formal charges, even as new cases are being unsealed nearly every day.

Then, four paragraphs later, Politico explains why (they say) this might embarrass the Biden Administration: because both Biden himself and Merrick Garland called the larger event — in which 1,000 people, including 200 for assault and 100 for roles in a militia conspiracy, many still at large, must now be suspects — as a heinous attack.

The prospect of dozens of Jan. 6 rioters cutting deals for minor sentences could be hard to explain for the Biden administration, which has characterized the Capitol Hill mob as a uniquely dangerous threat. Before assuming office, Biden said the rioters’ attempt to overturn the election results by force “borders on sedition”; Attorney General Merrick Garland has called the prosecutions his top early priority, describing the storming of Congress as “a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”

Nowhere in the article do they provide any evidence that the assault on the Capitol wasn’t a heinous attack.

They base their claim that Biden might be embarrassed on expectations that DOJ prosecutors set, without noting that the first charges were filed before Biden was inaugurated and long before Garland was confirmed.

Justice Department prosecutors sent expectations sky-high in early statements and court filings, describing elaborate plots to murder lawmakers — descriptions prosecutors have tempered as new details emerged.

Jacob “QAnon Shaman” Chansley was arrested on January 8 and indicted on January 11. Eric “Zip Tie Guy” Munchel was arrested on January 10 and indicted, with his mother, on February 12. Thomas Caldwell was arrested on January 19 and indicted along with Oath Keepers Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl on January 27. They (including Caldwell but not Watkins and Crowl) are the main defendants, of more than 350, about whom prosecutors can fairly be said to have tempered “sky-high” expectations. Their arrests and that expectation-setting happened under Jeffrey Rosen and Michael Sherwin, not under Biden and definitely not under Merrick Garland (under whom DOJ referred Sherwin to OPR for investigation after he did some expectation-setting on 60 Minutes). Even still, for all four (as well as other edge cases about whom the press set high expectations, like Riley June Williams), the investigation remains ongoing and there are reasons, including ties to the militia conspiracies, to believe there was some basis for the original suspicions about these people.

Likewise, the decision to arrest first and investigate later, a decision that led to the flood of arrests before prosecutors really knew who had done the most egregious things during the attack, also occurred under the prior Administration.

Indeed, under Garland (though not necessarily because of Garland or the departure of Sherwin), DOJ seems to have focused more of their ongoing misdemeanor arrests on suspects who might have video footage of interest to prosecutors or defense attorneys, with far more of a focus in recent weeks on arresting assault and militia suspects. And one of the reasons for the delays described in the story is that after Garland came in, DOJ asked for 60 days to catch up on discovery. We may yet learn that he and his subordinates decided to change the “arrest first, investigate later” approach adopted before he came in.

Sure, the press has claimed that the government has backed off some of its claims in the militia conspiracies. They did so, for example, when prosecutors backed off certain claims solely for the purpose of an Ethan Nordean detention hearing that, filings submitted weeks later suggested, may have been an effort to protect a pending conspiracy indictment and, probably, a cooperating witness. They’ve done so with the Oath Keepers, even though recent developments suggest even Jessica Watkins’ lawyer may now understand her role in what appears to be a larger conspiracy coordinated in Signal leadership chats is more damning than Watkins originally claimed. If anything, the Oath Keeper and Proud Boy conspiracies may be more sophisticated tactically than originally claimed, and that’s before any explanation about things like who paid for vans of Proud Boys to travel from FL and what happened at twin events in DC and Florida in December, in which conspirators (and key Trump figures) played central roles. That’s also while the person who laid a pipe bomb the night before the the attack remains at large.

To further back its claim that Biden might be embarrassed, Politico implies that all the plea deals expected in weeks ahead will be misdemeanor pleas without jail time, which will be “awkward” for DOJ to defend.

Prosecutors have signaled that plea offers for some defendants will be coming within days and have readily acknowledged that some of the cases are less complicated to resolve than others.

“I think we can work out a non-trial disposition in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Cole told Judge Dabney Friedrich last week in the case of Kevin Loftus, who was charged with unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol, among other offenses that have become the boilerplate set lodged against anyone who walked into the building that day without authorization.

The Justice Department will soon be in the awkward position of having to defend such deals, even as trials and lengthy sentences for those facing more serious charges could be a year or more away. [my emphasis]

Politico makes this claim even though at least some of the expected pleas may be cooperation agreements. For example, Ryan Samsel — who breached the west side of the Capitol in coordination with Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, knocking out a cop along the way — asked for a continuance to discuss a plea. One of the main Oath Keeper prosecutors, Ahmed Baset, asked for a continuance before indicting Oath Keeper associate Jon Schaffer, who was among the worst treated defendants and who agreed to the continuance in spite of remaining in pre-trial detention. Kash Kelly, currently charged with trespassing but also someone raised in discussions between Proud Boys affiliate James Sullivan and Rudy Giuliani, got a continuance to discuss a plea. Bryan Betancur, a Proud Boy who got jailed for a probation violation after he lied to his probation officer to attend the event, also got a continuance to discuss a plea to resolve his trespassing charges. The aforementioned Riley Williams, who was charged with obstructing the vote count and stealing a laptop from Nancy Pelosi, was filmed directing movement inside the Capitol, and has ties with Nick Fuentes, also got a continuance to discuss pleading before indictment. All five of these people likely have information that would be of use to prosecutors. All could limit their prison time (which would likely be significant for Samsel, who is accused of assault, played a key role in the insurrection, and has a criminal record) by cooperating with prosecutors. If any of these people sign plea deals — especially Samsel — it will likely provide new insight into how the conspiracy worked. Even with a plea deal, Samsel may still face a stiff sentence.

In other places, Politico conflates the discussions about the fate of misdemeanor defendants with discussions about detention (which prosecutors have only requested with a few accused trespassers), discussions about discovery, and Speedy Trial, all different things, many more urgent issues for misdemeanor defendants not included among those the story is purportedly about.

After I went on a rant about this story on Twitter, Gerstein defended the story by saying that people (none of whom were quoted in the story) seem to be surprised.

I agree with Gerstein that people have certain expectations. But that was clear before the end end of January. The record laid out here shows that such expectations did not come from Garland or Biden. Even Sherwin, with his totally inappropriate 60 Minutes interview, also explained from the start that DOJ was arresting the low hanging fruit at first while further investigating more serious suspects.

The fault, instead, lies with journalists, myself and these Politico journalists included, for not consistently and repeatedly explaining the various different roles people played on January 6, including that there were a number — though currently a shrinking fraction of the total set of defendants — who neither pre-meditated any effort to stop the vote count nor assaulted cops. I have tried to engage in this nuance (I included a list of such posts below), but given the sheer amount of court filings, much of the focus is currently on the militia conspiracies, suggesting a gravity that the MAGA tourists don’t merit. But in this article, rather than simply laying out the full range of defendants, describing how the MAGA Tourists played a key role in the success of the more serious conspirators (explicitly so for the Proud Boys, who talked about getting “normies” to do stuff they otherwise wouldn’t have done), describing how violence spread among participants and often as not among people who aren’t militia members, this Politico piece further distorts the record, not least by using this subset of “MAGA Tourists” — calling them “many” even though they represent just a quarter of defendants who have been formally charged — to stand in for the larger investigation, while minimizing the import of those charged with obstruction (likening that role to a CodePink interruption of a congressional hearing) because, evidence shows, they premeditated an attempt to undermine the election outcome.

So even while the piece describes how both judges and prosecutors understand that the mob as a whole posed a grave threat while some individual defendants did no more than provide cover for the more dangerous defendants (and many of the DC judges presiding over these cases have made such comments), Politico claims that there’s some embarrassment to this, including some kind of political risk for Biden.

Judges are also attempting to reckon with separating the individual actions of rioters from the collective threat of the mob, which they have noted helped inspire and provide cover for violent assaults, property destruction and increased the overall terror and danger of the assorted crimes committed.

That reckoning is coming sooner rather than later, lawyers say, putting prosecutors in the position of wrist-slapping many participants in the riot despite framing the crimes as part of an insurrection that presented a grave threat to American democracy.

If the MAGA tourists provided cover and helped overwhelm cops, thereby serving a useful role in the plans of those who had a more nefarious and organized purpose, then that’s the story that should be told, not some kind of both-sides political spin, particularly one that pits Biden’s claims about the seriousness of this on the footing as Trump’s outright lies about it. In spite of the overwhelming number of defendants, the record shows, DOJ is still assessing each one on the merits, which is what should happen. Declaring that politically embarrassing is an abdication of fair reporting on the legal system.

I believe DOJ has gotten it wrong, in both directions, in some cases. In addition to those listed above, I think DOJ has gone too harshly on some people who have openly supported far right, even Nazi views. But I also think DOJ has only considered whether militia members were members of premeditated conspiracies, focusing less on localized activist networks that have been implicated in violent (often anti-mask) pro-Trump actions in the past, taken on leadership roles at the riot, and engaged in ongoing communications about plans to shut down the vote, just like militias did. I think DOJ hasn’t come to grips with the organizational import of QAnon even while arguing that individual adherents of the cult must be jailed because they are delusional. And until DOJ decides how it will treat Trump’s actions and those of some close associates — something they likely cannot do without more investigation and cooperation deals from key participants — parts of this investigation will remain unsettled.

There are definitely things DOJ has reason to be embarrassed about: Gerstein has written more than any journalist about the unforgivable delays in moving defendants around the country and getting them arraigned. This piece also focuses on one of the handful of misdemeanor defendants who has been detained since being charged. While I understand the complexity of an investigation in which so much of the evidence — both exculpatory and inculpatory — remains in the hands of participants, defendants have a right to complain about the delay, especially those in detention. Defendants — particularly those in detention — are entitled to a Speedy Trial, even if DOJ moved too quickly to arrest them. While many of these things were exacerbated by COVID, they also largely arise from a decision to arrest first on those trespassing charges, and investigate later (which also has led to more defendants being charged with obstruction after the fact).

But none of those things have to do with Biden or Garland’s views about the investigation, or even the prosecutors who made decisions that created some of these problems in the first place (in part, probably, to avoid their own embarrassment at missing all warning signs, in part because they hadn’t investigated these threats aggressively enough and so had to make mass arrests to mitigate any immediate follow-on threats).

In short, this piece is an (uncharacteristic) mess, shoehorning complexity into a simplistic claim of political conflict, one inventing embarrassment out of thin air for Biden. If Politico has evidence that this wasn’t an unprecedented disruption to Congress, one that could have had a far worse outcome, including a threat to our democracy, or that this right wing violence is less of a threat than FBI says it is, by all means they should present that. At the same time, they can reveal the identity of the pipe bomber and the role (if any) that person played in the plot, without which no one can claim to actually know how serious this was.

Until then, they and all experienced DOJ beat reporters would be far better off by simply laying out a description of the different kinds of defendants we’re seeing, the different roles they played in disrupting the vote count and assaulting or undermining law enforcement, and explaining how those defendants are the same or different from defendants that have gone before them, on a spectrum of severity that stretches from CodePink to ISIS terrorists.

If people are going to be surprised when the subset of participants in January 6 who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience are treated as misdemeanor offenders, it’s not Joe Biden’s fault. It is a failure of journalism, my own included, for not making that more clear starting in January and reiterating it since then.

Update: Meanwhile, Jon Schaffer just agreed to two more weeks in jail.

Update: Corrected Munchel’s arrest date, which was January 10.

Update: Christopher Kelly (no relation to Kash) is another person with a consent continuance to discuss what would almost certainly be a cooperation agreement. He drove to and from the insurrection with some Proud Boys.


Posts attempting to contextualize the investigation

Here are some past attempts I’ve made at explaining how the parts of the January 6 investigation fit together:

The January 6 Investigation Remains in an Early Stage

A lot of people are talking about this report comparing the demographics of the January 6 arrestees with those of past right wing extremist arrests. The report has interesting data — most notably showing that those arrested after January 6 were disproportionately from counties that Biden won.

That said, the methodology behind the comparison is flawed because what would get someone arrested at a normal white supremacist event and what would get them arrested in the wake of January 6 are totally different.

Partly as a way to explain why — and to answer some questions I keep getting — I’d like to talk about what we know of the investigation.

Chain-of-command

First, let’s review who is in the chain-of-command of the investigation.

The investigation is being conducted out of FBI’s Washington Field Office, overseen by Steven M. D’Antuono, and the DC US Attorney’s Office, led by Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin. Sherwin was Jeffrey Rosen’s hand-selected replacement for Bill Barr flunky Timothy Shea (who in turn replaced Jesse Liu, who did a good job and so was ousted), but unlike Shea (and Barr and Rosen), Sherwin is a career prosecutor with a background on national security cases. And while Sherwin oversaw some politicized shit (notably the later parts of the Mike Flynn gambit), others were involved in the day-to-day, which means, in part, that Sherwin doesn’t necessarily know about the altered documents and whatnot.

In any case, Ken Kohl, a fairly problematic career prosecutor in DC who was personally involved in the Flynn corruption, hasn’t been seen in any of the statements or court filings since the first days of the investigation, when he claimed the investigation wouldn’t incorporate those who incited the attack.

There might have been a concern in the first weeks of investigation that Trump’s dead-enders would limit it. But at this point, such a move would be reported on. Moreover, the top political appointee in DOJ until Merrick Garland or Lisa Monaco are confirmed is John Carlin, who served as Obama’s National Security Division head for the last two years of his Administration. He was a long-time prosecutor himself and would be as comfortable overseeing a terrorism investigation like the DC one as Monaco will be.

It’s unclear when Biden will get around to replacing Trump’s US Attorneys, including Sherwin. But until that time, every single indictment of a Trump terrorist will be signed by a Trump appointee, which may undercut any claims of politicization. And the pace or focus of the investigation is unlikely to change when Garland is finally confirmed (which might be just days away in any case). The major thing he might approve would be the inclusion of Trump or any other political target, and possibly of a broader seditious conspiracy case — but the latter, at least, already seems likely under Sherwin’s supervision.

The prosecution teams are still falling into place right now. Among the prosecutors for the Zip-Tie guy, though, is one of the people who prosecuted Maria Butina. Among the prosecutors for the Oath Keeper conspiracy is one of the women brought into the Mueller team to deal with the Russian defendants.

Triage

I get asked a lot whether the investigation will pick up once Garland is confirmed.

No.

One reason it won’t is because the investigation is already moving at a remarkable clip; even without certain bottlenecks due to COVID (such as limited grand jury time and the difficulties created by dial-in court hearings), it would be hard to investigate much more quickly.

I think people may misunderstand that because of the steady clip of arrests since the attack, with around 178 of around 800 people who were in the Capitol during the attack (181 have been charged so far, but that includes a few people who issued threats but didn’t make it into the Capitol).

DOJ has said that they’ve been mostly arresting the people who mugged on social media bragging about the insurrection. What DOJ did in these first weeks, then, is to focus on all the people whose Facebook friends tipped off the FBI or who did interviews or who otherwise came to easy attention. Many of those people (about half of all the people who’ve been arrested so far) have been charged with just the two trespassing statutes that everyone who stepped foot in the Capitol got charged with, 18 USC 1752 and 40 USC 5104. This is one reason why the study on demographics is not a sound comparison: because literally everyone who stepped in the Capitol committed that trespassing crime, and many of the people who did will never be charged with anything but misdemeanor trespassing charges.

Those people may have loathsome beliefs or be adherents to a cult (whether QAnon or Trump). But it seems that if people just rushed in with the crowds and didn’t damage anything and didn’t assault cops and weren’t privy to or instrumental in a plan to disrupt the vote, it’ll end there, with misdemeanor charges.

That said, as I laid out here, DOJ seems to be adding, at a minimum,  18 USC 1512(c)(2) charges for interfering with the certification of the vote to a subset of those initially charged with just the misdemeanors. They seem to be doing so with those who had a bigger role in delaying the vote count. If that’s all these people are charged with (a number are also charged with property damage or assault) and they don’t have a record, they might be facing 41 to 51 months in prison. I imagine there are some borderline people whom DOJ is suggesting should plead now to those misdemeanor charges to avoid the felony, and I imagine the felony charge(s) will be used to get some people to cooperate and to support keeping others in jail pre-trial.

Already for these defendants, we may not discover what DOJ saw that led them to believe the person merited more than a trespassing charge. In most cases, the FBI will be obtaining more legal process to understand better why a person showed up at the Capitol, what they did there, and what network got them to go to the riot in the first place, as well as any substantial ties to that network.

In other words, it’s likely the 1512 charge is itself a midway point, perhaps a terminal charge for those who were conspiring with others to overturn democracy, perhaps a bookmark as DOJ conducts further investigation.

Sealed investigative steps

Meanwhile, the FBI is conducting further investigation of the right wing networks that planned this attack, steps we’re just seeing hints of, such as with this report on a search of the homes of two people who organized the January 5 rally (and I’ve heard of a few more that haven’t been publicly reported).

The FBI recently raided the homes of two men who sponsored an invective-laced rally near the US Capitol a day before the deadly insurrection, the first known search warrants involving people who organized and spoke at rallies preceding the attack.

[snip]

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller confirmed that federal agents executed search warrants last week at two properties in Orange County, California, which public records indicate belong to Russell Taylor and Alan Hostetter. The two men run the American Phoenix Project, which co-sponsored a pro-Donald Trump rally near the Supreme Court on January 5, one day before the attack.
Neither man has been charged with any crimes.
Footage of the rally shows the men spewing militant vitriol: Hostetter told the crowd to prepare for “war tomorrow” against “vipers” in Congress who refused to nullify President Joe Biden’s win. Taylor said, “We will not return to our peaceful way of life until this election is made right.”

With anyone who didn’t make it inside the Capitol, the government would need to do more to charge them. And for some networks (for example, we know there were around 40 Oath Keepers at the rally, yet only 3 have been charged), the government may want to wait before it starts charging one after another person. It may pick and choose which members of a known network — like the Proud Boys — it charges when.

The thing is, a lot of these people are going to have better operational security than the people who posed for selfies (or managed to destroy evidence). A lot of them are going to be somewhat more difficult to implicate in the insurrection. And a lot of the investigative work will take more time, potentially a lot more time (and require cooperators). You shouldn’t want DOJ to rush it because it’s the kind of thing that good lawyers will mount a First Amendment challenge to.

It will take some time. But that’s not because Billy Barr has come back from whatever corporate boardroom he’s sitting in and sabotaged things. It will take some time because it will take some time.

Trump’s Role in a Seditious Conspiracy Won’t Go Away with an Impeachment Vote

There’s a conventional wisdom about the Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, scheduled to start in ten days. WaPo predicts that impeachment will leave no more than a “bitter aftertaste.”

The Senate is hurtling toward an impeachment trial that will accomplish almost nothing by design and likely leave everyone with a bitter aftertaste.

Democratic voters will be furious that GOP senators refused to hold former president Donald Trump accountable for his role in encouraging supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Republicans will be upset that congressional Democrats went through with an impeachment trial three weeks after Trump left the White House.

And independent voters, more focused on the health and economic crises fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, will wonder why Congress prioritized an impeachment process at all.

Perhaps most telling, WaPo describes Trump’s role as “encouraging” his supporters to march to the Capitol.

It’s true the word, “encouraged” appears in the article of impeachment against Trump.

He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: ‘‘if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore’’. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts. [my emphasis]

But that description skips the “foreseeably result[ing]” in the interruption of the certification of the vote, the threats to Members of Congress, the deadly sedition that are also included in the article of impeachment.

Moreover, it ignores the other part of the article of impeachment, Trump’s other efforts to subvert democracy (the article describes his January 2 call to Brad Raffensberger explicitly), to say nothing of the description of Trump as a threat to national security.

President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election.

[snip]

Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.

That’s a notable oversight, particularly given the — inexplicable — claim from ascendant Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin that we may never learn the full extent of Trump’s role in the coup attempt.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the incoming chairman, said he would leave procedural questions up to the House managers.“I’m waiting to hear what their proposal is, but for us to suggest a trial strategy for the House managers, I don’t think that’s our job,” Durbin said.

So, instead, the Senate will rush through a trial in which the only evidence likely to be presented will be the stuff that senators themselves already lived, video clips of rioters breaking into the Capitol as senators fled through underground tunnels to their secure location.

Senators will likely not even attempt to answer the fundamental questions of every impeachment trial — what did the president know and when did he know it?

“It will be surprising to me if we ever know the answers to that,” Durbin said.

It may be true that impeachment managers will restrict themselves to the public record, though even that might include testimony from Raffensperger and evidence collected as part of the prosecution of insurrectionists. Q-Shaman Jacob Chansley even says he’d be willing to testify.

Lawyer Albert Watkins said he hasn’t spoken to any member in the Senate since announcing his offer to have Jacob Chansley testify at Trump’s trial, which is scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 8. Watkins said it’s important for senators to hear the voice of someone who was incited by Trump.

Watkins said his client was previously “horrendously smitten” by Trump but now feels let down after Trump’s refusal to grant Chansley and others who participated in the insurrection a pardon. “He felt like he was betrayed by the president,” Watkins said.

The words of Trump supporters who are accused of participating in the riot may end up being used against him in the impeachment trial. Chansley and at least four others people who are facing federal charges stemming from the riot have suggested they were taking orders from Trump.

If insurrectionists were to testify in person, the attendant security of orange jumpsuits and leg manacles might provide some sobering visuals (though COVID and real security concerns almost certainly rules that out).

But it seems foolish for any Senator to assume that the vote they’ll cast in a few weeks will make this thing go away forever.

That’s not even true for their Ukraine impeachment votes. Yesterday, Ukraine announced (much to Lev Parnas’ glee that Rudy Giuliani finally got Ukraine to announce an investigation) that it is launching a criminal probe into those — inside and outside Ukraine — who attempted to interfere in the 2020 election.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on January 28 that Ukraine would do everything in its power to bring to justice forces within the country and outside it who attempted to damage relations between Ukraine and the United States.

“The State Bureau of Investigation has opened a criminal case,” Yermak was quoted as saying in an interview to the Ukrainian news outlet NV that was posted on the presidential website.

“The investigation is under way, and we are waiting for its results. The investigation must answer a lot of questions,” Yermak added.

Without anyone in the United States lifting a finger, then, Ukraine may provide damning new evidence about Trump’s attempt to coerce assistance on his “perfect phone call” with Volodymyr Zelensky that will make GOP negligence during the last impeachment more damning.

And in the case of the January 6 insurrection, DOJ has already mapped out a conspiracy charge that Trump could easily be charged under as well.

PURPOSE OF THE CONSPIRACY

18. The purpose of the conspiracy was to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

MANNER AND MEANS

19. CALDWELL, CROWL, and WATKINS, with others known and unknown, carried out the conspiracy through the following manner and means, among others, by:

a. Agreeing to participate in and taking steps to plan an operation to interfere with the official Congressional proceeding on January 6, 2021 (the “January 6 operation”);

b. Using social media, text messaging, and messaging applications to send incendiary messages aimed at recruiting as large a following as possible to go to Washington, D.C., to support the January 6 operation;

Meanwhile, Acting DC US Attorney Michael Sherwin has repeatedly refused to rule out incitement charges. Indeed, I’ve argued that DOJ almost certainly will need to incorporate at least Mike Flynn, if not Trump himself, in their description of the crimes of January 6, if only to distinguish the events of that day from other protected First Amendment activity — and at least some prosecutors in DC closer to the overall investigation seem to be doing that.

There’s no guarantee that Merrick Garland’s DOJ will have the courage to pursue Trump’s role in this (though thus far, Bill Barr appointee Michael Sherwin has not shied from such an investigation, and if he oversaw such a decision it would mitigate the political blowback). There’s no sign, yet, that DOJ has identified how the coup attempt tied into Rudy’s attempts to delay the certification.

But no Senator serving as juror in this impeachment should assume the investigation won’t, inevitably, disclose the machinations that tied Trump’s efforts to stay in office to the death and destruction on January 6. Indeed, there’s no guarantee that the actions of key jurors — like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz for inciting the mob, Tommy Tuberville for his direct coordination with Rudy, and Lindsey Graham for his own efforts to throw out votes in Georgia and his meeting with accused insurrectionist Joe Biggs — won’t ultimately be incorporated into the larger conspiracy.

And so while it may be easy for lazy political journalism to spout conventional wisdom about everyone wanting to move on, this time around it is as likely as not that the votes cast next month will age poorly as the investigation into how Trump’s action ties to the death and destruction continues.

Triage and Impeachment: Prioritize a Legitimate Criminal Investigation into the Wider Plot over Impeachment

I want to talk about triage in the wake of the terrorist attack on Wednesday as it affects consideration of how to hold Trump accountable for his role in it.

First, some dates:

If Mike Pence were to invoke the 25th Amendment (with the approval of a bunch of Trump’s cabinet members), it could go into effect immediately for at least four days. Trump can challenge his determination, but if the same cabinet members hold with Pence, then Trump’s disqualification remains in place for 21 more days, enough to get through Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Both the House and Senate are not in session, and can’t deviate from the existing schedule without unanimous consent, meaning Mo Brooks in the House or Josh Hawley in the Senate could single-handedly prevent any business.

Because of that, impeachment in the House can’t be started until tomorrow. Right now, Pelosi is using the threat of impeachment as leverage to try to get Pence to act (or Trump to resign, though he won’t). If that doesn’t work, then the House seems prepared to move on a single article of impeachment tied to Trump’s attempts to cheat and his incitement of the insurrection. Pelosi won’t move forward on it until she’s sure it has the votes to succeed.

Even assuming a majority of the House votes to impeach Trump, that will have no impact on his authority to pardon co-conspirators, and he’ll surely attempt to pardon himself, one way or another. Because of Wednesday’s events, he will be doing that without the assistance of Pat Cipollone, which means he’s much more likely to make his plight worse.

Impeaching this week would, however, force Republicans to cast votes before it is clear how the post-insurrection politics will work out (indeed, while Trump still has the power of the Presidency). Significantly, a number of incoming members are angry that Kevin McCarthy advised them to support the insurrection. The vote may be as much an attempt to undo complicity with Wednesday’s actions as it is anything else. Done right, impeachment may exacerbate the fractures in the GOP; done wrong, it could have the opposite effect.

If the House does impeach, then the Senate will not — barring a change of heart from Hawley and everyone else who was still willing to be part of this insurrection — take up the impeachment until January 19 (the parliamentarian has already ruled on this point). That means, the trial for impeachment either happens in Joe Biden’s first week in office, or the House holds off on sending the article of impeachment over to the Senate until Chuck Schumer deems it a worthwhile time. He can also opt to have a committee consider it, calling witnesses and accruing evidence, which will provide the Senate (where there are more Republicans aiming to distance from Trump) a way to further elaborate Trump’s role in the terrorism.

Meanwhile, by losing all access to social media except Parler and with Amazon’s decision yesterday to stop hosting Parler (which will mean it’ll stay down at least a week, until January 17), Trump’s primary mouthpieces have been shut down. There’s reason to believe that the more sophisticated insurrectionists have moved onto more secure platforms like chat rooms and Signal. While that’ll pose some challenges for law enforcement trying to prevent follow-on attacks on January 17, 19, or 20, being on such less accessible platforms will limit their ability to mobilize the kinds of masses that came out on Wednesday. Trump has lost one of the most important weapons he can wield without demanding clearly criminal behavior from others. That said, the urgency of preventing those sophisticated plotters — and a good chunk of these people have military training — from engaging in more targeted strikes needs to be a priority.

But Trump is still President, with his hand on the nuclear codes, and in charge of the chain of command that goes through a bunch of Devin Nunes flunkies at DOD. Nancy Pelosi called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and come away with assurances that Trump won’t be able to deploy nukes.

Preventing an Unhinged President From Using the Nuclear Codes: This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike. The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy.

Nevertheless that still leaves Trump in charge of the vast federal bureaucracy, which has been emptied out and the filled back up with people who could pass Johnny McEntee’s loyalty oaths to Trump.

Because this is where we’re at, I have argued that there needs to be a higher priority on getting at least Biden’s operational nominees, along with Merrick Garland, confirmed over impeaching Trump — yet — in the Senate.

We have not yet heard why DOD and DHS and the FBI — on top of the Capitol Police — failed to prevent the terrorist attack on Wednesday (I’ll have more to say about this later). It will take a year to sort out all the conflicting claims. But as we attempt, via reporting, via oversight in Congress (including impeachment), and via a criminal investigation to figure that out, those same people who failed to prevent the attack remain in place. Indeed, most of these entities have offered little to no explanation for why they failed, which is a bad sign.

Because of that, I think Biden needs to prioritize getting at least Garland and Lisa Monaco confirmed as Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General at DOJ, along with a new Acting US Attorney for DC, as soon as possible. I have two specific concerns. First, while FBI has generally been good at policing white supremacists in recent months, they failed miserably here, when it mattered most. One effect of retaliating against anyone who investigated Trump for his “collusion” with Russia has been to install people who were either Trump loyalists or really skilled at avoiding any slight to Trump. Indeed, one of the most charitable possible excuses for FBI’s delayed response is that after years of badgering, otherwise reasonable people were loathe to get involved in something that Trump defined as an election issue.

I have more specific concerns about the DC US Attorney’s office. Michael Sherwin, who has been less awful as Acting US Attorney than Timothy Shea, originally said on the record all options in the investigation that will be led out of his office were on the table, including incitement by Trump. But then someone said off the record that Trump was not a focus of the investigation. I suspect that person is Ken Kohl, who as Acting First Assistant US Attorney is in charge of the investigation and has been cited in other announcements about the investigation.

Ken Kohl at least oversaw, if not participated in, the alteration of documents to help Trump get elected. I’ve been told he’s got a long history of being both corrupt and less than competent. The decisions he will oversee in upcoming weeks could have the effect of giving people the opportunity to destroy evidence that lays out a much broader conspiracy, all while rolling out showy charges against people who were so stupid they took selfies of themselves committing crimes. We want this investigation to go beyond a slew of trespassing charges to incorporate the actual plotting that made this attack possible. It’s not clear Kohl will do that.

Even assuming that people currently in DOJ are willing to collect evidence implicating Trump, short of having a confirmed Attorney General overseeing such decisions, we’re back in the same situation Andrew McCabe was in on May 10, 2017, an Acting official trying to decide what to do in the immediate aftermath of a Trump crime. Trump’s backers have exploited the fact that McCabe made the right choices albeit in urgent conditions, and they’ve done so with the willing participation of some of the people — notably, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich — who are currently in charge of this investigation.

I’m happy to entertain a range of possible courses going forward, so long as all of them involve holding Trump accountable to the utmost degree possible. I assume Nancy Pelosi, whatever else she’ll be doing, will also be counting the votes to understand precisely what is possible, given the schedule.

But I also know that I’d far rather have Trump and those he directly conspired with criminally charged than have an impeachment delay the thorough fumigation of a government riddled with people who may have had a role in this plot. And that’s not going to happen if the investigation is scoped in such a way in the days ahead to rule out his involvement.

Update: Here’s a much-cited interview with Michael Sherwin. He adopts all the right language (pointedly disavowing labels of sedition or coup, saying he’s just looking at crimes) and repeats his statement that if there’s evidence Trump is involved he’ll be investigated.

On Thursday you were quoted saying the conduct of “all actors” would be examined, which was interpreted to mean President Trump might face charges. Is that what you meant — the man who gave the speech at the start of the day could be looking at charges?

Look, I meant what I said before. In any criminal investigation, I don’t care if it’s a drug trafficking conspiracy case, a human trafficking case or the Capitol — all persons will be looked at, OK? If the evidence is there, great. If it’s not, you move on. But we follow the evidence. If the evidence leads to any actor that may have had a role in this and if that evidence meets the four corners of a federal charge or a local charge, we’re going to pursue it.

Update: This story describes how a senior McConnell aide called Bill Barr’s Chief of Staff who called David Bowdich who then deployed three quick reaction teams in response.

The senior McConnell adviser reached a former law firm colleague who had just left the Justice Department: Will Levi, who had served as Attorney General William P. Barr’s chief of staff.

They needed help — now, he told Levi.

From his home, Levi immediately called FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich, who was in the command center in the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Capitol police had lost control of the building, Levi told Bowdich.

The FBI official had been hearing radio traffic of aggressive protesters pushing through the perimeter, but Levi said it had gone even further: The mob had already crashed the gates and lives were at risk.

Capitol police had said previously they didn’t need help, but Bowdich decided he couldn’t wait for a formal invitation.

He dispatched the first of three tactical teams, including one from the Washington field office to secure the safety of U.S. senators and provide whatever aid they could. He instructed two more SWAT teams to follow, including one that raced from Baltimore.

These teams typically gather at a staging area off-site to coordinate and plan, and then rush together to the area where they are needed. Bowdich told their commander there was no time.

“Get their asses over there. Go now,” he said to the first team’s commander. “We don’t have time to huddle.”

Not explained: why Bowdich was watching protestors get through the perimeter without deploying teams on his own. Again, I’m not saying he was complicit. I’m saying he has spent the last four years by letting Trump’s claims about politicization direct the Bureau, and can see how that habit might have led to a delayed response here.

The World’s Biggest Donald Trump Fan Believes Donald Trump Is Lying about COVID

Roger Stone has been one of Donald Trump’s biggest boosters for decades. But Stone’s actions make it clear he believes Trump is lying about the risks of COVID.

Yesterday, Stone’s lawyers moved to delay the date when he’ll have to report to prison 60 days (he has already gotten a 30-day extension). They claim that going to prison — even a prison that has had no recorded cases of COVID — will be life-threatening to Stone, for medical reasons filed under seal.

Those medical conditions make the consequences of his exposure to the COVID-19 virus in a prison facility life-threatening. The threat of exposure, given the current status of COVID-19 within BOP facilities and the lack of testing, is compelling.

The severity of the circumstances is highlighted by the fact that the Attorney General issued memoranda directing the BOP to release prisoners at risk from COVID-19 infection. Memorandum from the Attorney General to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, regarding “Prioritization of Home Confinement As Appropriate in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic,” dated March 26, 2020; Memorandum from the Attorney General to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, regarding “Increasing Use of Home Confinement at Institutions Most Affected by COVID-19,” dated April 3, 2020.

[snip]

While the BOP website currently does not show any inmates with the COVID-19 virus at FCI Jesup, it reports that there are 25 tests pending. https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/. 1 Given that the BOP does not routinely test inmates,2 combined with the relatively high positivity results in BOP facilities,3 the pending tests do not bode well.

Of course, Donald Trump doesn’t appear to believe that COVID is life-threatening, because he keeps scheduling indoor rallies where he packs people closer together than even a prison, if only for two hours. Sure, he makes attendees sign away their right to sue.

But if it’s safe for the President to pack people in closed spaces to feed his ego, it is safe for the US government to put Roger Stone in a prison facility to punish him for protecting the President.

Likewise, if Americans don’t need access to testing to assess the risk of COVID, then neither does Roger Stone.

Stone’s filing claims that the US Attorney’s office doesn’t object to his request.

The defense contacted the United States Attorney’s Office to ascertain its position on this motion, and was informed that, based on the Department of Justice’s and the Executive Office of United States Attorneys’ guidance on the handling of voluntary surrender dates during the pandemic at this point in time, it does not oppose a 60-day extension of Stone’s surrender date.

But as Politico noted, in addition to some wails about an attempt to kill him posted on Instagram, Stone also posted on Friday that the US Attorney’s Office did object to his delay.

In a video posted on Instagram Friday, Stone said the U.S. Attorney’s Office turned down his request to delay his prison report date, but Stone’s lawyers said in their court filing Tuesday that prosecutors were not opposed to giving him an additional two months to report.

Perhaps given the proof that Trump has the ability to cow the DC US Attorney to show favors on Trump’s buddies, Judge Amy Berman Jackson is taking no chances. She is asking DOJ to certify to what Stone has claimed.

MINUTE ORDER as to ROGER J. STONE, JR. It is ORDERED that the government must file a submission setting forth its position on defendant’s motion to extend his surrender date [381], and its reasons for that position, in writing. The government must also inform the Court of the results of the COVID-19 tests at FCI Jesup that were described in the motion as pending at the time it was filed. The government’s submission is due by June 25, 2020. 

It will be interesting to see whether line AUSAs will sign such a filing.

Whatever ABJ decides to do with Stone, reporters should not let this double standard pass. If even being in a prison during the pandemic will kill Roger Stone, then being in a packed Trump rally likely poses a deadly risk as well. If COVID poses a risk to his buddies, then it’s time Trump started treating COVID as a risk to every American.