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January 6 Deconfliction: “This Is Part of a Much Bigger Conspiracy”

In a Detroit Free Press article on the forged electoral certificate presented from Michigan, the state’s awesome Attorney General Dana Nessel explained why, after investigating for almost a year, she is now referring the matter to the Grand Rapids US Attorney’s Office.

Nessel told Maddow that her office has been evaluating charges for almost a year but decided Thursday to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan.

“We think this is a matter that is best investigated and potentially prosecuted by the feds,” Nessel said.

The signatories of the failed attempt to award Michigan’s Electoral College votes to Trump include Michigan GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock, national Republican committeewoman Kathy Berden and Michigan GOP grassroots vice chair Marian Sheridan, among other pro-Trump activists in the party.

The decision does not preclude possible charges against the Republicans who falsely claimed that they cast Michigan’s Electoral College votes for Trump, Nessel said. And her office might still bring charges, she added.

“Under state law, I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense,” Nessel said.

“But, obviously, this is part of a much bigger conspiracy and our hope is that the federal authorities and the Department of Justice and United States Attorney General Merrick Garland will take this in coordination with all the other information they’ve received and make an evaluation as to what charges these individuals might (face),” she said.

Consider what happened to lead to this federal criminal referral. After electors sent fake certifications to the National Archives, NARA then sent them to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Vice President Mike Pence the winners of both Michigan and Arizona and their electors after the 2020 election. Public records requests show the secretaries of state for those states sent those certificates to the Jan. 6 panel, along with correspondence between the National Archives and state officials about the documents.

Spokespeople for the Michigan and Arizona secretaries of state declined to comment on the documents. The offices confirmed that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, both Democrats, and their staff met with the panel in November.

“They mostly discussed election administration in Arizona, the 2020 elections, threats/harassment directed toward the office, and the Cyber Ninja’s partisan ballot review,” said Hobbs’ spokesperson C. Murphy Hebert.

Benson and her staff took questions from the committee on the 2020 election and events leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, according to Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Benson.

The National Archives sent emails to the Arizona secretary of state on Dec. 11, 2020, passing along the forged certificates “for your awareness” and informing the state officials the Archives would not accept them.

Arizona then took legal action against at least one of the groups who sent in the fake documents, sending a cease and desist letter to a pro-Trump “sovereign citizen” group telling them to stop using the state seal and referring the matter to the state attorney general.

“By affixing the state seal to documents containing false and misleading information about the results of Arizona’s November 3, 2020 General Election, you undermine the confidence in our democratic institutions,” Hobbs wrote to one of the pro-Trump groups.

Arizona took immediate action; given Nessel’s comments, Benson appears to have referred the matter to Nessel. Some of these details were made public last March after American Oversight obtained them. But after the January 6 Committee put them all in context and focused renewed attention to how the fake certificates fit into a larger effort, it led Nessel to hold off on pursuing potential 14-year charges against some of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and instead to formally refer the investigation to the Feds, based on the logic that the obviously coordinated effort to forge fake electoral certificates is part of a larger whole.

This is not dissimilar from how legal action from Florida’s charity regulator led to state action as well as a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting.

For months, a federal investigation running out of Washington, D.C., has been demanding documents and asking potential witnesses questions about Powell, according to three people familiar with the matter. Similarly, a separate investigation into Powell’s anti-democratic activities took place in the Sunshine State earlier this year—and has already produced results, and punished Powell and her far-right group.

The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, is examining the finances of Defending the Republic, an organization founded by Powell to fund her “Kraken” lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, the sources said.According to two of the people familiar with the matter, a grand jury was empaneled, and subpoenas and documents requests have gone out to multiple individuals as recently as September.

Defending the Republic’s finances have already prompted an investigation and a settlement with Florida’s charity regulator. The group paid a $10,000 fine in September as part of a settlement agreement related to its solicitation of contributions and failure to register as a charitable organization in the state.

[snip]

Defending the Republic’s finances first attracted the scrutiny of regulators in Florida shortly after Powell founded the group in November 2020 when authorities received a complaint and subsequently issued a subpoena to internet hosting service GoDaddy for information about the group’s website.

In a June press conference, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Defending the Republic was “found to be soliciting contributions from the State of Florida or from persons within the State of Florida” on the internet “without having filed in the State of Florida” as a charitable organization.”

On Aug. 24, Defending the Republic paid a $10,000 fine as part of a settlement agreement with Florida authorities over its fundraising.

As part of that agreement, Powell’s group agreed to register as a charity in Florida and submitted a projected budget of over $7 million. The settlement agreement also required Defending the Republic to submit an audited financial statement for the group’s operations between December 2020 and July 2021 by Nov. 30, including a balance sheet and a list of expenses and revenue.

Meanwhile, Fulton County’s DA, Fani Willis, has been investigating Trump’s call to pressure Brad Raffensperger to cheat and will reportedly make a prosecutorial decision in the months ahead.

The prosecutor weighing whether Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory said a decision on whether to bring charges could come as early as the first half of this year.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that her team is making solid progress, and she’s leaning toward asking for a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid the investigation.

“I believe in 2022 a decision will be made in that case,” Willis said. “I certainly think that in the first half of the year that decisions will be made.”

[snip]

Willis declined to speak about the specifics, but she confirmed that the investigation’s scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.

Regardless of what Willis decides, she can also refer actions to the Feds because it, like the forged electoral certifications, “is part of a much bigger conspiracy.”

The point is (besides that we should be grateful that Democrats elected a lot of smart, fearless women in recent years) that there are lots of moving parts to this “much bigger conspiracy.” And all those moving parts have, as an option, referring their investigative findings to DOJ to drop it into the “much bigger conspiracy.”

So during the year when DOJ has been laying what Merrick Garland called “the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases,” states and local authorities have been conducting investigations that can be joined to that evidentiary foundation.

These are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy.

All these moving parts require coordination, however, or “deconfliction,” both in an effort to maximize cross-fertilization between the investigations and to ensure no investigation screws up the criminal investigations that might lead to real consequences. While there has been no reporting on how this is being done at DOJ, we can be sure it is, not least because DOJ and the Committee are muddling through the Executive Privilege questions in tandem.

Robert Mueller, for example, had his own congressional liaison, and referrals from the Senate Intelligence Committee led directly to plea deals with Sam Patten and Michael Cohen that, in turn, led to information both (and in the latter case, Trump’s lawyers) had shielded from the Committees.

Adam Schiff, now a member on the Select Committee, knows well that Mueller also used a House Intelligence Committee interview with Roger Stone as a basis for an obstruction prosecution against Trump’s rat-fucker. While the details are less clear, I also suspect that Steve Bannon’s interviews with HPSCI served to tee up the fruitful grand jury appearance for him in January 2019 about which Stone is still furious.

Liz Cheney brings a different knowledge base to the challenge of deconfliction. Her dad played a central role in screwing up the Special Prosecutor investigation into Iran-Contra by offering key witnesses immunity. He’s one reason why congressional committees hoping to preserve criminal investigations tread carefully. Hopefully, Congresswoman Cheney can apply lessons learned from her evil genius father to the forces of good on the Select Committee. She has the most to lose if this Committee doesn’t succeed.

As noted above, the most visible sign of this deconfliction has come on privilege reviews. In July, at the same time that DOJ established their contact policy fire-walling President Biden from learning about any ongoing investigations, DOJ got privilege waivers for former DOJ personnel to appear before Congress. After that, when the Select Committee, as an independent branch of government that is also fire-walled from the criminal investigation, asked for investigative materials from the Archives, Biden conducted privilege reviews of that material and waived privilege over much, but not all, of it. If and when that material is released, however, it would be available to anyone with a need, including DOJ.

In fact, the back and forth between the Committee and DOJ has likely already made investigative materials available to DOJ. That’s because, after the Select Committee made it clear Mark Meadows had violated the Presidential Records Act with regards to some of the materials he shared with the committee, Meadows undertook efforts to fix that. To the extent he is able to provide his personal emails and Signal texts to NARA (some of the latter are likely are unavailable), that material would become available to DOJ without subpoenaing Meadows. And to the extent this process reveals that materials of investigative interest to a grand jury were deleted when Meadows obtained a new phone, it will give DOJ reason to use legal process to either hold Meadows accountable for obstruction, or reason to get it from others, like Jim Jordan. To say nothing of the fact that Meadows can’t prevent DOJ from subpoenaing the call records that led him to renege on efforts to cooperate with the January 6 Committee. That’s why I doubt DOJ will hold Meadows in criminal contempt, because they would be better served to get that information — and coerce cooperation, if he chooses that route — via their own legal process. Effectively, then, Bennie Thompson wrote a rough draft of a warrant affidavit for the FBI.

It’s in the subpoenas for witnesses, however, that I’m most curious about with regards to deconfliction between the DOJ and Select Committee investigation. Consider: There are two Trump associates who were key in sowing the Big Lie, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who are known to be under criminal investigation right now. That’s a topic the Select Committee is focusing closely on. But in spite of the fact that Bennie Thompson has expressed an interest in interviewing Rudy, thus far Thompson remains coy about how he’ll reach out to get Rudy’s testimony. There has been no public mention of getting Powell’s testimony or, for that matter, Lin Wood or Patrick Byrne, who — based on public reports — are part of that grifting investigation as well (and Byrne would be interesting of his own accord because he was honey-potted by a Russian spy). And for that matter, at least by the time he sued the committee, Mike Flynn’s call records hadn’t been subpoenaed either.

I’m equally interested in the timing of the Stewart Rhodes subpoena: November 23. That was after DOJ obtained an arrest warrant for James Beeks, the last member of The Stack, on November 18, but the day before they arrested him. By that point (probably long before), DOJ had to have known they were going to pursue sedition charges against him. But for some reason, they held off on the sedition charges when they superseded the Oath Keepers indictment on December 1 (before they otherwise would have needed to charge Beeks) to include him and tweak the Civil Disorder language in the indictment. There may be very good reasons they needed to wait: They needed to find Rhodes; they needed to finish exploiting his phone; they needed to resolve how they were going to treat the field commander, Mike Simmons, whose status in the investigation changed pretty dramatically between the December indictment and the Sedition one. But in that period while they held off, the Select Committee tested whether Rhodes wanted to go lie under oath to Congress. He declined.

It was worth a shot!

I find it equally curious that the Select Committee chose to target colleagues who played a more ambivalent role in the insurrection on January 6, rather than people like Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks, who have clear ties to organizers and other insurrectionists.

Similarly, I share Justin Hendrix’s curiosity why — especially in the wake of his article showing that The Donald isn’t being used in FBI affidavits — the Select Committee isn’t pursuing the role of the post-Reddit social media site in the insurrection, even while they expand their prior requests on more traditional social media.

In short, DOJ and the Select Committee are necessarily deconflicting their efforts, even if the Committee remains fire-walled from what DOJ has planned in the weeks ahead. But understanding that raises interesting questions about the Select Committee choices.

These pieces are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy. And until we see all those pieces we won’t see how they all work together.

But there are increasing signs that others are putting those pieces together.

Update: On January 18, the committee subpoenaed Rudy, Sidney Powell, and two others.

Select Committee Witness Requests

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.

The Green Bay Sweep Is Inextricably Tied to the Violent Mob

Between yesterday’s hearing in the January 6 lawsuits — where Judge Amit Mehta noted that,”The conspiracy to sow distrust in the election is not illegal, no[] matter what we think about conduct,” — and something I’m working on, I’ve been thinking about all the stuff that happened between November and January, which the Select Committee is working aggressively on.

I’ve said that I believe the phone call to Brad Raffensperger is illegal on its own right. The Fulton County DA says she’s getting closer to a charging decision on it, and whatever she decides she can likely share her findings with DOJ. Politico reported on some of the other damning information that the Select Committee has received, including other calls to pressure Georgia officials.

I’ve laid out how Trump’s pressure on Mike Pence is already a key focus of both investigations (which the NYT wrote about yesterday).

But as to the rest of it, thus far, the vast majority of what has been made public is — as Judge Mehta qualified it — a legal conspiracy to undermine trust in elections. As I noted, the reason why Peter Navarro’s confessions aren’t enough to charge him with sedition is because as confessed, the coordinated effort to get Republicans to raise bad faith challenges to the vote certification is not illegal.

But there are two ways to think about these events leading up to the mob. The first, which I’ll lay out in more depth later, is as proof of mens rea. When Trump called up Raffensperger and asked for the precise number of votes he needed to win, it was a (recorded) admission that he knew he had lost the state.

To the extent DOJ and the Select Committee can substantiate that Trump knew the request was illegal, Trump’s sustained demands that Pence reject the legal vote count is also proof of kind of corrupt purpose that would be necessary to charge him with obstruction (as DOJ’s expert on this approach himself said fairly explicitly).

I’d like to go back to what I believe to be the third most compelling proof of corrupt mens rea. As I noted, when — in the wake of state certifications — Trump told Richard Donoghue to just say the election was corrupt and “leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen,” he effectively admitted he was asking DOJ to claim there were problems with the election when they were telling him there weren’t.

On December 27, Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue took notes from a call where Trump laid out the alleged fraud that merited DOJ involvement. Donoghue noted Trump saying, “You guys may not be following the Internet the way I do.” Donoghue recorded multiple times that DOJ officials told Trump his election claims were wrong, detailing the investigations that DOJ had already done into the allegations. He recorded Trump’s intimation that he might start replacing people with Jeffrey Bossert Clark if they didn’t back his claims of fraud.

At one point, Trump demanded, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”

At the time I wrote that post in August, I believed it proved the mens rea that DOJ would need to show Trump was acting with corrupt intent.

But I look at it differently given Peter Navarro’s cover story about the subsequent effort. Navarro claims that he and Steve Bannon rolled out an (entirely legal) effort to provide members of Congress with enough election disinformation to sustain 24 hours of debate.

“The Green Bay Sweep was very well thought out. It was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings,” he said. “But we thought that we could bypass the corporate media by getting this stuff televised.”

Navarro’s part in this ploy was to provide the raw materials, he said in an interview on Thursday. That came in the form of a three-part White House report he put together during his final weeks in the Trump administration with volume titles like, “The Immaculate Deception” and “The Art of the Steal.”

“My role was to provide the receipts for the 100 congressmen or so who would make their cases… who could rely in part on the body of evidence I’d collected,” he told The Daily Beast. “To lay the legal predicate for the actions to be taken.” (Ultimately, states have not found any evidence of electoral fraud above the norm, which is exceedingly small.)

The next phase of the plan was up to Bannon, Navarro describes in his memoir, In Trump Time.

“Steve Bannon’s role was to figure out how to use this information—what he called ‘receipts’—to overturn the election result. That’s how Steve had come up with the Green Bay Sweep idea,” he wrote.

“The political and legal beauty of the strategy was this: by law, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must spend up to two hours of debate per state on each requested challenge. For the six battleground states, that would add up to as much as twenty-four hours of nationally televised hearings across the two chambers of Congress.”

The plan, as laid out in Navarro’s cover story, is entirely legal so long as you believe two key claims he makes: that he doesn’t know when this effort started and doesn’t remember Trump being personally involved.

Although Navarro told The Daily Beast he doesn’t remember when “Brother Bannon” came up with the plan, he said it started taking shape as Trump’s “Stop the Steal” legal challenges to election results in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin fizzled out. Courts wouldn’t side with Trump, thanks to what Navarro describes in his book as “the highly counterproductive antics” of Sydney Powell and her Kraken lawsuits. So instead, they came up with a never-before-seen scheme through the legislative branch.

Navarro starts off his book’s chapter about the strategy by mentioning how “Stephen K. Bannon, myself, and President Donald John Trump” were “the last three people on God’s good Earth who want to see violence erupt on Capitol Hill,” as it would disrupt their plans.

When asked if Trump himself was involved in the strategy, Navarro said, “I never spoke directly to him about it. But he was certainly on board with the strategy. Just listen to his speech that day. He’d been briefed on the law, and how Mike [Pence] had the authority to it.”

“Leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.” Navarro (claims he) doesn’t remember when this plan started.

But Trump already told DOJ (the people conducting this investigation, the ones that got a privilege waiver for this material back in the summer) when it started, all the way back in 2020. By December 27, he had a plan that required DOJ to claim fraud, so that Trump and Republican Congressmen could implement what would ultimately be called the Green Bay Sweep.

But even before he had done that, on December 19, he sent out the Tweet that insurrectionists great and small took as their cue to start planning to attend a riot.

Trump tweets: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election” and “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

DOJ has had, since before January 6, the proof that these two efforts worked in conjunction.

And that’s what changes the (as Judge Mehta described it) legal conspiracy to sow distrust in the election into an illegal conspiracy, with demonstrated mens rea of corrupt intent, to obstruct the vote count.

This is why DOJ has been pursuing a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count and not incitement. Because only the former can reach to those who helped Trump commit his crime.

“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.

Why That Peter Navarro Interview Isn’t Enough To Charge Him with Sedition

A slew of people have asserted as fact that an interview that Peter Navarro did on his book offers adequate proof to charge him with sedition. The interview (and I assume the book) lays out a plan called the Green Bay Sweep that, Navarro hoped, would result in Trump remaining in power. It entailed:

  • Recruiting “over 100 congressmen, including some senators” to raise objections to the vote count, setting off 24-hours of news coverage on false claims about the election
  • Increasing public pressure — unrelated to threats of violence — to lead Mike Pence to send the electoral vote back in six swing states
  • Using that delay, getting those states to change their vote results

Navarro’s role was to invent the false claims members of Congress would use to fill up 24-hours of “debate.”

Navarro’s part in this ploy was to provide the raw materials, he said in an interview on Thursday. That came in the form of a three-part White House report he put together during his final weeks in the Trump administration with volume titles like, “The Immaculate Deception” and “The Art of the Steal.”

“My role was to provide the receipts for the 100 congressmen or so who would make their cases… who could rely in part on the body of evidence I’d collected,” he told The Daily Beast. “To lay the legal predicate for the actions to be taken.” (Ultimately, states have not found any evidence of electoral fraud above the norm, which is exceedingly small.)

I’d like to talk about why this book and interview are not enough to charge Navarro with sedition, and in fact the current media frenzy into is is actually counterproductive to the legal investigation.

A book and an interview are not evidence

The most important reason why this book and Navarro’s interviews on it are not enough to charge him is that books are probably not admissible evidence.

This is retroactive telling about what, Navarro claims, he and Steve Bannon and others planned to do. While the book might be part of a conspiracy to cover up what Navarro and Bannon planned, in and of itself, it’s not clear it would be admissible at trial (though it could be useful at trial for other reasons, such as challenging any testimony Navarro gave).

Instead, you’d need to get all the texts and memos Navarro says documents this effort, the former of which may require seizing his phone with a probable cause warrant.

Although the bipartisan House committee investigating the violence on Jan. 6 has demanded testimony and records from dozens of Trump allies and rally organizers believed to be involved in the attack on the nation’s democracy, Navarro said he hasn’t heard from them yet. The committee did not respond to our questions about whether it intends to dig into Navarro’s activities.

And while he has text messages, phone calls, and memos that could show how closely an active White House official was involved in the effort to keep Trump in power, he says investigators won’t find anything that shows the Green Bay Sweep plan involved violence.

You’d likely need cooperating witnesses that were willing to tell this story, perhaps Navarro himself and Steven Bannon (the same guy refusing to testify to the Jan6 Committee right now).

As such, this interview is at most an investigative blueprint that, months down the road, might lead to evidence that could be used to prosecute Navarro.

Much of this is not illegal

Another reason why this interview and book are not a smoking gun is that, as Navarro describes it, much of it is not illegal.

It is not illegal to invent false claims about an election, as Navarro said he did. It might be sanctionable for a lawyer to make those same false claims to a court (as it finally became for Sidney Powell). I might be illegal to raise money off promises of electoral changes you knew to be false, which seems to be one of several premises for the investigation of Sidney Powell. But it’s not illegal to lie.

It’s also not illegal for members of Congress to raise objections on the floor, which was a central part of this plan. As Republicans never tire of reminding, Jamie Raskin did so himself in 2017.

Unlike Raskin’s challenge, the plan here was to base electoral challenges off bullshit. But even if you could prove that members of Congress knew it was all bullshit (and you would need to prove that), it’s also not illegal for members of Congress to push bullshit in Congress. Indeed, that is pretty aggressively protected under Speech and Debate. To criminalize this behavior you’d have to distinguish it from what lobbyists do all the time when they push members of Congress to adopt storylines that are factually false.

All this only becomes illegal in the context of a plan to violate the law. DOJ has been using 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to charge deliberate efforts to prevent the certification, but at least as stated, Navarro didn’t want to obstruct the proceeding in question, he wanted that process to occur, albeit stretched over 24 hours according to the very rules that judges have pointed to to affirm that it is an official proceeding. So if you were to charge it, you’d need to charge something else, perhaps trying to get Pence to violate his duty.

Much of this is probably a lie

Crazier still, people claiming that this book and interview are the smoking gun in a prosecution are treating it as a truthful description, which it would need to be to serve as admissible evidence for any crime itself (which is why it would have limited evidentiary value short of getting a whole lot of texts and testimony).

Peter Navarro is a noted liar and Steve Bannon is an even more accomplished one. And we know — because BuzzFeed fought to liberate Mueller materials — that Bannon is all too happy to tell serially false stories to protect himself from criminal exposure. At a very similar time in the Mueller investigation, Roger Stone got the press to chase his false claims like six year olds chasing a soccer ball, and to this day, the overwhelming majority of the press believe his claims about why he was prosecuted are actually why he was (though prosecutors used that to their advantage, too).

We should assume this story is of the same ilk, a cover story, which has successfully led the press to grasp onto it as a smoking gun rather than a distraction. If it is a cover story, it serves to:

  • Claim that “‘Stephen K. Bannon, myself, and President Donald John Trump’ were ‘the last three people on God’s good Earth who want to see violence erupt on Capitol Hill,'” as it would disrupt their plans. This claim is crucially important with regards the pressure campaign focused on Pence, as I’ll return to. And it is undoubtedly bullshit.
  • Claim that Navarro “felt fortunate that someone cancelled his scheduled appearance to speak to Trump supporters that morning at the Ellipse, “because “It was better for me to spend that morning … Just checking to see that everything was in line, that congressmen were on board.” This adopts the same strategy that Stone has, blaming those who organized the Ellipse rally rather than those orchestrating events at the Hill. And in this telling, Navarro was just talking to members of Congress, not communicating to any of the people who would go on to attack the Capitol.
  • Distance himself from Sidney Powell’s equally outlandish claims. In his telling, this is a plan that arose from the failures of Sidney Powell’s false claims, not a continuation of them. This treats Navarro’s efforts as an alternative to Powell’s false claims, not a continuation of them.

[Navarro] said it started taking shape as Trump’s “Stop the Steal” legal challenges to election results in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin fizzled out. Courts wouldn’t side with Trump, thanks to what Navarro describes in his book as “the highly counterproductive antics” of Sydney Powell and her Kraken lawsuits.

  • Focus on January 6 rather than January 5. Navarro emphasizes that he spoke to Bannon first thing in the morning on January 6. Given what we know about the way the riot was finalized on January 5, I’m more interested in whom he spoke with before he went to bed.

In my experience, you learn far more in mapping out what liars are trying to cover up than you do chasing their claims as if they are the truth. And the same is probably true here.

But at the very least, Navarro’s tale attempts to dissociate himself with several contributors to January 6 that might be more obviously tied to crimes than the lies he packaged up for members of Congress to tell.

The takeaway from this book and interview ought to be that Navarro has admitted his goal was to bring maximal pressure on Mike Pence. As such, it means he shares a stated goal of a number of January 6 defendants who have already pled guilty.

Finally, Everyone Is Talking about Trump’s Obstruction on January 6

Twice in the last 24 hours, Liz Cheney has read from texts that Mark Meadows already turned over to the January 6 Committee, showing that everyone from Sean Hannity to Don Jr were desperately contacting Meadows begging him to get Trump to do something to halt the assault on the Capitol.

After reading the names of all the people who’ve protected Trump since, Cheney then described that Meadows’ testimony is necessary to determine whether Trump, “through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceedings to count electoral votes.”

Hours passed without necessary action by the President. These privileged texts are further evidence of President Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes. And Mr. Meadows’ testimony will bear on another key question before this Committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceedings to count electoral votes?

With her forceful comments Cheney was, as TV lawyers have finally discovered, invoking the clause of the obstruction statute that DOJ has used to charge hundreds of the most serious January 6 rioters. Liz Cheney was stating that Trump’s actions on January 6 may demonstrate that he, along with hundreds of people he incited, had deliberately attempted to prevent the vote count.

Even as she was doing that a second time today, the judge presiding over most of the Proud Boys cases, Tim Kelly joined his colleague Dabney Friedrich in rejecting the challenge that Ethan Nordean had taken to that same application.*

Again, this issue is not over. There are 2 other ripe challenges to the application, and plenty more pending.

But for the moment, it seems that all three branches of government — prosecutors charging obstruction, judges affirming the viability of the application, and senior members of Congress invoking it as part of the January 6 investigation — agree that the events of the day may amount to obstruction.

Back when I begged TV lawyers to start focusing on this application, I laid out the things that Trump had or may have done, that might be proof of obstruction.

  • Agreeing (and ordering subordinates) to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging the Proud Boys to believe they are his army
  • Personally sowing the Big Lie about voter fraud to lead supporters to believe Trump has been robbed of his rightful election win
  • Asking subordinates and Republican politicians to lie about the vote to encourage supporters to feel they were robbed
  • Encouraging surrogates and campaign staffers to fund buses to make travel to DC easier
  • Using the January 6 rally to encourage as many people as possible to come to DC
  • Applauding violence in advance of January 6 and tacitly encouraging it on the day
  • Recruiting members of Congress to raise challenges to the vote count
  • Asking members of Congress to delay evacuation even as the rioters entered the building, heightening the chance of direct physical threat (and likely contributing to Ashli Babbitt’s death)
  • Asking Mike Pence to do something unconstitutional, then targeting him after he refused, virtually ensuring he would be personally threatened
  • Possibly muddling the line of command on which civilian agency would coordinate response, ensuring there would be none
  • Possibly taking steps to delay any Guard response at the Capitol
  • Possibly ignoring immediate requests from help from leaders of Congress

The January 6 Committee has already collected evidence demonstrating many of these issues, for example, the efforts to sow the Big Lie, including coordination with Congress, reveling in the collecting mobs, directing Guard deployment in ways that would support the insurrection, the unbelievable pressure on Mike Pence to violate his oath to the Constitution. In the interim four months, the press and Committee have identified other potential means of obstruction, such as ordering Alex Jones to bring his mob to the Capitol.

This is not a guarantee that Trump will be prosecuted. But all three branches of government now agree on the framework with which he might be held accountable.

*As I now understand it, Kelly announced yesterday that he will be denying the motion to dismiss later this week. He has not done so formally yet, but announced it yesterday in conjunction with his denial of renewed bail motions from three defendants.

Dabney Friedrich Rejects Challenge to January 6 Obstruction Application

I have written — a lot — about the application of obstruction (18 USC 1512(c)(2)) at the heart of the way DOJ has approached the January 6 prosecution. (July; July; August; August; September; September; December; December)

The government has, thus far, chosen not to charge January 6ers with Seditious Conspiracy (18 USC 2384), a crime which carries a sentence of 20 years but requires the government show specific intent to overthrow the government. DOJ has a history of spectacular failure when trying to charge white terrorists with sedition, in part because the bar to proving the elements of the offense is quite high, and in part because white terrorists have long known how to package their extremism in heroic terms. Sedition would be particularly hard to prove with regards to January 6, since it was an attack launched by one branch of government on another.

Instead, the government has charged those Jan6ers against whom they had solid evidence of a specific intent to stop the vote certification with obstruction of an official proceeding under 18 USC 1512(c)(2). Like sedition, that crime can carry a 20 year sentence. But the base offense carries a range closer to 18 months (or the eight months to which Paul Hodgkins was sentenced). To get to stiffer sentences, DOJ would have to demonstrate any of a number of exacerbating behaviors, most notably, the threat of violence or an attempt to assassinate someone, but also destruction of evidence. That’s how DOJ got to very different guideline ranges for five men, all of whom pled guilty to the same obstruction offense:

That is, using obstruction offers the possibility of the same sentence as sedition for the more serious perpetrators, without the same political blowback and legal risk, while giving DOJ more flexibility in punishing different kinds of actions that day as felonies.

Only, using obstruction in this fashion is without precedent, in part because no one has ever tried to prevent the vote certification by violently attacking the Capitol before.

Because of that, January 6 defense attorneys have launched a concerted legal attack on the application, variously claiming:

  • This application of obstruction can’t be applied to the vote certification because 18 USC 1512(c)(2) is limited to those proceedings for which there is some kind investigation and adjudication of evidence (like an impeachment)
  • If DOJ wanted to charge obstruction, they should have used some other part of the law (that didn’t carry a potential 20 year sentence)
  • A recent Supreme Court ruling in Yates v United States that ruled fish could not be evidence of obstruction, which pivoted largely on grammar and conjunctions, would apply to using a mob to stop a vote certification
  • January 6 rioters had no way of knowing that the vote certification counted as an official proceeding the obstruction of which would carry a felony charge
  • The same confusion about what “corruptly” means that saved John Poindexter exists here

Yesterday, Judge Dabney Friedrich denied Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave’s motion to dismiss their conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction charges. The opinion is succinct, step-by-step dismissal of each of those challenges (I’ve put the bullets above in the order she addresses them to make it easier to read along).

There are three other major efforts (by Brady Knowlton before Randolph Moss, by Proud Boy Ethan Nordean before Tim Kelly, by Thomas Caldwell before Amit Mehta in the Oath Keeper case) and a slew of other more minor efforts to overturn this application. So the viability of this application of obstruction is by no means a done deal. If any of those other judges ruled against the government, it would set off interlocutory appeals that could upend this decision.

But one judge, at least, has now sanctioned DOJ’s novel application, at least as used with these two defendants.

It’s significant that Friedrich has ruled against this motion (she’s facing a similar one from 3%er Guy Reffitt), for a number of reasons. That’s true, for one, because she’s one of four Trump appointees in the DC District. While all four are (unlike some Trump appointees on the DC Circuit or Supreme Court) quite serious judges, Friedrich is, with Trevor McFadden, one of the judges who might be more sympathetic to the Trump-supporting defendants before her.

Friedrich had also raised questions as to why DOJ hadn’t used a different clause of the obstruction statute, 1512(d)(1) that might also apply to January 6, but which carries just a three year sentence. That makes her sustained treatment of how the law works — citing a Scalia opinion that defendants have raised repeatedly — of particular interest, because it’s the question she seemed to have the most doubt about.

Indeed, § 1512(c)(2) is more akin to the omnibus clause in 18 U.S.C. § 15035 than it is to “tangible object” in § 1519. The specific provisions in § 1503 cover actions related to jurors and court officers and the omnibus clause “serves as a catchall, prohibiting persons from endeavoring to influence, obstruct, or impede the due administration of justice.” As such, it is “far more general in scope.” United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593, 598 (1995). The ejusdem generus canon does not apply to limit § 1503’s omnibus clause to acts directed at jurors and court officers, because the clause “is not a general or collective term following a list of specific items.” Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 615 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (emphasis omitted). Instead, “it is one of the several distinct and independent prohibitions contained in § 1503 that share only the word ‘Whoever,’ which begins the statute, and the penalty provision that ends it.” Id. So too here.

[snip]

Nor does the plain text of § 1512(c)(2) create “intolerable” surplusage. Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 616 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). To be sure, interpreting subsection (c)(2) to include any and all obstructive, impeding, or influencing acts creates substantial overlap with the rest of § 1512, and with other provisions in Chapter 73. But the Court does not find that it creates intolerable overlap.

To start, a broad interpretation of § 1512(c)(2) does not entirely subsume numerous provisions with the chapter. For instance, § 1512(a)(1)(C), (a)(2)(C), (b)(3), and (d)(2)–(4) proscribe conduct unrelated to an “official proceeding.” Sections 1503 and 1505 prohibit obstructive acts related to the “due administration of justice” and congressional inquiries or investigations, respectively, which may have no relation to an official proceeding. Section 1513, meanwhile, prohibits retaliatory conduct that occurs after a person participates in an official proceeding. Section 1512(c)(2), on the other hand, concerns obstructive conduct that occurs either before or during such proceedings.

It is true that killing a witness to prevent his testimony at an official proceeding, see § 1512(a)(1)(A), or intimidating a person so that he withholds a record from the proceeding, see § 1512(b)(2)(A), among others, could be charged under § 1512(c)(2). But the fact that there is overlap between § 1512(c)(2) and the rest of § 1512, or other provisions in Chapter 73, is hardly remarkable; “[i]t is not unusual for a particular act to violate more than one criminal statute, and in such situations the Government may proceed under any statute that applies.” Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 616 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (internal citations omitted); see also Loughrin, 573 U.S. at 358 n.4.

In the Reffitt case, Friedrich had made DOJ provide a Bill of Particulars to explain how they understand Reffitt to have obstructed the vote certification, which was a different approach than other judges have taken. Moss and Mehta, for example, seem most concerned about limiting principles that distinguish obstruction as charged here from otherwise protected political speech (which also might give them a different basis to reject this application, particularly given that Donovan Crowl attorney Carmen Hernandez has focused on the First Amendment in the Oath Keeper case).

One other factor that makes Friedrich’s quicker decision on this issue (this challenge came before her after all the others I’ve listed as major above) interesting is that her spouse, Matthew Friedrich, was an Enron prosecutor. And — as Judge Friedrich’s opinion makes clear — Congress passed this specific clause in response to lessons learned in Enron.

In 2002, following the collapse of Enron, Congress enacted a new obstruction provision in Section 1102 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745, 807: “Tampering with a record or otherwise impeding an official proceeding.” It was codified as subsection (c) of a pre-existing statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1512. Section 1512(c), in full, states:

Whoever corruptly—

(1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or

(2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2).

[snip]

As noted, Congress enacted § 1512(c) as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 following “Enron’s massive accounting fraud and revelations that the company’s outside auditor, Arthur Andersen LLP, had systematically destroyed potentially incriminating documents.” Yates, 574 U.S. at 535–36. That Congress acted due to concerns about document destruction and the integrity of investigations of corporate criminality does not define the statute’s scope. Statutes often reach beyond the principal evil that animated them. See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 79 (1998).

She has personal reason to know this history and the import of the statute well.

Friedrich looked to the Enron history to map how “corruptly” might apply in this case, too.

In considering the meaning of “corruptly” (or wrongfully), courts have drawn a clear distinction between lawful and unlawful conduct. In Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696 (2005), the Supreme Court explained, in the context of § 1512(b), that “corruptly” is “associated with wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil.” Id. at 705 (internal quotations omitted).

[snip]

The ordinary meaning of “wrongful,” along with the judicial opinions construing it, identify a core set of conduct against which § 1512(c)(2) may be constitutionally applied—“independently criminal” conduct, North, 910 F.2d at 943 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) that is “inherently malign,” Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 704, and committed with the intent to obstruct an official proceeding, see Friske, 640 F.3d at 1291–92. “Corruptly” (or wrongfully) also acts to shield those who engage in lawful, innocent conduct—even when done with the intent to obstruct, impede, or influence the official proceeding—from falling within the ambit of § 1512(c)(2). See Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 705–06.

All in all, this was a no-nonsense opinion that didn’t rely on distinct aspects of this case, such as that Sandlin encouraged others in the Senate to look for and seize laptops and papers, the kind of destruction of evidence that makes the question easier.

Her opinion laid out just one limiting factor, though given how DOJ has charged conspiracy to obstruct the vote certification in all the conspiracy cases, an important one. This case was easy, Friedrich suggests, because so much of what else Sandlin and DeGrave are accused was obviously illegal (even moreso than Reffitt, who didn’t enter the building and whose resistance to cops was not charged as assault).

The indictment in this case alleges obstructive acts that fall on the obviously unlawful side of the line. It alleges that the defendants obstructed and impeded the congressional proceeding to certify the election results. Superseding Indictment ¶ 37. And it further alleges that the defendants engaged in advance planning, forcibly breached the Capitol building, assaulted Capitol police officers, and encouraged others to steal laptops and paperwork from the Senate Chamber. Id. ¶¶ 15-33. This alleged conduct is both “independently criminal,” North, 910 F.2d at 943 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) and “inherently malign,” Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 704. And it was allegedly done with the intent to obstruct the congressional proceeding, see Friske, 640 F.3d at 1291. Assuming that the government can meet its burden at trial, which is appropriate to assume for purposes of this motion, the defendants were sufficiently on notice that they corruptly obstructed, or attempted to obstruct, an official proceeding under § 1512(c)(2).

The Court recognizes that other cases, such as those involving lawful means, see, e.g., Arthur Andersen, 544 U.S. at 703, will present closer questions.14 But the Court need not decide here what constitutes the outer contours of a “corrupt purpose.” Because the indictment alleges that the defendants used obvious criminal means with the intent to obstruct an official proceeding, their conduct falls squarely within the core coverage of “corruptly” as used in § 1512(c)(2). See Edwards, 869 F.3d at 502 (“While the corrupt-persuasion element might raise vagueness questions at the margins, the wrongdoing alleged here falls comfortably within the ambit of the statute.”). The Court will address further refinements of the definition of “corruptly” with jury instructions.

14 As courts have noted, difficult questions arise when lawful means are used with a corrupt purpose and with the intent to obstruct, influence, or impede an official proceeding. See, e.g., United States v. Doss, 630 F.3d 1181, 1189 (9th Cir. 2011); North, 910 F.2d at 943 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). In Judge Silberman’s view, the purpose inquiry should focus narrowly on whether the defendant “was attempting to secure some advantage for himself or for others than was improper or not in accordance with the legal rights and duties of himself or others.” North, 910 F.2d at 944 (Silberman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); see also Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 616 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (the “longstanding and well-accepted meaning” of “corruptly” is “[a]n act done with an intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others”) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also United States v. Kanchanalak, 37 F. Supp. 2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1999) (noting that it may be too vague to require only that a defendant “act[ed] with an improper purpose”). This case, which allegedly involves unlawful means engaged in with the intent to obstruct, does not raise these challenging questions.

Whether Sandlin and DeGrave corruptly attempted to halt the vote count is easy, Friedrich suggests, because they are accused of so much else that was clearly illegal, including both trespassing and assaulting cops. Whether this application of obstruction holds for overt acts that are not, themselves illegal, will be a much harder question, but it was not one before her in this case.

This question is already before other judges though, significantly (for DOJ’s efforts to hold what I’ve termed, “organizer inciters” accountable) in the 3%er SoCal conspiracy. And, as the AUSA dealing with the legal application of all this, James Pearce, responded in yet another challenge to this application of obstruction, it goes to the core of whether this application of obstruction could be used with the former President.

At a hearing on Monday for defendant Garret Miller of Richardson, Texas, [Carl] Nichols made the first move toward a Trump analogy by asking a prosecutor whether the obstruction statute could have been violated by someone who simply “called Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way.” The judge also asked the prosecutor to assume the person trying to persuade Pence had the “appropriate mens rea,” or guilty mind, to be responsible for a crime.

Nichols made no specific mention of Trump, who appointed him to the bench, but the then-president was publicly and privately pressuring Pence in the days before the fateful Jan. 6 tally to decline to certify Joe Biden’s victory. Trump also enlisted other allies, including attorney John Eastman, to lean on Pence.

An attorney with the Justice Department Criminal Division, James Pearce, initially seemed to dismiss the idea that merely lobbying Pence to refuse to recognize the electoral result would amount to the crime of obstructing or attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.

“I don’t see how that gets you that,” Pearce told the judge.

However, Pearce quickly added that it might well be a crime if the person reaching out to Pence knew the vice president had an obligation under the Constitution to recognize the result.

“If that person does that 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,” Pearce said.

If Trump honestly believed that Mike Pence could blow off the vote certification when he ordered him to do so on January 6, this application of obstruction would be far more problematic, as even DOJ’s expert on this application concedes. But if Trump knew the demand violated the law (or the Constitution), then it would meet the definition of “corruptly” under this application of the statute.

The entire course of the January 6 prosecution has been waiting on these decisions about DOJ’s use of obstruction. And while Friedrich’s opinion does not decide the issue, DOJ has notched one significant opinion in support for the approach they’re using. If a few other judges match her opinion, we could begin to see a wave of plea deals to felony convictions.

Update: Here’s the order Friedrich issued in Reffitt’s case, deferring the 1512 question until trial unless he gives her a good reason not to:

MINUTE ORDER. Before the Court is the defendant’s [38] Motion to Dismiss Count Two of the Indictment on multiple grounds, including that Count Two is unconstitutionally vague as applied. On a motion to dismiss, the Court “is limited to reviewing the face of the indictment,” United States v. Sunia , 643 F. Supp. 2d 51, 60 (D.D.C. 2009), and it must assume the truth of the indictment’s factual allegations, United States v. Bowdoin , 770 F. Supp. 2d 142, 149 (D.D.C. 2011). The question for the Court at this stage of the proceedings is “whether the allegations, if proven, would be sufficient to permit a jury to find that the crimes charged were committed.” Id. at 146.

A criminal statute is not unconstitutionally vague on its face unless it is “impermissibly vague in all of its applications.” Vill. of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates , 455 U.S. 489, 497 (1982). And “[o]ne to whose conduct a statute clearly applies may not successfully challenge it for vagueness.” Parker v. Levy , 417 U.S. 733, 756 (1974). Numerous courts have rejected vagueness challenges the word corruptly as used in obstruction statutes. See, e.g.United States v. Shotts , 145 F.3d 1289, 1300 (11th Cir. 1998); United States v. Edwards, 869 F.3d 490, 50102 (7th Cir. 2017); see also Mem. Op. issued December 10, 2021 in United States v. Sandlin , 21-cr-88, Dkt. 63 (holding that § 1512(c)(2) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to defendants who allegedly forcibly breached the Capitol and assaulted Capitol police officers with the intent to impede the official proceeding).

In contrast to the indictment at issue in Sandlin, the Indictment in this case does not allege any facts in support of the § 1512(c)(2) charge. Count Two merely alleges that Reffitt “attempted to, and did, corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is a proceeding before Congress, specifically, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote as set out in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and 3 U.S.C. §§ 15-18.” [34] Second Superseding Indictment at 2. The government proffers in its brief, however, that “[w]hile at the Capitol, the defendant, armed with his handgun in a holster on his waist, confronted U.S. Capitol Police officers on the west side stairs, just north of the temporary scaffolding. The defendant charged at the officers, who unsuccessfully tried to repel him with two different types of less-than-lethal projectiles before successfully halting his advances with pepper spray. The defendant encouraged other rioters to charge forward at the officers, which they did. The officers were forced to fall back, the Capitol was invaded.” [40] Gov’t Opp’n at 1. Reffitt disputes this in his briefing. [38] Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 13-15.

Because it is unclear, based on the indictment alone, what actions Reffitt allegedly engaged in to obstruct and impede the official proceeding, the Court cannot determine at this early stage of the proceeding whether the charges are unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. For this reason, the Court is inclined to defer ruling on his vagueness challenge until the facts have been established at trial and the jury has had an opportunity to consider that evidence. See United States v. Kettles , No. CR 3:16-00163-1, 2017 WL 2080181, at *3 (M.D. Tenn. May 15, 2017) (finding that pretrial as-applied challenge to § 1591(a) was premature because “[t]he court cannot determine the nature and extent of [defendant’s] conduct in this case and, therefore, also cannot determine whether § 1591(a) is void for vagueness as applied to that conduct”); United States v. Raniere , 384 F. Supp. 3d 282, 320 (E.D.N.Y. 2019).

Accordingly, the defendant is directed to file, on or before December 15, 2021, a supplemental brief of no more than 5 pages in length explaining why the Court should not defer ruling on his motion until the evidence has been presented at trial. Upon review of the defendant’s supplemental brief, the Court will consider whether a response from the government is necessary.

How Jacob Chansley Proved Patrick LeDuc Right

I have written repeatedly about how charging January 6 rioters with obstruction provides DOJ a really elegant way of holding people accountable, while providing the flexibility to distinguish between different levels of seriousness (until such time as some judge overturns this application of 18 USC 1512).

A review of what has happened with five men who’ve pled guilty to obstruction so far illustrates not only the range of sentences possible from the same charge, but also the factors DOJ is using to distinguish defendants based on their actions on January 6.

Before I lay out what has happened, first a word of explanation: To get to sentences, the two sides in a plea deal first agree on a  “Estimated Offense Level,” then (if someone pleads guilty), knocks a few points (usually 3) off for pleading. That gives a number that gets plugged into the Sentencing Table to figure out the guidelines sentence, in months, based on whether someone has a criminal record.

So in what follows, I’m showing the initial calculation (before the 3 points taken off for pleading guilty), and then showing what the plea agreement says the guidelines will be. In the table, I’ve marked the four different guidelines calculated in the five cases I discuss here (Scott Fairlamb has some criminal background so may get bumped up a level, but the others have no criminal background).

Paul Hodgkins, who traveled alone to bring his Trump flag to the floor of the Senate, pled guilty to obstruction, and went into sentencing facing a 15 to 21-month sentence (and ultimately got an 8-month sentence).

The number you’ll see Patrick LeDuc mention — 14 — in an email below is obtained by knocking 3 points off 17. And the 15-21 months is taken by checking the “0” criminal record column for an offense level of 14.

Scott Fairlamb. who didn’t plan for insurrection but while there punched a cop, pled guilty to obstruction and assault and goes into sentencing facing 41 to 51 months. DOJ has reserved the right to invoke a terrorist enhancement (including in his plea colloquy) that, if Judge Lamberth agreed, could result in a far stiffer sentence, up to 10 years.

Josiah Colt, who planned his trip to DC with two others, came to DC armed, and rappelled onto the Senate floor, pled guilty to obstruction, but faces (before getting credit for cooperation) 51 to 63 months.

Graydon Young, who planned in advance with a militia, entered the Capitol as part of a Stack, and tried to destroy evidence, pled guilty to obstruction, but faces (before getting credit for cooperation) 63 to 78 months. The difference in guideline between him and Colt is not that Colt’s “militia” was disorganized (a couple of guys he met online), but rather that Young tried to destroy evidence. Otherwise, they’re the same.

These four men all pled guilty to the same crime, obstruction of the vote count, but all faced and are facing dramatically different sentences based on the context of what they had done. And for those who deliberately used violence in pursuit of obstruction could face longer sentences, up to 20 years, which happens to be the same sentence that some sedition-related charges carry, but (again, unless judges overturn this application of obstruction) would be far easier to prove to a jury.

Somewhere around 200 January 6 defendants have been charged with obstruction, but among those 200, there’s a great range of actions they took in their alleged effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, including:

  • How obstructive their actions were (a 3 point enhancement)
  • Whether they used violence or threats thereof (an 8 point enhancement)
  • Whether they planned in advance to obstruct the vote count (a 2 point enhancement)
  • Whether they engaged in further obstruction (a further 2 point enhancement)
  • Whether someone did or abetted more than $1,000 in damage to the Capitol (which will likely get a terrorism enhancement)

And this is an issue that will play out in Paul Hodgkins’ effort to appeal his sentence.

According to claims made in court, Hodgkins decided to admit his guilt early on, which led to him being the first person to plead guilty to that obstruction charge. His lawyer at the time was a guy named Patrick LeDuc, a JAG Reserve Officer who learned after he started representing Hodgkins he had to deploy to the Middle East. Immediately after he was sentenced to a below guidelines sentence, per representations a new lawyer has now made, he asked if he could appeal (Friday, Judge Randolph Moss granted his request to extend his time to appeal). What LeDuc said in response will likely be the matter of a legal fight. We do know that on August 21, LeDuc told Hodgkins, “You have no right to appeal the sentenced [sic] pursuant to our plea agreement,” which suggests that at that point, LeDuc understood Hodgkins’ complaint to be with the sentence, not the competence of his representation.

But we know, for sure, that LeDuc told Carolyn Stewart, Hodgkins’ new lawyer, that other January 6 defendants who made it to the Senate floor were going to be charged with more enhancements to the base obstruction charge than Hodgkins.

Here is what you should know. Capitol Hill Defendants found in the Senate are all being offered a felony (same as Paul)(some more than one felony) with an 8 level enhancement (you might consider obtaining a Federal Sentencing manual for your reference). I was able to get the DOJ to agree to only a 3 level enhancement. You ought to know that my plea deal was adopted at the highest level to include the AG of the United States. That meant that my client was at level 14 instead vice level 19. Other Capitol Hill defendant [sic] are looking at 46 months low end. The AG instructed AUSA Sedky to argue for mid range – 18 months. And you would suggest that is evidenced [sic] of malpractice. I would argue that an attorney of 6 months accusing an attorney with over 250 jury trials at both the State and Federal level, and with 30 years of experience is unprofessional on your part.

If you think the plea deal was insufficient, then you ought to know that the United States makes offers with a a [sic] take it or leave it attitude. Everything in the plea deal was boilerplate with one exception that did not bother me. That was a provision that required me to agree that level 14 was good to go and that I would not object to the PSR. I was allowed to argue for a variance under 3553, which was my strategy all along, and the judge did indeed vary 3 levels into ZONE B. Ms. Sedky is a very experienced prosecutor, and the plea deal was arranged over many lengthy phone calls over a period of 3 months. Being the first felony case to be resolved was something that DOJ had to concur in because my case was going to set the precedent for every one to follow and the stakes were high for both sides.

My strategy paid off to Paul’s benefit. No other Federal defendant who is pleading to a felony will get a sentence better than Paul (nearly 250 others)  We had a very good judge who understood the issues, and the sentence was a fair reflection of the fats.

LeDuc is obviously furious at being called incompetent (and writing from Qatar where he is also juggling a huge influx of refugees from Afghanistan). But in this passage he describes a lot of the background to the plea deals that was evident to those  of us following closely, but for which there had been only off the record confirmation.

I think things may intervene that change DOJ’s plans (particularly if any of the challenges to 1512 are successful). But LeDuc describes that the plan when he was involved was to give Hodgkins a good deal and then use that as the precedent for everyone else. With other judges an 8-month sentence may not actually be the floor, but it is the base level treatment DOJ thinks it will adopt for those charged with felonies.

We’ve seen a few people plead down from felonies to 18 USC 1752, but thus far those people are looking at close to the same sentence as Hodgkins, 6 months, a difference of 2 months and the onerous felony conviction.

One thing LeDuc did say is that other defendants who made it to the Senate floor will face 8 level enhancements. Again, I’m virtually certain there will be others who made it to the Senate that will avoid this treatment.

But yesterday, with Jacob Chansley’s sentence, LeDuc was proven correct: another defendant, with whom Hodgkins stormed the Senate floor, got an 8 point enhancement for doing so.

.

Note that, as with Fairlamb, the government reserved the right to ask for a terrorist enhancement, though I did not hear AUSA Kimberly Paschall make a record of that in yesterday’s plea hearing, as AUSA Leslie Goemaat did in Fairlamb’s plea hearing.

To be sure, Chansley’s Statement of Offense includes multiple things that weren’t present with Hodgkins (nor will they be present for some others who made it to the Senate floor). According to his sworn Statement of Offense, Chansley defied orders from Officer KR four different times, and made public and written comments while in the Senate that might be deemed a threat, including to Mike Pence personally.

11. At approximately 2:16 p.m., the defendant and other rioters ascended the stairs to the second floor to the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building. In a clearing on the second floor, the defendant and other rioters were met by a line of U.S. Capitol Police officers, instructing them to peacefully leave the building. The defendant challenged U.S. Capitol Police Officer K.R. to let them pass, ultimately using his bullhorn to rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out.

12. Instead of obeying the instructions of the U.S. Capitol Police to leave the building, the defendant traversed another staircase to the third floor of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building. At approximately 2:52 p.m., the defendant entered the Gallery of the Senate alone. The defendant then proceeded to scream obscenities in the Gallery, while other rioters flooded the Chamber below.

13. The defendant then left the Gallery and proceeded down a staircase in an attempt to gain entry to the Senate floor. There, the defendant once again encountered Officer K.R., who once again asked him to leave the building. The defendant insisted that others were already on the Senate floor and he was going to join them. Officer K.R. then followed the defendant on to the Senate floor.

14. The defendant then scaled the Senate dais, taking the seat that Vice President Mike Pence had occupied less than an hour before. The defendant proceeded to take pictures of himself on the dais and refused to vacate the seat when Officer K.R., the lone law enforcement officer in the Chamber at the time, asked him to do so. Instead, the defendant stated that “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor” and wrote a note on available paper on the dais, stating “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

15. After Officer K.R. again asked the defendant to vacate the seat, the defendant remained, calling other rioters up to the dais and leading them in an incantation over his bullhorn, which included giving thanks for the opportunity “to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow America, the American way of the United States of America to go down.” The defendant went on to say “[t]hank you for allowing the United States to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government.”

16. Finally, at approximately 3:09 p.m., other law enforcement officers arrived to support Officer K.R., and cleared the defendant and other rioters from the Chamber. [my emphasis]

While it’s a puzzle to compare who posed more of a threat, Scott Fairlamb or Jacob Chansley, DOJ is treating both as people who deliberately tried to prevent the vote count by using violence or threats thereof. And because of that, DOJ has gotten their attorneys to agree, they should face a sentence more than twice as long as Hodgkins faced.

And that’s precisely what Patrick LeDuc told Hodgkins’ new lawyer would happen.

Update: I’ve corrected that these are the only five men who’ve pled guilty to obstruction. Some other Oath Keepers also did.

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

Jeffrey Toobin wrote a shitty piece arguing — seemingly based exclusively on Trump’s request to Jeffrey Rosen to delegitimize the election results in Georgia and Trump’s January 6 speech — that Merrick Garland should not prosecute Trump.

Toobin’s piece sucks for the same reason that all the mirror image articles written by TV lawyers, the ones explaining how DOJ might prosecute Trump, also suck: because none exhibit the least familiarity with how DOJ is approaching January 6, much less what allegations it has already made in charging documents. They are, effectively, nothing more than throwing a bunch of laws at the wall to see whether any stick (and in Toobin’s estimation, none do).

Almost none of these TV lawyers engage with how DOJ is applying obstruction as the cornerstone of its January 6 prosecutions. For example, Toobin considers whether Trump obstructed justice, but he only analyzes whether, when, “Trump encouraged the crowd to march to Capitol Hill but he did not explicitly encourage violence,” Trump obstructed the vote certification. Of around 200 January 6 defendants charged with obstruction, I can think of few if any against whom obstruction has been charged based solely on their actions on the day of the riot, and Trump is not going to be the exception to that rule. As with other January 6 defendants, DOJ would rely on Trump’s words and actions leading up to the event to prove his intent.

In this post, I want to lay out how a DOJ prosecution of Trump for January 6 would work. I’m not doing this because I’m sure DOJ will prosecute. I’m doing it to make the commentary on the question less insufferably stupid than it currently is.

Assumptions

The piece makes three assumptions.

First, it assumes that DOJ’s current application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to cover the vote certification survives judicial review. It’s not at all clear it will, either because the courts (this will go to SCOTUS) don’t believe Congress intended to include Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings like the vote certification in a law covering official proceedings, because the courts will decide that rioters had no way of knowing that interrupting Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings was illegal, or because courts will decide that rioters (all of them, as opposed to one or another making a compelling case to a jury) did not have the requisite corrupt purpose. There are currently at least nine challenges to the application of the law (at least two more have been raised since Judge Randolph Moss had prosecutors put together this list). If TV lawyers want to argue about something, this might be a more productive use of their time than arguing about whether Trump can be prosecuted more generally, because the question doesn’t require knowing many actual facts from the investigation.

This piece also assumes that DOJ would apply two things they asserted in a filing pertaining to Mo Brooks to Trump as well. That filing said that the scope of federal office holder’s job excludes campaign activity, so any campaign activity a federal office holder engages in does not count as part of that person’s duties.

Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

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

DOJ also said that conspiring to attack your employer would not be included in a federal office holder’s scope of employment.

Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c).

These two principles, taken together, would get beyond some of the challenges involved in investigating someone covered by Executive Privilege and making orders as Commander-in-Chief. Importantly, it would make Trump’s activities in conjunction with the January 6 rally subject to investigation, whereas they broadly wouldn’t be if they were done in Trump’s official capacity.

Finally, if DOJ were to charge Trump, they would charge him in a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count that intersected with some of the other conspiracies to obstruct the vote count, possibly with obstruction charges against him personally. In general, I don’t think DOJ would charge most of Trump’s discrete acts, at least those conducted before January 20, as a crime. There are two possible exceptions, however. His call to Brad Raffensperger, particularly in the context of all his other efforts to tamper in the Georgia election, would have been conducted as part of campaigning (and therefore would not have been conducted as President). It seems a clearcut case of using threats to get a desired electoral outcome. It’s unclear whether Trump’s request that Mike Pence to commit the unconstitutional action — that is, refusing to certify the winning electoral votes — would be treated as Presidential or electoral. But that demand, followed closely with Trump’s public statements that had the effect of making Pence a target for assassination threats, seems like it could be charged on its own. Both of those actions, however, could and would, in the way DOJ is approaching this, also be overt acts in the conspiracy charged against Trump.

The other conspiracies

If DOJ would only charge Trump in the context of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote (with whatever other charges added in) that intersects with some or all of the other conspiracies charged, it helps to understand what DOJ has done with those other conspiracies. Here’s what the currently charged conspiracies look like:

DOJ has been treating the multiple Proud Boy conspiracies as one (about which Ethan Nordean is complaining); I think they’re doing that — and excluding other key players who could be in one of the conspiracies, including all the most serious assaults committed by Proud Boy members — as a way to show how the cell structure used on the day worked together to serve a unified purpose, while also managing visibility on different parts of their ongoing investigation. For my purposes here, I’ll focus on the Leadership conspiracy, with the understanding that (notwithstanding Nordean’s complaints) DOJ credibly treats the others as the implementation of the conspiracy the Proud Boy Leaders themselves have laid out.

All of these conspiracies, as well as a disorganized militia conspiracy DOJ has been saying they’ll charge, share the same object: to stop, delay, or hinder Congress’ certification of the Electoral College win. Basically, all these conspiracies, as well as a hypothetical one that DOJ might use against Trump, would involve ensuring that he still had a route to remain in power, that he lived to fight another day. By themselves they did not involve a plan to remain in power (though Trump could be charged in a broader conspiracy attempting to do that, too).

They also all allege common Manners and Means (to be clear, these defendants are all presumed innocent and I’m speaking here of what DOJ claims it will prove). Those include:

  • Agreeing to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging as many people as possible, including outside their own groups, to attend the operation
  • Funding the operation
  • Preparing to make participants in the operation as effective as possible, in all cases including communication methods and in most cases including some kind of defensive or offensive protections
  • Illegally entering the Capitol or its grounds and occupying that space during the period when Congress would otherwise have been certifying the vote

While all of those conspiracies follow the same model, there are some unique characteristics in four that deserve further mention:

Proud Boy Leaders Conspiracy: Operationally, those charged in the Proud Boy Leaders conspiracy managed to assemble a mob, including Proud Boy members (many organized in sub-cells like the Kansas City cell Billy Chrestman led), fellow travelers who met up and marched with the Proud Boys that morning, and those who knew to show up at 1PM (while Trump was still speaking). With apparent guidance from the charged co-conspirators, the Proud Boys managed to kick off the riot and — in the form of the Proud Boy Front Door co-conspirator Dominic Pezzola wielding a stolen shield — break into the building. Thus far (probably in part because Enrique Tarrio is not currently charged in this or any conspiracy), the government has been coy about what evidence it has of coordination with others, including at a December MAGA March in DC. Key planning steps, however, involve deciding not to show Proud Boy colors the day of the riot and fundraising to buy gear and support travel (Christopher Worrell got to DC on a bus paid for by the Proud Boys but that has not yet been charged in any conspiracy). On top of radios and blow horns, two Telegram channels — the larger of which had 60 members — appear to have played key roles in organizing events the day of the riot. To the extent that Proud Boys came armed, they appear to have done so individually, and thus far, DOJ has not included the worst assaults committed by Proud Boys in any of the conspiracies. Several of the charged co-conspirators started talking about war in the days and weeks after the election and those who gathered with the Proud Boys on the morning of the riot skipped Trump’s rally, making their focus on the vote certification much clearer than many others that day.

Oath Keeper Conspiracy: The indictment alleges this conspiracy started on November 9 with a plan both to use Antifa as a foil to excuse violence and in expectation that that violence would be Trump’s excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and/or respond to that call. The conspiracy used the promise of serving as security — both at the rally and for Roger Stone and other “dignitaries” — to recruit people to come to DC, and in fact a number of the charged co-conspirators were present with Stone the morning of the riot. In addition to kitting out in various Oath Keeper gear at different events on the day of the event, the militia had a serious stash of weapons at the Ballston Comfort Inn in case things did turn violent. The key thing, operationally, this conspiracy achieved was to provide organized brawn to an effort to open a second front to the attack via the East Door of the Capitol. The nominal head of this conspiracy, Florida State head Kelly Meggs, claimed to have set up an alliance with other militias in Florida (he first made the claim a day after the militia had provided “security” for Stone at an event in Florida). Over the course of the investigation, the government has also gotten closer to alleging that Meggs expressed the desire to and took steps to target Nancy Pelosi personally while inside the Capitol.

3%er Southern California Conspiracy: The men charged in this conspiracy — who occupy the overlap between 3%ers and the anti-mask community in Southern California — organized themselves and others to come armed to the Capitol. As alleged, they started organizing formally in explicit response to Trump’s December 19 advertisement for the event. Both online and in an appearance by Russell Taylor at the rally on January 5, they called for violence. They organized in advance via Telegram chat and on the day with radios. Operationally, these men personally participated in the fighting on the west side of the Capitol (most never went in the building but the government contends they were in restricted space outside). But from a larger standpoint, these men form one intersection between the more formal Trump organization behind the rallies and a group of radicalized Trump supporters from across the country.

Disorganized Conspiracy: You’ve likely never heard of Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave, nor should you have. Their conspiracy (DOJ has not yet charged it but has been planning to do so since April) started when Sandlin responded to Trump’s calls for people to attend the event on December 23 and started looking online to join up with others. “Who is going to Washington D.C. on the 6th of January? I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon.” They’re an excellent example of a bunch of guys — along with Josiah Colt, who entered into a cooperation agreement against the other two — who got radicalized via a messy stew of ideologies online, armed themselves for insurrection, raised money and traveled to DC together planning for violence, and allegedly engaged in assaults at two key points inside the Capitol that allowed the occupation of the Senate chamber, and in Colt’s case, Mike Pence’s chair itself. Here’s a video of the two (in orange and all black) fighting to get into the Senate just released today:

Colt has admitted (and may have GoPro video showing) that the three went from learning that Pence had refused Trump’s demand — the government doesn’t say whether they learned this via Trump’s tweet — to forcibly occupying the Senate in response. So while you haven’t heard of them and they’re not members of an organized militia, they still played a tactically critical role in forcibly occupying the Capitol in direct response to Trump’s exhortations.

Questions

There are still a slew of questions about Trump’s actions that have — publicly at least — not been answered. Some that would be pertinent to whether he could be charged with conspiracy include:

  • When Trump said, “stand back and stand by” to the Proud Boys on September 29 — after they had already threatened a Federal judge to serve Trump’s interest, and whose threats had been dismissed by Bill Barr as a technicality — did he intend to signal some kind of relationship with the Proud Boys as the Proud Boys in fact took it to be? Was this part of an agreement to enter into a conspiracy?
  • When both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers started planning their January 6 operation in the days after the election, speaking already then of being called by the President to commit violence, was that based on any direct communications, or was it based on things like the earlier Proud Boys comment?
  • When Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who would later lead the operation on January 6 formed an alliance to keep Trump in office in December at an event with Roger Stone, was Stone involved?
  • What conversations did Trump and Stone have about his pardon even as these militia plans were being put in place?
  • What evidence does DOJ have about the Proud Boys’ decision — and their communication of that decision to at least 60 people — not to attend the Trump speech but instead to form a mob that would later march on the Capitol and lead the breach of it while Trump was still speaking?
  • Did Trump time the specific lines in his speech to the Proud Boys’ actions, which were already starting at the Capitol?
  • What orders were given to the Park Police about various crowd sizes and planned events that explains their failure to prepare?
  • Trump told Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to use the National Guard to protect his protestors on January 3. On January 6, some Proud Boys expressed surprise that the Guard was not protecting them. Did the Proud Boys have reason to believe the Guard would not protect the Capitol but instead would protect them? Why was the Guard delayed 4 hours in responding? Why was there a 32 minute delay during a period when the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were considering a second assault in relaying an order from Miller to the Guard Commander who had the Guard in buses waiting to deploy? Did the militias call off their second assault based on advance information that the Guard was finally being deployed?
  • Both Rudy and Trump made calls to Members of Congress on January 6 making specific asks for delays at a time when the rioters had already breached the building. Did that include a request to Paul Gosar, and did that result in the delay in evacuating the House side that led to Ashli Babbitt’s death, which Gosar (and Trump) have been key figures in celebrating? Would DOJ be able to get either Gosar or Tuberville’s testimony (they already have the voice mail Rudy left for Tuberville, and because Rudy’s phones have otherwise been seized, if they can show probable cause they have access to anything on his phone).
  • Rudy had texts from a Proud Boy affiliate within 9 days after the riot about implementing a plan to blame it all on Antifa. That guy  had, in turn, been in contact with at least six people at the riot. Were they in contact before and during the riot? Again, DOJ has the phones on which Rudy conducted those conversations, and they happen to have his cell location for other purposes, so the question is do they have probable cause to get the same data for the Jan 6 operation?

What a Trump conspiracy might look like

Even without answers to those questions, however, there are a number of things that Trump did that might form part of a conspiracy charge against him (this timeline from Just Security has a bunch more, including magnifying threats from people who would later take part in the insurrection). The Manners and Means would mirror those that appear in all the charged conspiracies:

  • Agreeing (and ordering subordinates) to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging the Proud Boys to believe they are his army
  • Personally sowing the Big Lie about voter fraud to lead supporters to believe Trump has been robbed of his rightful election win
  • Asking subordinates and Republican politicians to lie about the vote to encourage supporters to feel they were robbed
  • Encouraging surrogates and campaign staffers to fund buses to make travel to DC easier
  • Using the January 6 rally to encourage as many people as possible to come to DC
  • Applauding violence in advance of January 6 and tacitly encouraging it on the day
  • Recruiting members of Congress to raise challenges to the vote count
  • Asking members of Congress to delay evacuation even as the rioters entered the building, heightening the chance of direct physical threat (and likely contributing to Ashli Babbitt’s death)
  • Asking Mike Pence to do something unconstitutional, then targeting him after he refused, virtually ensuring he would be personally threatened
  • Possibly muddling the line of command on which civilian agency would coordinate response, ensuring there would be none
  • Possibly taking steps to delay any Guard response at the Capitol
  • Possibly ignoring immediate requests from help from leaders of Congress

DOJ knows exactly what happened with Trump’s requests that DOJ serve as the civilian agency to lead response on Janaury 6, and some of the witnesses have given transcribed interviews to Congress and probably DOJ IG. Some details about which there remain questions — who delayed the National Guard — would be available to subpoena. The big question, and it’s a big one, is what kind of communications Trump had with members of Congress to ensure there was maximal conflict and physical risk on that day.

But much of this, including the illegal request of Mike Pence and the specific targeting of him in the aftermath, which directly affected the actions of the disorganized conspiracy, are already public. Both the computer Enrique Tarrio brought to DC and Rudy’s phones have been accessible if DOJ wanted to obtain a warrant for them.

None of this addresses the complexities of whether DOJ would charge a former President. None of this guarantees that DOJ will get key charged defendants to flip, whose cooperation might be necessary to move higher in the conspiracy.

I’m not saying DOJ will charge Trump.

But if they were considering it, it’s most likely this is how they would do so.

Update: Per Quake’s suggestion I’ve added the funding of buses.

Update: Reuters reports that FBI has found “scant” evidence of central coordination in the attack, specifically naming Stone.

Did Paul Gosar Take Actions on Behalf of Donald Trump that Contributed to Ashli Babbitt’s Death?

In this post, I noted that just nine minutes before accused January 6 defendant Brady Knowlton entered the Capitol at 2:35, Donald Trump called Tommy Tuberville. Later in the day, Rudy Giuliani would ask Tuberville to delay the vote certification by challenging more states. If that’s what Trump asked Tuberville to do on that first call and if Tuberville complied with Trump’s request, he and the rest of his colleagues might still have been in the Senate when Knowlton and others started to swarm in.

Instead, Tuberville told the President he had to go because the Senators were being evacuated, following shortly on the evacuation of Mike Pence just minutes before Trump called.

We only know of Trump’s call to Tuberville because Trump — and later Rudy Giuliani — dialed the wrong number, calling Mike Lee’s phone instead of Tuberville’s.

We don’t know who else Trump was calling at the time, though in recent days Jim Jordan has admitted he spoke to Trump that day, while dodging wildly about when that happened and what Trump said.

What we do know is that someone on the other side of the Capitol was doing exactly what Trump later asked Tuberville to do: Paul Gosar, who coordinated closely on all aspects of the insurrection with Trump, was raising more challenges to the vote.

That’s of particular interest because the NYT, in their superb documentary on the chronology of the day (starting at 25:40), suggests that the chain of events that led to Ashli Babbitt’s death started with Jim McGovern’s decision to get through one more person’s challenge of the vote, Gosar’s.

By 2:30 PM the Senate evacuation is well underway. But, even though a lockdown was called over 15 minutes ago, the House is still in session.

Gosar: I do not accept Arizona’s electors as certified.

Representative Jim McGovern is chairing. He told us he wanted to finish hearing objections to the election results by Paul Gosar. House staff and security gave McGovern the all-clear to continue. It’s a delay that likely cost someone their life.

Suddenly, staff are now pointing at the Chamber’s doors.

Please be advised there are masks under your seats. Please grab a mask and place it in your lap and be prepared to don your mask in the event we have a breach.

Just outside, a mob of a hundred or more is baying to get into them.

Well, we came this far, what do you say?

Drag ’em out.

Tell fucking Pelosi we’re coming for her.

These rioters pay little heed to the thin line of police.

They’re going. I would just stop.

And in moments, are pushing against doors into the House.

Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal!

On the other side, Capitol police erect a barricade and draw their guns. On the floor, lawmakers are evacuating to the rear of the chamber, where in a few minutes a rioter will be shot and killed. Part of the mob inside now peels off in that direction to find a different way in. Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and a QAnon supporter is among the first to arrive at the rear of the House.

There they are! What the fuck!

They see the lawmakers escaping. That lobby might have been clear had the House been evacuated sooner. But the rioters now become incensed. Zachary Alam, a Trump supporter punches in the glass panels with his bare fists.

Stop the Steal! Open the door. Break it down! Break it down!

Police are stretched extremely thin. Just three officers and a security officer stand guard. None are wearing riot gear and they keep their weapons holstered. When a team of heavily armed police now arrives, the three officers step aside.

Go! Let’s go! Get this thing!

This creates a crucial gap that allows rioters to smash in the glass. [A warning: what happens next is graphic.] It’s 2:44PM and behind the door a police officer draws his handgun.

There’s a gun. There’s a gun! He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!

Babbitt vaults into the window. And the officer shoots her once. It’s a fatal wound, through the upper chest.

Gosar’s challenge delayed the evacuation of the House, meaning that rioters spied the lawmakers evacuating through the Speaker’s lobby as they arrived. NYT suggests that viewing the lawmakers in such close proximity inflamed the rioters, leading Zach Alam to punch through the door and Babbitt to leap through it in an attempt to chase after them, in turn leading to an officer’s decision to use lethal force to protect fleeing Members of Congress.

One minute after Babbitt was shot, surveillance footage caught Knowlton entering the Senate Chamber at 2:45. Had Trump convinced Tuberville to stay, the same kind of confrontation might have happened in the Senate Chamber, too (and video shows that Mitt Romney, already a target for Trump’s supporters, narrowly avoided running into the mob as well).

If a Tuberville delay might have orchestrated a similar clash on the Senate side, it raises questions whether Trump was involved in the Gosar delay.

As it happens, Gosar is among the most active purveyors of the martyr myth surrounding Ashli Babbitt, including tweeting out this image that seemes almost necrophiliac in composition, with its focus on his crotch and her name.

But the fact that Trump was actively calling Members of Congress well after rioters stormed the building, and the fact that Gosar caused what the NYT deemed the fatal delay on the House side, it’s possible that he and Trump had a bigger role in ensuring that Babbitt jumped through that window to chase Gosar and his colleagues. It’s possible Gosar created that delay because Trump asked him to.

CNN reports that the January 6 commission is weighing whether to obtain White House call logs (Trump made the call to Tuberville from the main White House line).

The select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is weighing whether to pursue call logs from the Trump White House on the day of the riot, a move that could present a potentially thorny dilemma for President Joe Biden who would ultimately have to determine whether the records should be covered by executive privilege or qualify as essential evidence for the ongoing probe.

The committee has been engaged in ongoing discussions with the Biden administration about its plans for the investigation as it has taken the lead role in examining all things related to January 6 and prepares to issue its first round of subpoenas, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Phone records from former President Donald Trump’s White House will likely not be among the first subpoena targets as a source familiar with the matter told CNN that the committee has not broached the topic during preliminary discussions with the Executive Branch. But the panel is actively considering the possibility of pursuing those records and other relevant documents that could raise additional executive privilege questions, the source added.
Members of the committee, including GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, have made clear investigators must “get to every piece of information that matters” in order to piece together a detailed understanding of what Trump and his closest allies were doing that day.

Liz Cheney may well be thinking of tracking Trump’s calls to Kevin McCarthy. But the import of Gosar’s delay to the shooting of Ashli Babbitt by itself presents a good reason to subpoena those records.