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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.

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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.

The Government Screws Up Attempt to Distinguish between January 6 Insurrection and Anti-Kavanaugh Protests

The government is obviously getting fed up with some of Ethan Nordean’s legal challenges. I can’t blame them for being impatient with Nordean’s claims that, so long as cops at one of four barricades he passed on his way to insurrection weren’t knocked down, it means he had no way of knowing he wasn’t welcome.

But they fucked up, badly, in what would otherwise be an important argument to make. In his reply brief to his motion to dismiss his entire indictment (here’s the government’s response), Nordean made an argument that right wingers love to make, that the Kavanaugh protests were just like the insurrection, yet those protestors weren’t charged with the same felony charges that January 6 insurrectionists are being charged with.

About two years before the January 6 events, in October 2018, Congress held confirmation hearings for now Justice Kavanaugh. Of course, confirmation hearings are not ceremonial functions like the Electoral College vote count but are rather inquiries held pursuant to Congress’s investigatory power. Subpoenas are issued, sworn testimony is given. See, e.g., United States v. Cisneros, 26 F. Supp. 2d 24, 38 (D.D.C. 1998). As on January 6, Vice President Mike Pence was present and presiding over the confirmation vote.4 Hundreds of protestors broke through Capitol Police barricades.5 They burst through Capitol doors and “stormed” the Senate chamber. N.Y.Times, Oct. 6, 2018. There, they disrupted and delayed the Senate proceedings by screaming and lunging toward the Vice President and other people. As a report described the day, Saturday’s vote reflected that fury, with the Capitol Police dragging screaming demonstrators out of the gallery as Vice President Mike Pence, presiding in his role as president of the Senate, calmly tried to restore order. “This is a stain on American history!” one woman cried, as the vote wrapped up. “Do you understand that?” N.Y. Times, Oct. 6, 2018. Here are some of the images of protestors who broke through Capitol Police barricades and entered Congress that day, about 26 months before January 6:

Roll Call, Oct. 6, 2018 (VP Pence presiding in Capitol Building)

NBC News, Oct. 6, 2018 (VP Pence presiding in Capitol Building)

Though they intentionally delayed the congressional proceedings, these protestors, numbering in the hundreds, were not charged with “obstruction of Congress” under § 1512(c)(2). Certainly, if the lack of case law supporting the government’s interpretation of “official proceeding,” the absence of any legislative history pointing towards that interpretation, and the DOJ’s own internal inconsistent position do nothing to provide “fair notice” to an “ordinary person” that such political protests constitute “obstruction of official proceedings,” the fact that hundreds of protestors were charged with no offense at all for conduct for which the indictment here charges Nordean does not provide that notice either. Moreover, the naked charging disparity between the episodes—legally similar, according to the government here—also implicates the vagueness doctrine’s concern for arbitrary and discriminatory law enforcement enabled by vague, shifting standards that allow “prosecutors and courts to make it up,” particularly in the context of the rights of free speech, assembly and petitioning of the government. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. at 1212 (Gorsuch, J., concurring); United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019) (Gorsuch, J.) (residual clause of § 924(c) unconstitutionally vague); Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015) (residual clause of Armed Career Criminal Act unconstitutionally vague).

4 Kavanaugh is sworn in after close confirmation vote in Senate, N.Y. Times, Oct. 6, 2018, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/us/politics/brett-kavanaugh-supremecourt.html.

5 See, e.g., Kavanaugh protestors ignore Capitol barricades ahead of Saturday vote, Roll Call, Oct. 6, 2018, available at: https://www.rollcall.com/2018/10/06/kavanaugh-protesters-ignore[-]capitol-barricades-ahead-of-saturday-vote/.

[my italics]

Nordean is conflating two different things in an attempt to draw this parallel. There were the protestors who were in the actual hearing room, who briefly yelled and then were removed. And then there were protestors who broke through a barricade at the Capitol (there were also protestors who broke through a police line at the Supreme Court and knocked on the door). The “hundreds” of protestors Nodean mentions were watching from below and then were on the steps.

Protesters broke through Capitol Police barricades and rushed up the steps to the Capitol Rotunda Saturday afternoon amid large demonstrations ahead of a Senate vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The metal barricades were erected Thursday to keep demonstrators on specific areas of the Capitol grounds.

[snip]

As each batch of arrestees walked down the stairs, the cheers rose from the hundreds assembled below on the east front stretching out to the street.

In an effort to conflate the two, Nordean invented things that weren’t in the NYT story he claimed to rely on, both that the people inside the hearing had “stormed” the Senate chamber and that those protestors were “lunging” at the Vice President.

As a chorus of women in the Senate’s public galleries repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with cries of “Shame!,” somber-looking senators voted 50 to 48 — almost entirely along party lines — to elevate Judge Kavanaugh. He was promptly sworn in by both Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — the court’s longtime swing vote, whom he will replace — in a private ceremony.

[snip]

Republicans are now painting Democrats and their activist allies as angry mobs. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, delivered a speech on Saturday assailing what he called “mob rule,” while the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told reporters that “the virtual mob that has assaulted all of us in this process has turned our base on fire.”

The bitter nomination fight, coming in the midst of the #MeToo movement, also unfolded at the volatile intersection of gender and politics. It energized survivors of sexual assault, hundreds of whom have descended on Capitol Hill to confront Republican senators in recent weeks.

[snip]

Saturday’s vote reflected that fury, with the Capitol Police dragging screaming demonstrators out of the gallery as Vice President Mike Pence, presiding in his role as president of the Senate, calmly tried to restore order. “This is a stain on American history!” one woman cried, as the vote wrapped up. “Do you understand that?”

The government makes some of these points in their surreply, notably pointing out that the protestors who actually interrupted the hearings were all legally present in the public gallery, and had all gone through security to get there.

Defendant’s attempts to manufacture a parallel between the criminal activity during confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh and the events of January 6 should remain on the Internet—they do not fare well when included in a legal brief. Among the distortions of fact and law in his brief, Defendant claims that on October 6, 2018, protestors “burst through Capitol doors and ‘stormed’ the Senate chamber” during confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh. That is not accurate.2 The confirmation hearings were public, and the gallery of the Senate Chamber was open to the public on the day of the vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. See C-SPAN, Final Confirmation Vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Oct. 6, 2018 available at https://www.cspan.org/video/?452583-11/final-confirmation-vote-judge-brett-kavanaugh. Indeed, Vice President Pence twice reminded the “guests” in the Gallery that expressions of approval or disapproval were not permitted. Id. Protestors who demonstrated inside the Senate Chamber on October 6 did so after lawfully accessing the building and being subjected to security screening. 3 See, e.g., Public seating at Kavanaugh hearing cut in half, then restored again, PBS News Hour, Sept. 5, 2018, available at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/public-seating-at-kavanaugh[-]hearing-cut-in-half. No serious parallel can be drawn between the two events.4

[snip]

3 Those entering the earlier confirmation hearings reportedly had to pass through multiple identification checks. Members of the public were required to “first wait in line outside the building to go through an initial screening” before being “escorted in small groups to a holding area outside the committee room itself.”

The government twice mocked Nordean for using the wrong pictures in his brief.

While Defendant can claim to have “images of protestors who broke through Capitol Police barricades and entered Congress” on October 6, 2018 (Id. at *14), the Court will immediately recognize that one of the images depicts protestors on the steps of the Supreme Court.

[snip]

2 In his Reply, Defendant included two pictures of protestors who had “stormed” the Capitol. The pictures alone underscore the frivolous nature of Defendant’s argument. But there is another problem—the protestors in the second photograph were on the steps of the Supreme Court.

It would be a great gotcha if it were true.

It’s not. While there were protestors that day at the Supreme Court, and while the story Nordean mistitles and doesn’t include a URL for does describe protestors storming past a police line on the Supreme Court stairs, the picture Nordean used was, indeed, from the Capitol steps.

Here’s what the view of those same steps looked like after mobsters occupied them on January 6 (from the NYT documentary on it); by this point several windows were already broken:

I can think of no instance where rioters who only occupied those East steps were even arrested (there were several people who occupied the more violent West Terrace who were arrested, most commonly in association with a conspiracy or assault charge), suggesting the equivalent January 6 “protestors” were in fact treated more leniently than the protestors — some of whom were arrested — from the Kavanaugh protests. For example, Proud Boy Ricky Willden may never have entered the building from the East stairs, but he is accused of spraying cops with some toxin.

Here’s what the protest at the Supreme Court looked like (again, from the same NBC article), with the caption that makes this incidence of “storming” seem quaint by comparison:

It’s an unbelievably embarrassing error to make — to accuse Nordean of an error when in fact the government was in error, especially while suggesting that Judge Kelly would immediately recognize the Supreme Court. All the more so given that Joe Biggs’ re-entry through the East door is charged in this indictment. Getting this wrong is a testament that the government didn’t spend as much thought responding to Nordean’s comparison as they need to, not just to rebut his argument, but to reflect seriously on what the line between the civil disobedience of the Kavanaugh hearings and the terrorist attack of January 6 is such that the former resulted in over a hundred misdemeanor arrests onsite whereas the latter resulted in delayed arrests and felony charges.

There are clear differences, differences that go beyond the fact that the entire Capitol was shut down on January 6 whereas (as the government notes) protestors were legally present when they interrupted the Kavanaugh hearing. There’s no evidence any of the Kavanaugh protestors were armed, whether with baseball bats or bear spray or guns. There were no reports that protestors assaulted police, much less continued to march past them after causing injuries that required hospitalization. Contrary to Nordean’s invention, protestors did not lunge at Pence, and certainly didn’t threaten to assassinate him. In general, protestors were more compliant upon arrest than January 6 rioters (which is one of many reasons why the police succeeded in arresting them, whereas several charged January 6 defendants escaped or were forced to be released by other rioters). While protestors definitely criticized Kavanaugh’s alleged actions (and his own screaming), I’m not aware of any who threatened to injure much less assassinate him onsite. The threats against Senators — most notably, Susan Collins — were electoral, not physical.

This surreply brief provided the government an opportunity to make that case, make it soberly, and make it in such a way to respond to legitimate questions that right wingers who aren’t aware of these real differences might raise. The surreply also provided the government an opportunity to explain why Neil Gorsuch won’t find this to be a charging disparity when he eventually reviews this challenge — because he almost certainly will, which is obviously why Nordean put that nod to Gorsuch right there in his brief. How do you screw something like that up???

But the government didn’t do that. Instead, in rebutting Nordean, the government tried to dick-wag. And failed, badly.

I’m tired of some of Ethan Nordean’s bullshit arguments myself. But the legal question about what makes the insurrection bad enough to treat its masterminds as terrorists is a very serious one, one that needs to be treated with more care than the government did here.

Update: I’ve updated the comparison image for the East stairs and added the observation that few if any January 6 protestors who only climbed the East stairs were charged.

Update: emptywheel gets results.

The United States files this notice of correction along with the refiling of its Surreply to Defendant Nordean’s Motion to Dismiss. In its original filing, the United States asserted that Defendant Nordean had misidentified a photograph of the protests on October 6, 2018. Such assertion was incorrect and has been removed from page 1 and footnote 2 of the corrected filing.

Like All His Co-Conspirators, Donald Trump Would Be Charged for Obstruction, Not Incitement

Today is the day that DOJ has to inform Judge Amit Mehta whether or not Mo Brooks’ incitement of January 6 rioters is part of his job, which would require DOJ to substitute itself for Brooks in Eric Swalwell’s lawsuit. Commentators who appear not to have followed the court cases very closely suggest that if DOJ does substitute for Brooks, it’ll make it impossible to hold Trump accountable for his role in the riot.

Brooks argued in court papers that his statements came as Congress prepared to certify the election results and that he was acting in his role as a federal lawmaker, representing his constituents, that day.

Now, the Justice Department and the top lawyer for the U.S. House of Representatives are involved. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta has directed them to say by Tuesday whether they consider Brooks’ statements to be part of his duties as a member of Congress, and whether the federal government should substitute itself as a defendant in the case.

“We hope DOJ will see Brooks’ appalling conduct on Jan. 6 for what it was and what he admitted it was, which was campaign activity performed at the request of Donald Trump, which inarguably is beyond the scope of his employment as a member of Congress,” said Philip Andonian, a lawyer who brought the case on behalf of Swalwell.

Andonian said there’s no way Brooks and Trump were acting in their capacity as federal officials, which would give them a legal shield under a law known as the Westfall Act. Instead, he said, they were engaged in campaign activity, which doesn’t deserve that kind of protection.

[snip]

[Protect Democracy’s Kristy Parker] said she’s worried that if the Justice Department endorses Brooks’ and Trump’s statements on Jan. 6 as within the scope of their federal employment, it could complicate the efforts of prosecutors to bring the rioters to justice.

“That is not going to have a good impact on the ongoing criminal cases when it comes to persuading judges that the people who stormed the Capitol should get hefty sentences when the people who inspired them to do it have been endorsed as acting within the scope of their official jobs,” Parker said.

This column lays out some of the legal complexities regarding Brooks, including that even if DOJ does substitute for Brooks, it likely still leaves him exposed to part of the lawsuit.

I say the people claiming that this decision will determine whether or not Trump can be held accountable seem not to be following the actual court cases. If they had, after all, they’d know that the crime for which key instigators are facing “hefty sentences” is obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct the vote count. They’d also know that every single conspiracy indictment thus far has the same objective — to stop, delay, or hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

They’d also know that the overt acts in these parallel conspiracy cases involve getting large numbers of people to DC — often by publicizing the event on social media — and then getting those people to occupy the Capitol.

That is, if people were following the court cases rather than uninformed commentators, they’d know that the 38 people charged with conspiracy and the at least four people cooperating against them (not to mention the almost 200 individuals charged individually with obstruction) all had the same goal as Trump — they wanted to prevent the vote certification. Those charged with a conspiracy also used some of the same overt acts that Trump did, making sure lots of bodies were there and making sure that those bodies were occupying the Capitol.

They also might know that, starting with the Three Percenter SoCal conspiracy, DOJ started charging people who threatened violence as part of their efforts to get more bodies to the Capitol.

The difference between the threats that Trump made against Mike Pence after Pence refused an unconstitutional request from him and the threats of execution that were included in Alan Hostetter’s posts in advance of the riot is that virtually all the people who occupied the Capitol on January 6 were aware of Trump’s threats and some took action to implement them.

The disorganized militia conspiracy (which will presumably be rolled out any day now) is significant because at least one of the men who will likely be charged in it, Nate DeGrave, said he was responding entirely to Trump’s exhortations. DOJ likely has video evidence of the effect that Trump’s attacks on Mike Pence had on those men as they walked from his speech to the Capitol. Those men fought with cops to open up a second front of the siege on the Capitol and then they fought with cops to get into the space where, Josiah Colt hoped and believed, Senators were still conducting the vote count. These men are charged with trying to intimidate government personnel like Mike Pence, something that Trump also did.

We already have evidence Trump shared the same goal as every person charged with conspiracy and evidence that Trump committed some of the very same overt acts as those charged. We even have evidence tying Trump’s own actions with physical violence committed with the goal of reaching Mike Pence to intimidate him.

We don’t, yet, have evidence that Trump agreed with any of the co-conspirators already charged. But we are within two degrees of having that, working through either Rudy Giuliani or Roger Stone, which would make Trump a co-conspirator with all the others.

I’m not saying DOJ will get that evidence. As I’ve said, a goodly number of people are going to have to agree to cooperate before DOJ will get there, though we have abundant reason to believe such agreements were made.

But unless this novel application of obstruction gets thrown out by the courts, then it remains ready-made to fit Trump right in among the other co-conspirators, just one violent mobster among all the others.

Even Billy Barr agreed that Presidents could be charged with obstruction. And if Trump is going to be held accountable for his actions on January 6, it will be via obstruction charges, not incitement.

A New Emphasis on Threats of Violence in the Latest January 6 Conspiracy Indictment

As I laid out the other day, the government charged six Three Percenters from California — American Phoenix Project founder Alan Hostetter, Russell Taylor, Erik Warner, Tony Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and Ronald Mele — with conspiracy. As I described, the indictment was notable in that just one of the men, Warner, actually entered the Capitol. But it was also notable for the way it tied Donald Trump’s December 19 call for a big protest on January 6 with their own public calls for violence, including executions, as well as an explicit premeditated plan to “surround the capital” [sic].

That’s one reason I find the slight difference in the way this conspiracy got charged to be of interest.

As I’ve been tracking over time, the now-seven militia conspiracies are structured very similarly, with each including coordinated plans to get to DC, some kind of plans to kit out for war, and some coordinated effort to participate in the assault on the Capitol. These conspiracies intersect in multiple ways we know of:

  • Thomas Caldwell’s communication with multiple militia to coordinate plans
  • Kelly Meggs’ formation of an alliance between Florida militias
  • Joe Biggs’ decision to exit the Capitol after the first breach, walk around it, and breach it again with two other Proud Boys in tow just ahead of the Oath Keeper stack
  • The attendance of James Breheny (thus far only charged individually), apparently with Stewart Rhodes (thus far not charged), at a leadership meeting of “multiple patriot groups” in Quarryville, PA on January 3, which Breheny described as “the day we get our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups”

All three militias mingled in interactions they’ve had with Roger Stone, as well, but thus far Stone only shows up in the Oath Keepers’ conspiracy.

In other words, while these represent seven different conspiracies (along with around maybe 15 to 20 identified militia members not charged in a conspiracy), they’re really one networked conspiracy that had the purpose of preventing the democratic replacement of Donald Trump.

Of particular note, what is probably the most serious case of assault charged against a militia member, that charged against Proud Boy Christopher Worrell, has not been included in any conspiracy. So while individual members of these conspiracies — including Joshua James, Dominic Pezzola, and William Isaacs, have been charged for their own physical resistance to cops — the conspiracies as a whole don’t yet hold conspirators accountable for the violence of their co-conspirators. The conspiracies only allege shared responsibility for damage to the Capitol, not violence against cops.

That said, the purpose and structure of the Three Percenter conspiracy is slightly different than the other six. The other six (Oath Keeper, Proud Boy Media, Proud Boy Leadership, Proud Boy Kansas City, Proud Boy North Door, Proud Boy Front Door) are all charged under 18 U.S.C. §371, conspiracy against the US. While the timeline of each conspiracy varies and while some of the Proud Boy conspiracies also include the goal of impeding the police, all six include language alleging the conspirators,

did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown, to commit an offense against the United States, namely, to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, the Certification of the Electoral College vote, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512(c)(2).

The purpose of the conspiracy was to stop, delay, and hinder the Certification of the Electoral College vote.

That is, those six conspiracies are charged (at least) as a conspiracy to violate the obstruction statute.

The Three Percenter SoCal conspiracy, however, is charged under the obstruction itself, 18 U.S.C. §1512(k).

Between December 19, 2020 and January 6, 2021, within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants … together with others, did conspire to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit: the Certification of the Electoral College vote.

The object is the same — to impede the vote certification. But it is charged differently.

I’m still thinking through what the difference might mean. It might mean nothing, it might reflect the preference of the prosecutors, or it may reflect a rethinking at DOJ.

Nick Smith claims there’s no evidence Ethan Nordean corruptly influenced anyone else to violate their duty

But there are two things that may factor into it. First, since the government first started structuring its conspiracies this way, some defense attorneys have started challenging the applicability of the obstruction statute to the vote certification at all. For this discussion, I’ll focus on the argument as Nick Smith laid it out in a motion to throw out the entire indictment against Ethan Nordean. Smith makes two arguments regarding the conspiracy charge.

First, Smith argues that Congress only intended the obstruction statute to apply to proceedings that involve making factual findings, and so poor Ethan Nordean had no way of knowing that trying to prevent the vote certification might be illegal.

As indicated above, § 1512(c)(2) has never been used to prosecute a defendant for the obstruction of an “official proceeding” unrelated to the administration of justice, i.e., a proceeding not charged with hearing evidence and making factual findings. Moreover, there is no notice, much less fair notice, in § 1512(c)(2) or in any statute in Chapter 73 that a person may be held federally liable for interference with a proceeding that does not resemble a legal tribunal.

Of course, that argument ignores that Ted Cruz and the other members who challenged the vote claim they were making factual findings — so Nordean’s co-conspirators may sink this legal challenge.

Smith also argues that the obstruction charge fails under the findings of US v. Poindexter, in which John Poindexter’s prosecution for lying to Congress about his role in Iran-Contra was reversed, in part, because the word “corruptly” as then defined in the obstruction statute was too vague to apply to Poindexter’s corrupt failure to do his duty. Smith argues that the language remains too vague based on his claim that the government is trying to prosecute Nordean for his “sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided,” which prosecutors have no business weighing.

Here, the FSI’s construction on § 1512(c)’s adverb “corruptly” fails this Circuit’s Poindexter test. First, the FSI does not allege that Nordean obstructed the January 6 joint session “to obtain an improper advantage for himself or someone else. . .” Poindexter, 951 F.2d at 386. Instead, it contends he allegedly obstructed the session in support of the sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided. Such an interpretation of § 1512(c) is unconstitutionally vague because it leaves to judges and prosecutors to decide which sincerely held political beliefs are to be criminalized on an ad hoc basis. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. at 1223-24. Second, the FSI neither alleges that Nordean influenced another person to obstruct the January 6 proceeding in violation of their legal duty, nor that Nordean himself violated any legal duty by virtue of his mere presence that day.

As I noted in my post on this challenge, this might be a nifty argument for a defendant who hadn’t — as Nordean had — started calling for revolution on November 27,  well before the state votes were counted. But Nordean had already made his intent clear even before the votes were counted, so Smith’s claims that Nordean was reacting to the election outcome is fairly easily disproven. (As with this entire challenge, it might work well for other defendants, but for a long list of reasons, it is far less likely to work with Nordean.)

There’s another, far more important, aspect to this part of the argument though. Smith claims, without any discussion, that Nordean didn’t “influence” any other person to violate their legal duty. Smith wants Judge Timothy Kelly to believe that Nordean did not mean to intimidate Congress by assembling a violent mob and storming the Capitol and as a result of intimidation to fail to fulfill their duty as laid out in the Constitution, whether by refusing to certify Joe Biden as President, or by running away in terror and simply failing to complete the task.

Unlike conspiracy, obstruction has a threat of violence enhancement

As I understand it (and I invite actual lawyers to correct me on this), the other difference between charging this conspiracy under 18 USC 371 and charging it under 1512(k) is the potential sentence. While defendants can be sentenced to 20 years under their individual obstruction charges (the actual sentence is more likely to be around 40 months, or less if the defendant pleads out), 18 USC 371 has a maximum sentence of five years.

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

But 18 USC 1512(k) says that those who conspire to obstruct shall be subject to the same penalty as they’d face for the actual commission of the offense.

(k)Whoever conspires to commit any offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

And obstruction has special penalties tied to murder, attempted murder, and the threat of physical force.

(3) The punishment for an offense under this subsection is—
(A) in the case of a killing, the punishment provided in sections 1111 and 1112;
(B) in the case of—
(i) an attempt to murder; or
(ii) the use or attempted use of physical force against any person;
imprisonment for not more than 30 years; and
(C) in the case of the threat of use of physical force against any person, imprisonment for not more than 20 years.

Thus, anyone charged along with a co-conspirator who threatened to kill someone may be exposed to twenty or even thirty years in prison rather than just five years.

As noted, there are several things about the overt acts charged in the Three Percenter conspiracy that differentiate it from the other militia conspiracies. They were even more explicit about their intent to come armed to the Capitol than the Oath Keepers were with their QRF (and their stated excuses to be armed relied even less on what I call the Antifa foil, the claim they had to come armed to defend against people they fully planned to incite).

And Hostetter twice publicly threatened to execute people. He posted a YouTube on November 27 in which he said, “some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.” And he gave a speech on December 12 in which he demanded, “There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of the coup.”

In other words, I think by charging this conspiracy under the obstruction statute rather than the conspiracy one, the government has exposed all of Hostetter’s co-conspirators, along with Hostetter himself, to far longer sentences because he repeatedly threatened to execute people.

The Three Percenter conspiracy makes threats to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress an object of the conspiracy

My guess is that the government is going to argue that, of course, Nordean was trying to corruptly influence others to violate their legal duty to certify the electoral results. Every single militia includes at least one member who made explicit threats against Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, and the Proud Boys, especially, have no recourse by claiming they showed up to listen to Donald Trump, since instead of attending his speech, they were assembling a violent mob to march on the place where Mike Pence was going to enact his official duties.

The Proud Boys were there to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress in hopes they would fail to fulfill their duty as laid out in the Constitution. If these charges make it to trial, I think prosecutors will be able to make a very compelling argument that assembling a mob in anticipation of Pence’s official acts was designed to intimidate him corruptly.

But, if I’m right about the criminal penalties, with the Three Percenter conspiracy, the government is going one step further. This conspiracy is structured to hold each member of the conspiracy accountable for the threats of murder made by Hostetter, the threat posed by planning to be armed at the Capitol, as well as the violence of others in their networked conspiracy. And even for those who didn’t enter the Capitol but instead egged on violence from some rally stage or behind some bullhorn, this conspiracy seems to aspire to expose co-conspirators accountable to a twenty year sentence for their (unsuccessful) efforts to intimidate Mike Pence to renege on his duty.

Update: I should add that someone with no prior convictions who goes to trial and is found guilty would face closer to 7-9 years with a full threats of violence enhancement. It would not be the full 20 years.

Update: Thanks to harpie for helping me count to seven (I had the wrong total number originally).

Accused Terrorist* Leader Ethan Nordean Complains He Got Charged with Trespassing

The biggest advantages that Ethan Nordean and the other men charged in the Proud Boys Leadership conspiracy have are a judge, Tim Kelly, who is very sympathetic to the fact that they’re being held in jail as the government fleshes out the case against them, and the 450 other January 6 defendants who have been charged with one or another of the same charges the Proud Boys were charged with. The biggest disadvantages are that, as time passes, the government’s case gets stronger and stronger and the fact that seditious conspiracy or insurrection charges not only remain a real possibility, but are arguably are a better fit than what they got charged with.

That’s why it baffles me that, minutes after Judge Kelly noted that every time Nordean files a new motion, Nordean himself tolls the Speedy Trial clock, Nordean’s lawyer, Nick Smith, filed a motion to dismiss the entirety of the indictment against Nordean.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Smith is a good lawyer and I’m grateful for the January 6 defense attorneys who are making aggressive challenges to the charges against their clients; it’s an important check on the First Amendment risks of this prosecution. And I imagine the filing was all ready to go before yesterday’s status hearing, where Kelly kept repeating that he is sympathetic to the plight of the defendants, but noted that the last motion Smith filed — a motion for a Bill of Particulars, a kind of motion that, in general, rarely succeeds — probably tolls the Speedy Trial clock whether or not Kelly were prepared to rule against prosecutors’ request for more time.

But tactically, trying to throw out every single crime, up to and including his trespassing charge, charged against one of the key leaders of a terrorist attack that put our very system of government at risk trades away the two biggest advantages Nordean has on legal challenges that won’t eliminate the prosecution against Nordean.

The 66-page motion goes one by one, arguing that every charge against Nordean is vague or wrongly applied. Obstruction — 1512 — only applies for Congress when it is engaged in an investigative function, not what Nordean claims (notwithstanding the questions that sympathetic members of Congress raised about the vote count) was just a formal technicality. Leading an insurrection also doesn’t have the requisite corrupt nature, because threatening the Vice President and the Speaker of the House with assassination would not have the effect of influencing members of Congress to do what the mob wanted. Civil disorder — 231 — was designed to jail civil rights leaders and so (it suggests) shouldn’t be used against a guy trying to invalidate the votes of 81 million Americans. A riot affecting a vote count that affects every state and shut down much of DC did not affect interstate commerce. There were other police, in addition to the Secret Service at the Capitol, and so the specific terms of 1752 — the trespassing charge — don’t apply here. Plus, poor Ethan Nordean had no way of knowing that barriers that were clearly in place when he started the approach to the Capitol were barriers meant to keep him out. And, finally (though this comes off as half-hearted), Nordean has no idea what property his conspiracy depredated even though it has been discussed ad nauseum in past hearings.

Along the way, Smith shades the case in ways that prosecutors will easily rebut, as when he suggests Nordean, whom the indictment cites invoking revolution as early as November 27 (and so even before the states certified their votes), was motivated out of a sincere belief that the election was stolen because of voter fraud.

Nordean did so, the government alleges, in the misguided belief that the legislature should refuse to certify the vote upon a review of evidence that he mistakenly contended showed voter fraud.

[snip]

Instead, it contends he allegedly obstructed the session in support of the sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided.

He lays out the legislative history for many of these laws. He provides the entire history of the Executive Mansion. He falsely represents that the only people who are being charged with 1512 are gang members like Nordean. More ridiculous still is the claim that hundreds or thousands of other people aren’t being charged with 1752 and so Nordean’s charge must solely stem from his gang membership, when in fact, virtually every person who is being charged, is being charged with 1752.

Some of these arguments have merit. For example, I’ve repeatedly raised concerns about the way the government has hung all its felony counts on a fairly novel reading of obstruction (basically, the argument that the insurrectionists were obstructing the official proceeding of certifying the vote). But other defendants — albeit mostly Proud Boys — are already bringing these challenges (and more are likely to now that Paul Hodgkins’ plea has made it clear that the government will insist defendants plead to that count). The DC Circuit is far more likely to assess those arguments on their legal merits if someone like business owner Jenny Cudd, who actually attended Trump’s rally before heading to the Capitol, and who didn’t preassemble a mob of 100 gang members to attack the Capitol even before Trump’s speech (that said, Cudd’s challenges thus far have been motions to change venue and to sever).

I would like the 231 challenge to succeed, but similar challenges have thus far failed when launched by people in actual states rather than the nation’s capital that by its geographic nature can carry out little commerce without transit through Maryland and/or Virginia, and in protests that would have been prosecuted solely by state cops if Billy Barr didn’t bigfoot on the events

Even Smith’s challenge to the trespassing charge was genuinely interesting when he made the same argument for another of his clients, Couy Griffin, who attended Trump’s rally and is not alleged to have entered the Capitol itself. But it works very differently for a guy who, rather than attending Trump’s rally, instead spent the morning of January 6 preparing a mob to march on an event that was important precisely because Mike Pence, along with his Secret Service detail, would be there conducting official business.

That’s the thing about being charged along with 450 other people: Where a claim has legal merit, other defendants are going to make such challenges. Those other defendants will be taken more seriously by the DC Circuit (the detention case for Chris Worrell has already shown that the DC Circuit sees the Proud Boys’ role in this as distinct from the unaffiliated defendants). And most of those defendants, if they succeed, won’t be promptly charged with insurrection or seditious conspiracy to sustain the prosecution.

And if any of these challenges brought by others succeed, then at that point, Nordean could point to the appellate decision and get his charges dropped along with hundreds of other people. But launching the challenge now, and in an omnibus motion claiming that poor Ethan didn’t know he was trespassing, is apt to get the whole package treated with less seriousness. Meanwhile, Nordean will be extending his own pre-trial detention. The government will be given more time to try to flip other members of a famously back-stabbing group, possibly up to and including Nordean’s co-conspirators (whose pre-trial detention Nordean will also be extending). And Judge Kelly will be left wondering why Nordean keeps undermining Kelly’s stated intent to limit how much the government can draw this out.

The worst thing about this motion, though, is that both the substance of it and that it was filed by one of the key terrorist leaders of this attack serves as the single best argument I’ve seen for passing a domestic terrorism statute. I don’t want January 6 to lead to passage of a domestic terrorism statute so the government has a way to criminalize membership in the Proud Boys. But claiming that Ethan Nordean shouldn’t even be held accountable for trespassing is a good way to ensure that one is passed.


*I believe it is legally accurate to use the term “terrorist” with Nordean because the government has charged him with a crime that can carry a terrorist enhancement — and in fact the government laid that out explicitly in the superseding Front Door indictment. I also believe the January 6 attack was a classical case of terrorism: the use of political violence to achieve a political goal.

Tables Flipped: With Cooperation Agreement, Oath Keeper Jon Schaffer Will Get Protection from US Marshals

As I’ve been suggesting might happen for some time, heavy metal musician Jon Schaffer just pled guilty, the first of any January 6 defendants to plead guilty. While many of the documents pertaining to his plea have not been released yet, his information has. He pled guilty to Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Entering a Restricted Area with a Deadly Weapon (for the bear spray he sprayed at police). On the Obstruction charge, Schaffer is facing serious enhancements for the bear spray. But with the plea, Schaffer will avoid what was surely going to be an assault charge, as well as inclusion in the Oath Keeper conspiracy. And all that’s before the cooperation he has agreed to provide prosecutors, which should help him cut his criminal exposure significantly, especially as the very first January 6 defendant to plead guilty.

From the sounds of things — prosecutor Ahmed Baset described Schaffer as the “tip of the mob” breaching the building and said he entered at 2:40 — Schaffer will be implicated in the breach of the east entrance to the Capitol, meaning his testimony may implicate everyone who went in with him (likely including all the currently charged Oath Keepers, Joe Biggs, and several other Proud Boys). [Update: Schaffer went in the west door, not the east one, but the timing is still of acute interest, as it means the door Schaffer went in was breached at the same time as the east door.] DOJ might be thinking of naming Schaffer an unindicted co-conspirator on the Oath Keeper conspiracy, which would put all of them on the hook for Schaffer’s violent actions, dramatically increasing their criminal exposure.

In addition, Schaffer’s plea sets an important precedent on several legal issues that will be contested by other defendants, Oath Keeper or not. Those include:

  • Whether bear spray is a deadly weapon (which will affect the men accused of attacking Brian Sicknick and others — like Roberto Minuta — who brought bear spray into the Capitol)
  • Whether the vote count and Mike Pence’s presence in the Capitol made the building a “restricted building” for the purpose of 1752
  • Whether obstruction — normally used for criminal prosecutions — applies to the vote count (this is particularly critical, as it is how DOJ has made participation in the insurrection a felony for the more serious defendants)
  • Whether two enhancements — for violence and significant interference — apply to the obstruction charge

As Judge Amit Mehta noted, this doesn’t preclude litigation in other cases, but both sides agreed that this legal stance applies to the January 6 riot.

Schaffer will be released from jail, meaning he can return to touring as a musician (which was likely one of the big inducements for him to plead).

But the most remarkable thing about this plea agreement comes with the public nature of it. Mehta had thought that DOJ would want to do this in sealed fashion, but Baset was quite clear that DOJ wanted this to be public. That means everyone will know that Schaffer is a key witness against a highly trained militia.

And one of the things Mehta seems to have raised in a closed part of the hearing is that that puts Schaffer at great risk.

So DOJ agreed that Schaffer — who on January 5 was among the Oath Keepers purportedly providing “security” for Roger Stone — will be provided security by US Marshals under DOJ’s witness protection program.

A member of Roger Stone’s “security” detail will for the foreseeable future, then, be provided with “security” by the US government.

Update: Here’s his plea. He signed it Wednesday, which means it’s likely he had a grand jury appearance Friday morning before he allocuted before Judge Mehta. [Fixed my day of the week problems.]

Update: They’ve calculated Schaffer’s base offense level, before reductions for pleading, to be 25, which would represent a sentence of 57-71 months in the sentencing table. If they add Schaffer as an unindicted co-conspirator to the Oath Keeper conspiracy, it would put them on the hook for his violence, even before the conspiracy charge.

Update: I was being a bit loose with my reference to Stone. The Oath Keepers, in which Schaffer has pled to be a member, provides security for Stone. While Schaffer associates with some of the people who did provide security, there’s no evidence he personally did.

Mike Lee Provides Key Evidence Implicating Trump in the Existing Criminal Conspiracy

Because Donald Trump’s Personal Injury lawyer, Michael Van der Veen, made a specious argument about the First Amendment to successfully give 43 Republicans cover to vote to acquit the Former President in his impeachment trial, the discussion about Trump’s potential criminal exposure for January 6 (which according to CNN he is concerned about) has largely focused on incitement charges.

That’s true even though the trial led Mike Lee to offer up evidence implicating Trump in the same conspiracy charges already charged against 10 defendants: conspiring to delay Congress’ official proceeding to certify the electoral college vote. As I have noted, DOJ has started mapping out conspiracy charges against both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys:

While there are differences in the scope of the conspiracy and overt acts involved, all three charging documents charge defendants with conspiring “to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote,” effectively conspiring to commit 18 USC 1512, tampering with the official procedure of certifying the electoral college vote, an official procedure laid out in the Constitution.

And in spite of their votes to acquit the Former President last night, both Tommy Tuberville and Mike Lee provided evidence that the FBI might use to investigate Trump in that conspiracy. As I noted days after the attack, during the attack, Trump twice attempted to reach out to Tuberville to ask him to delay the count. The second time, Rudy Giuliani even left a message specifically asking for a delay as such, precisely the object of the already charged conspiracy charges.

I know they’re reconvening at 8 tonight, but it … the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow—ideally until the end of tomorrow.

I know McConnell is doing everything he can to rush it, which is kind of a kick in the head because it’s one thing to oppose us, it’s another thing not to give us a fair opportunity to contest it. And he wants to try to get it down to only three states that we contest. But there are 10 states that we contest, not three. So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote, particularly after what McConnell did today. [snip]

Over the last few days, both Tuberville and Lee offered up more details on the earlier call. Tuberville confirmed the content of the call, including that he told the President that his Vice President had been evacuated.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville revealed late Wednesday that he spoke to Donald Trump on Jan. 6, just as a violent mob closed in on the the Senate, and informed the then-president directly that Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber.

“I said ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,’” Tuberville (R-Ala.) told POLITICO on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night, saying he cut the phone call short amid the chaos.

And Lee — who twice demanded that references to this call be removed from the Congressional record — ultimately provided phone records showing that even after Pence had been publicly rushed to safety, Trump was still working on delaying the vote rather than addressing the danger. Trump tweeted about Pence at 2:24, specifically complaining that Pence hadn’t given states a chance to “correct” facts, effectively a complaint that Pence had not disrupted the orderly counting of the vote.

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!

And then, two minutes later, Trump attempted to call Tuberville and, after Lee turned over his phone to the former coach, spoke to him for four minutes. It matters that Tuberville told Trump about the evacuations, though it is highly unlikely he had not been informed both informally and formally at that point. But it matters just as much that even after the insurrectionists had breached the building, Trump took two overt acts to attempt to delay the vote.

A Trump defense might argue — as his Personal Injury Lawyer did this week — that he was just trying to count the votes, but Trump had already made an unconstitutional request of Mike Pence, something Trump’s team provided no defense for. And that’s before you consider the evidence that Rudy, at least, was in direct contact with James Sullivan, who is affiliated with the group, the Proud Boys, that has already been accused of conspiring to breach the Capitol (indeed, another conspiracy case, against Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, charges that they conspired to interfere with cops trying to keep protestors out of the Capitol, and the Chrestman indictment also includes that as a separate conspiracy).

I’m not saying this will definitely happen. The bar to charging a Former President remains high.

But DOJ has already charged ten people for doing what Trump was also demonstrably doing that day. And, partly because of Mike Lee’s desperate effort to avoid having the record of him implicating Trump in the congressional record, Lee ended up making the timeline of the events public without the FBI having to breach speech and debate concerns to obtain it. By doing so, Lee made it easier for the FBI to make a case against Trump if they ever attempt to do so.

Mike Lee may have helped prevent Trump from being barred from running for President again. But Mike Lee also made it easier to prosecute Trump for those very same acts.

Update: NYT just posted a story showing that six of the Oath Keepers Roger Stone was palling around with leading up to the attack entered the Capitol on January 6.

In His Impeachment Defense, Trump Cites Mike Pence Admitting Trump Made an Unconstitutional Demand

Eleven pages into his 75-page impeachment defense, Trump makes this claim:

President Trump did not direct anyone to commit lawless actions,

In context, he’s speaking about his speech before the riot, claiming that his invocation that his mobsters “fight” didn’t mean he wanted them to fight illegally. His defense only addresses the meaning of that word, “fight,” in his speech, while treating impeachment over and over as akin to the passage of a law restricting First Amendment protected speech and not the political act that impeachment is.

But this brief, like in the 14-page answer brief he submitted last week, barely addresses one of the times he quite clearly did direct people to commit lawless action, first, when he called Brad Raffensperger and asked him to find him votes that didn’t exist.

The article also discusses in passing other “statements” of Mr. Trump as well as a telephone call to the secretary of state of Georgia.

[snip]

The allegation that Mr. Trump should be convicted for “incitement of insurrection” based upon the telephone call to the Georgia secretary of state rests on even shakier ground. The allegations of “threats of death and violence” come not from Mr. Trump at all; they come from other individuals from the internet, not identified (nor identifiable) in the House Trial Memorandum, who took it upon themselves to make inane internet threats, which were not urged or “incited” by Mr. Trump in any way shape or form.150 Examining the discussion with the Georgia secretary of state under the standard of “incitement,” leads to the same conclusion as the January 6, 2021 statements of Mr. Trump: there is nothing said by Mr. Trump that urges “use of force” or “law violation” directed to producing imminent lawless action.151

More strikingly, given the greater length of this brief, Trump again completely ignores a key part of the article of impeachment against him: his actions targeting Mike Pence, both his demand that Pence commit an unconstitutional act by throwing out the votes of key swing states, and his comments that specifically riled up the crowd against Pence, even after the rioters started looking for him at the Capitol to assassinate him.

Instead of addressing the actions he took that got Pence targeted for assassination, Trump mentions Pence only in the context of discussions about the 25th Amendment.

The very next day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called on Vice-President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment concluding – without any investigation – that Mr. Trump incited the insurrection and continued to pose an imminent danger if he remained in office as President.12

[snip]

First, in an attempt to usurp Constitutional power that is not in any way hers, the Speaker demanded that Vice-President Michael Pence or the White House Cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment, threatening to launch an impeachment proceeding if they refused. Four days later, on January 11, 2021, an Article of Impeachment was introduced, which charged President Trump with “incitement of insurrection” against the United States government and “lawless action at the Capitol.” See H. Res. 24 (117th Congress (2021-2022). The Speaker made good on her extortionate threat.

[snip]

After the Article was introduced, Speaker Pelosi again gave Vice President Pence an ultimatum: either he invokes the 25th Amendment within twenty-four hours or the impeachment proceedings would proceed. Vice-President Pence responded in a letter to Speaker Pelosi the following day stating that he would not allow her to usurp constitutional authority that is not hers and extort him (and by extension the Nation) to invoke the 25th Amendment because he believed to do so would not “be in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution.”29 Vice-President Pence also noted that Speaker Pelosi was being hypocritical, as she had previously stated that in utilizing the 25th Amendment, “we must be ‘[v]ery respectful of not making a judgment on the basis of a comment or behavior that we don’t like, but [rather must base such a decision] on a medical decision.”30

I suspect Trump’s lawyers will try to defer any questions about Trump’s attacks on Pence by suggesting that Pelosi’s decision to impeach because Pence didn’t invoke the 25th Amendment is just like Trump’s incitement of violence targeted at Pence. With their use of the words, “usurp” and “extort,” Trump’s lawyers grossly overstate the force of language Pence himself used to compare the two:

Last week, I did not yield to pressure to exert power beyond my constitutional authority to determine the outcome of the election, and I will not now yield to efforts in the House of Representatives to play political games at a time so serious to the life of our Nation.

But there are several problems with this: Congress was already intent on impeaching Trump for his actions before the request that Pence intervene. More importantly, even in Pence’s treatment comparing these two, he calls one — Trump’s demand — unconstitutional but the other — Pelosi’s request — a “political game.”

So in one place in his impeachment defense, Donald Trump’s lawyers claim, “President Trump did not direct anyone to commit lawless actions.” Elsewhere, however, they cite a letter in which Mike Pence says he did, that he made a demand, “beyond [his] constitutional authority.”

And with this apparent effort to deflect a key accusation against him, Trump entirely ignores the specific, targeted action he used to lead the mob to attempt to assassinate his Vice President.