Posts

Networks of Insurrection: “Trump is literally calling people to DC in a show of force”

This will be another of those posts where I catalog a few of the developments in the January 6 investigation that show how — Jocelyn Ballantine’s involvement notwithstanding — the many parts of the investigation are crystalizing around associations between rioters.

Michael Rusyn witnesses the initial East door break

First, in my continuing focus on the statements that DOJ obtains from those pleading guilty to trespassing charges, I’d like to look at the statement of offense from Michael Rusyn, who pled guilty Monday.

Rusyn was first IDed to FBI the day after the riot, interviewed by the FBI on February 17, and then arrested back in April, probably because he showed up in two key locations, obviously recording what happened on his phone. But after they arrested him and started pulling surveillance footage and exploiting his cell phone, they realized he was always accompanied by the same woman, about whom they had gotten a separate tip on January 7.

At least per Deborah Lee’s arrest affidavit, that’s how the FBI determined that Rusyn was the “Michael Joseph” she had tagged in her own Facebook posts from the riot, and that — as described in his statement of offense — he had lied when he told the FBI he didn’t know anyone on the bus he took to the riot.

On February 17, 2021, the defendant was interviewed by a Task Force Officer and an FBI Special Agent. During that interview, the defendant said the he traveled to Washington, D.C. by boarding a bus in Jessup, Pennsylvania at approximately 5:00 a.m., and that he did not personally know anyone on the bus. This was untrue: the defendant and Deborah Lynn Lee rode to Washington, D.C. together on the same bus. And, indeed, the defendant’s phone contained numerous photographs and video fo Lee outside the Capitol building, which it appeared had been recorded by the defendant, as well as numerous text messages between the defendant and Lee.

The rest of his statement of offense liberally implicates Lee in his actions, including by noting that she entered via the East doors first, and then reached out her hand and pulled him into the building (which also contradicts his initial claims).

At approximately 2:27 p.m., Deborah Lynn Lee entered the Capitol building through the breached door. She turned back across the threshold and extended her hand to the defendant, who took her hand and pulled himself through the crowd, across the threshold and into the Capitol. The two were among the first thirty to forty people to enter the Capitol after the breach of this door.

DOJ could have wired Rusyn’s plea, requiring that he wait until Lee pled guilty before they’d let him plea. Instead, though, they’ve acquired evidence against someone who made false claims about Antifa in the days after the riot.

Lee is also one of the John Pierce clients who has decided to stick with him — and so, presumably, with her false claims — after his bout with COVID.

In addition to making it much harder for his friend to sustain her lies about Antifa, though, Rusyn also provided witness testimony describing how the East doors got broken.

By approximately 2:10 p.m., the defendant stood on the East Side of the Capitol building, near the eastern, double doors at the top of the Capitol steps, leading to the rotunda. He was in a crowd of people, close enough to the crowd to see the front of the doors. A video that the defendant uploaded to Facebook at 2:10 p.m, and a photo that the defendant uploaded to Facebook at 2:16 p.m.,, capture these doors, including the windowpanes that would–shortly thereafter–be smashed in by members of the crowd.

Beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m., and continuing through at least approximately 2:24 p.m., members of the crowd began smashing several of the windowpanes of these doors. At approximately 2:25 p.m., another rioter opened one of the double doors from the inside; thereafter, that person and several other rioters opened this door widely enough to allow members of the crowd to breach the door and enter the Capitol.

This is straight witness testimony and validation of Rusyn’s own video, but it also debunks claims that a bunch of other rioters have tried to make in their own defense.

Rusyn’s statement of offense includes similar language describing the mob that tried to push their way into the House shortly thereafter.

Rusyn was allowed to plead to the less serious of the two trespassing charges. But his testimony and validated video will be quite useful for prosecutors to go after more serious defendants, including the details of how rioters opened a second front at the East doors.

Gary Wilson makes Brady Knowlton’s obstruction more obvious

In a similar case where DOJ arrested someone’s co-rioter months later, the government arrested a guy from Salt Lake City named Gary Wilson. Wilson is the guy who showed up in the photos used to arrest Brady Knowlton on April 7, who himself was arrested long after his buddy Patrick Montgomery was arrested on January 17.

The FBI used Wilson’s arrest warrant as an opportunity to fill in the details behind the earlier indictment of Montgomery and Knowlton, which added an assault charge against Montgomery and obstruction charges against both.

For example, it shows an exchange captured in Daniel Hodges’ Body Worn Camera just before Montgomery allegedly assaulted Hodges, as described in Wilson’s arrest affidavit.

At around 2:00 p.m. co-defendant Brady Knowlton confronted MPD officers who were making their way through the crowd and yelled at them saying, “You took an oath! You took an oath!” and “Are you our brothers?” Co-defendant Patrick Montgomery came up from behind Knowlton and said something to the officers, but it was hard to tell what he said. Officer Hodges then moved forward a few steps through the crowd. Wilson can be seen on Hodges’ video standing in the crowd (see screenshot above)—not far from where Montgomery and Knowlton were standing. In fact, Officer Hodges and Wilson collided as Officer Hodges tried to make his way through the crowd.

At approximately 2:02 p.m., Montgomery assaulted MPD Officer Hodges. An FBI special agent interviewed Officer Hodges on February 24, 2021. Officer Hodges told the FBI agent that at about 2:00 p.m. on January 6, 2021, he was making his way toward the west side of the Capitol to assist other officers. He was part of a platoon of about 35-40 officers. Officer Hodges said that right before 2:02 p.m., a very agitated crowd cut-off the platoon’s progress and split the group of 35-40 officers into smaller groups. Officer Hodges and a small group of officers ended up encircled by the crowd and the crowd was yelling at them “remember your oaths.”

Officer Hodges said that he was at the front of the group and attempted to make a hole through the crowd for himself and the other officers to continue their movement toward the Capitol. He yelled “make way” to the crowd. While trying to get through the crowd, he looked back to see other officers being assaulted by members of the crowd, which was yelling “push” while making contact with the officers. Hodges immediately turned back and started pulling assaulting members of the crowd off the other officers by grabbing their jackets or backpacks. After pulling a few people away from the officers, a man—later identified as Patrick Montgomery—came at Officer Hodges from his side and grabbed Officers Hodges’ baton and tried to pull it away from him. Officer Hodges immediately started to fight back and the two of them went to the ground, at which time Montgomery kicked Officer Hodges in the chest.

As Officer Hodges went down to the ground, his medical mask covered his eyes, which temporarily blinded him. He was laying on the ground, could not see, and was fighting to retain his weapon while surrounded by a violent and angry crowd. In that moment, he was afraid because he was in a defenseless position because of the assault. He was able to break Montgomery’s grip on the baton and get free.

The Wilson affidavit then shows how the three of them then entered the Capitol through the Upper West Terrace door, went to the Rotunda, witnessed Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin allegedly assaulting officers outside the Senate, then entered the Senate Gallery, all movements described in earlier filings but now documented with pictures.

From there, the threesome entered another hallway and had another confrontation with some MPD officers. Here again, the Wilson affidavit provides more detail (and a picture) of a confrontation explained in sketchy form in earlier filings.

Knowlton: “All you gotta do is step aside. You’re not getting in trouble. Stand down. For the love of your country.”

Unidentified rioter: “What happens if we push? Do you back up? We’re not gonna push hard.”

Knowlton: “This is happening. Our vote doesn’t matter, so we came here for change.”

Unidentified rioter: “We want our country back. You guys should be out arresting the Vice President right now.”

Wilson: “We came all the way from our jobs to do your job and the freaking senators’ job.”

The three men had one more confrontation with officers before they left the building around 2:54.

All this is important because, even aside from the possibility that these additional conflicts expose Montgomery and Knowlton to additional civil disorder or resisting charges, it all makes Knowlton’s obstruction much easier to show.

And that’s important because, as of right now, Knowlton is mounting the most mature (and best funded) challenge to the way DOJ has used obstruction charges against January 6 defendants. In a hearing overseeing that challenge, Judge Randolph Moss expressed concern (as Judge Amit Mehta similarly did in an Oath Keeper challenge of the application) of limiting principles, what distinguishes the actions of those charged with obstruction for January 6 from protestors complaining about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This arrest affidavit doesn’t change the legal issues, but it does make it a lot easier to see that Brady Knowlton was no mere protestor.

There’s probably more that will come with this arrest — at the very least an opportunity to supersede Montgomery and Knowlton to add Wilson.

But we also may learn whether there’s a tie between these three guys (there’s a fourth who posed with Montgomery and Knowlton outside the Capitol, but he’s not known to have entered the Capitol) and two other Utahns who entered the Senate Gallery at almost the exact same time as these three, Janet Buhler (pictured just behind Knowlton and Wilson) and her step-son Michael Hardin.

After all, we’re still waiting to learn the identities of the Utahns that John Sullivan’s brother, James, discussed with Rudy Giuliani shortly after the riot. These four people (just four are Utahns — Montgomery lives in Colorado) are among just eight Utahns charged to date, and they all made it to the Senate Gallery at roughly the same time.

“It’s the only time hes ever specifically asked for people to show up”

The last recent arrest involving networks of people who rioted together charged Marshall Neefe and Brad Smith with conspiracy to obstruct the vote, assault, civil disorder, and the trespassing while armed that can carry a stiff sentence. Their charges under 18 USC 1512(k) marks at least the third time January 6 defendants were charged with conspiracy under that clause (as opposed to 18 USC 371, like most militias), with the two others being Eric “Zip Tie Guy” Munchel and his mom, and the SoCal 3%er conspiracy.

If DOJ’s application of obstruction to the vote count survives judicial review, charging a conspiracy under 1512(k) offers several things that 371 doesn’t offer: notably, very steep sentencing enhancements for threats of violence.

And these men did threaten violence. As early as December 22, Neefe talked of “wanna crack some commie skulls.” That day, too, Smith described getting axe handles to which he’d nail an American flag “so we can wave the flag but also have a giant beating stick just in case.” Like most of the 3%ers, Smith didn’t enter the Capitol, and for the same reason: because he believed entering the Capitol while armed would risk arrest. “I was the people crawling up the side of the building. I wasn’t going to jail with my KA BAR,” which he had described as his “Military killin knife” when he got it in December.

It’s tempting to think this conspiracy, like that of Munchel and his mom, is mostly tactical, a way to implicate both in the acts of one.

But there are references to efforts to “encourage[] others to join him and NEED to travel to Washington,” so it’s possible we’ll see later arrests similar to those of people networked with the 3%ers (for example, the Telegram Chat that Russell Taylor started is mentioned in the arrest affidavits for Ben Martin and Jeffrey Brown).

More interesting still is that this conspiracy might work like the (still-uncharged) one promised against Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin, two random guys who took action in direct response to Trump’s directions.

Charging this as a conspiracy focuses on the lead-up to the riot. It shows how these men started planning for war on November 4, “Why shouldnt [sic] we be the ones to kick it off?” It describes how they responded to Trump’s calls for attendance.

The call to action was put out to be in DC on January 6th from the Don himself. The reason is that’s the day pence counts them up and if the entire city is full of trump supporters it will stop the for sure riots from burning down the city at least for a while.

It emphasizes the import these men ascribed to Trump’s calls for attendance.

SMITH wrote another Facebook user on December 22, 2020, “Hey man if you wanna go down to DC on the 6th Trump is asking everyone to go. That’s the day Pence counts up the votes and they need supporters to fill the streets so when they refuse to back down the city doesnt [sic] burn right away. It’s the only time hes [sic] ever specifically asked for people to show up. He didn’t say that’s why but it’s obviously why.”

It shows how, in advance of the riot, both men came to understand that they might join militias in storming the Capitol.

On December 31, 2020, SMITH continued to message other Facebook users, encouraging them to go to Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. For example, he told one user, “Take off the 6th man! It’s the Big one!!! Trump is literally calling people to DC in a show of force. Militias will be there and if there’s enough people they may fucking storm the buildings and take out the trash right there.”

That same day — the same day Smith got his military knife — Smith talked with Neefe about how easy storming the Capitol would be.

“I cant wait for DC! Apparently it’s going to be WAY bigger lol. If it’s big enough we should all just storm the buildings. . . . Seriously. I was talking to my Dad about how easy that would be with enough people.”

By January 5, that turned into Smith’s call to “Sacrifice the Senate!!!!”

All that’s important background to Smith narrating their arrival by describing their actions as, “literally storming the Capitol.” Shortly thereafter, Neefe was involved in using a Trump sign as a battering ram against MPD officers. This may be the assault currently charged against Jose Padilla and others.

Even in retrospect, these conspirators spoke in terms that tie Trump’s actions to their own violence and threats of violence, bragging about responding to Pence’s refusal to fulfill Trump’s illegal demands by literally chasing members of Congress out of their chambers.

From January 6-7, SMITH posted, “Got Gassed so many times, shit is spicy but the Adrenaline high and wanting to ‘Get’ Pelosi and those fucks, it was bearable.” He also admitted, “Oh yeah. The time will come for some of them. But today’s mission was successful! Remember how they said today was the final day & that Biden would be certified? Well we literally chased them out into hiding. No certification lol [. . .]. Pence cucked like we knew he would but it was an Unbelievable show of force and it did its job.”

As far as we can tell, Marshall Neefe and Brad Smith are just bit players in this story, two guys who went to the Capitol and joined in the violence.

But that’s what makes them so useful, for showing how two bit players, believing they were taking orders directly from the President, armed themselves and helped implement a deliberate attempt to “literally chase[]” Congress away from the task of certifying the vote.

DOJ Gets Closer to Arguing Terrorizing Congress Amounts to Obstruction

In August, I wrote about how one of Brady Knowlton’s lawyers got up to claim that because there could be no miscarriage of justice in the January 6 vote certification, his client could not have obstructed it under the statute DOJ is using to charge the more serious January 6  perpetrators, 18 USC 1512. I noted that the lawyer, Brent Mayr, was actually suggesting that Joe Biden and the 81 million voters who voted for him would suffer no injury if Biden’s vote certification had never taken place.

Up until that moment, the hearing before Judge Randolph Moss was an admittedly close question. Knowlton’s other lawyer made a robust argument that vote certifications weren’t the kind of official proceeding that could be obstructed. And AUSA John Pearse focused on the word “corruptly” distinguishing other First Amendment protected activities, such as those who protested the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, from those who stormed the Capitol.

Something similar just happened in the Oath Keeper case. After David Fischer made the same argument that Knowlton’s lawyers made — that this was not an official proceeding, to much skepticism from Judge Amit Mehta — Carmen Hernandez got up to argue that her client could not have known that he would risk a 20 year sentence for forcing his way into the Capitol as part of a stack.

Before I explain what happened next, four details are worth noting. First, Hernandez is, in my opinion, a smart and passionate lawyer. Her briefs on this case (surely helped by other public defenders, as they have so many clients facing this charge) were probably the most cogent I’ve read, and I’ve read virtually all of these challenges. That said, Hernandez submitted a 30-page brief, this morning which (Judge Mehta made a point of telling her) he had read by the time of the 2PM hearing. Also, she interrupted Mehta several times. Those things really pissed him off. Finally, of all the Oath Keepers, I think Donovan Crowl may have the best argument that he did not willfully enter into a conspiracy and did not intend to interrupt the vote count. That is, I think Crowl might beat the obstruction charge Hernandez was challenging in court, even if his co-defendants might not, but that’s an evidentiary issue, not a constitutional one.

Still, it was a robust argument. Hernandez made as good a First Amendment argument as has been made about this, that this was just about influence Congress. “Influencing Congress, going to Congress and shouting and making a fool of yourself? That’s what Americans do.”

Mehta challenged prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler why under Yates v. US, in which SCOTUS ruled that destroying fish to avoid prosecution for catching undersized fish was not tantamount to obstruction for a statute envisioning the destruction of documents, this kind of obstruction is not obviously obstruction.

Nestler also made a point that hasn’t been made enough by DOJ — one I noted in my post on Knowlton’s challenge. To argue that the rioters obstructed justice, rather than Trump or those who orchestrated the mobs, you really need to argue that it’s a kind of witness tampering, an attempt to terrify members of Congress not just to flee, but also to vote against the lawful winner of the election. There is abundant evidence that not only occurred on the day of the vote certification, but that the terror of the event led some Republicans to vote against impeachment. This is a classic case of witness tampering, a case where Congress was held hostage in an attempt to terrify them to not do their jobs. And it nearly succeeded. And the after effects remain.

So Nestler argued that the object of the conspiracy was to scare Congress to stop the proceedings. Judge Mehta rightly responded, “Where do I look in the indictment for that?”

But like the Moss hearing, this one ended up with a hypothetical. If someone burst into his courtroom with the specific intention of preventing these proceedings from taking place, Judge Mehta asked Hernandez, would that amount to obstruction. Yes, she responded, resorting immediately to the far weaker argument that Fischer had tried to make, that the vote certification is not an official proceeding.

That may ultimately be the hook on which Mehta starts to unravel this question.

Whatever happens, that will not be the end of this question, because until DOJ makes a much stronger argument, both about how the terror was designed to function here and what distinguishes not only January 6 defendants from Kavanaugh protestors, but also the January 6 obstruction defendants from those charged with parading, judges will continue to face this difficult question. And at some point, a defense attorney will avoid providing the judge the obvious way to answer the question.

How Jacob Chansley Proved Patrick LeDuc Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

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

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

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

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

Assumptions

The piece makes three assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other conspiracies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

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

What a Trump conspiracy might look like

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not saying DOJ will charge Trump.

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

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

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

Don’t Ignore What Trevor McFadden Has to Say about January 6

Tierney Sneed had a good article yesterday summarizing how starkly some of the judges presiding over January 6 cases have described it. For example, Sneed quoted liberally from the comments Randolph Moss made in sentencing Paul Hodgkins, comments that the government and other judges are quoting frequently.

“It means that it will be harder today than it was seven months ago for the United States and our diplomats to convince other nations to pursue democracy,” Judge Randolph Moss said at a July 19 sentencing hearing. “It means that it will be harder for all of us to convince our children and our grandchildren that democracy stands as the immutable foundation of this nation. It means that we are now all fearful about the next attack in a way that we never were.”

[snip]

Moss, a nominee of President Barack Obama, said that the attack “threatened not only the security of the Capitol, but democracy itself,” as he sentenced Paul Hodgkins, a rioter who pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding.

“Our elected representatives from both political parties came together that day to perform their constitutional and statutory duty to declare, in the word of the statute, the person elected president,” Moss said at the July 19 hearing. “The mob’s objective was to stop that from happening. They were prepared to break the law to prevent Congress from performing its constitutional and statutory duty. That is chilling for many reasons.”

She includes judges appointed by Democrats (in addition to Moss, Amy Berman Jackson and Beryl Howell) and Republicans (Reggie Walton and Royce Lamberth).

As someone who thinks January 6 was exceptionally dangerous, it’s comforting to hear some judges agree. But I think that, to make a case about how judges are interpreting January 6, you would need to include the statements of a judge like Trevor McFadden, as well.

Of the District Judges carrying the heavy January 6 case load, four — Carl Nichols, Dabney Friedrich, Tim Kelly, and McFadden — are Trump appointees. Unlike some of Trump’s DC Circuit appointees, they’re all serious judges, with time as prosecutors or in other DOJ roles. Trump appointees aren’t necessarily going to be more favorable for January 6 defendants. While Nichols may have burnished his right wing bonafides clerking for Clarence Thomas, for example, that means he spent a lot of time with a Justice who is generally awful for non-corporate defendants’ rights. Former public defender and Obama appointee Tanya Chutkan has already made decisions (on bail) that are more favorable to defendants than the Trump appointees, for example, and I expect that to continue (the judge presiding over the Oath Keeper conspiracy case, Amit Mehta, has also served as a public defender).

Still, as recent Republican appointees, the Trump judges are an important read and voice on this investigation. Both by disposition and record on the court, Friedrich is probably the Trumpiest judge, but thus far the most interesting case she has been assigned is that of Guy Reffitt, the III Percenter who threatened his kids if they revealed his role in the riot; in that case, she approved an order allowing prosecutors to use his face to open a laptop with pictures from the insurrection. Nichols has a bunch of cases, such as the Pollocks or former Green Beret Jeffrey McKellop, that may get interesting down the road, but thus far his most active cases have involved presiding over the plea deals of a group of people arrested on trespass charges on the day of the attack. Tim Kelly is presiding over the bulk of the Proud Boy cases, which by itself gives him a pretty full docket (but is also why DOJ really fucked up by treating Ethan Nordean’s invocation of the Kavanaugh protests so blithely); his decisions thus far have been totally fair. The decisions of Trevor McFadden, who is presiding over the omnibus Tunnel assault case, have also been fair.

I think McFadden’s statements should be included in any read of what these judges think of January 6 because he has pulled a number of the ones that, because the defendants’ political speech has been implicated in the cases against them, will provide an early read about how a Republican with solid political ties will view the balancing of political speech and threat posed by January 6.

In addition to the Hunter and Kevin Seefried prosecution (the latter of whom was pictured carrying a Confederate flag through the Capitol), McFadden is presiding over the prosecutions of American Firster Christian Secor, Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin, and Neo-Nazi Timothy Hale-Cusanelli.

In these cases, McFadden has expressed a fair amount of nuance in his views as he has presided over some genuinely difficult decisions.

He did take the way Hale-Cusanelli expressed his bigotry into account when he decided to hold him without bail (which was genuinely one of the most difficult detention decisions, in my opinion, and I was leaning towards release before McFadden made the decision), but in significant part because he may have acted on those views in the past and because his promises of action were alarming and intimidating his colleagues.

Having said all of that, we don’t typically penalize people for what they say or think. I think for purposes of my analysis, I need to — I’m trying to figure out whether this well-documented history of violent and racist language does suggest that the defendant poses a danger to the community.

[snip]

I also note the government’s evidence that the defendant appears to have surrounded himself, to a certain extent anyway, with people who have encouraged this behavior and people who may even agree with him. And I agree with the government’s concern regarding potential escalation of violence at this point given all that has occurred. And I am concerned for the safety of the confidential human source. I think given all of the facts here in the government’s motion, I mention it is pretty obvious to the defendant anyway who this person is. And I am concerned given all of the defendant[‘]s — all of the things he said in the past about committing violence against those who he feels are pitted against him. And given the sum evidence that the defendant has been willing to put these thoughts into action in the past, I think I do have a duty to protect that confidential source.

McFadden did, however, release someone with similarly repugnant views, Secor, even though Secor had been arming himself, in part because Secor had third party custodians — his parents — willing to vouch for him and put up a $200,000 bond. McFadden seems to be seeking to separate out hateful speech from where that speech turns violent and, if nothing else, that struggle deserves close attention.

But he’s also not viewing DOJ’s response to January 6 as driven predominantly by First Amendment issues. In a decision rejecting Griffin’s attempt to throw out one of the trespassing charges DOJ has used — which Griffin, because he did not enter the Capitol, was uniquely situated to challenge — McFadden dismissed Griffin’s claims of political discrimination.

The Government moved to detain Griffin before trial. It described Griffin’s political views as “inflammatory, racist, and at least borderline threatening advocacy.” Gov’t’s Mem. in Supp. of Pretrial Detention at 2, ECF No. 3. The Government also highlighted the gun rights advocacy of Cowboys for Trump, as well as allegedly violent statements made by Griffin.

[snip]

Finally, Griffin complains of discriminatory prosecution. He contends that he was targeted and “selectively charged . . . because the government loathed him and his politics.” Def.’s Reply at 3. “Few subjects are less adapted to judicial review than the exercise by the Executive of his discretion in deciding when and whether to institute criminal proceedings, or what precise charge shall be made, or whether to dismiss a proceeding once brought.” United States v. Fokker Servs. B.V., 818 F.3d 733, 741 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (cleaned up). So “the presumption of regularity” applies to “prosecutorial decisions and, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, courts presume that prosecutors have properly discharged their official duties.” Id.

Griffin comes up short on providing the “clear evidence” required for this Court to surmount the presumption of regularity—and the separation of powers. He points to “hundreds or perhaps thousands of other individuals ‘remaining’ in the same area” as him on January 6 who have not faced charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1752. Def.’s Mot. at 24. The Court hesitates to credit these unsupported numbers, especially as the Government continues to charge new individuals with offenses related to January 6. Nor is the Court concerned by the Government’s statements about Griffin when seeking to detain him pretrial; detention hearings require the Court to consider the defendant’s history and personal characteristics, as well as his potential dangerousness.

Griffin highlights the Government’s dismissal of charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1752 in “the interests of justice” in United States v. Christopher Kelly, 21-mj-128 (D.D.C. 2021). According to news reports, the Government moved to drop the charges after determining Kelly did not enter the Capitol building. See Feds move to drop charges for Capitol riot defendant, Politico, June 1, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/06/01/feds-capitol-riot-defendant-491514 (“‘Since he was not inside, in the interest of consistency in the investigation, the charges were dropped,’ the official said.”). Even so, the Government could rationally forgo federal prosecution as to most trespassers while deciding that Griffin’s leadership role in the crowd, position as an elected official, and more blatant conduct at the scene merited him different treatment. Not all differences amount to discrimination. In any event, presumably Kelly and the other uncharged protestors surrounding Griffin on the Capitol steps share his “politics,” Def.’s Reply at 3, complicating his complaint of bias here.

Griffin also points to the numerous uncharged protestors who broke through USCP barricades to occupy the Capitol steps on the eve of Justice Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation vote. See Def.’s Notice at 2, ECF No. 39; see also Kavanaugh Protesters Ignore Capitol Barricades Ahead of Saturday Vote, Roll Call, Oct. 6, 2019, https://www.rollcall.com/2018/10/06/kavanaugh-protesters-ignore-capitol-barricades-ahead-ofsaturday-vote/. Disparate charging decisions in similar circumstances may be relevant at sentencing. Cf. 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(c) (“the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct”). But this is not a basis to dismiss the charges. [My emphasis]

McFadden based his decision on this point in part on separation of powers (the basis for some of his decisions that have been deemed pro-Trump) and presumption of regularity, as well as basic facts. He deemed reasonable the possibility that prosecutors viewed Griffin’s leadership role to be more important to prosecute. He suggested he might sentence Griffin (if he were found guilty) leniently based on a comparison with similarly situated protestors against Kavanugh. But he also based his decision on the notion that Griffin’s threats of violence (raised in a detention challenge conducted before Michael Sherwin departed) could pose a genuine concern to the government.

McFadden is not treating this investigation as a witch hunt against people with right wing views.

But at the same time, McFadden has deviated from his colleagues’ more alarmist language to refer to January 6. At least twice in hearings (including on this Griffin challenge), McFadden admonished an AUSA who referred to January 6 as an insurrection. Have you charged anyone with insurrection, McFadden rightly asked. In a court room, these are not empty terms. They are also names of crimes. And DOJ needs to be careful not to accuse these defendants of crimes that — for whatever reason — they haven’t charged.

It’s not that McFadden thinks January 6 was not serious. In the same Hale-Cusanelli hearing, he described, “Obviously, the January 6th riot was a serious and sui generis threat to our country’s body politic.” But thus far (he has not presided over any of the six cases that have been sentenced yet), he has adopted a more moderate tone in discussing the event.

It’s true that, for the moment, some District Court Judges will frame how we think of January 6. In Munchel, the DC Circuit, too, described January 6 in grave terms (albeit in a passage of Robert Wilkins’ majority opinion not joined by Greg Katsas).

It cannot be gainsaid that the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6 was a grave danger to our democracy, and that those who participated could rightly be subject to detention to safeguard the community. Cf. Salerno, 481 U.S. at 748 (“[I]n times of war or insurrection, when society’s interest is at its peak, the Government may detain individuals whom the government believes to be dangerous.” (citations omitted)).

But ultimately, the six Republican appointees on the Supreme Court will have their say about what this event was — at least about whether hundreds of people committed felony obstruction in trying to halt the peaceful transfer of power. And with that in mind, commentators and DOJ would do well to watch carefully for the specific aspects of January 6 that Trevor McFadden finds most troublesome.

19 Minutes: The Tuberville Call and DOJ’s Use of Obstruction in January 6 Prosecutions

Nine minutes after President Trump called Tommy Tuberville at 2:26PM on January 6 to ask him to raise more objections in an effort to delay the vote count, riot defendant Brady Knowlton entered the Capitol in what DOJ alleges was an intentional effort to delay the vote count.

Nineteen minutes after Trump placed that call, at 2:45PM, Knowlton entered the Senate Gallery, maybe fifteen minutes after Tuberville had told the President he had to hang up because the Senators were being evacuated because people like Knowlton were invading the Capitol.

A number of people have pointed me to this article on Tuesday’s hearing before Judge Randolph Moss in Knowlton’s challenge to DOJ’s use of 1512(c)(2) to charge those who, DOJ alleges, came to the insurrection with the intention of delaying or stopping the certification of the votes. Here’s my live thread of the hearing and my own post on it; I’ve linked some of my other posts on the application of obstruction below.

The article is a good summary of the legal questions around the application. But in my opinion, its emphasis does not adequately convey what went on at the hearing. For example, the headline and first three paragraphs emphasize Judge Moss’ concerns about constitutional vagueness, which Moss didn’t focus on until an hour into the hearing.

Lead felony charge against Jan. 6 defendants could be unconstitutionally vague, U.S. judge warns

A federal judge has warned that the lead felony charge leveled by the government against Capitol riot defendants could be unconstitutionally vague, potentially putting convictions at risk of being overturned on appeal.

U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss identified the latest hurdle for federal prosecutors investigating January’s attack on Congress during a two-hour hearing this week over whether to dismiss the “obstruction of an official proceeding” charge from a 10-count indictment against two men from Colorado and Utah.

Moss’s remarks highlight the challenge prosecutors have faced in defining the most severe criminal conduct allegedly committed on Jan. 6. Prosecutors have employed the obstruction charge rather than sedition or insurrection counts in accusing at least 235 defendants of corruptly disrupting Congress’s certification of the 2020 electoral-college vote.

It doesn’t mention how Moss started the hearing — by expressing skepticism about Knowlton’s argument — until the last line of the fourth paragraph.

Attorneys for Brady Knowlton and Patrick Montgomery claimed that specific offense did not apply to them, arguing that the joint House and Senate session that met Jan. 6 does not qualify as an official proceeding of Congress. Moss made clear he was not persuaded by that claim at this point. [my emphasis]

At least before Moss, then, this challenge faces an uphill climb (some of the other challenges to this application of obstruction make a slightly different legal argument that may have more promise of success). And while the WaPo piece notes that Moss asked for additional briefing from both sides, it doesn’t note what I consider a fairly major strategic error from Knowlton’s team: choosing to define an “official proceeding” as one in which the ultimate decision of the proceeding is an adjudication that has real import to the life and liberty of those involved.

In effect, Knowlton lawyer Brent Mayr claimed that Joe Biden (and the 81 million Americans who voted for him) would have suffered no harm if Congress had been so intimidated by the people roaming the hallways threatening their assassination that they certified Donald Trump as the victor of the 2020 election instead of Biden, or if the insurrectionists managed to cause lasting unrest that delayed the certification indefinitely, giving Trump a chance to attempt another desperate ploy to remain in power.

By making that argument, Mayr provided DOJ the opportunity to lay out — in the additional briefing Moss ordered — the real adjudication that took place on January 6 and the import to justice and rule of law that the adjudication had, something DOJ has done, albeit in less focused fashion, in other filings in this investigation. Mayr gave DOJ an opportunity to explain that there was a very real risk that the lawfully elected President of the United States would not have his victory officially recognized, which was precisely the goal, DOJ would argue, that Brady Knowlton sought.

Mayr gave DOJ that opportunity even amid heightened coverage of how real the threat of a travesty of justice was.

The reporting on Jeffrey Rosen’s testimony about Jeffrey Bossert Clark’s attempt to force DOJ to endorse Trump’s Big Lie makes it clear how corrupt all this was (showing corrupt intent is key to proving Knowlton or anyone else guilty of the obstruction charge).

Filling in just one more detail will tie together Trump’s efforts to recruit DOJ in telling his Big Lie and Brady Knowlton’s response to that Big Lie of flying to DC, invading the Capitol, and heading to the place where the vote was supposed to be counted.

[B]ody-worn camera footage from the Metropolitan Police Department [] shows Knowlton and [Knowlton’s co-defendant Patrick] Montgomery outside the Capitol at around 2:00 p.m.  In the video, Knowlton confronts officers who are making their way through the crowed and yells at them saying, “You took an oath! You took an oath!” and pointedly asking them, “Are you our brothers?” Montgomery is standing right behind Knowlton. The government also located another body-worn camera video of both defendants after they left the Senate Gallery, confronting officers inside the Capitol in a hallway near Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s office. In the video, both Knowlton and Montgomery direct officers to move out of the way. Knowlton tells the officers, “We don’t wanna push through there. We do not wanna push through there.” Knowlton also tells the officers, “This is happening. Our vote doesn’t matter, so we came here for change.”

That detail is that Donald Trump made an effort to ensure the Senators would still be there when Knowlton and others arrived.

“How’s it going, Tommy?” the president asked.

Taken a little aback, Lee said this isn’t Tommy.

“Well, who is this? Trump asked. “It’s Mike Lee,” the senator replied. “Oh, hi Mike. I called Tommy.”

Lee told the Deseret News he realized Trump was trying to call Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the newly elected Republican from Alabama and former Auburn University football coach. Lee walked his phone over to Tuberville who was talking to some colleagues.

“Hey, Tommy, I hate to interrupt but the president wants to speak with you,” Lee said.

Tuberville and Trump talked for about five to 10 minutes, Lee said, adding that he stood nearby because he didn’t want to lose his cellphone in the commotion. The two were still talking when panicked police ordered the Capitol to be evacuated because people had breached security.

As police were getting anxious for senators to leave, Lee walked over to retrieve his phone.

“I don’t want to interrupt your call with the president, but we’re being evacuated and I need my phone,” he said.

Tuberville said, “OK, Mr. President. I gotta go.”

To be clear: there’s no evidence that Knowlton had direct ties to Trump (though Knowlton is one of just seven defendants thus far from Utah, and a week after the riot, Rudy Giuliani appears to have been in contact with James Sullivan, the brother of defendant John Sullivan, who told Rudy he had gotten his “agent” and three others from Utah out of trouble). There’s even less evidence that, at the moment Knowlton crossed the threshold of the Capitol, he knew Trump had just tried to convince Tuberville to delay long enough for Knowlton to arrive in the Senate.

This is not yet a conspiracy that ties the President’s actions to obstruct the vote count with Brady Knowlton’s alleged actions to achieve the same goal.

But even as Brady Knowlton’s lawyers have argued that an official proceeding is one in which the parties can suffer dire consequences if rulings don’t go in their favor, more evidence is coming out about how Knowlton’s actions fit into a larger, undeniably corrupt scheme to deprive Joe Biden (and Kamala Harris, who was present and participating on that day) of their electoral win.

If that’s the standard, then Knowlton’s lawyers have made a compelling argument against his case.

The WaPo’s not wrong about the seriousness of this larger challenge. And whether or not this argument succeeds, it’s still not clear that DOJ will be able to prove that Knowlton had the requisite corrupt intent to delay the vote.

But Knowlton’s argument may be overtaken by the new evidence proving just how corrupt this effort was.


Posts on obstruction

July 17, 2021: General thoughts on the application of obstruction in advance of the Paul Hodgkins’ sentencing

June 4, 2021: How Ethan Nordean’s challenge to the application of obstruction degrades the challenge

June 14, 2021: How the III Percenter conspiracy indictment might use the threats of violence enhancement from the obstruction statute

July 31, 2021: How DOJ blew an opportunity to explain the difference between the Brett Kavanaugh protests and the January 6 rioters

July 27, 2021: How Donald Trump might be charged with obstruction

August 3, 2021: Brady Knowlton’s lawyer falsely claimed his client’s alleged obstruction posed no harm of injustice

August 4, 2021: Trump’s Big Lie demonstrates the threat of harm from insurrectionists’ obstruction

List of all obstruction challenges

 

“Leave the Rest to Me and the R Congressmen:” Trump’s Big Lie and the Actual Harm of January 6 Obstruction

As I noted, yesterday lawyers for January 6 defendant Brady Knowlton argued before Judge Randolph Moss that Congress’ certification of the vote count is not an official proceeding covered by the obstruction statute Knowlton was charged under. Knowlton’s argument was going as well as could be expected, in my opinion, until his attorney, Brent Mayr, argued that the vote certification was not an official proceeding because no one faced actual harm based on the outcome of the proceeding. Unbelievably, Mayr seems to have given zero consideration to the harm that the lawfully elected President, Joe Biden, might suffer if Congress failed to certify his win, to say nothing of the 81 million voters who voted for him.

The argument happened even as notes and other documents coming out of the House Oversight Committee make it how clear how real that risk was.

Before the notes that have been released start, Trump had already tweeted out an announcement for the January 6 “protest” on December 19.

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

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

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

That day, Trump tweeted about the January 6 riot again.

December 27, 2020: Trump tweets, “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it. Information to follow.”

The next day, Clark wrote a draft letter to Georgia instructing them to run another election. Donoghue responded, “There is no chance I would sign this letter or anything remotely like it.”

Days later, on January 1, Trump pitched the January 6 protest again, branding it an attempt to “stop the steal.”

Trump himself tweets, “The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C. will take place at 11:00 A.M. on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!”

On January 2, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen reiterated, “I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter,” calling on Georgia to send alternate votes to Congress.

On January 3, Trump attempted to make good on the threat he made on December 27, to replace Rosen with someone who would help him steal the election, Clark. Because he didn’t want to distract from his efforts to overturn the election, Trump backed down.

[Clark] informed Mr. Rosen midday on [January 3] that the president intended to replace him with Mr. Clark, who could then try to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results. He said that Mr. Rosen could stay on as his deputy attorney general, leaving Mr. Rosen speechless.

Unwilling to step down without a fight, Mr. Rosen said that he needed to hear straight from Mr. Trump and worked with the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, to convene a meeting for early that evening.

[snip]

Around 6 p.m., Mr. Rosen, Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Clark met at the White House with Mr. Trump, Mr. Cipollone, his deputy Patrick Philbin and other lawyers. Mr. Trump had Mr. Rosen and Mr. Clark present their arguments to him.

Mr. Cipollone advised the president not to fire Mr. Rosen and he reiterated, as he had for days, that he did not recommend sending the letter to Georgia lawmakers. Mr. Engel advised Mr. Trump that he and the department’s remaining top officials would resign if he fired Mr. Rosen, leaving Mr. Clark alone at the department.

Mr. Trump seemed somewhat swayed by the idea that firing Mr. Rosen would trigger not only chaos at the Justice Department, but also congressional investigations and possibly recriminations from other Republicans and distract attention from his efforts to overturn the election results.

After nearly three hours, Mr. Trump ultimately decided that Mr. Clark’s plan would fail, and he allowed Mr. Rosen to stay.

Mr. Rosen and his deputies concluded they had weathered the turmoil. Once Congress certified Mr. Biden’s victory, there would be little for them to do until they left along with Mr. Trump in two weeks. [my emphasis]

On the same day Trump tried to replace Rosen with Clark, January 3, he instructed his Acting Secretary of Defense to make sure the National Guard protected his supporters.

The following day, January 4, Trump made DOJ the lead agency for incident response on January 6 (Update: see comments–this happened on January 3). But the people who had almost just been replaced claim that didn’t happen. Whatever the reality, however, DOJ’s inaction is what led to DOD’s delayed response during the insurrection on January 6.

According to Mr. McCarthy, on January 4, the White House designated DOJ as the lead federal agency for January 6: “Sunday evening, after Acting Secretary Miller and General Milley met with the President, they got the lead [f]ederal agency established, all of the pieces started coming together.”559 Mr. Miller also recalled that DOJ was designated as the lead federal agency at some point prior to January 6, but he did not know what role the White House played in the decision.560

Although DOD understood that DOJ was designated as the lead federal agency, there appears to have been no clearly established point of contact within the department, according to Mr. McCarthy, which he found “concerning.”561 Prior to January 6, Mr. McCarthy sent a letter to Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen outlining the Army’s operational plan in support of the Mayor’s request and reached out informally to David Bowdich, FBI Deputy Director, because the two had worked together previously.562 But Mr. McCarthy claimed, even during the attack, he was never provided an official point of contact at DOJ and had no contact with DOJ or FBI officials until approximately 4:00 p.m. 563 General McConville also stated that DOJ was designated as the lead federal agency; however, he noted that DOJ did not conduct any interagency rehearsals or have an integrated security plan, as DOJ did during the summer 2020 protests when it had also been designated as the lead federal agency.564 General McConville stressed the importance of integrated security plans and acknowledged that had there been one on January 6, DOD’s response time would have been quicker.565

In contrast, Mr. Miller stated Richard Donoghue, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General, served as DOJ’s operational lead on January 6.566 Notably, however, Mr. Miller acknowledged that, during the attack, he convened calls with Cabinet members to share information and ensure everyone was on the same page.567 When asked why he convened the calls, as opposed to the lead federal agency, Mr. Miller responded, “somebody needed to do it.”568 Mr. Miller was not familiar with any actions DOJ took to coordinate the federal response on January 6.569

On May 12, 2021, Jeffrey Rosen, the Acting Attorney General on January 6, testified at a House Oversight hearing that it was “not accurate” that DOJ was the lead federal agency for security preparations on January 6. 570 He stated that DOJ’s responsibilities were specific to intelligence coordinating and information sharing.571 DOJ has not acknowledged that it was designated the lead federal agency for January 6 and has yet to fully comply with the Committees’ requests for information. 572

These are the events that led up to Brady Knowlton breaching Congress with hundreds and thousands of other people. This is the back story to what led Knowlton to tell a cop that his vote — for the losing candidate of the election — didn’t count, and so he had shown up in the Senate Gallery to make his voice heard.

And according to the President who had set off this attack on another branch of government, all he needed was the claim the election was corrupt. Leave the rest to Trump and the Republican members of Congress, he instructed.

Brady Knowlton’s presence in the Senate Gallery was instrumental to that plan. Knowlton was what Trump had in mind when he said, “leave the rest to me.” And Knowlton helped to intimidate Republican members of Congress to help Trump steal the vote.

Both Brady Knowlton and the then-President seem to have understood that storming Congress was a way to inflict an egregious harm on Joe Biden. And yet Knowlton’s lawyer claims no one would face an injustice if such a harm resulted.

Brady Knowlton’s Lawyer Suggests There Were No Victims on January 6

“We don’t wanna push through there. We do not wanna push through there.” Knowlton also tells the officers, “This is happening. Our vote doesn’t matter, so we came here for change.”

Judge Randolph Moss just held a very thorough hearing for one of the first challenges to DOJ’s use of obstruction to charge felonies against January 6 defendants, which I live-tweeted here. Knowlton’s lawyer Ronald Sullivan started by making the argument in their brief — which is that the January 6 vote count doesn’t count as an official proceeding the obstruction of which would be a felony and even if it does, Knowlton had no way of knowing that it did. James Pearce, arguing for the government, laid out why the vote count is an official proceeding and would even qualify under the more circumscribed definition Knowlton adopted.

Along the way, Judge Moss asked a lot of questions that make it clear he understands how complex this question is — and even the possible unintended consequences. He wanted to know what distinguishes events on January 6 from protestors who interrupt a Congressional hearing. He wants a sober answer to the question, what distinguishes January 6 rioters from protests against Brett Kavanaugh (which DOJ bolloxed last week). Moss even suggested that, procedurally, the government should attempt to get the inevitable Supreme Court review before it creates double jeopardy problems with charging the most serious defendants with something like insurrection or seditious conspiracy.

For well over an hour, this was the hearing I’ve been expecting since DOJ first rolled out this unprecedented use of the obstruction statute months ago. This is a hard question, and I’m not sure DOJ has made its case.

And then Knowlton attorney Brent Mayr stood up to rebut. Eventually, he got around to arguing — in a challenge that says his client, who apparently is studying law, could not understand that interrupting the vote count would be felony obstruction — that they shouldn’t use the lay definition of “official proceeding,” but instead use a narrower legal one that treats only judicial proceedings as official proceedings. That is, he argues Knowlton couldn’t know this was a crime, even while insisting that’s true by applying a non-obvious legal definition he wants to use for what Knowlton did.

Crazier still, Mayr tried to distinguish the kinds of proceedings one can obstruct and those one cannot based on whether people risk harm based on the outcome. He explained that the hearing before Moss was obviously an official proceeding because Knowlton and co-defendant Patrick Montgomery’s liberty was at stake.

Mayr: Not abt formality. Not abt seriousness. What it’s about is consequence of proceeding. This makes it clear easy way to understand. At very core, it affects these two gentlemen we see on screen.

Effectively, Mayr argued that there were no victims on January 6 — that had the attempt to obstruct the vote count on January 6 succeeded, there would be no victim, or even that there were no victims from what happened on January 6.

An insurrectionist’s lawyer claimed there were no victims on January 6 nor could be were the attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 Presidential election successful.

He doesn’t think that Joe Biden, the lawful winner of the 2020 Presidential election, would be harmed if he was not certified the winner after winning the Presidential election.

He doesn’t think that Kamala Harris, who was present that day, would be victimized if she never got sworn in as Vice President.

He doesn’t think that Biden’s 81 million voters would suffer any harm if their votes were nullified.

Crazier still, Mayr doesn’t think anyone was victimized by what happened that day, by the people swarming the hallways threatening to assassinate Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi while people hid under tables. Mayr doesn’t think the four cops who have taken their own lives were victims of the events of January 6.

He doesn’t think that his client, who wanted his candidate to remain in power even after losing an election, and “came here for change,” victimized the 81 million voters who voted for the successful candidate.

DOJ has, in my opinion, not done enough to explain how the intimidation inherent to the entire event proves its corrupt intent. Whether Congress counted as the jury or the witnesses here — or both — not only were they intimidated, not only were they all chased away under threat of physical harm, but that intimidation worked so well that some number of Republicans voted against impeachment out of fear arising out of the events of January 6. These people took our democracy hostage for several hours on January 6, and Brent Mayer believes there were no victims as a result.

As it happens, though, Judge Moss has already spoken about the lasting harm of this event. In the Paul Hodgkins sentencing, Moss described how both Americans and people around the world can no longer be sure of the peaceful transfer of power. That harms all Americans, and the notion of democracy itself.

And Brady Knowlton’s lawyer doesn’t think that’s a real harm.

Update: Fixed the spelling of Pearce’s name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invoking the Great Task of Ensuring “the Government of the People Shall Not Perish from the Earth,” Judge Moss Sentences Paul Hodgkins to Eight Months Sentence

Judge Randolph Moss just sentenced Paul Hodgkins to eight months in prison for his role in the January 6 riot. Hodgkins will face two years of probation and pay the $2,000 restitution agreed on in his plea agreement (though will not be fined). The sentence was about what I expected, and a fair sentence for someone who pled guilty first and engaged in no violence (and even tried to calm other rioters).

As I noted here, the important part of this sentence is how Moss got to the sentence. Moss treated January 6 as a grave danger to democracy, and set a sentence to send a message to deter others from engaging in similar behavior. But he also noted that Hodgkins pled guilty first, and did not engage in violence. He even noted that Hodgkins had not engaged in inflammatory speech online, as virtually all January 6 defendants charged with obstruction have. That is, Moss sentenced Hodgkins roughly according to this hypothetical I laid out:

Judge Randolph Moss might explain that he finds Hodgkins’ behavior to be a grave threat to democracy and say that with any other similarly situated defendant, he would sentence him to the maximum sentence in his guideline, 21 months, but because Hodgkins went first, Moss will give him a significant downward variance; that would allow him and all other DC judges to sentence hold-outs more severely than Hodgkins.

Moss emphasized two things about Hodgkins’ conduct that worked against him. First, that he wore goggles, indicating that he came prepared to defend his position. More tellingly, Moss noted that Hodgkins brought a Trump flag and waved it around in the well of the Capitol, an expression of loyalty to a single individual, not loyalty to the American flag.

This is not the baseline sentence for all January 6 rioters accused of obstruction. It is a sentence that was available to Hodgkins and few others, at least in Judge Moss’ courtroom.

Hodgkins made a statement, one that was more effective than the pleas of his attorney. He started by saying, “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am remorseful, because of the damage that has been caused that the country I love has been hurt.” He noted that he did not place blame on any politician. He emphasized that he recognizes that Joe Biden is the lawfully elected President. He noted that on a few occasions, he tried to get people to stop trashing the joint. He stated he put passion before principle.

As noted, LeDuc’s comments were less powerful, at times claiming he was the only one whose job it was to protect the country, and denying that January 6 had been a terrorist attack. He invoked Lincoln’s effort to heal the country after the Civil War.

Judge Moss retorted that people were prowling the halls of Congress looking to target Nancy Pelosi. He asked LeDuc why he hadn’t quoted Lincoln invoking, “the great task remaining before us,” to ensure the government, “by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Before Moss imposed the sentence, he reiterated how much damage this attack did to democracy, when members were forced to flee for their safety.

That is chilling, for many reasons. To start, democracy requires cooperation with the govt. When a mob threatens Capitol, democracy is in trouble. Damage is way beyond several hour delay. Damage will persist for decades.

He cited Reagan describing our peaceful transfer of power as a miracle. He noted that it “will be harder to convince children that democracy stands as immutable foundation of nation.”

And he emphasized, throughout, that this was a sentence for Paul Hodgkins, not a sentence for all the defendants.

As noted, I think this is a reasonable sentence for Hodgkins. And the way Moss got to the sentence leaves himself and other judges plenty of room to impose harsher sentences to defendants who did more to threaten democracy.