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Government Moves to Dismiss Its First January 6 Case: Christopher Kelly

In a first among the January 6 cases, the government has moved to dismiss the trespassing and obstruction charges against Christopher Kelly, a New Yorker whose arrest documents quoted Facebook postings saying that he was going to the riot with a former NYPD cop believed to be his brother and some Proud Boys.

The Kelly Facebook Account also shows that on January 4, 2021 another Facebook user (User 2) asked KELLY, “How are things there?? Gonna be crazy on the 6th eh?” KELLY responded, “Yea Im leaving tomorrow in the afternoon to gey there early.” He added, “Yea driving its only 250miles.” User 2 stated, “Enjoy the occasion, hope it all goes to plan. Stay safe, Antifa will be out in force.” KELLY responded with, “No worries, I’ll be with ex NYPD and some proud boys. This will be the most historic event of my life (emphasis added).”

And unless there was a horrible mistake, his Facebook posts also show that he entered the Capitol and was enthusiastic about the results.

At 2:22 pm EST Chris Kelly posted the photograph in Figure One. A chat participant asked, “You’re there, @Chris Kelly? What’s really going on?” At 2:25pm EST, KELLY responded, “MAGA is here full on. Capitol building is breached.” At 2:30pm EST KELLY added, “Tear gas, police, stopped the hearing, they are all headed to the basement,” and, “Fuck these snakes. Out of OUR HOUSE!” (emphasis added).”

One possibility is that he didn’t enter the Capitol, his brother did, and that because Kelly sent the picture the government believed he had been inside.

I had pointed to his case back in April as one where the defendant, by proximity to the Proud Boys but not one of them, might have enough to offer to get a cooperation agreement.

As of less than a month ago, his excellent attorney, Edward McMahon, was still discussing a plea, not outright dismissal.

Since that time, counsel have engaged in substantial plea discussions that would, if successful, render moot the current hearings. Both parties agree that a continuance of the preliminary hearing and status conference date is warranted to allow for the continuation of plea discussions with an eye towards a resolution of this case.

But instead, his case will be dismissed and his record will remain clear.

There are a couple of things — aside from any cooperation he already provided — that might explain the dismissal.

First, as noted, the former NYPD he was traveling with was his brother, and no one resembling his brother has shown up in arrest records. If his brother had ties to the Proud Boys, then it might be more important to pursue him than Kelly. So maybe that’s what’s happening in lieu or prosecuting Kelly.

A far more interesting possibility would involve the established informant who first provided the tip turning Kelly in.

On or about January 9, 2021, CS-1 identified a Facebook account as being utilized by “Chris Kelly.” CS-1 provided to the FBI screenshots containing content posted to and sent and received by this account. The materials provided by CS-1 included a screenshot of the account’s profile picture.

1 Since in or about 2019, CS-1 has provided information to FBI in exchange for monetary compensation. CS-1 has no criminal record and the information provided by CS-1 has been proven to be reliable in the past.

There were maybe five established informants involved in the original tips out of all the January 6 defendants (and the case of one of the others, Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, also has problems). But informants in the vicinity of the Proud Boys pose particular problems, because there are reports that a whole slew of them were feeding tips to the FBI before January 6. And if one of them had his own involvement in January 6, but decided to narc out Kelly for cash or to divert attention from himself, that would make a case against Kelly unsustainable.

Another possibility, again, is that he didn’t enter the building. The pictures he posted of himself show him well outside the boundary of the restricted zone.

Whatever it was, the government wants to dismiss the case without prejudice.

The defendant was arrested on a Complaint in this matter on January 20, 2021, and he had his initial appearance before this Court on February 9, 2021. The matter has been continued several times and the next date is June 2, 2021 for preliminary hearing and status conference. The government and defense counsel have discussed the merits of the case, and upon reflection of the facts currently known to the government, the government believes that dismissal without prejudice at this time serves the interests of justice. The defendant consents to this motion to dismiss the Complaint without prejudice.

By dismissing the case “without prejudice,” the government could bring it back if circumstances change. But for now, Kelly becomes the first charged January 6 defendant to walk.

Update: Josh Gerstein gets confirmation that DOJ dismissed this because they have no evidence that Kelly entered the Capitol.

However, subsequent inquiries indicated that Kelly never actually entered the Capitol, according to a law enforcement official.

Prosecutors maintain that breaching the police lines outside the building is illegal, but few if any people have been charged in federal court solely for that.

“Since he was not inside, in the interest of consistency in the investigation, the charges were dropped,” the official said.

 

In [Legal] Defense of the Nazi

The biggest known investigative fuck-up in the January 6 investigation thus far was when the FBI raided the home of Marilyn and Paul Hueper believing that Marilyn was a woman that the FBI suspects, based off surveillance video, may have been part of stealing Nancy Pelosi’s laptop. The Hueper’s claims about their actions on January 6 don’t seem to be entirely forthright, but Marilyn has made a solid case that the FBI mistook her for the woman in question.

I think the FBI did have probable cause for that search, but I also think the FBI did not use available tools — most notably the Google and GeoFence warrants they’ve used in many other cases — that should have been able to exclude Marilyn as the suspect.

I think it likely that DOJ has made an error, of another sort, with Nazi sympathizer Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, detaining him for four months based off a mistaken belief he played a more important role in January 6 violence than he did.

Hale-Cusanelli was arrested on January 15, three days after a co-worker of his, who was already an NCIS informant, alerted the FBI that Hale-Cusanelli took part in the riots and had, in the past, espoused fairly extreme white supremacist views. On January 14, the informant recorded Hale-Cusanelli describing giving hand signals to the mob and taking a flag that Hale-Cusanelli described as a “murder weapon” to destroy.

Hale-Cusanelli’s arrest warrant, which charged him with the misdemeanor trespassing charges everyone gets charged with along with a civil disorder charge, included no video from the day of the attack. When the government indicted him, they added obstruction charges and abetting.

When the FBI arrested Hale-Cusanelli, he admitted in an interview that he gave hand and voice signals — which could be no more than waving people forward — to encourage others to “advance” past cops. But the government’s primary basis to keep him jailed, when they first succeeded in doing so back in January, seems to have been that, once you cut him off from the military network he worked in as a Navy contractor, he was bound to turn to war.

Releasing Defendant from custody will only reinforce his belief that his cause is just. Given his impending debarment from Naval Weapons Station Earle, and his potential Administrative Separation from the U.S. Army Reserve, Defendant’s release will likely leave him with nowhere to go and nothing to do except pursue his fantasy of participating in a civil war. If nothing else, the events of January 6, 2021, have exposed the size and determination of right-wing fringe groups in the United States, and their willingness to place themselves and others in danger to further their political ideology. Releasing Defendant to rejoin their fold and plan their next attack poses a potentially catastrophic risk of danger to the community.

When they made a more substantive (and successful) argument he should remain detained, they focused on two things: his choice of a third party guardian was also an extremist who had helped him try to game reporting from the Navy on his extremism, and his extremism itself, including that he groomed to look like Hitler.

They also argued that Hale-Cusanelli poses a threat to the informant who IDed him.

Hale-Cusanelli is appealing his detention. But both he and his attorney, Jonathan Zucker, are getting fed up. Last week, Zucker submitted a motion asking to be replaced, but also claiming that he has received nothing in discovery about what Hale-Cusanelli did at the Capitol.

The parties were last before the court on May 12, 2021. At that time the defense expressed concern to the court regarding the paucity of discovery in this case. To date the prosecution has disclosed the defendant’s custodial interview, a surreptitiously recorded conversation between the defendant and a cooperating witness who was wearing a recording device provided by law enforcement, two portions of text messages between the defendant and two other civilians. The prosecution has provided nothing else, particularly no evidence regarding what defendant did on January 6 either outside or inside the Capitol. Nor any other evidence regarding the defendant’s activity in relation to the charged offenses. 1

1 Defendant advises that other defendants have disclosed to him that other defendants indicated they received discovery of recordings from inside the Capitol where defendant has been seen peacefully walking in the hallways.

Yesterday, the government responded. AUSA Kathryn Fifield claimed that most of what Zucker had said was not accurate.

The bulk of Defendant’s representations to the Court regarding discovery—both in terms of what they have received and government’s response to their requests—are not accurate. To date, the government has provided the most substantial portions of the government’s evidence. That includes the CHS recordings in which Defendant makes substantial admissions regarding his criminal conduct on January 6, Defendant’s custodial interview in which Defendant makes substantial admissions regarding his criminal conduct on January 6, and a partial extraction of Defendant’s cellular phone. The partial extraction includes the extraction report and the native files, including chats, videos, and photos. Defense counsel has confirmed with the undersigned that they have access to these materials on USAfx. Further, the government separately provided Capitol CCTV video capturing Defendant inside the Capitol building on January 6 and reports of interviews conducted by NCIS. Defense counsel confirmed receipt of these materials with prior government counsel. Thus, Defendant is already in possession of the evidence most relevant to detention proceedings and to Defendant’s conduct on January 6, and has been in receipt of these materials since before the last status hearing on May 12, 2021.

She described how, because of the technical issues that occur every time the government shares large volume electronic files with defense attorneys, Zucker still doesn’t have the full content of Hale-Cusanelli’s phone.

But the accompanying discovery summary in fact seems to confirm what Zucker has said: he has received no or next to no surveillance video of his client in the Capitol, and what he has gotten appears to pertain primarily to a different person he represents (Zucker also represents Jerod Wade Hughes and Thomas Webster, and did represent Dominic Pezzola for a period).

Video recording of custodial interview of Defendant Hale-Cusanelli produced via USAfx on February 22, 2021.

Bulk report of interviews conducted by NCIS produced via email on March 7, 2021.

Report of interview conducted by NCIS of Sergeant John Getz produced via email on March 8, 2021.

Partial extraction of Apple iPhone – includes Cellebrite Extraction Report (PDF 1209 pages) and native files most relevant to Defendant’s detention proceedings and conduct on January 6, 2021. Produced via USAfx on March 11, 2021.

Capitol Surveillance CCTV produced via USAfx in connection with another defendant represented by defense counsel on March 31, 2021. Upon information and belief, you confirmed receipt of this video with prior government counsel. Reproduced in the USAfx folder for this case on May 25, 2021. The Government has designated these files Highly Sensitive under the Protective Order issued in this case.

CHS video and audio recordings produced via USAfx on May 7, 2021. The Government has designated these files Sensitive under the Protective Order issued in this case. Cellebrite Extraction Report (PDF 63073 pgs): iPhone 6s (A1633), MSISDN 7328105132, ISMI 310120163205040. Produced via USAfx on May 7, 2021.

Full extraction of Defendant’s Apple iPhone produced on encrypted zip drive on or about April 28, 2021, on Blu Ray discs on or about April 28, 2021, and on defense counsel’s hard drive on or about May 25, 2021.

One of the main images in an earlier detention memo from inside the Capitol is indexed to Pezzola, so that may be the discovery in question.

This guy has absolutely loathsome views. But they are views protected by the First Amendment — and also views shared by a goodly percentage of the other January 6 defendants, many of them out on personal recognizance. The others who, like Hale-Cusanelli, were of particular concern to the government because they held clearance on January 6 also engaged in physical assault — and Freddie Klein was released even after that. As I noted, the government spent two months confirming details of active duty Marine, Major Christopher Warnagiris’ far more important conduct from the day before arresting him, and then let him out on personal recognizance.

While the government has provided evidence that he did intend to obstruct the vote count, nothing in his conduct from the day substantiates the civil disorder challenge. Yesterday, Fifield asked for two more months to find that evidence.

This seems like a mistake that the government is simply doubling down on. But if you haven’t found more compelling evidence after four months, what are the chances you will?

January 6: A Change of Pace

Although GWU’s tracker, which is still the best way to keep track of all the January 6 defendants (though this visual story from WaPo using their data is nifty) added four new January 6 defendants yesterday, the pace of new defendants has slowed considerably. While there are still some detention fights, several of those disputes (Proud Boys Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs, and disorganized conspirators Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin, as well as Neo-Nazi sympathizer Timothy Hale-Cusanelli — have moved to the DC Circuit.

We’re likely to have more bail revocation fights. The other day, for example, Landon Copeland — who made news for his meltdown during a magistrate judge’s hearing last week — was arrested for some still unidentified bail violation. The government has also moved to revoke Patrick Montgomery’s bail because he — a professional hunting guide — shot a mountain lion that he — a felon — cannot legally possess.

But there are a couple of developments this week that point to what’s going on with this investigation.

Delayed phone exploitation

In a hearing in the case against mother and son defendants Deborah and Salvador Sandoval, Deborah’s attorneys were anxious to move to trial based off an apparent misunderstanding that the evidence on her sole computer device, her smart phone, would show she barely entered the Capitol. Meanwhile, the government revealed that because Salvador chose not to share passwords to his multiple devices, those are taking a lot longer to exploit. As I’ve already noted, Ethan Nordean is the only Proud Boys leadership co-conspirator whose phone DOJ was able to exploit without cracking the password first (the FBI got the password from Nordean’s wife). Exploiting all these phones is going to take a lot of time.

In another case, there appear to be privileged communications on Eric Torrens’ phone, which will delay the exploitation of that for up to four weeks as a filter team reviews the content.

In other words, even before you consider any delay created by FBI’s need to respond to Signal’s Moxie Marlinspike’s exposure of vulnerabilities in Cellebrite’s code, it will take some time to process the vast volume of evidence the government has obtained since January 6.

The network analysis

The arrest of Brittiany Dillon gives a sense of another cause of delay.

Bryan Betancur was one of the first wave of January 6 defendants to be arrested, on January 17, after his parole officer alerted the FBI that he had lied about handing out Bibles to get permission to travel from Baltimore to DC that day. The government got a warrant for his phone on January 20. Once they got into his phone, they discovered text messages between Betancur and Dillon in which Dillon described falling in the door of the Capitol during the riot. The government found video of her — falling down as she entered — on surveillance videos by January 23. The government obtained phone and Google warrants to confirm that Dillon had been inside the Capitol the day of the riot. For some reason, the FBI only got around to interviewing Dillon’s father, ostensibly about Betancur, on April 21; the agent got Dillon’s father to confirm Dillon’s ID while they were talking.

This is similar to what happened with Patrick Montgomery, who like Betancur was arrested on January 17. Only after FBI exploited his phone and found some key pictures did they arrest a buddy he was with that day, Brady Knowlton, while pursuing two others.

These arrests of friends of early arrestees may reflect an FBI agent trying to get arrest numbers, but in a number of cases, they seem to reflect larger investigative strategies based on things investigators have found in the profiles of the original defendant. By my count there are about 18 cases of network arrests aside from the militia conspiracies, and about half of those look like they may be more interesting than friends getting scooped up together. I would expect to see more of this going forward.

Delayed arrests

The two month delay between the time DOJ identified active duty Marine, Major Christopher Warnagiris, as the person who played a key role in keeping the East door of the Capitol open after it was first breached on January 6 and when they arrested him on Wednesday is far more interesting.

As the arrest affidavit explains, FBI isolated Warnagiris as a suspect based on his conduct as shown in video, and then published a Be On the Lookout picture to figure out who he was. On March 16, a former co-worker IDed him, and on March 17, the FBI interviewed one of his current co-workers, who positively IDed Warnagiris.

And that’s it–that’s where the narrative in the affidavit, which was signed on Wednesday, ends. They get a BOLO-based tip on March 16, and get military witnesses to confirm his ID on March 17. And that’s all they’re telling us about who he is and what other evidence they have against him.

I’m sure that’s not all that has transpired since FBI discovered an active duty Major played a key role in keeping the East Capitol breach open.

All the while, someone who by dint of being an active duty service member has clearance, has (as far as we know) been going into Quantico every day for the almost two months since they IDed him. That’s … an interesting investigative decision.

Compare that narrative to the one told in the arrest affidavit of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, the Army reservist and Nazi-sympathizer who worked as a contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey. On January 12, an informant told the FBI that Hale-Cusanelli was at the riot, on January 14, the informant recorded a conversation in which Hale-Cusanelli admitted to pushing and shoving along with the rest of the mob. Hale-Cusanelli has been jailed since the very next day, January 15 (he is appealing his detention to the DC Circuit). Hale-Cusanelli has not been charged with assault and he is not known to have played such a key role in compromising the Capitol from a second side.

Now, for many defendants, I can see taking your time after the initial rush of arrests. After all, if they were going to delete their Facebook, that would have happened (and did happen, with a goodly number of defendants) by January 9. But Warnagiris seems like a more urgent risk.

And, remarkably, DOJ apparently did not ask for any special conditions on Warnagiris. He has no location monitoring, no restrictions on possessing a gun, no specificity to his travel around DC (most defendants have stay-away orders, but for people like Warnagiris who are local to DC, they’re sometimes restricted to their District). They did not ask him to surrender his passport. Now, perhaps something is also going on with him in the military. But the whole thing — on top of the inevitable shock of having an active duty officer arrested — raises more questions than other cases.

All of which is to say that, with a defendant who genuinely poses unique security risks, the government is now taking their time to flesh out their investigation.

I’ve said from the start that this investigation has been lightning quick. That’s still, absolutely, true. But there’s going to be a lot more happening behind closed doors in the weeks ahead.