The DOJ certainly seems to be working its way up Jan. 6 chain of command to include Trump’s inner circle

The DOJ certainly seems to be working its way up Jan. 6 chain of command to include Trump’s inner circle

Last week’s indictment of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for seditionist conspiracy revealed more than simply the mountain of evidence that the Justice Department has acquired in the prosecutions of key players in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. It also made clear the DOJ’s larger strategy of moving up the food chain of players in the historic attack—with Donald Trump and his inner circle now only steps away.

Much of the attention has focused on former Trump adviser Roger Stone, whose connections to the “Patriot” movement—and particularly to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who spearheaded the siege of the Capitol—are well established; indeed, earlier on Jan. 6, two Oath Keepers now charged alongside Rhodes with sedition in the conspiracy were part of Stone’s personal security detail. But as Marcy Wheeler incisively reports, more recent court documents also make clear that the investigation into militia groups’ activities that day now encompasses Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Stone’s connections to the Oath Keepers and Rhodes, as Jennifer Cohn recently laid out, date back to at least 2014, when he was part of the scene at the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada, where the Oath Keepers formed a significant presence. After Trump was elected, Stone became an ardent proponent of issuing a pardon for the Bundys in both the Nevada standoff and 2016 Malheur standoff prosecutions, appearing onstage with them in Las Vegas.

Those prosecutions ended up failing, so Trump instead pardoned the two Oregon ranchers whose imprisonment had fueled the Malheur standoff. Stone nonetheless remained a public ally of the Bundys; when Ammon Bundy announced his campaign for the Idaho governorship in 2021, Stone proudly endorsed him.

Stone also had a long relationship with another group that played a key role in the conspiracies to besiege the Capitol—the Proud Boys. In 2018, he was photographed flashing a white-nationalist “OK” sign with a group of Oregon Proud Boys in a tavern. He also was investigated by the FBI in 2019 for posting a message on Instagram that appeared to threaten a federal judge, which he blamed on Proud Boys, including national chairman Enrique Tarrio, who had been “helping” him with his social-media account.

Both Stone and Tarrio live in Florida and appear to have had multiple associations, including a meeting on Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C., during the “Stop the Steal” rally that served as a warmup for Jan. 6. Stone was seen in the video conferring both with Tarrio—who was arrested by D.C. police two days before the insurrection—and with Ethan Nordean, one of the key leaders of the group of Proud Boys who attacked the Capitol.

As Wheeler reported earlier, Stone also met with Kelly Meggs—leader of the Florida Oath Keepers and one of the key figures in the seditionist conspiracy case—two days before telling his cohorts that he was working out a cooperative agreement with Proud Boys leading up to what Meggs himself described as an “insurrection.”

However, most of the evidence introduced in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case so far offers little information about that connection on Jan. 6, and there’s little in the evidence to suggest that Stone was directing or assisting them while they were providing security for him at the Ellipse, where Trump was speaking that morning. The most tantalizing clues involve the period when Stone was embedded in the Trump “War Room” at the Willard Hotel earlier that day.

Key figures in Trump’s circle—including Giuliani, as well as Steve Bannon, John Eastman, and other hardcore defenders of Trump’s “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 election—were circulating around the “command center” they had set up at the Willard. As it happens, so were members of a militia group called the 1st Amendment Patriots, who also had members stationed around the Capitol.

Oath Keepers, as Wheeler has reported, were providing security for the operations at the Willard. And after Stone departed for the Ellipse, according to text messages from indictee Joshua James—the Oath Keeper overseeing the detail—he complained bitterly that the detail at the Ellipse had failed to provide him with “VIP treatment.”

The Willard Hotel “War Room” happens to be the same nexus that has drawn Giuliani into the investigation, as Wheeler observed this week. While a Washington Post story this weekend concluded that the FBI doesn’t appear to be investigating the activities at the Willard, it also contained information indicating that FBI investigators have been pressing several defendants—all Oath Keepers and Proud Boys—about key figures at the morning rally and later at the Willard, including both Stone and Giuliani.

Rob Jenkins, a defense attorney representing multiple people linked to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, another far-right group, said prosecutors have been “pretty aggressive” in “seeking out information … that points to others’ involvement and culpability.”

They are interested, he said, in “preplanning, and participation in those preplanning on the part of the individuals who may not have come to D.C. on Jan 6 but were certainly part of the planned effort.” That includes both leaders in the groups and people who spoke at the rally on Jan. 6, including close Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Roger Stone, he said.

The DOJ, of course, already possesses most of Giuliani’s communications from that period as part their investigation into his business dealings, and may be hunting for further corroboration of evidence already in hand or perhaps suggested in his texts. And if Trump’s personal lawyer is in their sights, the former president himself may well be next. Giuliani also has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, but it is not known how he will respond.

What’s become abundantly clear, however, is that DOJ is moving through these indictments strategically—only including evidence that builds their case publicly as well as internally, with the intent of inducing other defendants to turn state’s evidence as cooperating witnesses. It’s being extraordinarily careful about tipping its hand regarding its targets or its long-range strategy. It may be wisest to allow them to keep gathering and sifting, because that approach has proven the likeliest way to win in court and bring the insurrectionists—hopefully, all of them, all the way up the ladder—to accountability.

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