Sedition trial win bolsters Justice Dept. in Jan. 6 probe

Nov 29, 2022, 8:50 PM | Updated: Dec 1, 2022, 12:37 pm
FILE - This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he test...

FILE - This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he testifies before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on charges of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Nov. 7, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy on Nov. 29. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)

(Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The seditious conspiracy convictions of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and another leader in the far-right extremist group show that jurors are willing to hold accountable not just the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but those who schemed to subvert the 2020 election.

Tuesday’s verdict, while not a total win for the Justice Department, gives momentum to investigators just as the newly named special counsel ramps up his probe into key aspects of the insurrection fueled by President Donald Trump’s lies of a stolen election.

As Democrats call for charges to be brought against Trump and the House committee investigating the insurrection weighs making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, the Oath Keepers verdict may embolden investigators to build cases against other major players behind the push to keep Trump in power.

“The fact that they got two convictions for seditious conspiracy gives DOJ the confidence that they can pursue other higher-ups and charge seditious conspiracy as well because certainly a D.C. jury accepted it,” said Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a Washington white-collar criminal defense attorney. “If I’m one of the other leaders of the insurrection, I would be very concerned about what kind of charges they could bring.”

They are the first seditious conspiracy convictions at trial in decades and are significant because the legally complex charge can be difficult for juries to grasp and for prosecutors to prove, especially in an ultimately unsuccessful plot. The sprawling Capitol riot probe has already led to the arrest of more than 900 people across the U.S. and could result in hundreds of more charges, but Rhodes and his associates were the first to stand trial on the Civil War-era offense.

Jurors found Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, who led the Florida chapter of the antigovernment group, guilty of sedition for plotting to use force to block the presidential transfer from Trump to Joe Biden. Three other co-defendants were acquitted of the charge, but all five were convicted of obstructing Congress’ certification of the electoral vote, which — like seditious conspiracy — carries up to 20 years in prison.

“As the verdict of this case makes clear, the department will work tirelessly to hold accountable those responsible for crimes related to the attack on our democracy on January 6, 2021,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters Wednesday. Garland said he wouldn’t speculate on what it could mean for other possible cases.

The verdict, while split, could strengthen the Justice Department’s hand as it gears up to try a second group of Oath Keepers as well as former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and other top leaders for seditious conspiracy. With both trials slated to begin next month, the convictions could spur new plea deals.

“If I am a defense attorney for any of those defendants, today I am reaching out to my client to say: ‘We need to have a conversation about whether you still want to go to trial,'” said Barbara McQuade, who served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Rhodes never went into the Capitol, but prosecutors spent weeks making the case that he rallied his followers, amassed weapons and prepared armed teams outside Washington with the goal of stopping Biden from becoming president. In hundreds of messages shown to jurors, Rhodes urged his follow extremists to fight to defend Trump and warned of a civil war if Biden became president. On Jan. 6, Oath Keepers dressed in battle gear joined the angry mob of Trump supporters and pushed into the Capitol.

“Individuals that weren’t at the scene but were involved in the planning and plotting of this attack on the U.S. Capitol — they should be very nervous right now,” said Jimmy Gurule, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

Testimony showed how the Oath Keepers were inspired and energized by Trump and his false claims of election fraud. After Trump tweeted Dec. 19, 2020, about a “big protest” at the upcoming joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 that he promised would “be wild,” Meggs wrote in a message: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!!”

In a risky move, Rhodes took the witness stand and tried to cast his violent rhetoric as bombastic talk, separate from the storming of the Capitol itself. But the public speaking skills that helped him build one of the largest antigovernment organizations in U.S. history didn’t persuade jurors — even though two co-defendants who also took the stand were cleared of the seditious conspiracy charge.

Ultimately, it appeared that Rhodes’ testimony was outweighed by the vast volume of his own writings, text messages and a recorded conversation.

“The question is going to be whether or not there is similar communication, similar statements, similar admissions by other individuals higher up in the Trump administration,” Gurule said.

Charges stemming from the insurrection thus far have focused largely on those who stormed the Capitol, attacked police officers, smashed windows and sent lawmakers running for their lives. But Justice Department officials have already shown acute interest in speaking with members of the Trump administration about efforts to undo the election.

The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported, for instance, that Trump’s White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and his top deputy, Patrick Philbin, appeared last summer before a federal grand jury after receiving subpoenas. Marc Short, a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, also has testified.

The Justice Department also has issued a wave of subpoenas related to a scheme to elevate alternate, or fake, electors in battleground states who would invalidate Biden’s win. It has scrutinized the fundraising practices of Trump’s political action committee, with subpoenas seeking records of communications with Trump-allied lawyers who supported efforts to overturn the election results.

As for Trump himself, legal experts have expressed conflicting views about his direct exposure to prosecution relating to the events of Jan. 6 and the efforts to undo the election, with some suggesting that the most vulnerability he has would relate to any attempt to defraud the American public by preventing the lawful transfer of presidential power.

George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s criminal division, said he believes the jury’s verdict will have “zero impact” on the investigation of Trump.

“What the jury did doesn’t change any of the facts surrounding former President Trump,” he said. “The fact that these guys were convicted doesn’t make proving a case against Trump any easier.”

Oversight of key aspects of the Jan. 6 investigation and the investigation into classified records kept at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate fall now to special counsel Jack Smith. Garland said he has personally met with Smith and that Smith is already working with members of the special counsel’s team to “get up to speed.”


Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker contributed from Washington.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Grey clouds cover the sky over a building of the Credit Suisse bank in Zurich, Switzerland, ...
Associated Press

Credit Suisse posts $1.4B pre-tax loss as woes go on in 4Q

GENEVA (AP) — Credit Suisse on Thursday reported a pre-tax loss of more than 1.3 billion Swiss francs (about $1.4 billion) in the fourth quarter of last year, as its new managers vie to right the top-drawer Swiss bank that has faced a string of setbacks in recent years. The bank also announced the $175 […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

3 dead in apartment building fire in Novosibirsk, Russia

MOSCOW (AP) — A gas explosion in an apartment building in the south-central Russian city of Novosibirsk Thursday morning killed three people, according to the latest reports from local authorities. Novosibirsk is the administrative capital of Siberia and Russia’s third-largest city by population. Regional Gov. Andrey Travnikov confirmed the deaths of three people, noting that […]
1 day ago
FILE - A staff of Nissan car showroom wipes a car on Jan. 31, 2022, in Tokyo. Nissan reported a 55%...
Associated Press

Japan’s Nissan reports better profit as chip crunch eases

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan reported a 55% jump in October-December profit Thursday, as the Japanese automaker seeks to embark on a less bumpy journey with its French alliance partner Renault. Profit for the quarter at Yokohama-based Nissan Motor Co. totaled 50.6 billion yen ($386 million), up from 32.7 billion yen the previous year. Quarterly sales […]
1 day ago
Search teams and emergency aid from around the world are pouring into
Turkey and Syria as rescuers ...
Associated Press

Afghan women, children chase false rumor to Kabul airport

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Afghans, including women and children, dashed toward the Kabul airport after a false rumor spread that flights were leaving for Turkey to help rescue earthquake victims. Videos and photos posted on social media since Wednesday showed dozens of desperate people running on foot in the darkness and cold towards the […]
1 day ago
People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Turkish president to visit quake-hit areas

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 16,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
1 day ago
FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning gestures during a press conference at the Min...
Associated Press

Beijing calls US claims over balloons ‘information warfare’

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.” The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Sedition trial win bolsters Justice Dept. in Jan. 6 probe