WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors rested their case Thursday in opposition to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and 4 associates charged within the U.S. Capitol assault after presenting almost 5 weeks of testimony, movies and textual content messages they are saying show the defendants had been behind a violent plot to cease the switch of presidential energy.
The case then turned to the protection, which is getting ready to place Rhodes on the witness stand — an enormously dangerous transfer that the extremist group chief might even see as his solely technique to escape conviction. Rhodes’ attorneys have signaled that they are going to depend on an uncommon protection technique with former President Donald Trump on the heart.
You are reading: Prosecution rests, Oath Keepers 1/6 case turns to defense
Protection attorneys sometimes advise their purchasers to maintain their mouths shut at trial, however Rhodes’ attorneys have mentioned the Oath Keepers chief, who pressed his far-right concepts in fiery speeches and writings earlier than the rebellion, has been insistent since his arrest that his voice be heard within the seditious conspiracy case in opposition to him.
In doing so, Rhodes will open himself as much as aggressive questioning on cross examination from prosecutors, who will attempt to provoke him into saying one thing that can harm his case or catch him in a lie on the stand.
“There’s at all times a threat and one thing to lose if you take the stand,” mentioned Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a white-collar felony protection lawyer in Washington not concerned within the Oath Keepers case. However “should you really feel like there’s no various, that the federal government has introduced an air-tight case or a really robust case, and also you don’t produce other witnesses that will be useful, then you need to.”
Prosecutors spent weeks methodically laying out proof that exhibits Rhodes and different Oath Keepers mentioned the prospect of violence and the necessity to preserve Democrat Joe Biden out of the White Home in any respect prices, earlier than stashing an enormous cache of weapons known as a “fast response pressure” at a Virginia resort.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers sporting helmets and different battle gear had been seen pushing via the pro-Trump mob and into the Capitol. Rhodes remained outdoors, like “a common surveying his troops on a battlefield,” a prosecutor instructed jurors. After the assault, prosecutors say Rhodes and different Oath Keepers celebrated with dinner at an Olive Backyard restaurant.
Amongst prosecutors’ key witnesses had been two of Rhodes’ former followers who pleaded responsible within the riot and are cooperating with investigators within the hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Certainly one of them instructed jurors that the Oath Keepers had been ready to cease the certification of Biden’s electoral victory by “any means obligatory.”
Three different Oath Keepers who pleaded responsible to seditious conspiracy and struck cooperation offers with prosecutors had been notably not placed on the stand by prosecutors. It’s unclear why the federal government determined to not have them testify. The federal government has the suitable to introduce rebuttal testimony after the protection rests.
Rhodes and his co-defendants — Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell — are the primary amongst a whole bunch of individuals arrested within the Capitol riot to face trial on seditious conspiracy, a uncommon Civil Struggle-era cost that requires as much as 20 years behind bars. The stakes are excessive for the Justice Division, which final secured such a conviction at trial almost 30 years in the past, and intends to attempt two extra teams on the cost later this yr.
Rhodes’ attorneys have mentioned that his protection will concentrate on Rhodes’ perception that Trump was going to invoke the Rebellion Act to name up a militia and put down what the extremist group chief seen as a coup by Democrats.
Rhodes repeatedly referred to as on Trump to invoke the Rebellion Act within the weeks main as much as Jan. 6, however Trump by no means did. Rhodes’ attorneys say he can’t be discovered responsible of seditious conspiracy as a result of he was merely lobbying Trump to invoke the legislation, which supplies the president extensive discretion to resolve when army pressure is critical, and what qualifies as army pressure.
If Rhodes takes the stand, prosecutors will have the ability to pepper him with questions on messages they are saying present he was ready to behave no matter what Trump did. In a single message in December 2020, Rhodes wrote that Trump “must know that if he fails to behave, then we are going to.”
Of their protection, Rhodes’ attorneys are additionally prone to concentrate on prosecutors’ lack of proof of an express plan from Rhodes and the Oath Keepers to assault the Capitol earlier than Jan. 6. Whereas cross analyzing an FBI agent who testified for the federal government, protection lawyer James Lee Vivid requested if the agent had seen any orders from Rhodes for Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol.
“No, sir,” the agent responded.
Stanley Woodward, a lawyer for Meggs, additionally hit that time throughout his opening arguments Thursday.
“There was no plan. No plan to enter the Capitol constructing. No plan to cease the certification of the election,” he mentioned. Trump ally Roger Stone had personally invited Meggs to Washington on Jan. 6 and his consumer was “there to assist” do something rally organizers wanted.
On the rally, Meggs was screened as he entered an space protected by the Secret Service to face yards away from Trump, Woodward mentioned.
As prosecutors wrapped up their case on Wednesday, jurors heard a recording of a gathering between Rhodes and one other man days after the rebellion by which Rhodes expressed frustration with Trump for not taking motion: “If he’s not going to do the suitable factor and he’s simply gonna let himself be eliminated illegally then we should always have introduced rifles,” Rhodes mentioned of the Capitol riot.
“We should always have mounted it proper then and there. I’d grasp (expletive) Pelosi from the lamppost,” Rhodes mentioned, referring to Democratic Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Certainly one of Rhodes’ attorneys has mentioned his consumer — a Yale Legislation College graduate — understands the dangers of taking the stand. Rhodes practiced as a lawyer earlier than being disbarred by Montana in 2015 after he was accused of abandoning a consumer’s case and submitting an look for a consumer in an Arizona court docket with out a license to apply there.
In some circumstances, testifying can work in a defendant’s favor. Final yr, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all prices in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after he testified that he fatally shot two males and wounded one other as a result of he feared for his personal life.
“It’s excessive threat, but in addition excessive reward,” mentioned Robert Fisher, a Boston protection lawyer who isn’t concerned with the Oath Keepers case. “In case you have a defendant who may be very polished … and has demeanor and so they do properly and don’t get upset and don’t lose their endurance with a prosecutor, then it could possibly work out properly.”
Nevertheless it’s tough to know the way a defendant goes to carry out underneath stress when being questioned by a talented prosecutor till it occurs: “Even probably the most ready, refined witnesses can have a foul day,” Fisher mentioned.
Richer reported from Boston. Related Press reporter Michael Kunzelman in Washington contributed to this report.
Observe AP’s protection of Jan. 6 at https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege