As the first shoe related to the FBI’s involvement in the breach of the U.S. Capitol dropped—the New York Times last week reported at least two informants tied to the Proud Boys were working with the FBI before, during, and after January 6—another high-profile case continues to expose the bureau’s corrupt role in what the government also considers an act of domestic terrorism: a concocted plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation cottage in October 2020.
In fact, Joe Biden’s Justice Department has tied the two events together in an attempt to convince the public that right-wing militiamen, ostensibly loyal to Donald Trump, pose a looming threat to the country. In a recent sentencing memorandum for one man who pleaded guilty in the Whitmer case, government prosecutors wrote, “as the Capitol riots demonstrated, an inchoate conspiracy can turn into a grave substantive offense on short notice.”
Especially when at least a dozen FBI agents and informants take charge.
The Whitmer caper came to light when six men were arrested on federal charges of “conspiracy to commit kidnapping,” a felony punishable by life in prison. (A superseding indictment filed in April added a charge of domestic terrorism to the five remaining defendants. Several others face state charges.)
Headlines blared the shocking news just as early voting was underway in the crucial swing state. Team Biden and the Democrats made the most of this timely political gift: “There is a through line from President Trump’s dog whistles and tolerance of hate, vengeance, and lawlessness to plots such as this one. He is giving oxygen to the bigotry and hate we see on the march in our country,” Biden said in a statement on October 9.
During a press conference the same day, Whitmer suggested Trump was responsible. “When our leaders meet with, encourage, and or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions. They are complicit.”
It’s unclear whether the drama affected any votes. What we do know, however, is the integrity of the kidnapping plot quickly is eroding, just like the narrative about January 6.
A federal judge in Michigan last week delayed the Whitmer trial, originally scheduled to begin next month, until March 2022 after defense attorneys requested a 90-day continuance to investigate the behavior of several FBI informants and agents cited in the case, among other concerns. (BuzzFeed News has an excellent explainer here.)
An FBI-Funded Caper
Defense attorneys are accusing the FBI of entrapping their clients and demanding, over the objections of the Justice Department, access to all material that would reveal the extent of the FBI’s seven-month involvement.
“The government’s agents actively planned and coordinated its efforts to induce the defendants to engage in incriminating behavior and statements, even going so far as designing the objective and structural components of the conspiracy alleged in the indictment,” Scott Graham, the lawyer representing Kaleb Franks, wrote in an August motion.
Defense filings detail extensive communications between informants and their FBI handlers that show how they instigated the co-conspirators’ criminal behavior including purchasing weapons, making explosive devices, and organizing “surveillance” trips near Whitmer’s property. Informants personally profited from their work. One informant was given at least $24,000 in cash and a new car for his services. Agents were seen handing “envelopes full of cash . . . to CHSs” on several occasions, according to defense counsel. (CHS is short for “confidential human source,” the official term for informant.)
The FBI organized and funded all the trips aimed at preparing for the alleged “kidnapping” incident. Agents picked up the tab for transportation, lodging, food, and other expenses, including a “recon” trip in September. Without the government subsidizing the excursions—the same trips now used as evidence against them—most, if not all, of the defendants would not have had sufficient funds to participate.
This is how the FBI exploited the sad personal situations of their targets. “The government focused on a band of individuals with unstable personal histories (that left them extraordinarily susceptible to persuasion) and injected into the mix the kind of father-figure, military-hero role models the men craved in their lives.”
But it appears that at least a few of the feds have their own personal and professional shortcomings, to say the least. The lead FBI agent in the case, Richard Trask, was arrested in July for assaulting his wife after the couple attended a swinger’s party. Trask smashed his wife’s head on a nightstand and attempted to choke her, according to police reports.
Prosecutors have decided not to call Trask as a witness after discovering his texts that referred to President Trump as “a douchebag,” and “a piece of shit.” The agency fired Trask in early September.
Advancing the Plot
Defense lawyers are now seeking more information about FBI Special Agent Jayson Chambers, who owns an internet intelligence company on the side. His company’s Twitter account posted hints about the pending arrests before the news was public. Chambers’ personal financial interest in a business closely tied to his work as a federal investigator, one attorney argued, could help prove entrapment.
Not only was Chambers instrumental in the Whitmer kidnapping scheme, but he also suggested orchestrating a separate plot targeting Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia. In September, Chambers texted his informant named “Big Dan,” the primary source involved in the Whitmer case. “Big Dan” was contacting another target, a man named “Frank,” in Virginia to ensnare the man in the FBI’s newest political plot. “Frank” is described in one filing as a Vietnam veteran in his late 60s who suffers from health issues and cannot drive.
Chambers made clear to “Big Dan” what he was supposed to convince “Frank” to do. “The mission is to kill the governor specifically,” Chambers texted. He further instructed “Big Dan” to tell “Frank” how to build an explosive device, an approach similar to the one used in the Whitmer scheme.
“This exchange speaks for itself,” attorney Scott Graham wrote. “The objective of the plot is clearly being derived and advanced by Special Agent Chambers. By issuing this edict, ‘Big Dan’ has been charged to develop that plot specifically. The plot in this case shares the same objective: the governor.”
Chambers and his partner, Special Agent Henrik Impola, worked closely with “Big Dan.” (The government has 1154 pages of FD-1023 reports, FBI documents that record the overall work of an informant, on “Big Dan.”) Text messages between the three men, according to another defense attorney, “indicate the F.B.I. was pushing their paid agent to actively recruit people into an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy.”
In one text exchange, Impola instructs “Big Dan” to delete his texts after some raise suspicions that he was working with the feds. (Defense counsel believes prosecutors accidentally included screenshots of the texts in a discovery dump.)
“Shit,” Impola texted back. Impola then advised “Big Dan” to accuse another man of being an informant, even though he was not. “Impola is telling his F.B.I. paid informant to lie and implicate someone else as a federal agent,” the attorney wrote in a motion asking the government for all cell phone data between the men. “This behavior . . . casts a dark shadow over the credibility of this investigation.”
Standard Operating Procedure
In his sworn testimony, Impola denied the exchange ever happened despite clear evidence it did. It’s not the first time Impola may have lied under oath. The month before the FBI concocted the Whitmer kidnapping plan, Impola was accused of perjury in a criminal case against an alleged sex offender. Impola sought the original warrants against the man, writing in a sworn affidavit that he found probable cause to arrest the suspect, but testified twice in court that he did not have probable cause.
In a letter to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, a former federal prosecutor representing the wronged man urged the agency to take action against Impola. “This criminal conduct by an eight-year-plus veteran of the FBI cannot stand as it undermines the integrity of the FBI,” wrote attorney Brian Lennon in February 2020. “The Rule of Law is meaningless if the perjury committed by Impola is ignored because of his status as an FBI special agent.”
While comparisons between the Whitmer plot and January 6 become more stark, Times reporters gave a subtle warning about what’s to come regarding the FBI’s role in the Capitol protest. “The use of informants always presents law enforcement officials with difficult judgments about the credibility and completeness of the information they provide,” Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman wrote on September 25.
Whatever shady conduct is revealed about FBI agents and informants related to January 6, one thing is certain: The conduct of FBI assets in the Whitmer case probably is not an outlier but rather, as increasingly appears to be the case, standard operating procedure at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Lots more shoes will drop.