As questions mount about the government’s animating role in the Capitol protest on January 6, the criminal case against the men charged with conspiring to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 continues to collapse.
Defense attorneys in the Whitmer case are carefully compiling evidence that depicts an elaborate tale of FBI entrapment; at least a dozen FBI informants were involved in the failed plot—equaling one FBI asset per defendant. FBI agents handling the informants directed every move. They funded training and reconnaissance trips, and even organized a “national militia” conference in Ohio in June 2020 to lure potential accomplices.
Several men were arrested in October 2020 when the lead informant drove them to meet an undercover FBI agent to purchase munitions, the six month-long scheme’s dramatic conclusion. News of the shocking plot made national headlines as early voting was underway in Michigan: Joe Biden, Whitmer, and the media blamed Donald Trump for inciting an attempted domestic terror attack. (Sound familiar?)
As I explained in an October column, the plan to abduct Whitmer—who had a very public feud with Trump throughout 2020—originated from Operation Cold Snap, an undercover multi-state FBI spy ring intended ostensibly to surveil “militia groups” opposed to states’ lockdown policies.
Henrik Impola, one of the FBI special agents managing the Whitmer kidnapping plan, confirmed the existence of Operation Cold Snap in sworn testimony earlier this year.
“From the FBI through the domestic terrorism operation center, I was aware of other FBI investigations in Baltimore and Milwaukee and Cincinnati and Indiana involving other militia members,” Impola told a judge in March.
Impola’s role in the Whitmer caper, in fact, stemmed from his work as a case agent for Operation Cold Snap. The 11-year bureau veteran has spent his entire FBI career investigating counterrorism, including “militia extremism,” which enabled Impola to designate the Wolverine Watchmen, a Facebook group with no real organization coincidentally formed just months before the sting, a “terror enterprise” to justify the government’s central involvement in rigging the kidnapping scheme.
Impola, working out of a satellite office in Flint that reports to Michigan’s only FBI field office in Detroit, was deeply involved in every facet of the Whitmer plot. His testimony is crucial to persuading a jury that the men on trial conspired to abduct Whitmer from her vacation home last year.
But Impola will not testify during the trial scheduled to begin on March 8. (The judge overseeing the case delayed the original November trial date after defense attorneys requested more time to investigate the government’s informants and agents.) BuzzFeed News reported over the weekend that Impola won’t be on the government’s witness list after defense attorneys accused Impola of perjury in another case.
In fact, the Justice Department notified the court on Friday that all three of the top FBI agents in charge of the Whitmer investigation, including Impola, will not testify on behalf of the government amid accusations of misconduct, domestic abuse charges, and political bias.
Jayson Chambers, who worked side-by-side with Impola throughout the sting, was caught running a consulting business and anonymously publicizing his side gig on social media. Over the summer, defense attorneys, citing a separate BuzzFeed report, accused Chambers of using a troll account to hint that something big was coming out of Michigan. The troll account purportedly belonged to the CEO of Exeintel—a cyber intelligence firm owned by none other than Jayson Chambers.
“The evidence documented in the [BuzzFeed] story suggests that Special Agent Chambers used the investigation to promote his company and its services,” defense attorneys wrote in an August filing. Chambers’ moonlighting not only shows a personal motive in coordinating the kidnapping ruse, it also calls into question the integrity of the FBI’s top informant, who kept in nearly-hourly contact with Chambers and Impola for more than six months. Defense counsel will want to know whether the informant knew of Chambers’ side business.
And Michigan wasn’t Chambers’ and his informant’s only target. The pair conspired to entrap another man, a disabled Vietnam veteran from Virginia, into devising a plan to assassinate Virginia Governor Ralph Northam before the 2020 election. “The mission is to kill the governor specifically,” Chambers instructed his informant. (That plot failed to materialize.)
But it would be hard to find a bigger lowlife in the Whitmer case than the lead agent, who not only has been removed from the witness list but fired from the FBI, a near impossible feat.
Richard Trask, the agent who signed the criminal complaint against the six federal defendants, was arrested last summer for drunkenly assaulting his wife after the couple attended a “swingers party” at a local hotel. Police body cam footage released this week show the inside of Trask’s Kalamazoo home including a bed sheet stained with blood; Trask’s wife told officers her husband hit her head against a nightstand “multiple times” in the early hours of July 18, causing a laceration and strangulation marks on her neck. Trask “choked her out,” she said.
Inebriated, wearing no shirt, and with blood on the side of his face, Trask was arrested around 4:15 a.m. on one count of assault. (He was not asked to take a breathalyzer test or charged with driving under the influence, despite clear indication.) On Monday, Trask pleaded no contest; a Kalamazoo County judge sentenced Trask to time served—he spent two nights in jail after his arrest—and to pay court costs.
An investigation by a Grand Rapids television station also unearthed Trask’s anti-Trump rants on social media. One post, dated March 28, 2020, called Trump “a piece of shit president,” and said he hoped Trump “would burn in hell” for his response to the pandemic. Trask posted the message just as the FBI-concocted kidnapping scheme took off.
“The government does not plan to call Impola, Chambers, or Trask as witnesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge notified the court on December 17. “[The] government requests the Court exclude evidence relating to Exeintel, the unfounded allegations against SA Impola, and Richard Trask’s domestic assault charges or alleged social media posts.”
By removing the three dirty cops from the witness list, the Justice Department hopes to prevent any cross-examination during the trial.
Defense attorneys, however, are not deterred—and the government has another major headache on its hands. A detailed chart attached to a new defense filing lists nearly 260 texts, group chat messages, and audio recordings proving extensive planning and coordination between FBI agents and their confidential sources. The communications, according to defense counsel, also show the would-be kidnappers pushed back on the FBI’s plan on several occasions:
The agents here drove the informants’ communications with the defendants, and the agents shaped the informants’ assertions, statements, and claims. The agents monitored the CHS conversations and other communications with the defendants, and not only approved them but used the information they gathered from them to direct further activity. After monitoring the communications, FBI agents paid the lead informant with an envelope filled with cash. When the same informant reported to the FBI that he was making no progress . . . the FBI continued to push its plan.”
Prosecutors have downplayed the communications as “hearsay” and insist they’re not admissible in court. But the defense undoubtedly has much more in its arsenal.
If the prosecution completely falls apart either before March or during trial, the outcome would deliver a huge blow to the already collapsing narrative about January 6. The two events are inextricably tied with numerous intersections—not the least of which is that the head of the FBI’s Detroit field office, Steven D’Antuono, was promoted to run the FBI field office in Washington, D.C., one week after the arrests in the Whitmer plot were announced.
That’s the same FBI office running the bureau’s Capitol investigation.
If the Whitmer trial proceeds, even without the caper’s top FBI masterminds, it would provide an illuminating backdrop to the first trials of January 6 defendants in 2022. Was Operation Cold Snap the launching pad for both the Whitmer plot and the Capitol protest?
The American people cannot—and should not—ignore the similarities.