The U.S. Department of Justice received an unwelcome Christmas gift from defense attorneys representing five men charged with conspiring to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020: a motion to dismiss the case.
The Christmas Day filing is the latest blow to the government’s scandal-ridden prosecution; defense counsel is building a convincing argument that the FBI used undercover agents and informants to entrap their clients in a wide-ranging scheme that resulted in bad press for Donald Trump as early voting was underway in the key swing state last year. What began as random social media chatter to oppose lockdown policies quickly morphed into a dangerous plan to abduct Whitmer as soon as the FBI took over.
A Michigan judge delayed the trial, now set for March 8, so defense attorneys could investigate the misconduct of FBI special agents handling at least a dozen government informants involved in the caper.
As I reported last week, the lead prosecutor recently informed the judge that three of the FBI’s top agents involved in the case will not take the stand as government witnesses. Richard Trask, the FBI special agent who signed the initial criminal complaint against six men facing federal charges—one man pleaded guilty and is cooperating with authorities—was removed from the case and fired by the FBI after he physically assaulted his wife last summer in a drunken rage following a swingers party at a hotel near their home.
The agents who managed the day-to-day activity of the case’s lead informant also will not testify. FBI agent Jayson Chambers ran a security consulting business on the side; an anonymous Twitter account claiming to represent his firm, Exeintel, dropped hints of pending arrests in the Whitmer case, calling into question his motives as a lead investigator. His partner, FBI agent Henrik Impola, has been accused of committing perjury in a separate case.
“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.”
Now the judge will consider defense counsel’s latest motion to drop the kidnapping conspiracy charges against Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Dan Harris, and Brandon Caserta; in the April 2021 superseding indictment, which defense attorneys cite in the motion, the Justice Department described the defendants as domestic terrorists who attempted “to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
But the real conspiracy—as court documents, testimony, and communications between FBI handlers and their informants show—was concocted by federal operatives working inside and outside the FBI Detroit field office.
“In this Case, the undisputed evidence, as demonstrated in forty-four pages of statements already submitted to the Court, establishes that government agents and informants concocted, hatched, and pushed this ‘kidnapping plan’ from the beginning, doing so against defendants who explicitly repudiated the plan,” the five defense attorneys wrote in the December 25 motion. “When the government was faced with evidence showing that the defendants had no interest in a kidnapping plot, it refused to accept failure and continued to push its plan.”
The FBI funded and organized two “militia” conferences in the summer of 2020 to lure would-be kidnappers; handled all expenses so indigent defendants could attend surveillance and training excursions, which were photographed by the government to use as evidence; and paid cash to numerous informants, including at least $50,000 to the lead informant, known as “Big Dan” to the unwitting suspects.
A footnote in the 20-page filing explained how “Big Dan” and other informants acted as the monetary pass-through between the FBI and the Whitmer defendants. “The government was not going to be deterred by the fact that the defendants did not have the money to travel throughout the Midwest in order to play along with the CHSs and undercover agents. CHS Dan, while often claiming poverty, always had the resources to drive, feed, and house others whom he hoped to pull into the government plan. Another CHS convinced many that he would finance operations through a 501(c)(3) charity and would even provide debit cards to others, drawing on his accounts. So while the defendants had no interest in profit . . . the government’s exploitation of its virtually unlimited resources, poured into its investigation, further underscores entrapment as a matter of law.” This included informants’ picking up the tab for food, lodging, and gas among other expenses.
Defense attorneys cited several examples of exchanges where defendants pushed back on suggestions to kidnap Whitmer; at one point, “Big Dan” raised the idea of putting a “round of bullets” into a window at Whitmer’s cottage, the location of the would-be abduction, and suggested they “mail the casings to the news.” The agents and informants, according to defense attorneys, “continued to push to shape a kidnapping plan, even trying to elevate it to murder.”
And it isn’t just FBI agents causing headaches for the government. Stephen Robeson, a convicted felon and longtime FBI informant who planned several kidnapping-related outings including a militia conference in Ohio, recently pleaded guilty to illegally purchasing and possessing a sniper rifle in 2020. The government offered Robeson a sweetheart deal—time served on a felony charge with a potential 10-year prison term, two years probation, and $100 fine—and he will be sentenced in February, a month before the Whitmer trial is scheduled to begin.
The Justice Department won’t confirm whether Robeson will testify; given his central role in the plot and criminal history, including statutory rape, and the misconduct of his FBI handlers, it’s hard to see how Robeson’s testimony would help the government’s case.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, insist the suggestion that the FBI was responsible for the Whitmer kidnapping plot is a factless fantasy peddled by the same people who claim January 6 was an inside job. “The conspiracy theory that the FBI instigated the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol to entrap otherwise law-abiding citizens has been actively promoted by certain media outlets,” the government sneered in a recent motion, referring to Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
And therein lies the government’s biggest headache of all. If a trial showcases all the ways in which the FBI orchestrated the Whitmer kidnapping plan from start to finish—and the defense features the lowlife agents and informants who made it possible—the public will demand a similar reckoning about the FBI’s role in January 6.
At this point, perhaps the Justice Department should pray that the judge rules in favor of the defense and dismisses the case before the FBI is further embarrassed—and exposed.