It’s impossible to overstate the significance of the verdicts handed down last week for four men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 and use a “weapon of mass destruction” in the process.
Despite sworn testimony from several FBI experts and agents—including the primary FBI informant, Dan Chappel, who was compensated at least $60,000 by the bureau for his involvement—endless federal resources, and favorable rulings by the judge to withhold evidence and testimony, a jury of 12 Americans rejected the government’s case in cold fashion on Friday in a Grand Rapids courtroom. The Justice Department did not win a single conviction; two men walked free after 18 months in prison and two men remain behind bars as prosecutors prepare to re-try them after a hung jury could not agree on their guilt.
What the jury did agree on, however, is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in entrapment. Defense attorneys, with the consent of Chief District Court Judge Robert Jonker, argued that the FBI attempted to induce their clients into committing the alleged kidnapping crime.
“When I look at what happened in this case, I am ashamed of the behavior of the leading law enforcement agency in the United States,” Joshua Blanchard, the lawyer representing Barry Croft Jr., who was not acquitted last week, told jurors in his closing statement.
Another defense attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said it was “unacceptable” that the federal government framed the men under the guise of thwarting a domestic terror attack. “They don’t make terrorists so we can arrest them,” Gibbons said.
That is, of course, precisely what the Justice Department and FBI did—and it was not just about a few rogue agents. After all, key offcials described the case as one of the largest domestic terrorism investigations in recent history; undercover agents and informants operated out of multiple FBI field offices across the eastern half of the country. Sworn testimony during the trial and other court hearings confirm that the plan had the blessing of higher-ups in Washington, D.C. One FBI agent told the jury that the use of drones, airplanes, and other surveillance tools used to collect evidence against the defendants required a “multi-layer” approval process at the top.
Consider this exchange between Richard Trask, one of the lead FBI agents on the case (who was later fired by the agency for assaulting his wife) working out of the Detroit field office, and a defense attorney during an October 2020 hearing after the defendants were arrested:
Defense: Now, when this—since you had undercover agents involved in this case, I assume that there’s additional steps that are taken at the FBI to approve an undercover operation, right?
Trask: That’s correct.
Defense: It’s not as if you can just declare that you’re conducting an undercover operation on your own. You need supervisor approval at least, right?
Defense: And then it probably even goes to a headquarters level, right?
Trask: That’s correct.
Defense: And FBI headquarters would then meet with the Department of Justice and review the plan and the objectives, right?
Trask: That would be correct, yes.
Trask further testified he didn’t know when the Justice Department signed off on the kidnapping caper or other related plots, such as a separate plan to kidnap and possibly kill Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia, during the same time period.
Trask may not know when the honchos at the Justice Department approved the operation, but the American people deserve to find out who was responsible for the FBI’s flagrant attempt not just to set up innocent men but again interfere in a presidential election.
Any inquiry should begin with former Attorney General William Barr.
On October 9, 2020, the day after Whitmer and presidential candidate Joe Biden lashed out at President Trump, blaming him for inciting the phony kidnapping scheme, Barr said through a spokeswoman that the defendants’ conduct was “abhorrent” and he was “totally supportive of the FBI’s investigation.” Barr’s office also said he hadn’t been briefed on the case until the week of the arrests.
That could be entirely true—but Republicans need to find out. And if it is true, who at the main office of the Justice Department knew about the sting operation? What about John Demers, the former chief of the national security division that aided in the investigation and subsequent prosecution? What role did Demers or any top official play in authorizing the deployment of costly equipment such as airplanes to coordinate the plot? And if they knew, why did they not inform Barr?
Did Barr inform the president what was happening when he was finally briefed on the matter? Did anyone at the White House get a heads-up prior to the very public arrests of the defendants? If not, why not? Surely Barr would have known the headlines would cause a political firestorm for the president in a tight presidential race as Americans were already voting. Was Trump given advance warning?
Perhaps Barr deserves the benefit of the doubt, but FBI Director Christopher Wray is entitled to no such consideration.
In 2019, without evidence, Wray’s FBI declared “white supremacist” domestic extremism a top national security threat and specifically warned of “assassination or kidnapping” attempts against elected officials. Three years later, however, the only plan to kidnap and/or assassinate a government leader has emerged from the FBI. The headlines nonetheless continue to bolster Wray’s unsubstantiated claims.
Or did Wray initiate the kidnapping caper in an act of revenge against Trump, who threatened to fire him in the spring of 2020, the same time the FBI undertook the Whitmer operation? When Trump told Barr in April 2020 that he wanted to replace Wray, Barr said he would resign in protest. (Unfortunately, Trump yielded and didn’t ask for Wray’s resignation.) The president repeatedly voiced his displeasure with Wray throughout 2020. Was this Wray’s way to inflict severe political damage on Trump in the homestretch of the 2020 election?
Wray also needs to explain why he promoted the head of the FBI’s Detroit field office, whose agents handled the main FBI informant and conducted the post-arrest investigation, right after the arrests in the Whitmer case were announced. Steven D’Antuono took the helm of the FBI’s Washington, D.C., field office in mid-October 2020, several weeks before the protest on Capitol Hill. Did D’Antuono take his entrapment handiwork from Michigan to the nation’s capital to help fuel the alleged “insurrection?” How many of the same tactics in the Whitmer caper—infiltrating so-called militias with informants and undercover agents, creating encrypted group chats, plotting to “storm the Capitol,” suggesting the use of quick reaction forces—were also applied to the four-hour disturbance on January 6, 2021?
And last, but not least, what did Whitmer herself know? She made the most of the pretend plot against her, playing the role of the victim during a nonstop publicity tour before Election Day while accusing Trump of inciting “domestic terrorists” to abduct and assasinate her. But Whitmer knew what the FBI was up to; the FBI installed a pole camera and laser devices that generated 3-D maps around her vacation cottage, the scene of the would-be crime, according to one agent’s testimony.
This suggests Whitmer was aware of what was happening. The question is whether she was an unwitting tool of the FBI or another deceitful player in the sinister plan to target Donald Trump.
Citing reporting at American Greatness, Republicans on the House Judiciary committee and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pledged to investigate the FBI-concocted Whitmer operation. Let’s hope they finally fulfill that promise. Voters should demand nothing less.