This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.
Stewart in his own juices
Yesterday, two of the most famous figures present at the Jan. 6 insurrection came and went. Jacob Chansley, the rioter known as the “QAnon Shaman,” was released from a halfway house to his freedom, 21 months after pleading guilty in September, 2021.
Meanwhile, Stewart Rhodes, founder of the extremist Oath Keepers, convicted last November of seditious conspiracy, was sentenced to 18 years behind bars. Another Oath Keeper, Kelly Meggs, got 12 years. More than 30 Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been convicted or pleaded guilty so far. So there are many more sentences to come.
Independent reporter Brandi Buchman covered the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys trials and was at yesterday’s sentencing. I called her up to get her take on the sentences, and what they might mean for Jan. 6 accountability.
What was the vibe like during sentencing today?
The vibes were loud and clear. And it definitely seemed that nothing had changed from the time that Stuart Rhodes was on the stand testifying on his own behalf at trial. His arrogance, his self-assuredness about what he did on Jan. 6, doing the right thing. It’s his belief, still to this day, that the 2020 election was unconstitutional. I didn’t hear any indication in his voice that there was real remorse there. I heard frustration.
Rhodes’ lawyer at one point said that Rhodes was “aghast” at what happened on January 6. Do you think that Judge Amit Mehta bought that?
I think that Judge Mehta saw Rhodes very clearly for who he was, and for who he is. Mehta made the point today that Rhodes is a very smart man. He is very charismatic, he’s a leader of other men and that he poses a threat to the fabric of our democracy. So I don’t think that Mehta had any confusion about the kind of person that Rhodes was back 800-plus days ago. He’s no different today.
Judge Mehta said at one point that “treason has been determined to be the appropriate analog.” This conviction wasn’t treason, but that was still quite a line and quite a comparison to make.
I think that it’s very important that that distinction is made and it was very important for me to to bring that up today. It’s so that people have an understanding of what happened. There’s still so many folks who look at Jan. 6 and think that it was a “tourist visit” or that it wasn’t as big of a deal as it was, that it was just a protest. It was much more than that.
Judge Mehta imposed what’s called a “terrorism enhancement.” That can increase penalties if the judge finds the base crime promoted intimidation, coercion, or retaliation against the government. Why was that important here?
It’s essentially amplifying the severity of the crime. This was an individual that the jury found used force and plotted to use force to resist the authority of the United States government. I do think that the enhancement is really important because I don’t think that the United States fully understands how to cope with or deal with domestic terrorists. We just don’t have sufficient laws on the books for that. And so to apply that enhancement to him, and to say, effectively, he’s a terrorist, I think is important for people to understand.
What about Kelly Meggs? At one point he was defiant, at another he asked for mercy. So what was Meggs bringing to the table at sentencing?
I think that makes Meggs such an interesting character is that, unlike Rhodes, he has remorse for his actions. I think he’s upset that he got caught. I think that he believes that what he did was right. But I think that he is also remorseful that he let himself, as he put it, get carried away and swept up into all of this. At the same time, he was out there four days before sentencing saying it was a biased jury. It’s a bullshit trial, is what he said.
I think that there’s a concerted effort by some of these Jan. 6 defendants to promote this line and to not take any real responsibility for what they did, or to foist it onto the government as a “fedsurrection” because they they they’re bought in. They’re fundraising off this stuff. There’s an entire multi-million dollar economy that has been propped up around the defense funds for these guys.
But also Donald Trump has said clearly he would pardon some of these people. It makes for a pretty fascinating dynamic at sentencing. Showing remorse could lighten your sentence, but defiance might be your best shot at impressing Trump and the movement and taking a long shot for a pardon.
Yup, and I think that with the election around the corner, it’s safe to assume that there’s some belief there that maybe they will be pardoned if DeSantis gets into the White House, or Trump gets into the White House, or any politician who thinks Jan 6, wasn’t an insurrection would be happy to help them. So I think that these are folks that are thinking both short term and long term in terms of what they’re saying and doing.
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No more questions
Donald Trump, who’s been indicted, has sure been acting like he’s about to get indicted, again, this time in the Mar-a-Lago documents probe.
Special Counsel Jack Smith appears to be wrapping up the investigation into whether Trump intentionally mishandled secret documents and then obstructed the government’s efforts to get them back. Even Trump’s people are making the most important pre-indictment preparations of all: figuring out how to use federal charges as a fundraising tool.
Some of Trump’s lawyers are at war with each other in public, while others have been forced to testify. Not that we’ve ever done this before with an ex-president, but both of those things strongly suggest a camp that doesn’t think it’s coasting to total exoneration.
The evidence against him is still pouring in. This week the National Archives was due to deliver 16 documents to prosecutors showing that Trump was made aware of the rules for declassifying presidential papers before he left the White House. (Translation: he knew he wasn’t allowed to take them and that mind-declassification isn’t a thing.)
But then there was this: Jack Smith’s prosecutors subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records of post-2017 business dealings in seven countries, including China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Oman. It implies they’re at least asking if Trump might have taken secret defense documents from the White House in order to juice his business interests overseas.
That could turn out to be nothing at all, or it could be evidence of astonishing corruption that, were it ever proven, would send Trump to prison for the rest of his life. Alternatively, it could merely be a way for prosecutors to show that it was intent (to maybe further business deals in the future)—and not, say, staff carelessness—that drove Trump to remove hundreds of documents from the White House.
Then yesterday the Washington Post reported that low-level Mar-a-Lago staffers moved boxes of documents the very day before the FBI and a prosecutor showed up to collect records Trump had taken. Earlier, Trump and his employees dress-rehearsed how to move documents around when authorities came calling. The way it’s described in WaPo sounds…obstructive.
The flurry of reporting landed hard in Trumpworld. Trump’s (remaining) attorneys sent a very public letter to AG Merrick Garland, demanding a meeting to discuss what they called Trump’s very unfair treatment at the hands of prosecutors. Prosecutors often meet, very quietly, with targets before settling on charges. Trump posted his lawyers’ letter on Truth Social.
Revenge of the in-cells
Is that a nervous sweat or are you just wearing multiple shirts? Former White House counselor and future federal inmate Steve Bannon has a New York trial date. Bannon appeared in Manhattan court yesterday on his felony money laundering and fraud charges stemming from the “We Build the Wall” scam that’s already sent his buddies away for years. Mark your calendar for May 25, 2024… just a few short weeks after Trump’s trial for the Stormy Daniels payments is set to start in the same courthouse.
A refresher: The scam involved raising millions from MAGA donors on the promise to privately fund Trump’s dream of a border wall, and then using fake invoices and various bank accounts to siphon off about a million bucks. Two co-conspirators, Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, pleaded guilty and were sentenced a few weeks ago to three and four-plus years, respectively. Timothy Shea, a third co-conspirator, is set to be sentenced in June.
Why wasn’t Bannon tried in federal court? Bingo! Because Donald Trump pardoned him hours before leaving office on Jan. 20, 2021! But now he’s facing state charges in New York, which carry a potential 5-15 years. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Don’t forget that Bannon is also facing four months in federal prison after refusing to honor subpoenas from the January 6 committee and being convicted of contempt. That little stretch is under appeal.
Re: Guarding Henry
A metro D.C. police lieutenant who was supposed to be monitoring threats from extremists ahead of Jan. 6 instead decided to help them, according to a new federal indictment. Lt. Shane Lamond was arrested and charged for allegedly tipping off Proud Boys leader (and convicted seditionist) Henry “Enrique” Tarrio that he was about to be arrested two days before Jan. 6 for burning a Black Lives Matter flag stolen from a church.
Lamond was D.C. Metro’s head of intelligence, responsible for monitoring extremist groups that were planning to be in the city for Trump’s “stolen election” rally. He figured in the Proud Boys trial when Tarrio claimed his contacts with Lamond proved the Proud Boys weren’t conspiring to commit any crimes. Now prosecutors say Lamond warned Tarrio of his imminent arrest and later lied to investigators about it. He pleaded not guilty this week.
That’s Lake news
MAGA die-hard Kari Lake lost again this week in her ongoing effort to overturn the 2022 Arizona Governor’s race, which she lost to Katie Hobbs. After a three-day trial, Maricopa County Judge Peter A. Thompson ruled that Lake failed to show that county officials effectively did no signature verification on 274,000 midterm mail-in ballots. Peters ruled that Lake didn’t meet the bar to show the ballots should be disqualified, and he reaffirmed Hobbs’ election.
True to Trumpist form, Arizona Republicans immediately attacked the judge and accused him of corruption. Lake held a press conference to raise money, lie about losing, attack journalists, and pledge to set up a ballot-watching organization for 2024. She didn’t say if she’s decided to run for the U.S. Senate.
Ten mil more about that
No one who hated on that CNN town hall with Donald Trump a few weeks back claimed he didn’t make news. Trump outright said he had a right to take classified documents from the White House, and he again attacked E. Jean Carroll just days after a jury ordered him to pay her $5 million for defamation and punitive damages for sexually abusing her, which he denies.
Trump doubled down on his alleged defamation at the town hall, calling Carroll a “whack job” and maligning her story of him sexually assaulting her as “fake.” Now Carroll has amended a pending companion defamation suit against Trump, seeking $10 million more in damages.
“Maybe the only extreme thing about me is I’m extremely concerned about our country.”
— Republican Kari Lake, after losing her lawsuit seeking to overturn her loss in the 2022 Arizona Governor race.
Mark in the middle — Former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is a key witness—and potentially a target—in multiple criminal investigations, including Fulton County and both federal probes being run by Jack Smith. But Meadows has almost completely disappeared from public view lately, leading everyone, including MAGA loyalists at Mar-a-Lago, to wonder if he’s flipped on Trump.
While Trumpworld figures all that out, catch up on what Meadows has been up to, from actively advising MAGA Republicans in Congress, to running an election subversion group with $1 million, to buying up real estate on Capitol Hill.
Force quit — First in Texas, then in Virginia, and now in Montana. The entire election staff of yet another community has quit after being harassed, threatened, and accused of fraud. Three election officials in Montana’s Lincoln County abruptly quit their posts after local officials accused them of fraud in last year's GOP congressional primary. The accusations are a mystery to many locals and other officials, who regarded the three as highly professional.
Charlie Kirk’s “Turning Point” pivots to Christian nationalism.
FROM ROLLING STONE
FROM THE WASHINGTON POST
FROM THE ATLANTIC