Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping case: FBI agents plan avalanche of classified records in trial

He told lawyers he wanted to prevent the Blockbuster trial from becoming a political circus, despite its ties to right-wing protest movements that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“I don’t want the process to become a referendum on whether the truck convoy in Ottawa is good or bad or whether what happened on January 6 was an uprising or real political discourse,” Jonker said. who was appointed to the bank by former Republican President George W. Bush.

“I want the focus to be on what happened in this case.”

Experts say the closely-watched case will test the government’s ability to combat growing domestic terrorism and domestic extremism. Because of the nature of the indictment, Jonker said Friday he will protect the jurors’ identities from the public.

Three Michigan men — Wyoming’s Adam Fox, Lake Orion’s Daniel Harris, and Canton Township’s Brandon Caserta — are accused along with Delaware’s Barry Croft of conspiring to “seize, imprison, kidnap, abduct and . . carry away”. Democrat, between June and October 2020.

They protest their innocence. The charges could jail her for life.

Federal authorities arrested the men in October 2020 and dismantled what they said was an imminent plot to kidnap the governor, which included surveillance of her vacation home. The accused conspirators discussed plans, including trying Whitmer for “treason” or leaving her on a disabled boat in Lake Michigan, prosecutors said.

Prosecutions have been complicated by a series of missteps, including the arrest of Kalamazoo FBI agent Richard Trask, a lead investigator in the kidnapping plot, who did not contest the attack on his wife last summer.

Trask was fired and will not testify. Neither two other FBI agents implicated in the investigation, whom defense attorneys have accused of unethical or questionable conduct, allegations prosecutors have denied.

Lawyers for the defendants allege their clients were trapped by the FBI and coaxed into criminal behavior by confidential whistleblowers and undercover agents. The defendants were drawn to the Wolverine Watchmen and related militias because of frustration with the government’s pandemic policies — a frustration that was perfectly legal, they say.

“There was no conspiracy,” defense attorneys argued in December in a failed attempt to dismiss the case before trial.

“Key to the government’s plan was to turn popular dissatisfaction with Governor Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions into a crime that could be prosecuted.”

Prosecutors have given their case a boost by securing pleadings from two admitted conspirators who are expected to testify in the case.

in the plead guilty on a conspiracy kidnapping earlier this month, Waterford Township’s Kaleb Franks agreed that he was not “captured or caused to do any to commit crimes”. ”

Prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement that Franks also “knows” none of the other defendants were included and can testify that he never heard any of them “say they were doing anything” in the months they were together. , because informants had advocated it.

Ty Garbin, a Wixom man who struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors last year, is expected to serve as a “star witness” in the trial, his attorney said last fall.

He received six years in prison, a reduced sentence for his cooperation, while Franks has not yet been convicted.

In filings ahead of Friday’s conference, prosecutors presented plans to introduce 412 exhibits as evidence for use at trial. The evidence list includes 111 audio recordings, 58 online chat transcripts and 43 videos, including what prosecutors say will show the defendants, improvised explosive devices and weapons drills, among other things.

Jonker on Friday gave prosecutors permission to bring 12 firearms into the courtroom as evidence under FBI supervision. Prosecutors also intend to produce cable ties, explosives, a stun gun, paramilitary equipment and night vision goggles as evidence.

“Much of the evidence in this case consists of covert audio recordings of the defendants discussing the conspiracy,” US Assistant Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in a filing filed Thursday.

Other planned exhibits include a Confederate flag, a hat associated with the tricorner Three Percent Militia Movement and five Hawaiian shirts, the unofficial uniform of the Boogaloo movement, whose supporters widely say they are preparing for a second American Civil War.

Prosecutors say they could also call up to 48 witnesses, including additional FBI agents involved in the investigation, two undercover agents they say infiltrated the militia group that plotted the kidnapping, one or several confidential sources and about a dozen civilian witnesses with knowledge of the plot.

The kidnapping trial will be the first major militia-related trial in Michigan since 2012, when a judge dismissed sedition charges against members of the Hutaree religious sect and ruling prosecutors failed to prove the defendants were guilty of discussing their hatred authority.

As part of their pleadings with federal authorities, both Garbin and Franks have described Fox of Wyoming as the mastermind behind the kidnapping plot. Croft, who resides in Delaware, allegedly developed explosive devices.

In a Thursday filing, Fox’s defense attorney described his client as a nonviolent activist who was coaxed into the kidnapping plot by at least three government informants who “were the cohesive force and catalyst for every event, every impassioned speech and nearly every suggestion of Crime.”

In a June 2020 phone call with one of those FBI whistleblowers, Fox discussed seeking “legal charges or the arrest of a citizen of the governor for exceeding the legal authority of her office,” his defense attorney conceded. However, according to attorney Christopher Gibbons, it was the informant who then steered the conversation to Whitmer’s vacation home.

“Like music producers looking for young, talented musicians to combine in a money-making scheme, each of these defendants was handpicked and groomed by government agents and informants for their role as (a) member of this ‘conspiracy’. ‘ Gibbons wrote.

Franks, in his latest guilty plea, confirmed that Fox had suggested “attacking the Capitol” when they first met. And he “overheard Fox and co-defendant Barry Croft beginning talks about fighting the government and kidnapping the governor without being asked,” the court filings said.

Lake Orion’s Daniel Harris and Canton Township’s Brandon Caserta were allegedly part of weapons training and planning meetings but were left on a group surveillance mission at Whitmer’s vacation home because “they had been drinking that night,” according to the Franks’ consent statement.

The FBI says Harris, a former Marine, used encrypted chat with other defendants to suggest killing Whitmer and suggested one person go to the governor’s house, knock on the door, “and if she answers, just cap them.”

Per his plea agreement, Franks first connected with members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia through a Facebook group in the spring of 2020. He then met Harris at a protest in Lake Orion, where Harris invited him to join the encrypted chat pending verification.

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