Men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan governor have lost bid to avoid trial

The five men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer have lost their bid to dismiss the case, clearing the way for the prosecution to go to trial.

The accused had argued that they were pushed into the alleged conspiracy by confidential informants and their FBI handlers in what amounted to “gross excess” on the part of the government and a classic example of entrapment.

In one decision On Tuesday, however, Judge Robert A. Jonker rejected that notion, saying the defendants “fail on their burden” to show compelling evidence of pretrial entrapment. It is extremely rare for cases to be dismissed in this way, Jonker noted, saying the issue of entrapment “is hotly contested as it almost inevitably is at this stage of the case” and should instead be decided by a jury.

Following his denial, the case against the five federal defendants can now go to trial from March 8, where increasingly bitter disagreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys on questions of fact can be resolved. .

Lawyers for the five defendants in the federal case, which also includes weapons of mass destruction and weapons charges, could not be reached for comment, although some have previously said they do not expect not have their motion to dismiss prevail. A sixth man, Ty Garbin, previously pleaded guilty in the case and is expected to testify on behalf of the government. Eight other men are charged with related crimes in Michigan state court.

The sharp differences of opinion in the courtroom have spilled over into the public arena, where the high-profile case has taken on increasing prominence among those who see the defendants as examples of the growing threat of the domestic terrorism on the one hand and, on the other hand, those who characterize the prosecution and the FBI as agents of a deep state bent on crushing dissent. And this political scum, in turn, began to flow back into the legal arena.

Earlier this month, for example, defendant’s attorney Kaleb Franks requested permission to raise questions at trial about the FBI’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, specifically pointing to allegations made by Senator Ted Cruz and journalist Glenn Greenwald about whether undercover agents were secretly responsible for the events of that day.

“The fact remains: Lawmakers are holding the FBI to account,” attorney Scott Graham wrote, drawing parallels to the bureau’s alleged misconduct in the Michigan case.

In a response to that motion filed Tuesday, prosecutors responded caustically, calling Jan. 6 “irrelevant” to their case and disparaging the attempt to “bring the FBI to trial and have the jury decide this case on basis of inflammatory and irrelevant remarks”. partisan debate and its media coverage.

The government also scoffed at a request from the defense of grant immunity to a number of potential witnesses at trial, including three FBI agents and an informant, so they can testify freely about the case without feeling pressured to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination .

In recent months, the Justice Department said it would not call three of the FBI’s top agents in the investigation to testify over allegations of possible misconduct on their part. Nonetheless, prosecutors wrote late Monday, none of these officers will invoke the Fifth Amendment if called by defense attorneys as a witness.

Stephen Robeson, a confidential informant at the center of the investigation, is a different story, government lawyers noted. Earlier this month they described him as a ‘double agent’ and in their Monday filing said he ‘could likely’ summon the Fifth if called due to a series of mishaps. potentially illegal actions on his part, including “aiding and abetting the defendants and conspiring”. with them to kidnap the Governor.

Specifically, they said Robeson deliberately did not tell his FBI handlers about a suspects tape; that he called the defendant Barry Croft on the day of the arrests in the case to advise him that he was wanted by the government; and that he attempted to destroy recordings and other possible evidence, including a rifle fitted with a projectile launcher which he had someone throw in a lake.

This conduct is in addition to a firearms charge for which Robeson was indicted in federal court last March and to which he later pleaded guilty, and a fraud charge which he is currently facing in court. Wisconsin state court. The alleged conduct in both cases took place while Robeson was working as a paid FBI informant.

If the defendants call Robeson as a trial witness, prosecutors have said they will refuse to grant him immunity, for fear that he ‘may falsely testify that he deliberately attempted to entrap’ the five accused men in the conspiracy. . If that were to happen, they added, “the government would have no recourse but to try Steve for perjury.”

Regardless of whether Robeson or the three FBI agents are called as witnesses at trial, the defense’s main effort will be to convince the jury that their clients have been framed by a government desperate to make the case.

To do so, Jonker stressed in his decision, they will not only have to prove that the government “incited” or persuaded the defendants to act using “undue pressure,” but also, critically, demonstrate that the five men were not predisposed to violence.

And that second prong may be a particularly difficult task given the vast library of inflammatory rhetoric that prosecutors have documented in the hundreds of hours of clandestine recordings made by FBI informants in the case.

It is “neither ‘undisputed’ nor ‘obviously clear’ that the defendants were not predisposed to commit the crimes charged,” Jonker wrote in his opinion.

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