Breaking the great turmoil that unfolded in the Oath Keepers trial | CNN Politics
The seditious conspiracy trial of five alleged oath guard leaders became mired in conflict as prosecutors called defense witnesses to warn them of self-incrimination in the days before the stand was taken, defense attorneys accused each other of immoral behavior and one witness was exposed. Be an informant.
Between revealing a secret informant who had a medical emergency before court appearances and refusing to testify at the last minute, there has been major turmoil in recent days over which witnesses the defense wants to contact and how the trial will proceed.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Stuart Rhodes called Florida member of the Oath Keepers, Dario Aquino, to the witness stand. Aquino spent most of the afternoon of January 6, 2021 with Rhodes, and defense attorneys planned to use his testimony to argue that Rhodes had no insight into the violence unfolding at the Capitol. Rhodes is the captain of the guards division.
In an abrupt turn, Aquino took the stand and immediately invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, refusing to testify. Rhodes’ attorney, James Lee Bright, looked shocked and asked Federal Judge Amit Mehta, who is overseeing the trial, to excuse the jury from the courtroom.
A heated argument erupted between Bright and Aquino’s attorney Dwight Crowley, with Crowley claiming he had no idea Aquino’s plans to testify until prosecutors warned him the night before, calling him “crazy” for him to testify.
“They want to take advantage of their questionable moral activity and use it to their advantage,” Crowley shouted in the courtroom. “They want to put that person as a witness for their own gain.”
Bright responded that he would not let Crowley accuse him of immoral behavior “without resistance,” and that he believed Crowley had previously known that Aquino would testify. Mehta interrupts the shouting match, telling the lawyers to “calm down” before he sends Bright, Crowley, and a third defense attorney acting as mediator in the lobby to solve the problem.
Aquino’s testimony is at the center of a bitter battle between defense attorneys and the Department of Justice over the plaintiffs’ contact with defense witnesses before taking the stand—particularly members of the oath’s guards—and warning them that, if they testified, they were opening themselves up. Criminalization and possible prosecution in the future.
“I am personally concerned about revealing who I want to contact next,” Stanley Woodward, another attorney accused of Oath Keeper, Kelly Meggs, said Tuesday, adding that he would not give the government more than 24 hours’ notice of who he intended to invite to the platform.
The plaintiffs said in court that it was their legal duty to warn witnesses of any exposure they might be subjected to, and that while prosecutors asked defense attorneys if they informed witnesses of their Fifth Amendment rights, they heard no response.
“We did what we thought we were obligated to do, which is tell the defense attorney if we think a witness has a Fifth Amendment problem,” Attorney General Jeffrey Nestler said Tuesday.
Mehta said the defense should acknowledge that witnesses have rights to search for them.
“I don’t know what to tell you all. This is not unusual in the sense that when the defense wants to call defense witnesses, those witnesses may be exposed to some extent. This is not strange. Then the question becomes does this witness want to testify,” the judge said.
Speaking to the defense attorney, Mehta added, “If you think there’s anything unethical about what they did, or that an FBI agent did, or somehow crossed the line, let me know.”
Defense attorneys for another Rhodes witness wanted to contact him, and Greg McWireter, the former vice president of the Oath Keepers, was revealed to be an undercover informant against the group.
The New York Times reported Thursday afternoon that McWireter was an informant, a fact the Justice Department confirmed in a sealed dossier accidentally posted to the public agenda on Tuesday night.
In the filing, prosecutors asked Mehta to question defense attorneys about who leaked McQuirter’s status as an informant for The Times. Prosecutors said the information was described as “extremely sensitive” and was covered by a protective order.
“The government is asking the court to take these steps because of the material security and health concerns arising from the early leakage of Mr. McQuirter’s status as a confidential humanitarian standard,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit, or a confidential human source. “Even before this disclosure to the New York Times, Mr. McWherter conveyed to the government enormous concern about his status as a publicly disclosed classified informant.”
The allegations prompted the defense lawyers, according to a person familiar with their conversations, to flock to the lawyers, with several lawyers confirming to each other that they were not the source of the leak.
Mehta took up the case sealed with the parties in the courtroom on Wednesday morning “given the sensitivities we need to discuss.”
McWireter, who was due to testify on Tuesday, also experienced a medical emergency on the plane he was supposed to take to Washington, D.C., and will no longer be able to travel to testify in person, according to defense attorneys and the Department of Justice. McWhirter will likely be allowed to make a stand on the video conference this week, though the timing remains unclear. McWherter has not been charged with an offense relating to the January 6 date.
McWhirter’s status as an informant is not the first piece of protected information allegedly leaked to the press. As the trial began, fired attorney Jonathan Moseley, who represented former defendant Kelly Meggs, sent several emails to defense attorneys, prosecutors and media attorneys threatening to release information to the public that he believed to be exculpatory.
It is alleged that Mosley provided some information to a right-wing outlet, and Mehta held a hearing on whether Mosley should be held in contempt of court for violating the protection order. No official decision has been taken in this regard.
The hearing was supposed to conclude, but was accidentally broadcast to a courtroom media room as journalists watched the trial unfold.
“It seems you have bad news for me,” Mehta said at the end of the sealed proceedings as the deputy courtroom rushed to the podium. The deputy was standing back from the microphone, so the reporters couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“So they can hear everything,” Mehta asked, and the line to the media room was cut off.
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