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Oath Keepers’ defense ordered to disclose if Sidney Powell is funding attorneys

As U.S. grand jury heard testimony by Stop the Steal leader Ali Alexander, prosecutors said funding by Trump lawyer’s group for their attorneys could pose a conflict of interest for clients

Sidney Powell, right, speaks next to former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, as members of President Donald Trump's legal team, during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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A federal judge on Friday ordered defense attorneys for alleged members of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy to disclose whether their legal fees are being paid by anyone other than their clients after prosecutors warned of potential conflicts of interest if former Donald Trump attorney Sidney Powell is helping raise money for some of the legal defense as reported.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta of Washington came during a week of rapid developments in the Justice Department investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which appears to have expanded into broader alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

On Wednesday, federal agents conducted a search at the home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who played a key role in Trump’s efforts to get law enforcement officials to challenge Joe Biden’s election victory. That same day, agents delivered subpoenas and took other investigative steps probing efforts by Trump, Clark and supporters to undo Biden’s victories in a half-dozen key states by creating bogus slates of alternate electors in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and elsewhere.

In the latest move Friday, Ali Alexander, a right-wing activist who helped organize the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that drew Trump supporters to Washington, appeared before a federal grand jury in Washington. He had testified in private in December to a House panel investigating the events of Jan. 6.

“I have been asked to appear before the Grand Jury today to testify about the same subject matter as my prior testimony before the Committee,” Alexander said in a statement released by his attorney Paul Kamenar, who accompanied him at both events. Alexander noted he has filed a lawsuit opposing a House subpoena for his and a volunteer’s phone records, but “out of respect for the Grand Jury process” declined further comment on his testimony.

In a since-deleted video on Periscope weeks before the Jan. 6 rally, Alexander said he and hard-line Republican Trump supporters Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mo Brooks (Ala.) and Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) “schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting” to change the minds of those who wouldn’t go against certifying Biden’s win.

At the time of this committee testimony, Alexander said in a statement that he “did not plan or participate in any illegal activity.He said in the statement that he was assured when he received a grand jury subpoena that he “was not a target but a fact witness,” and was asked to testify because the committee has not given prosecutors transcripts of its witness interviews.

In the Oath Keepers criminal case, the Justice Department asked the court this week to probe possible financial relationships between attorneys for defendants accused of trying to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president and a nonprofit entity run by Powell, who as Trump’s representative spread false election claims and filed a series of failed lawsuits to overturn the results.

Prosecutors expressed concern that support from Powell’s group could give Oath Keepers attorneys a reason to oppose clients’ cooperation that could be damaging to Trump’s interests or make plea deals less likely, which could be against the interest of a particular defendant. The government asked Mehta to ensure there was no outside “interference with the lawyer’s independence … or with the client-lawyer relationship.”

Mehta agreed Friday, directing attorneys for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and eight co-defendants after a hearing to turn over any third-party funding agreements for his private review. Mehta said that he would hold closed-door sessions with them with their clients to ensure the latter understood potential pitfalls if their interests diverged from their attorneys’ funders.

The judge said he was taking the precaution “to ensure everybody is receiving appropriate advice and appropriate disclosures are being made, and the record reflects that potential conflicts [arising now or in the future] are being waived knowingly and voluntarily.”

DOJ wants to know if Sidney Powell is funding Oath Keepers’ defense

Prosecutors had cited news reports by Mother Jones and BuzzFeed in recent months saying that Powell’s nonprofit organization, Defending the Republic, has used some of the millions of dollars it has raised through spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election to pay legal fees for Oath Keepers members facing trial. According to reports cited in the filing, four defendants including Rhodes have taken funds from Powell’s organization.

All four are accused of obstructing Congress’s counting of electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021; Rhodes and two others are accused of engaging in a seditious conspiracy against the United States.

Powell has not responded to requests for comment. But in court Friday, attorneys for Rhodes and several others blasted the government request, saying they would of course comply with court inquiries but that prosecutors could have raised concerns sooner and in private rather than in a public court filing.

“This was an attempt to embarrass or harass defendants or counsel in public. I don’t like it,” Rhodes attorney Phillip A. Linder said.

There are “no strings attached at all” to the fee arrangement in Rhodes case, co-counsel James Lee Bright added, and client confidentiality “is stuff we hold dear in our office.”

Attorneys Stanley Woodward and Juli Haller said they have already undergone a review with court-appointed counsel of potential conflicts in their representation of two other defendants reported to receive funds, Kelly Meggs and his wife, Connie Meggs, in related criminal and civil litigation, and made known a fee agreement.

Attorneys for two other co-defendants who have not said if they received outside funds, Roberto Minuta and Jessica Watkins, said their clients were aware and waived or had no concerns with their funding, respectively.

Attorney Bradford Geyer, who represents a fourth defendant said to have received funding from Defending the Republic, said as a rule he does not comment publicly on funding sources. Of four remaining defendants, attorneys for two said they have not received money from Powell’s group, one is court-appointed, and the last was not named in prosecutors’ request.

The inquiry came as Mehta said he “intended to move with all deliberate speed” toward an initial trial of Rhodes and four co-defendants set for Sept. 26. All parties said they believed a trial could go forward despite the planned release that month of a public report and an estimated 1,000 transcripts of witness interviews by a House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, which this week caused the postponement of the scheduled seditious conspiracy trial of accused Proud Boys members from August to December.

Also Friday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of an Indiana man who Rhodes allegedly chose as his “operations leader” on Jan. 6 and who has served in the past as an Oath Keepers spokesman.

Michael Greene, 39, of Indianapolis, was apprehended Thursday and added to a second, eight-person indictment of alleged Oath Keepers associates initially charged with Rhodes’s group but later split off into a separate case. Previously identified in government filings only as “Person 10” or “Whip,” Greene was charged with five counts, including conspiracy and aiding and abetting the obstruction of an official congressional proceeding and deleting evidence from his cellphone.

“Heads up,” Rhodes messaged an encrypted leadership chat on Signal on Jan. 5, 2021, according to charging papers, “Whip is now in charge of op.”

“Storming the capital,” Greene wrote in two texts sent with photographs at 1:42 p.m. and 3:05 p.m., spanning the break-in to the west side of the Capitol at 2:13 p.m. and the 2:39 p.m. breach of Rotunda doors on the east side allegedly joined by Oath Keepers co-defendant, the indictment charged. “There in,” he allegedly wrote at 3:08 p.m. adding “[Messed] up Nancy office,” and “Congress evacuated.”

Greene notably was not charged with seditious conspiracy as Rhodes and his co-defendants have been. The new indictment does allege that Greene joined Rhodes and others in making plans to bring weapons, driving from a Virginia hotel to the Capitol area, entering restricted Capitol grounds and directing each other and co-conspirators to meet them there.

Oath Keepers founder, associates exchanged 19 calls from start of Jan. 6 riot through breach, prosecutors allege

A former Army explosives expert and Blackwater contractor who also goes by Michael Simmons, Greene like Rhodes spoke to the FBI before his arrest and testified to the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6. Greene, who has not entered a plea, has said he did not know that members entered the Capitol until afterward. Greene added that those that did went rogue, and that Rhodes did not direct Kelly Meggs to do so.

The new indictment adds details of the role of a cooperating co-defendant and alleged deputy team leader who has pleaded guilty, Alabama leader Joshua James. James called Greene at 2:33 p.m., before leading a second “stack” or group of Oath Keepers associates to the east Rotunda doors, which they entered later, the indictment alleges.

An attorney for Greene could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.