FBI Detroit chief during bungled Whitmer 'plot' sting now runs DC office that raided Mar-a-Lago

Steven D'Antuono ran the Detroit field office when, trial testimony alleges, it instigated, encouraged and facilitated what the government charges was a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Published: August 18, 2022 6:38pm

Updated: August 21, 2022 11:15pm

The Washington, D.C., FBI field office that raided former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate and is investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol breach is led by Steven D'Antuono, who ran the bureau's Detroit field office when, trial testimony alleges, it instigated, encouraged and facilitated what the government charges was a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The retrial of two men charged in the alleged plot, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, Jr., finished its first full week on Thursday, as the prosecution rested its case.

Details about the FBI's integral role throughout the development of the alleged kidnapping plot continue to emerge amid plunging public support for the agency following a string of investigations, arrests and prosecutions targeting Trump allies and recent whistleblower reports of enforcement decisions tainted by political bias at FBI headquarters in D.C.

Legal experts and civil libertarians have decried accelerating prosecutorial overkill, double standards and strong-arm tactics in the criminalization of political opposition by the Department of Justice and FBI.

The plot was an "FBI-inspired, organized, and executed scheme to 'kidnap' and 'assassinate' Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ahead of the 2020 presidential election," according to reporter Julie Kelly, who has been covering the trial for American Greatness.

Two of the men charged in the plot were acquitted in April on the grounds that they had been entrapped by the FBI, and the jury could not reach a verdict for Fox and Croft, Kelly told "War Room" TV show host Steve Bannon on Tuesday. 

While the DOJ decided to retry Fox and Croft, Kelly said that the department's "timing could not be worse," as the credibility of both the DOJ and FBI is "imploding."

On Tuesday, FBI informant Dan Chappel, also known as "Big Dan," was cross-examined by the defense. A contractor for the U.S. Postal Service who drove delivery trucks, Chappel was put in touch with the FBI after sharing his concerns with a police officer friend over a pro-Second Amendment Facebook group that he said was critical of law enforcement, according to his testimony from the first trial in the spring.

FBI Special Agent Jayson Chambers worked with "Big Dan" on both the Whitmer kidnapping plot and another scheme in Virginia, the latter targeting then-Gov. Ralph Northam. In the Virginia operation, Chambers told Chappel to try to convince a Vietnam veteran "to kill the governor specifically," according to texts revealed in defense filings last year.

Chambers has his own internet intelligence company, and its Twitter account posted hints regarding pending arrests before the news broke regarding the alleged Whitmer plot.

The FBI paid Chappel around $60,000 for the seven months he worked with them, which was more than he made with USPS in a year. He was also given a smart watch, $3,300 laptop, and new tires for his vehicle by the FBI, according to evidence the defense presented in the March trial.

On several occasions, Chappel offered Fox — unemployed and living in the basement of a vacuum repair shop without running water — a credit card with a $5,000 limit from the FBI to buy weapons, ammunition, and hotel rooms. However, Fox and others never took the credit card, Chappel said in his testimony.

Chappel testified on Monday that during an April 2020 anti-lockdown protest he attended at the Michigan state capitol, the FBI instructed state police to stand down and allow the protesters into the building.

The FBI operation began in March 2020, but five months later there was still no plot to kidnap Whitmer, Chappel testified.

The group involved in the alleged plot was brought together by Chappel and was usually stoned during their meetings, which he usually arranged. According to a text, Chappel's FBI handler praised him for "bringing people together."

Chappel and other FBI informants drove Fox and Croft to Whitmer's home for surveillance, according to testimony on Thursday from FBI agent Tim Bates, who pretended to be an explosives expert named "Red" and was introduced to the group by Chappel.

Last October, an FBI agent provided testimony that FBI informant and convicted felon Steve Robeson started the Wisconsin chapter of the Three Percenters militia group. In the spring trial, defense attorneys said that Robeson made Fox the head of the Michigan chapter of the Three Percenters, which they noted wouldn't have happened without FBI involvement.

The DOJ said during that trial the idea that the FBI created the Three Percenters is a "red herring."

Bates showed the group videos of explosives and took pictures of Fox at bridges near Whitmer's cottage, as part of the kidnapping plan was to blow up the bridges to thwart the police after killing her security detail, according to Chappel. However, despite using a ruse of purchasing military gear from Bates to get the defendants to the arrest site in October 2020, no one paid Bates for a bomb, Chappel testified. By that point, Whitmer knew of the kidnapping plot, reported Kelly, as the FBI testified in the spring that they had installed surveillance cameras at Whitmer's vacation cottage during the sting operation. Whitmer told CNN’s Erin Burnett the day following the arrests of the alleged kidnapping conspirators that she had been made aware of the alleged plot in "recent weeks."

According to a text message shown in court, by late summer 2020, FBI informant Jenny Plunk, who was head of the Tennessee chapter of the Three Percenters, was tasked by her handler to keep the group from disbanding. In July, she shared a hotel room with Croft, which an FBI agent testified last week was an arrangement between an informant and target that he had never heard of before.

The prosecution continues to allege that Fox was responsible for the kidnapping plot.

The DOJ didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Recent federal law enforcement action against Trump allies and Biden opponents have included:

  • Former Trump White House trade official Peter Navarro was publicly arrested by FBI in June on a misdemeanor charge of contempt of Congress. Navarro alleges he was shackled in leg irons and strip-searched. The DOJ denies the claims. The judge in the case rebuked the DOJ for publicly arresting Navarro rather than just summoning him to court.
  • Former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark's house was raided by federal agents, who ordered him to stand outside in his underwear as they searched his house. CNN obtained and aired bodycam footage of the raid, which took place one day before a public hearing by the Jan. 6 committee examining Clark's role in supporting Trump's efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election.
  • Trump election attorney John Eastman and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) both had their phones seized by the FBI. Eastman's phone was taken for the government's Jan. 6 criminal probe, while Perry's was in relation to alternate electors for Jan. 6.
  • The FBI searched the homes and seized electronics of investigative journalist James O'Keefe and two of his associates at conservative media organization Project Veritas;
  • Former Trump attorney and two-term New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's home and office were raided as part of a Justice Department criminal probe into his business dealings and communications with Ukrainians.

In a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, 53% of likely voters agreed with the statement, "There is 'a group of politicized thugs at the top of the FBI who are using the FBI ... as Joe Biden's personal Gestapo.' The total includes 34% who "strongly agree."

The number of voters who agree with the statement, which was made by former Trump adviser Roger Stone last year, is up from 46% in December. 

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