Defense requests immunity for FBI agents, informants in Whitmer kidnapping plot
The request follows three lead sting FBI agents who won’t be testifying in the March 8 trial in Grand Rapids.
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A defense attorney for one of the five men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked in a new filing that the court require the government to obtain orders of use immunity of the FBI agents and confidential human sources.
Scott Graham, the attorney for alleged extremist Kaleb Franks, wrote that the "illegal and unethical" use of confidential informants complicates the case.
The request follows three lead sting FBI agents who won't be testifying in the March 8 trial in Grand Rapids.
Former lead FBI agent Richard Trask was arrested on a domestic violence charge after allegedly smashing his wife's head into a desk after leaving a swinger sex party and was later fired.
A second FBI agent, Henrik Impola, also won't be testifying after being accused of perjury in a separate case. Jayson Chambers, a third agent, allegedly used the Whitmer plot to promote his side security consulting firm called Exeintel.
At least 12 FBI confidential informants infiltrated the Whitmer plot and recorded more than 1,000 hours of conversation, and one informant even led military training.
The FBI knew at least one informant, former confidential human source (CHS) Stephen Robeson, was using money raised under the pretext of combatting child sex trafficking to fund weapons. Although aware of Robeson's fraudulent activities in late 2020, the FBI didn't charge him until a year later in Dec. 2021.
Court records say Robeson organized and paid for the "anti-government" meeting in Dublin, Ohio, on June 6, 2020, and on July 18, 2020, in Peebles, Ohio, where he bought "pizza, moonshine, and paid for attendees' hotel rooms."
In all, "CHS Steve," or Robeson, was paid $19,328.79.
Now, the FBI and prosecutors claim that Robeson was a "double agent" who disobeyed FBI rules, illegally purchased a firearm, undermined the investigation, offered to use a drone to commit domestic terrorism, and warned one of the alleged plotters before an arrest.
On Sept. 26 — 13 days before the Whitmer sting — prosecutors charged Robeson with illegally obtaining a .50 caliber rifle. Federal law prohibits convicted felons from buying firearms.
It's unclear why the FBI apparently allowed Robeson to use charity money to fund weapon purchases for the alleged attackers, only to later arrest Robeson for the same charge.
Other alleged FBI confidential informants are also garnering national news headlines. On Jan. 11, 2022, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, asked Jill Sanborn, the FBI's executive assistant director of the National Security Branch, four times whether the FBI used confidential informants and whether they committed any crimes of violence during the Jan. 6 riot. Sanborn never answered the question.
The New York Times has reported a Proud Boys member was texting an FBI handler during the riot. It's unclear how many others there were.
Graham wrote that the above interaction indicates government guilt of how they used confidential informants.
"Current national inquiries into FBI policy (on just the sort of overreaching use of confidential informants and undercover agents at issue in this case), and the agency's refusal to address the issue, indicate a sort of government 'consciousness of guilt' with regard to egregious government investigative conduct, overreaching, and entrapment," Graham wrote.
Graham questioned the credibility of a case in which three lead FBI agents and a now-convicted FBI informant can't testify.
"The investigation in this case was based primarily on the efforts of FBI agents and confidential human sources," Graham wrote. "These people were intertwined in the alleged criminal activity. Normally, these people would testify at trial and would answer relevant questions posed by both sides to the case. The entrapment defense directed at both groups would be argued by the parties and decided by the jury. This case, however, is different from most. It is now apparent that a number of both the agents and sources have reason to refuse to testify by invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination."
Defense attorneys have asked a judge to dismiss the charges, saying the foundation of the government's entire case rests on discredited FBI agents and indicted confidential informants, the latter of whom were wary of executing the plan, shown through 258 out-of-court statements that the FBI calls "hearsay."
For example, On Sept. 5, 2020 — one month and three days before the sting arrest — Chambers allegedly texted an informant: "Mission is to kill the governor specifically."
On Aug. 9, 2020, alleged plotter Ty Garbin said: "Kidnapping is just as bad as going into the Capitol."