Citing a BuzzFeed News article on Thursday, lawyers for five defendants in the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer are seeking information about an FBI agent with a previously undisclosed relationship with a cybersecurity firm.
The article revealed that Special Agent Jayson Chambers is the registered owner of an “Internet intelligence company” called Exeintel LLC, and that an online troll claiming to be the CEO of Exeintel appears to have tweeted at subject of Michigan’s investigation before it was revealed to the public.
Defense attorneys have previously searched for data on Chambers’ cell phone. The new plea, filed late Friday night, argues that the revelations about Exeintel underscore the urgency of their demand.
Lawyers for Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are also looking for cell phone data from a second FBI agent, Henrik Impola, and a confidential informant in the case, identified in court documents like “Dan”, “Big Dan” or “Thor”.
According to evidence presented by law enforcement, Dan infiltrated an armed extremist group called Wolverine Watchmen and recorded hundreds of hours of conversations and texts for the FBI as members of the group developed what prosecutors are calling a plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer. A total of 14 people have been charged with various state and federal charges, many of which are classified as domestic terrorism. Numerous defendants have argued that they were tricked and, in the new pleading, five of them claim that access to cell phone data is essential to making their case.
In the brief filed Friday night, defense attorneys also cited a message from Chambers to
Dan, apparently asking him to urge another suspect to plot against the governor of Virginia. A screenshot of a text message allegedly sent by Chambers to Dan that is included in the new file reads: “The mission is to kill the Governor specifically.”
The suspect, a Vietnam veteran identified only as “Frank” in the case, was ultimately not charged in the case.
The FBI referred comments on the court records to the Department of Justice. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case. Chambers did not respond to a request for comment.
The BuzzFeed News article reported that a right-wing troll, @ravagiing, who claimed to be the CEO of Exeintel appeared to tweet several times about the Michigan investigation before it was revealed to the public, including a few just hours before the arrest of the suspects in October. History also revealed that Chambers had incorporated a company of the same name more than a year earlier – although it was not possible to determine Chamber’s relationship with the Twitter account.
FBI policy prohibits special agents from owning businesses or having a second job without the express permission of the office. Attempts to contact the @ravagiing account holder were unsuccessful.
There is no indication that the tweets had any impact on the case. One defendant, Ty Garbin, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, was sentenced to 75 months in prison this week. Thirteen other defendants have pleaded not guilty. A trial for the federal defendants – Fox, Croft, Harris, Franks and Caserta – is scheduled for October 12.
The five men have asked prosecutors to turn over a variety of evidence on the case, including information on a dozen confidential informants employed by the government during the investigation. The Justice Department has resisted the calls, arguing that it has provided everything that is legally required.
In Friday’s filing, defense attorneys argued that if Chambers’ relationship with Exeintel meant he had a financial interest in the investigation, it was all the more reason prosecutors should be forced to hand over. the information on their phone.
“If the government was not aware of this information until the publication of the BuzzFeed article, then the government should agree to release the information immediately,” the lawyers wrote. “If the government knew about the information earlier, the problem is much more serious.”
A hearing on these discovery matters is scheduled for next Thursday in federal court in Grand Rapids.