In a surprising twist in the ongoing “Proud Boys” conspiracy trial related to the January 6 Capitol protests, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has disclosed the existence of a government informant who has allegedly been secretly operating among the defense team.
The revelation came after the DOJ informed the court on Wednesday that a witness, who was set to appear on behalf of one of the defendants, served as a “Confidential Human Source” (CHS) from April 2021 to January 2023, according to a court filing submitted soon after the disclosure.
Possibly huge development in the Proud Boys trial. Defense says a PB witness may have been a Govt informant. https://t.co/1pscJOk2Sw
— Tom Jackman (@TomJackmanWP) March 23, 2023
Attorney Carmen Hernandez, who represents defendant Zachary Rehl, stated that the informant communicated via phone, text, and other electronic means with one or more of the defense counsel and at least one defendant. The informant also allegedly participated in prayer meetings with some of the defendants’ families and discussed the possibility of replacing one of the defense attorneys.
The new motion seeks to compel the release of all FBI interview reports and DOJ memos related to the recording and reporting of the defense team. The trial involving Rehl, former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and three other members has been postponed to resume on Friday so that the judge can consider the shocking new allegations.
U.S. District Court Judge Tim Kelly responded to the defense attorney’s filing through an order issued immediately on Wednesday that commanded prosecutors to respond to the allegations by Thursday morning.
The DOJ had already indicated the existence of eight informants inside the Proud Boys leading up to January 6. However, no evidence has surfaced suggesting that the FBI played any role in the attack on the Capitol.
The trial had already endured multiple delays and tense moments, including when the federal judge blocked the questioning of witnesses on the bulk of unintentionally-disclosed FBI messages.
The filing on Wednesday from Hernandez said the defendants are “preparing a separate motion to dismiss the Indictment or for an evidentiary hearing, raising serious and substantiated allegations of governmental misconduct surrounding the surreptitious invasion and interference of the defense team by the government through a confidential human source, at the government’s behest.”
The defense team has repeatedly questioned the presence of informants within the Proud Boys and how the FBI might have deployed them to track the group ahead of January 6. Jurors in the trial have been shown evidence that there were some informants within the group, both in text message chains and on the ground on January 6. The use of such sources is commonplace for the FBI. Still, there are profound risks of Constitutional violations when they remain involved in potential criminal activity alongside targets of an investigation.
The defense team is clearly within its rights to demand more information from the DOJ about using confidential human sources in the investigation. While informants are commonplace for the FBI, the defense team’s concerns about the informant’s contact with the defense counsel and members of the defendants’ families are valid. The allegation that the DOJ did not disclose the informant’s identity until the defense was prepared to call them to the stand raises serious questions about the government’s honesty and transparency in this case.