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Douglas Andrews / March 14, 2022

An FBI Entrapment Case Begins in Michigan

Was it really a serious plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democrat governor, or a grotesque and politically opportunistic overreach by the state?

Are the men who were arrested just a month before the 2020 presidential election for planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer a group of wild-eyed and committed domestic terrorists, or are they instead a disparate bunch of misfits and knuckleheads who were entrapped by an overzealous FBI?

The latter, we think.

The trial, which began last week at a federal courthouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been postponed at least until Thursday by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker because a key, unnamed participant in the trial has tested positive for COVID-19. But when the trial resumes, we’ll hear more about how the suspects “were stoners who got so high that they talked about attaching Whitmer to a kite and flying her over a lake, about barking in the woods to get her to come out of her house, or playing loud music at night to get her attention,” as one of their lawyers argued last week.

“The FBI knew this was stoned crazy talk,” defense attorney Joshua Blanchard told the jury, arguing the FBI set up the suspects with an undercover informant who also got high with them.

Just another day in the life of our nation’s most prestigious law enforcement agency.

Blanchard is representing Barry Croft, a Delaware truck driver who the state says helped start the kidnapping plan in April 2020 in a conversation with Adam Fox, who’s the accused Michigan ringleader. As the Detroit Free Press reports, “Croft initially came under investigation by the FBI in 2017, when the FBI noticed that Croft was criticizing the FBI on Facebook.”

Journalist Julie Kelly notes that Fox, the supposed mastermind of the plot, “lived in the ramshackle basement of a vacuum repair shop with his two dogs; if he needed to go to the bathroom or brush his teeth, Fox had to use the facilities at the Mexican restaurant next door, his attorney said in court on Wednesday.”

“The FBI is supposed to protect us,” Blanchard told the jury during opening arguments. “They’re expected to have thick skin. They don’t punish people for saying things mean things about them. There was no plan. There was no agreement. And there was no kidnapping.”

Indeed, but there was a high-profile arrest of a bunch “far-right extremists” just weeks before the 2020 election — extremists who had allegedly planned to kidnap and even kill Michigan’s Democrat governor, whom President Donald Trump had sparred with regularly. All of a sudden, the lockdown-crazy Whitmer seemed sympathetic, and Trump seemed like a bully who had incited his followers to violence. If we didn’t know better, we’d swear the timing wasn’t accidental.

At the beginning of the trial on Wednesday, Judge Jonker issued an order that “initial opening statements and evidence during the government’s case-in-chief — on both direct and cross — must address and be relevant to issues other than entrapment.” But he soon realized that the defense’s entrapment case couldn’t be separated from the FBI’s neck-deep involvement the case, which included more than a dozen agents and undercover informants. One of the informants was paid $64,000 for six months of his time — nice work if you can get it.

Another informant, Stephen Robeson, is a longtime FBI informant and convicted felon from Wisconsin with a record in nine states. As Kelly writes: “In addition to repeatedly breaking the law, it appears [Robeson] also violated already-lax FBI rules while working the sting operation. He was ‘plying guys with drugs … until they were out-of-their-mind stoned,’ said Blanchard. … That alone violated FBI guidance. [Robeson] would then get the defendants ‘whipped up’ and selectively record conversations when the defendants were high.”

Was this guy ever reprimanded by the bureau? Nope.

As we wrote back in August, one of the FBI’s informants, the defendants’ lawyers claim, was so deeply involved in the group that he rose to become its second-in-command. And one FBI agent allegedly instructed an informant to lie and to delete text messages that would reveal the bureau was unlawfully furthering the conspiracy.

There are plenty of questions that the FBI will need to answer, and perhaps the toughest questions of all will be for Steven D'Antuono, the head of the FBI’s Detroit field office whose agents worked the case and handled the sketchy informants. As Kelly writes: “D'Antuono was promoted to lead the D.C. FBI field office in mid-October 2020, just a few months before the Capitol protest on January 6, 2021. How much did D'Antuono pull the strings of the multi-layered Whitmer operation? And did he use any of the same undercover agents and informants on January 6?”

The FBI had plenty of opportunities to shut down the investigation, and it should’ve done so, Blanchard told the jurors. But the government was hell-bent on building a case that it knew didn’t exist. In the weeks ahead, we’ll see if he can convince the jury.

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