August 25, 2022

A Win for the FBI, but at What Cost?

The state finally secured convictions in the retrial of two Whitmer “kidnapping” plotters, but the case was rotten from the start.

Want to know why the FBI’s reputation has never been worse, and why more than a dozen whistleblowers have beaten a path to Republican lawmakers’ doors? Look no further than the just-concluded case of the Whitmer plotters — the two (ahem) masterminds behind the (ahem, ahem) deadly serious plan to kidnap Michigan Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Both men, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, were found guilty of federal kidnapping and weapons-of-mass-destruction charges, and Croft was found guilty of unlawful firearms possession. But it took more than a dozen FBI agents and informants, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and plenty of coaxing and prodding and leadership by the bureau’s people to bring two knuckleheaded losers along on a kidnapping fantasy ride that may send them to prison for the rest of their lives. Here’s how the state-run scribes at the Associated Press dutifully describe the convictions on Tuesday of these two master criminals:

A jury on Tuesday convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, delivering swift verdicts in a plot that was broken up by the FBI and described as a rallying cry for a U.S. civil war by anti-government extremists.

The result was a big victory for the U.S. Justice Department. A different jury just four months ago couldn’t reach unanimous decisions on Adam Fox or Barry Croft Jr. but acquitted two other men, a stunning conclusion that led to a second trial.

Their arrests nearly two years ago came at an extremely tense time: the volatile homestretch of the election between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump playing out against a backdrop of armed protests over COVID-19 restrictions, especially in Michigan.

A “big victory”? Not so fast. The bureau’s rotting corpse of a case was dragged across the finish line these past nine days much like Basement Joe Biden’s presidential campaign was dragged across the finish line on November 3, 2020. In the case of the latter, it was Big Tech, Big Media, and bulk-mail balloting. In the case of the former, it was a judge who bent over backward to keep the defense from making its case.

If what we’ve outlined in the paragraph above seems utterly at odds with the Associated Press’s version of events, consider how independent journalist Julie Kelly describes the trial of Fox and Croft:

Legal observers bristled at the one-day jury selection process handled almost exclusively by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, who also presided over the first trial. On the first day of testimony, defense attorneys informed the court that one juror was potentially compromised for telling co-workers that he “had already decided the case and intended to ensure a particular result at the conclusion of the trial.” Jonker met privately with the juror and refused to allow either prosecutors or defense counsel from participating in the meeting; he ordered all related filings to remain under seal.

Jonker repeatedly scolded [defense attorneys Christopher] Gibbons and [Joshua] Blanchard for what he viewed as wasting the jury’s time on “crap” lines of questioning. Before the testimony of government witnesses last Wednesday, Jonker took the unprecedented step of limiting the amount of time for cross examination. Blanchard accused Jonker of openly favoring prosecutors while frequently interjecting and interrupting defense counsel. “Limiting us is unfair and it’s unconstitutional, and it doesn’t aid the jury in the search for the truth,” Blanchard told Jonker on August 17 after the jury had been dismissed for the day. “It’s creating a perception of how this case ends.”

Kelly notes that the DOJ sought a narrower definition of entrapment, and that the FBI “accelerated its operation” when, despite months of surveillance and infiltration, it hadn’t surfaced a plot to kidnap Whitmer. How did the bureau “accelerate” things? Kelly continues: “By introducing another undercover FBI agent to act as an explosives expert and convince the group to purchase materials to build a bomb. Agent Timothy Bates, known as ‘Red,’ met with the government’s targets in Michigan on September 12, 2020, where he showed a video of a vehicle blown up by an explosive device. The video was produced by the FBI.”

During testimony, Bates said the FBI’s case team “met the night before to map out plans to drive the targets to Whitmer’s remote vacation cottage on Birch Lake, the purported scene of the crime. Bates brought night vision equipment and two-way radios to hand out as props — all supplied by the FBI.”

There are many reasons to detest this case: the zealous efforts to entrap; the dozen-plus agents involved; the cash thrown around; the timing of the arrests just before the 2020 election so as to damage Whitmer’s harshest critic, Donald Trump; the timing of the retrial to coincide with Whitmer’s reelection campaign; the spousal battery arrest of one of the main agents; the subsequent promotion of the lead FBI agent from Detroit to the Washington, DC, office and thus to oversee the bureau’s involvement in the January 6 Capitol riot; the attempt to set the same exact trap in Virginia for detractors of then-Governor Ralph Northam; the refusal by the judge to remove an admittedly tainted juror; and the judge’s restrictions on the defense’s lines of questioning.

Despite all this, we have a hard time showing sympathy for these Whitmer plotters. Regardless of how vehemently we disagree with our elected officials, we don’t physically threaten them or engage in plots, however far-flung and ridiculous, to kidnap them. Instead, we commit ourselves to beating them at the ballot box. That’s the American system.

Yes, the FBI ultimately got two convictions. But at what continuing cost to its hard-earned reputation for Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity?

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