Members of the extremist group Proud Boys charged with sedition in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol want to subpoena former President Donald Trump as a witness in the high-profile trial.
Norman Pattis, one of defendant Joseph Biggs’ attorneys, first informed the court of the defense’s intent to call the former president to testify last month, asking for the government’s assistance in serving him. When the issue was raised in court then, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly gave no indication whether he would permit the subpoena.
On Wednesday, Pattis raised the matter again and told the court his effort would be joined by attorneys for co-defendant Dominic Pezzola. Attorneys for Biggs and Pezzola did not reply to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
But the effort to put Trump on the witness stand will likely face an uphill battle, as it’s unclear whether Kelly will rule the former president’s testimony admissible at trial.
The Proud Boys on trial — Biggs, Pezzola, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and leader Enrique Tarrio — face trial for sedition and other alleged crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Defense: Trump incited riot, not Proud Boys
Placing blame on Trump for the violent Capitol attack has been central to the Proud Boys’ defenses against numerous charges related to the riot.
Trump said the election was stolen, told his supporters to go to the Capitol and “unleashed the mob” on Jan. 6, 2021, Sabino Jauregui, attorney for longtime Proud Boys leader Tarrio, told a D.C. jury in opening remarks in January. Tarrio, he argued, is just the government’s “scapegoat.”
“Too hard to blame Trump, too hard to bring him to the witness stand with his army of lawyers … Instead they go for the easy target. They go for Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys,” Jauregui said.
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Opening remarks:Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio’s attorney says Trump to blame for Jan. 6
The bid is a long shot, according to Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School.
The Proud Boys’ attorneys would have to prove why Trump should be put on the stand – an uphill battle, he said.
“The defendants are being charged with their own insular criminal acts and intent to use the protest to interfere with the certification,” Turley said in an email. “I do not know the basis for the (defense’s) claim.”
The move would likely cause “considerable delay” to the trial, Turley added.
“The court is likely leery of such a demand,” he said.
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Blaming Trump not new to Jan. 6 cases
The Proud Boys on trial are not the first Jan. 6 defendants to point the finger at the former president. In February 2022, Ohio attorney Sam Shamansky said he planned to use a “public authority defense” for his client, Jan. 6 rioter Dustin Thompson.
“Trump and his co-conspirators concocted this ridiculous lie that our election was stolen and democracy was at stake,” Shamansky told the Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA TODAY Network, last year. Without that message, Thompson would not have journeyed to the Capitol, he said.
A month later, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton rejected Shamansky’s bid to have Trump testify, ruling that the value of the former president’s testimony is “substantially outweighed by the danger of confusing the issues and misleading the jury,” according to court documents.
Subpoenaing Trump:Columbus lawyer defending client in Capitol insurrection case wants to subpoena Trump
In the sedition trial of five Oath Keepers last year, leader Stewart Rhodes’ attorneys mounted a novel legal defense that relied on an arcane and controversial interpretation of the Insurrection Act, a statute from the 19th century.
They claimed Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers believed at any moment on or before Jan. 6, 2021, Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and call upon an “unorganized militia” to intervene with the certification of what they considered a fraudulent election. The former president threatened to invoke the act, but never did.
Rhodes and a top deputy, Kelly Meggs, were found guilty of sedition last year.
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Trump and the Proud Boys
Trump and the Proud Boys came to be affiliated during a September 2020 presidential debate when the former president told the extremist group to “stand back and stand by” after being asked to condemn violent white supremacist groups.
The comment increased the group’s membership “exponentially,” according to one Proud Boys member’s deposition before a House committee that investigated the riot.
Prosecutors have pointed to those comments and Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020 tweet urging supporters to travel to D.C. for a Jan. 6 rally – “Be there. Will be wild,” Trump wrote – as evidence that the Proud Boys were galvanized by the former president’s comments.
But whether a jury would find the defense’s counterpoint that those comments led to the events of Jan. 6, 2021 convincing is yet to be seen, according to Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
“When you look at the conduct of the defendants, certainly as it’s been alleged, when you look at the build up, when you look at the scope of the conspiracy – a defense argument that would boil down effectively to ‘the President told us to do it’ would certainly seem to fall short,” Lewis said.
Story Credit: usatoday.com