GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In a last-ditch effort before an approaching October trial, a motion filed by defense attorneys for five suspects charged in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for more evidence was denied by a federal judge.
The motion was seeking to obtain additional text-message correspondence between federal undercover agents who worked the case, their FBI handlers, and the men allegedly involved in the plot. Defense attorneys claim there are more texts they haven’t seen, despite having screenshots of around 300 messages, and U.S. attorneys claim they’ve turned over all their evidence already.
Attorneys for suspects Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Adam Fox and Brandon Caserta — who appeared virtually while quarantining in prison — were included on the motion for more evidence.
At times, the argument to obtain that additional evidence was unclear; specifically the defense was trying to get their hands on the actual phone of an undercover agent referred to only as "Dan," claiming there were additional texts that proved their clients were coerced into committing criminal activity. A judge accused the defense of fishing for evidence they weren’t sure even existed. No cameras or cell phones were allowed n the courtroom Thursday.
“Things that need to be disclosed should be disclosed,” said Christopher Gibbons, attorney for defendant Adam Fox. “Whatever communication was occurring between the informants and their handlers, we want to have a full understanding of how those communications were being made and what those communications were, because we think they bear on the whole issue of entrapment.”
The U.S. attorney on the case, Nils R. Kessler, told the court that the defense already has all the correspondence that exists between agents and their FBI handlers, and between the undercover agents and the suspects in the case.
Kessler said some of the messages were sent on encrypted sites and don’t even exist anymore, but even for those instances, the defense was given the agent’s report on their contact with the suspects.
Ultimately, a judge denied the motion for more evidence, saying there appeared nothing left to be turned over and it would be inappropriate to hand over the cell phone of a protected informant.
The idea that federal agents were pulling the strings behind the scenes isn’t a new argument from some of the defendants. Defense attorneys are painting a picture of their clients as being duped into planning the making of pipe bombs and firing shots into the governor’s vacation home, among other illegal acts.
Defense attorneys on Thursday also made an attempt to paint the FBI agents handling the case — and the undercover informants — as biased, incompetent and untrustworthy, even going so far as to suggest they hid important evidence, like text messages.
Most prominently, they argued that FBI Special Agent Jason Chambers had something to gain financially from the perpetuation of the kidnapping plot. They referenced a Buzzfeed article reporting that Chambers was the owner of Exeintel, LLC, an internet security company. The defense also noted that a Twitter account with the handle "@ravagiing" claiming to be the owner of Exeintel was tweeting details of the case days before coordinated raids on the suspects.
The defense noted since the plot came to light, the Exeintel site had been removed.
The denial of the motion for more evidence is likely one of the last steps before a trial set for October.
Ty Garbin, one of the suspects charged, was recently sentenced to six years behind bars after agreeing to testify against other defendants in the case.