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stejskalGreg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Michigan Innkeeper Asked if I was ‘Good FBI or Bad FBI?’

By Greg Stejskal

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in northern lower Michigan for a book talk and signing in Suttons Bay. Northern Michigan tends to be more Republican than the southern part of the state – not something I thought much about in the past. But on this trip, before the Michigan primary, I noticed a lot of Trump signs and flags still in yards, two years after his 2020 defeat. 

Greg Stejskal

When we checked into our motel, we had a conversation with the innkeeper. He made some comments that indicated that he wasn’t a fan of President Biden. He also thought Trump had won the 2020 election.

We mentioned that I was there to do a book talk, and that my book was about cases I was involved in during my career in the FBI. The innkeeper then asked if I was “good FBI or bad FBI.” I was a little dumbfounded. I hadn’t heard the FBI characterized as being good or bad before, as though there were factions. It reminded me of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz: when Glenda asks Dorothy: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

The clear question, in the context of our conversation, was whether I was part of the “good” FBI that was loyal to Trump or the part that didn’t profess loyalty to Trump. The innkeeper talked about his belief that the FBI instigated the Jan. 6 insurrection. (This theory was echoed by Trump in a recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC.)

I asked if he had watched any of the Jan. 6 committee hearings. He said he had watched some, but thought it was all “bullshit.” My wife, sensing the conversation was not going in a good direction, diplomatically ended it.

I continued to think about that conversation. I know conspiracy theories have been propagated by some pundits and in right-wing forums, about the FBI having somehow instigated the Jan. 6 riot. Those have been debunked. Yet they seemed to have coalesced into a perception that there is a good FBI and a bad FBI.

It became more troubling on Aug. 8, when the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s winter home. The FBI made an extraordinary effort to keep the search unintrusive. There was no public announcement and it was conducted on a Monday, when the club adjoining Trump’s private residence was closed. Trump wasn’t even in town.

Agents didn’t even wear their blue FBI jackets. It wasn’t until Trump posted on his Truth Social site that his “beautiful home” was “currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents” that it became public.

I have been involved in numerous searches. There is a distinction between a “raid” and a search. 

A raid generally connotes a search where there is some potential for resistance, such a raid on drug dealer. In such a raid, a SWAT team might be used to secure the location prior to the search being conducted. No such action was taken in the Mar-a-Lago search. There were no battering rams, only Secret Service agents present, who were given notice of the search.

Lacking Factual Basis

The Trump post was followed by a chorus of his supporters voicing attacks on the FBI, obviously lacking any factual basis as none was yet available. Florida Sen. Rick Scott called the search a “Gestapo raid.” Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene posted “Defund the FBI.” (She may have been hesitant to post anything using “Gestapo,” as she had previously described the former German secret police as “gazpacho.”) Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said it was time to “destroy the FBI.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Adding to the cacophony were Trump followers, emboldened by the statements of Republican office holders, disparaging the FBI and making threats. On Tuesday following the search, someone using the account of Ricky Shiffer on Truth Social posted messages that included: “Be ready to open fire tomorrow. Take your weapon to work, have it in the trunk. Kill the FBI on sight.”

On Thursday, Shiffer went to the FBI field office in Cincinnati armed with an AR-15 and a nail gun. He was unable to breach the bulletproof glass between the reception area and the inner office. Agents responded to the alarm and Shiffer fled. Later Shiffer was shot to death in an exchange of gunfire with local and Ohio state police.

When the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, they did so pursuant to a search warrant authorized by a U.S. Magistrate Judge as prescribed by the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. The warrant must be based on “probable cause supported by Oath or affirmation.” (The probable cause is contained in the affidavit, which remains sealed.)  This warrant, because of its extraordinary nature, the first warrant authorizing the search of a former president’s home, was closely reviewed at the highest level of the Department of Justice, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has said he personally authorized it.

Trump and others have said if the FBI can search my home, think what they can do to you. It would be more accurate to say that in the eyes of the law, Trump is not special. The law should apply the same to everyone whether of high station or low. No person is above the law.

Attacking DOJ

Predictably Trump and some Republican senators and congressmen have attacked the DOJ for having been “politically weaponized” by Biden’s administration. To the contrary, Garland has been scrupulous in keeping the DOJ detached from politics. He only publicly confirmed the search of Mar-a-Lago after the integrity of the FBI and DOJ was attacked by Trump and others. Garland also said that the search was done only after the former president failed to voluntarily turn over the documents sought, and failed to fully comply with a subpoena requesting the documents. (Reportedly, one of Trump’s attorneys signed a letter in June affirming that all the classified documents that had been in Trump’s possession had been returned.)

President Trump

It is not clear why Trump took the documents, nor why he wanted to keep them. His claim that he had summarily declassified them while he was president seems spurious. But even if he did, the documents were of such a sensitive nature that their contents could pose a grave threat to our national security. Not something that should be kept in a resort storage area with patio furniture and tiki torches.

Trump is now testing an alternative defense, that the documents were “planted by the FBI.” It should be noted that there was at least one of Trump’s attorneys present during the search, who signed the return on the search warrant. A copy of the warrant and the return, inventory of items taken was left with the attorney and presumably shared with Trump. 

When FBI agents are sworn in, they take a sacred oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” We do not profess loyalty to anyone, only the rule of law. Agents are trained when investigating crimes to follow the facts and the law. Agents are not political eunuchs. They have political opinions and beliefs, but in my experience those opinions and beliefs do not interfere with the search for truth. I am confident the agents and DOJ attorneys will follow the facts, and if prosecution is merited, it will be pursued. No threats will dissuade them, only strengthen their resolve.


Ms. Smith Goes to Washington, testifying truth to power

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006. He is the author of “FBI Case Files Michigan: Tales of a G-Man.”

By Greg Stejskal

During my FBI career, I was involved in the investigation and prosecution of many criminal conspiracies. It was often a challenge to find witnesses with direct knowledge of the machinations of the conspiracy.

Cassidy Hutchinson

Sometimes witnesses were people within the conspiracy, co-conspirators. They might be people who were recruited for the conspiracy but chose not to participate or they dropped out before the conspiracy came to fruition. And sometimes it was people on the periphery with some knowledge of the conspiracy.

As prosecutors say, conspiracies hatched in hell can’t have angels for witnesses. Most of the time, these potential witnesses weren’t the most upstanding or credible people. So we had to figure out ways to corroborate their testimony.

If the criminal activity were ongoing, we could try to have the witnesses record conversations with the conspirators or obtain written or digital communications like texts or emails. In trial, we knew they would be subject to very aggressive cross examination.

In the case of the multi-faceted “Big Lie” conspiracy, it wasn’t hatched in hell. It was hatched in large part in the West Wing of the White House. One of the seemingly big obstacles to determine whether this conspiracy was criminal was to show whether the conspirators had criminal intent. Did they believe that Trump had actually won the election, and did they intend to interfere with the Congressional certification of the counting of the electoral votes by a mob of Trump supporters that had been summoned to Washington and incited to march to the Capitol? Was there an expectation by the then president that there might be violence?

Angels as Witnesses

Going back to that adage about angels not being witnesses to criminal conspiracies – like all adages it isn’t always true. On June 28th, a 25-year-old woman, Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, looking suitably angelic, but resolute, testified to the January 6th Committee.

Like Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, in the 1939 movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” she displayed the idealism of youth and an understanding that her loyalty is to the country and the Constitution not an individual or party. In the movie, Smith does a one-man filibuster until he collapses from exhaustion to expose the corruption of one senator – not an existential threat to our constitutional republic.

I have considerable experience assessing witnesses. I found Hutchinson’s testimony to be compelling and credible. She has not yet been subject to cross examination, but I believe it would be difficult to cast doubt on her testimony.

Some have criticized Hutchinson’s testimony as primarily hearsay. The definition of what constitutes hearsay can be a little confusing. But the Federal Rules of Evidence specifically says that out-of-court statements by a “party-opponent,” such as a defendant in a criminal trial, and testified to by a another is not hearsay. Neither are statements made by an agent or employee of the party-opponent made within the scope of their employment. Nor are statements made by co-conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy.

So, when Hutchinson testified to a statement that she heard the then president say (something to the effect) “I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. … They can march to the Capitol from here.” It was not hearsay and indicated that Trump was aware the crowd was armed when he extorted them to go to the Capital and “fight like hell.”

Hutchinson also testified that Anthony Ornato, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Operations, told her that following the January 6th rally on the ellipse, Trump became irate when his Secret Service detail told him they wouldn’t take him to the Capital. Ornato said in addition to a verbal tirade, Trump reached for the steering wheel and lunged at one of the agents as though he was going to grab his throat. This also would most probably not be hearsay.

Hutchinson did not claim to have witnessed this incident, but rather that it was related to her by Ornato. Apparently, there are some anonymous people in the Secret Service who are saying Trump didn’t physically assault an agent, but that he was irate and did demand to be driven to the Capitol. This has been used to try to discredit Hutchinson’s credibility.

Stop Certification

The most important aspect of this incident is that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol to lead his supporters and to somehow stop the Congressional certification of the electoral votes. Like Julius Caesar, Trump had summoned his motley army to cross not the Rubicon but the Potomac to march on the Capitol. In Roman times, what Caesar did was treason, and he did take over the government.

Cassidy Hutchinson testified four times under oath to the January 6th Committee. By all accounts her testimony was consistent. If she were to lie, she could be charged with perjury. She isn’t promoting a book and doesn’t seem to have an interest in notoriety. Because she has breached the Trump code of loyalty, she has been castigated by Trump and his minions. After testifying the first time to the committee, Hutchinson was concerned about questions that weren’t asked and information she had that was relevant to the committee’s investigation.  She would testify three more times. The last time was televised.

The country owes her gratitude for standing up, swearing to tell the truth, and doing so. It would have been far easier for her to provide minimal information, but she chose to tell the whole truth. Many of the older, primarily males she worked with in the West Wing have chosen to not testify claiming some kind of spurious privilege.

She courageously chose to do the right thing. She characterized the insurrection on January 6th as un-American. Something was stolen on January 6th – our tradition of a peaceful transition of power. We came close to losing much more.


Why ‘Cult Leader’ Donald Trump Should Be Indicted for Insurrection

The writer, a ticklethewire.com columnist, was an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006. He has a degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law and is author of a recently released book, “FBI Case Files Michigan: Tales of a G-Man.” 

By Greg Stejskal

Last February after former President Trump was acquitted of impeachment charges for inciting an insurrection, I wrote a column making a case for criminally prosecuting him.

Since then time, a bipartisan House committee has conducted a detailed investigation regarding the U.S. Capitol insurrection a year ago last week. The Department of Justice and the FBI have charged over 700 individuals for various criminal acts while participating in efforts to block transfer of power to President Biden.

Many of those individuals went to the Capital to “stop the steal” — to stop Congress from certifying electoral votes submitted by the states. Over 100 officers were injured, the Capitol was breached and property was destroyed. Threats to hang the vice-president were voiced. That is what they believed Trump told them to do.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week on the eve of the one-year anniversary: “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)

What follows is updated and revised version of my column from last February.

Many aspects of the impeachment process are foreign to me, but during my FBI career, I investigated and helped prosecute many diverse federal crimes — though not sedition or insurrection. I wondered if the incitement of insurrection charge against former President Trump could be prosecuted criminally, and if there had been analogous prosecutions. 

In August 1969, on successive nights, seven people were murdered in Los Angeles. Five died at the home of film director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate. Polanski was out of town but Tate, who was pregnant, and four friends were brutally murdered. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBlanca were stabbed to death in their home.

Initially there was no connection made between the murders on successive nights. But the crime scenes were both horrific. The principal weapons used were knives. The scenes were very bloody and there was graffiti on the walls, written with blood, including the words “Helter Skelter.”

An apt ‘cult leader’ analogy

Ultimately the murders were linked and dubbed the Manson Family murders. Four members of the Manson Family, three women and one man, along with Manson, were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (The other male, Charles “Tex” Watson, was convicted separately.) 

Charles Manson

At trial, which lasted nine and a half months, no evidence was presented that Manson participated in the murders or ever instructed any of the defendants to murder any of the victims. (Manson stayed at the Spahn ranch, where his “family” had established a commune, during the first night of the murder spree.) Manson was a charismatic leader of the cult and preached an eclectic philosophy grounded in white supremacy and from various sources – principally from his reading of the Book of Revelations that he believed foretold the coming of the Beatles. Manson told his followers that the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” denoted acts of mayhem and violence that would bring on an apocalyptic race war. 

The murders were meant to be attributed to Blacks and precipitate the race war. The three women and Manson were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder despite there being no evidence of Manson directly ordering the violence. The prosecution contended his convincing the cult of his bizarre philosophy constituted an overt act that propelled the conspiracy.

This is obviously an imperfect analogy as to what Trump did up to and following the election, which ultimately culminated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But Trump does seem to be a cult leader, with a significantly larger cult than Manson’s.

A certain segment of his supporters has unquestioning loyalty. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., characterized it this way: “Politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

Trump, since the beginning of his re-election campaign, had preached that mail-in balloting is inherently fraudulent, and if he were to lose, it could only because the election was “rigged.”

Trump did lose the election, by about 7 million votes and 306-232 electoral votes. Despite the results, Trump claimed that he had won the election, that it had been stolen from him due to massive fraud – the “Big Lie.”

No proof of substantial election fraud has been produced by Trump or any supporters. In addition to lying, Trump has refused to denounce the white nationalist militia groups and QAnon conspiracy aficionados – conspiracies that are every bit as loony as anything Manson dreamed up. These groups were well-represented among the insurrectionists who visited so much violence on the Capitol and its defenders.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, one the House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial, summed up the cult psychology of both Trump and Manson with a quote from Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

When Trump and his surrogates called for the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, it was becoming clear that it was a last-ditch effort to delay finalization of the election. Congress would certify the states’ electoral votes that day, and Vice President Mike Pence would preside.Trump had been trying to persuade Pence to disqualify the votes from some states where voting had been close but were carried by Joe Biden. Pence had told Trump that he had no constitutional authority to disqualify electoral votes. Trump reportedly told Pence, You can either go down in history as a patriot or you can go down in history as a pussy.

Rudy Giuliani previously on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

At the rally, several speakers warmed up the crowd with bellicose language. Rudy Giuliani told the crowd: There needed to be a trial by combat. When Trump took the stage, he thanked and praised the previous speakers, specifically naming Giuliani and in effect, endorsing their message.

Trump’s speech was also bellicose, with such phrases as: “We fight like hell.” He also said: “And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

He did temper his rhetoric somewhat, saying they would march to the Capital in a peaceful and patriotic manner. He also said he would march with them. He didn’t. He went back to the White House and watched the insurrection on television. As a former reality TV star, Trump might have thought watching it on TV was the same as being there.

So, did Trump and others intend to incite an insurrection?

‘Remember this day forever!’

Trump had shown he was willing to do anything to avoid relinquishing the presidency. He knew his last chance was to stop or disrupt Congress’ certification of the electoral votes. If that could be achieved by an insurrection at the Capitol, so be it.

President Donald Trump

Probably the best indication of Trump’s intent was that after learning the Capitol had been breached and Congress members and the vice president were under siege, he made no effort to stop it. Instead, he watched the insurrection on television at the White House.

During the uprising, Trump was asked to intercede by several aides, his children, Fox News hosts and members of Congress.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump and asked the president to tell the insurrectionists to stop. Trump first replied he had no control over the mob; they were “antifa.” McCarthy said that wasn’t true; they were Trump supporters but in more graphic terms. Trump replied: “Well Kevin, I guess they must care more about the election than you do.”

Trump did nothing to quell the insurrection. Finally, after several hours Trump recorded a message to the insurrectionists which ended with Trump telling them: We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You are very special. That was followed by Trump’s tweet:

“These are the things & events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Thanks to the DOJ/FBI investigation and prosecutions many of the participants will not be able to forget that day.

The House committee inquiry continues, as does the DOJ/FBI investigation. The case will get stronger, I believe. And based on the evidence already made public, I think that incitement of an insurrection and/or conspiracy to incite an insurrection are viable, prosecutable offenses that should be pursued against Donald Trump and others.

Trump had sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.


Book Excerpt: Just Before Thanksgiving in 1987, At the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta

This is an excerpt from the book “FBI Case Files Michigan

By Greg Stejskal

This is a Christmas story, but it really began just before Thanksgiving in 1987, at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The Cuban inmates had rioted and had taken control of a sizeable portion of the penitentiary. The catalyst for the riots happened years before that in 1980.

The Mariel boatlift, a massive exodus of Cuban refugees from Cuba to the US, had among its refugees, convicted criminals. Fidel Castro had apparently thought the boatlift was an opportune time to decrease his prison over-crowding. Upon arrival in the US those Cubans who were determined to be criminals were detained and placed in US penitentiaries with no clear plan as to what to do with them in the long term.

This uncertain future led predictably to unrest and ultimately to the prison riots. When the inmates rioted and took control of part of the Atlanta Penitentiary, they also took some of the staff hostage.

The FBI was tasked with negotiating with the inmates and providing SWAT teams should it become necessary to retake control of the penitentiary by force and rescue the hostages. SWAT teams from many of the large offices were called to respond to Atlanta. Our Detroit team was one of those teams.

So, on a cold, rainy November night, an Air Force C-141, flying a circuit, landed at Detroit Metro Airport to pick up our team. Already on board were teams from Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We arrived in Atlanta early the next morning.

The Atlanta Penitentiary is a foreboding place. It was built in phases beginning in the late 1800s, into the first few decades of the 1900s. It has 60-foot walls with watch towers on each corner. Upon our arrival we climbed to the top of one of the watch towers and looked down into the prison yard. It looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movie. 

Inmates were walking around the yard, all carrying homemade weapons: long-knives, swords, etc., made from scrap metal and sharpened on some of the prison machine tools. After seeing that scene, we all assumed we were going to be in Atlanta for a while. We knew we would prevail if it came to having to use force. After all they had made the critical tactical mistake of bringing knives to a gun fight. But they had hostages and a large supply of non-perishable food in their control.

The next morning, I was walking to the Penitentiary administration building for the shift change briefing when I saw a tent where free coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts were being served. It was the Salvation Army tent. The Salvation Army was there every day of the insurrection including Thanksgiving serving coffee, donuts, smiles and kind words. I’ve been on a lot of SWAT operations, but I had never been offered coffee, donuts or kind words from the neighborhood in which we were operating. Knowing the Salvation Army was there for us, had me thinking that I owed this selfless organization a debt – a pay it forward kind of thing.

The penitentiary insurrection was resolved peacefully after about two weeks. The key factor was that no social order was developed among the inmates just anarchy. They went through several months’ food supply in days. We all went back to our respective homes.

I did not forget the Salvation Army’s generosity. I decided every holiday season for a few hours, I would volunteer to ring the bell and tend the red kettle in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Some years later, I was ringing the bell at a local supermarket with my wife. We had both donned our Santa hats and were wearing the Salvation Army issue red vests. It was snowing lightly; the Christmas lights were shining, and Christmas carols were playing on the stores PA system. We were at one door of the store greeting shoppers and collecting donations in our red kettle, when all of a sudden there was a commotion at the other door.

 A man ran out of the store. He was closely followed by two other men in white butcher smocks. The men in the smocks tackled the man in the parking lot. They were trying to hold him down, but he was struggling & screaming as they pulled several cuts of meat from under his coat. The erstwhile meat thief continued to yell, flail and kick.

I turned to my wife and said, “I should probably go help them.” I kept flex-cuffs (large heavy-duty zip-ties) in my car. I grabbed some flex-cuffs, walked over and knelt next to the struggling man.

He was facing away from me. In my “soothing,” authoritative voice, that I used for arrests and reading someone their rights, I told him, we could let him up, but he needed to let me put these cuffs on him. The man turned his head to look at me, and his eyes got very big.

I’m about 6’4” and weighed about 235 lbs. I had forgotten I was wearing a Santa hat and a big red vest. After staring at me for a few moments, he asked, “who are you?” I smiled and replied, “I’m Santa’s helper.” He immediately stopped fighting and struggling. He submissively allowed me to place the cuffs on him. The butchers and I stood him up, and he placidly waited for the police to arrive.

I have often thought there might be some profound Dickensian message to be derived from this incident. I don’t know if the meat thief was stealing prime rib for his family, sort of a protein version of Jean Valjean, or maybe he was planning to host a barbecue at a homeless enclave.

There is certainly some irony in collecting donations for the Salvation Army at one door of a grocery store, and at the same time, to have an economically disadvantaged meat thief fleeing from the other door. Maybe the message is as simple as, if you’re poor and hungry at Christmas time, there are places other than your local grocery store you can go that care, like the Salvation Army.


The Argument for Keeping J. Edgar Hoover’s Name on FBI HQ

By Greg Stejskal

The so called “cancel culture” movement has championed efforts to remove statues and the names of certain historical figures from public areas and buildings.

J. Edgar Hoover

I have never understood why military bases and schools are named for Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States to maintain the institution of slavery. I don’t think anyone ever proposed naming anything for Benedict Arnold.

But the movement has gone beyond Confederate generals. There is apparently strong support, including on Capitol Hill,  for removing J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Some of Hoover’s actions during his 48 years as director of the FBI are difficult to defend. It brings to mind, Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The good that Hoover did was not interred with his bones. Upon his death in 1972, he lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, an unprecedented honor for a civil servant. When the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue was finally built in 1975, it was named for him.

From the time Hoover became director of the FBI in 1924, he built it into arguably the best investigative agency in the world. Hoover embraced forensic/scientific crime-fighting tools and established the FBI laboratory. He championed a national fingerprint repository and matched with the fingerprints, a repository of criminal records. This would become the National Crime Information Center.

The FBI developed a reputation for professionalism and incorruptibility that has seldom been breached. That incorruptibility was demonstrated in 1925, soon after Hoover became director, when he committed the bureau to investigate the Osage Indian murders in Oklahoma. The murders involved a conspiracy of community leaders, local and state officials, and the collusion of law enforcement. (The story is well-told in David Gann’s 2017 book, Killers of the Flower Moon.) Using undercover agents, the FBI identified and prosecuted many of those involved the conspiracy.

During Hoover’s tenure he directed the bureau to do some extralegal activities. Many of these initiatives were done at the request of various presidents under whom he served. Prior to World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Hoover to have the FBI monitor the activities of various isolationists, some of whom were German sympathizers, including Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin.

Hoover complied with the monitoring request. But when President Roosevelt was contemplating the detention of Japanese Americans, Hoover voiced his opposition to the detention, saying he did not believe they posed a threat to national security.

The author, Greg Stejskal

But the good that Hoover did seems to be largely forgotten or overshadowed by the bad acts that were committed by the bureau at his direction. Those bad acts principally involve the Counter Intelligence Program. COINTELPRO began in the mid-1950s by surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting the American Communist Party that acted as a surrogate of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin referred to American communists as “useful idiots.”

This was in the midst of the Cold War. To say that Hoover had an obsession regarding the threat of communism and the Soviet Union would be an understatement.

Hoover was privy to the Venona project, a secret counterintelligence operation begun by crypto analysts in the Army Signal Corps (forerunner of the National Security Agency) during WWII and for several years, thereafter. The analysts were able to decipher some of encrypted telegraph traffic between the Soviet embassy in the US and Moscow.

These communications revealed that Soviet intelligence officers operating in the U.S, had recruited numerous communists and communist sympathizers as spies or coopetes, people willing to help the Soviet Union.

It was the Venona that revealed that the Soviet Union had infiltrated the Manhattan Project which helped produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

Investigation by the FBI and British intelligence led to the identification of British physicist, Klaus Fuchs and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as spies. (Information from the Venona intercepts was never revealed at the Rosenberg trial.) The decrypted messages also indicated that a significant number of Americans in the government, entertainment and scientific research had been recruited by the Soviets.

Many of these recruits were never identified. Some were only identified after the fall of the Soviet Union. The existence of Venona and the deciphered messages was not declassified and revealed until the 1990s.

Monitoring Civil Rights Movement

Hoover and others involved in counterintelligence were understandably concerned about the possibility of Soviet influence in the media, entertainment and some political movements.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI began to target some organizations within the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements that were believed to be influenced or controlled by the Soviet Union. There were people in leadership in these groups that were avowed communists. (Ironically, some of techniques that were used by the FBI were learned and honed successfully combating the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s ideology was more akin to the Nazis than the communists. In fact, the Klan was vehemently anti-communist.)

These targeted groups and leaders were monitored with electronic surveillance, wiretaps and hidden microphones. Robert Kennedy, attorney general from 1961-64, authorized electronic surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. and other principals in the civil rights movement ostensibly because of the possibility of Soviet influence. President John Kennedy was also aware of the bugging.

None of this justifies some of the egregious acts by the FBI at the direction of Hoover like threats of blackmail, false stories planted in the media, “black bag jobs” (burglaries). It does put COINTELPRO activity in context. There were national security concerns that at least in part explain why the groups were targeted, although the threat of Soviet influence in hindsight was exaggerated.

For all the good that Hoover did it’s hard to get past the bad things that were done to disrupt and discredit the civil rights movement, and specifically Martin Luther King Jr.  He’s been characterized by critics as racist, a trait that can’t be condoned by anyone.  

But COINTELPRO should not be Hoover’s legacy, nor should it be forgotten. His legacy should be the FBI – its successes, failures and transgressions.

Maybe we shouldn’t name anything for anyone. After all,  It’s said that not even the saints were saints.


The Case For Prosecutors Going After Trump

By Greg Stejskal

Last Saturday Former President Donald Trump was acquitted on one article of impeachment charging him with inciting an insurrection.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is capitol-Alex-Gakos-Shutterstock.com_.jpg
Alex Gakos/Shutterstock.com

Many aspects of the impeachment process are foreign to me, but during my career as an FBI agent, I was mostly involved with investigating and prosecuting federal crimes. I wondered if the incitement of an insurrection charge against former President Trump could be prosecuted criminally, and if there had been analogous prosecutions.

In August 1969, on successive nights, seven people were murdered in Los Angeles. Five people were killed at the home of film director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate. Polanski was out of town but Tate, who was pregnant, and four friends were brutally murdered. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBlanca were stabbed to death.

There did not seem to be any connection between the victims. But the crime scenes were both horrific. The principal weapons used were knives. The scenes were very bloody and there was graffiti on the walls, made with blood, including the words “Helter Skelter.”

We know these events today as the Manson Family murders. Four members of the group, three women and one man, along with Manson, were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. 

At trial, which lasted nine and a half months, no evidence was presented that Manson participated in the murders or ever instructed any of the defendants to murder any of the victims. (Manson stayed at the Spahn ranch, where the family lived, during the first night of the murder spree.) Manson was a charismatic leader of the cult and preached an eclectic philosophy grounded in white supremacy and from various sources – principally from his reading of the Book of Revelations that he believed foretold the coming of the Beatles. Manson told his followers that the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” denoted acts of mayhem and violence that would bring on an apocalyptic race war. 

The murders were meant to be attributed to Blacks and precipitate the race war. The three women and Manson were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder despite Manson never directly ordering the violence. The prosecution contended his convincing the cult of his bizarre philosophy constituted an overt act that propelled the conspiracy.

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This is obviously an imperfect analogy as to what Trump did up to and following the election, which ultimately culminated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But Trump does seem to be a cult leader, with a significantly larger cult than Manson’s.

A certain segment of his supporters has unquestioning loyalty to him. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, characterized it this way: “Politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

Trump, since the beginning of his campaign, has preached that mail-in balloting is inherently fraudulent, and if he were to lose, it could only because the election was “rigged.”

Trump did lose the election, by about 7 million votes and a 306-232 electoral votes. Despite the results, Trump claimed that he had won the election, that it had been stolen from him due to massive fraud – the “Big Lie.”

No proof of substantial fraud has been produced by Trump or any of his supporters. In addition to lying, Trump has refused to denounce the white nationalist militia groups and QAnon conspiracy aficionados – conspiracies that are every bit as loony as anything Manson dreamed up. These groups were well represented among the insurrectionists who visited so much violence on the Capitol and its defenders.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, one the House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial, summed up the cult psychology of both Trump and Manson with a quote from Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

‘Trial by combat’

When Trump and his surrogates called for the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, it was becoming clear that it was a last-ditch effort to delay finalization of the election. Congress would certify the states’ electoral votes that day, and Vice President Mike Pence would preside. Trump had been trying to persuade Pence to disqualify the votes from some states where voting had been close but were carried by Joe Biden. Pence had told Trump that he had no constitutional authority to disqualify electoral votes. Trump reportedly told Pence he was being a “pussy.”

At the rally, several speakers warmed up the crowd with bellicose language. Rudy Giuliani told the crowd: “There needed to be a trial by combat.” When Trump took the stage, he thanked and praised the previous speakers, specifically naming Giuliani and in effect, endorsing their message.

Trump’s speech was also bellicose, with phrases like “fight like hell” and not being “weak if you want to take back your country.” He did temper his rhetoric somewhat, saying they would march to Capital in a “peaceful” and “patriotic” manner. He also said he would march with them. He didn’t. He went back to the White House and watched the insurrection on television. As a former reality TV star, Trump might have thought watching it on TV was the same as being there.

So, did Trump and his surrogates intend to incite an insurrection at the Capitol?

No limit to presidential actions

Trump had shown he was willing to do anything to avoid relinquishing the presidency. He knew his last chance was to stop or disrupt Congress’ certification of the electoral votes. If that could be achieved by an insurrection at the Capitol, so be it. Probably the best indication of Trump’s intent was that, after learning the Capitol had been breached and senators, members of the House and the vice president were under siege, he made no effort to stop it.

During the insurrection, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump and asked the president to tell the insurrectionists to stop. Trump first replied he had no control over the mob; they were “antifa.” McCarthy said that wasn’t true; they were Trump supporters. Trump replied: “Well Kevin, I guess they must care more about the election than you do.”

If a criminal prosecution of Trump and others were contemplated, much more investigation would be needed — unlike the impeachment trial, witnesses would be necessary. Some investigation is currently being done by the FBI, and the House managers have produced a comprehensive timeline documented with video and audio recordings. I think incitement of an insurrection, conspiracy, aiding and abetting are all viable prosecutable offenses that should be pursued.

Trump has sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.


Trump and the Anatomy of a Con

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska Lincoln Law School.

By Greg Stejeskal

During my time in the FBI, I investigated several frauds involving cons or grifts of varying sophistication. One relatively savvy con artist told me the first step is to convince yourself the scam is true. It is easier to sell if on some level you believe it’s real. (I’m guessing it’s easier to convince yourself if you are narcissist.)

The Set Up

President Trump has some history of running cons like Trump University, his former charitable foundation, etc. In effect his whole attack on the presidential election has been a con. Since the beginning of his campaign for reelection, Trump has said the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged.

President Donald Trump

He elaborated that absentee ballots were inherently fraudulent, although significant fraud hasn’t occuyrred in states where they’re used regularly.

Covid made mail and dropoff voting options prevalent in most states, endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats. But they was embraced more by the Democrats than Republicans at least in part because of Trump’s attacks.

I don’t know if Trump convinced himself that the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged, but he did manage to convince millions of his supporters. Part of the con was that Trump was predictably ahead early in the counting on election day. This was because more Republicans voted in person at the polls than Democrats who used mail balloting. Another factor was that many Republican-controlled legislatures prohibit absentee ballots from being validated or processed until Election Day. That means they’re not counted until well after in-person ballots are tabulated.

As the counting continued into the next few days, it became clear that Trump was losing. Trump even called for the counting to stop in the early morning hours after Election Day. Despite rigorous oversight by both parties and no credible evidence of widespread fraud, Trump railed that there were numerous incidents of shenanigans, but never produced any credible evidence.

Ultimately all the counting was finished, and Joe Biden was declared the winner. By Trump’s own standard it was a landslide, 306-232 electoral votes. Trump’s appointed Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray reported there was no evidence of significant fraud that would have affected the outcome.

Greg Stejskal

The director of cybersecurity, Christopher Krebs, also a Trump appointee said it was a clean election with no evidence of cyber interference or fraud. (Because Krebs contradicted Trump’s claims, the president fired him. Trump also criticized Barr, leading to his resignation effective next Wednesday.)There is some speculation that Trump is challenging the results at least partly as a fund-raising scheme. Donations are solicited to pay for legal expenses and supporters have given over $200 million so far. Little of the money raised is going for legal challenges to the election. It is going into a “campaign fund” that’s use is indeterminate – a slush fund.

This seems reminiscent of Mel Brooks’ movie and musical, “The Producers,” where Broadway producer Max Blalystock and his accountant figure out that they can make more money on a failed play than a successful one. The intended flop is titled “Springtime for Hitler.” Apparently, Trump has figured out a way to make money on a failed campaign, “Springtime for Trump.”

But Trump’s challenge to the result and refusal to concede his defeat has far more dire consequences. His millions of fervent supporters believe his baseless claims of election fraud and that the election was stolen from him.

This is further exacerbated by many in the leadership of the Republican Party enabling Trump’s con to continue by supporting his claims and over 50 failed legal challenges.

Court challenges reached a crescendo with a lawsuit filed at the U.S. Supreme Court by the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, backed by 17 other Republican attorneys general and 126 Republican members of the House of Representatives. The lawsuit challenged the election procedures of four states — Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania nd Wisconsin and asked the court to nullify about 20 million votes. The Supreme Court summarily rejected the suit in a one-page order.

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A recent book, “Lincoln On The Verge by Ted Widmer, follows Lincoln’s circuitous 13-day train trip from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration on March 4, 1861. (The Constitution prescribed that inauguration date until it was changed to Jan. 20 by the 20th Amendment in 1933.) I was struck by some of the similarities between that presidential transition and our present one.

Lincoln won with a plurality of only about 40 percent of the vote, but got a majority of electoral votes. The Democratic Party had split into Southern and Northern factions. Stephen Douglas was the Northern candidate and John Breckinridge; the sitting vice president, was the Southern candidate. Southern Democrats vilified Lincoln and when he won, some of states began to secede, starting with South Carolina.

This time, after the Supreme Court on Dec. 11 rejected the Texas suit brought on Trump’s behalf, some of the Texas Republican leadership suggested: “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” That implies secession, an act of insurrection and this statement has been characterized as seditious. (Sedition is the inciting of an insurrectionary movement tending towards treason.)

Final Act in Election Drama 

Last Monday, Electoral College members in each state and cast 306 votes for Biden and 232 for Trump. That will be formally accepted by Congress on Jan. 6 unless challenged by at least one House member of the House and one senator.

A movement is afoot by some Republican members of the House to interfere with Congress’ formal acceptance by objecting to some states’ electoral votes. Vice President Mike Pence will preside. This would probably be a futile effort, and certainly foment more discord and disunity.

When Lincoln made his first inaugural address, he closed with the following:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over the broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, where again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

It was not to be.

Despite Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen, he’s the one who’s trying to steal the election by any means from a duly elected Joe Biden. Maybe Trump will come to realize, like the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas, that despite all his efforts to overturn the election, the inauguration of new president will come just as Christmas will.


This November Keep in Mind Who Trump Has Chosen to Punish and Reward

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006.

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

Last week two peoples’ lives changed dramatically. One avoided jail. The other’s military career ended prematurely.

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One’s a hero, the other isn’t.

On Friday evening, the White House announced that President Trump had commuted Roger Stone’s 40-month prison term. Stone, a longtime friend of Trump and a self-described “dirty trickster,” had made no secret of his desire to receive a pardon or clemency from the president. He made it known that he had remained “loyal” to the president. Actually, he had gone beyond loyalty and committed perjury by lying to Congress and threatening a potential witness.

The subject of his lies was his knowledge of Wikileaks’ possession and ultimate distribution of emails that a Russian intelligence agency had hacked from the Democratic National Committee. He had acted as a go-between for the Trump campaign with Wikileaks. Stone refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, ostensibly to protect the president.

He was charged with seven counts, including perjury, obstruction of Congress and witness tampering. He was convicted by a jury on all seven counts and sentenced to 40 months in prison.

At his sentencing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Stone “was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president, he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”

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