Opinions and Legal Insights

Whitmer Lashes Out At Barr Over Kidnapping Plot Despite The FBI Uncovering The Plot And The DOJ Prosecuting The Plotters

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was the target this month of a plot of extremists to kidnap her and storm the state capitol.  After the arrests of the primary suspects, Whitmer lashed about at President Donald Trump for failing to condemn right wing violence. That is certainly a common criticism. However, Whitmer also attacked Attorney General Bill Barr and suggested that he knew about the plot.  It was a curious attack since the FBI uncovered the plot and the DOJ is prosecuting the plot. There is no indication that the DOJ was delaying action. To the contrary, it acted to thwart the plot and protect Whitmer.  The other question is why would Barr lie about his knowledge?  To what logical end? He was not asked about any threats but specifically if he knew about signs and statements made a protest in Lansing, Michigan in June — a protest that was under state, not federal, jurisdiction.

On October 6, 2020, Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were arrested by the FBI on the charge that they conspired to kidnap the Governor from her vacation home in the Western District of Michigan.  The plot was uncovered by a FBI undercover agent. A total of 13 individuals have now been arrested by the FBI.  It is a reminder of the threat posed by extreme right-wing groups in this country. Such right-wing attacks still account for a largely majority of such violent attacks, as discussed in my testimony in the Senate.  The FBI has made right-wing extremism a priority for investigation and prosecution for years.

Notably, this was a mixed group of right-wing extremists and at least one anarchist who hated Donald Trump.

What confused me was the Barr statement. Yesterday on CNN, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel cited Barr’s testimony to Congress in July and suggested that he committed perjury in denying knowledge of threats during the June protests in the state Capitol against Whitmer.  I am familiar with that exchange because I criticized the questioning by Rep. Pramila Jayapal and her colleagues. The Democratic members would ask questions and then prevent Barr from answering by immediately reclaiming their time.  This is the exchange:

Barr was specifically asked about the protest that had just occurred in Lansing, Michigan. That was a protest handled by state authorities under state law. He had no role in the protest nor did the federal government. Barr tried to say that this was the same period when he was focused on violent protests around the White House and was not involved with the state protests in Michigan. Jayapal however would not let him explain. Any reasonable person would balk at this one-sided diatribe as the basis for charging that the Attorney General is a felon and perjurer.

What was also curious about Jayapal’s statement was that she was chiding Barr for not being involved in a state protest when she and others criticized the intervention of the federal government in other protests in cities like Portland.  In Portland, the federal government was protecting a federal courthouse from arson and rioting.  In Lansing, there was no federal involvement or interest.  Moreover, she denounced all of the protesters for ignoring stay at home orders while Jayapal has supported and participated in even larger BLM protests.

What did fall under federal jurisdiction was any actual plot for violent acts against Whitmer or others.  That was what the DOJ discovered and stopped.

It is entirely possible that Barr was unaware of specific signs and statements cited by Jayapal by protesters in a protest in Lansing, Michigan. He may or may not have been aware of this investigation, though he clearly would not discuss such an undercover operation.  Yet, that was not the question. The question concerned statements and signs at that particular protest and Barr was saying that he did not have authority or involvement in such a state protest in Michigan. I would assume that Barr was made aware at some time of the undercover operation. Indeed, during this same period, Barr and FBI Director Wray were publicly discussing the targeting of right-wing extremist groups and they both acknowledged the involvement of such groups in violent protests.

Moreover, the arrests show that, under Barr, the crackdown on right-wing groups has continued and that the DOJ and FBI acted to protect Whitmer. Barr has denounced the plot against Whitmer as “abhorrent.”

Under federal law, each of original six arrestees face terms up to life in prison, if convicted.

I realize that everything in politics today must be a deep conspiracy on the left or right.  It is not enough to disagree with one another. We must now declare the opposing party a criminal. In this case, Whitmer is denounced an Attorney General whose department just uncovered a plot and protected her from harm.