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Defense for Oath Keepers seizes on tip to FBI ahead of Jan. 6

Instead of sending the tip to field agents for further action, the FBI purportedly filed it away for future reference.

WASHINGTON (CN) — An FBI source faced cross-examination Tuesday about the bureau's handling of a tip it got less than two months before the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot regarding the Oath Keepers, an extremist right-wing group whose members are charged with seditious conspiracy.

“The FBI gets thousands of tips a day,” FBI Special Agent Byron Cody testified, insisting that the information was not ignored but rather “filed away for future reference, possibly.”­­­

Juli Haller, a defense attorney for an indicted member of the Oath Keepers, seized on the tip to reframe evidence that the prosecution laid out a week earlier in opening arguments about how the group reacted after it was clear that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden had defeated his Republican opponent Donald Trump in the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election.

Stewart Rhodes at the time was warning members of his group, the Oath Keepers, to prepare for a civil war and told them about how Slobodan Milosevic's government was overthrown in 2000 after a dispute over the former Yugoslav leader's reelection.

The tip that Cody said the FBI received on Nov. 25, 2020, included a recording of Rhodes speaking to other Oath Keepers on Nov. 9, 2020, via remote-conferencing software called GoToMeeting, exhorting his militia to follow the template of the Serbian revolutionaries who stormed parliament some 20 years earlier.

While the Nov. 25 tip came about six weeks before Oath Keepers and other armed Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an alleged attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, Agent Cody testified Tuesday that the bureau received a similar tip in March 2021.

Agent Cody confirmed that both tips were sent by Abdulla Rasheed, who testified last week for the government at Rhodes' trial. On cross-examination, the defense questioned Rasheed about his child sex crime conviction and why he has changed his name at least seven times since 2007.

The defense questioned Cody about whether he considered at the time of the second tip in March 2021 that the bureau had “missed” or “ignored” the November 2020 tip.

Cody denied that characterization, insisting that the tip was “filed away for future reference, possibly,” not ignored­­­.

Haller pressed the agent further, asking if he has specific knowledge of the November tip being filed away. Cody said he believes it is the bureau’s general practice to do so, but the defense attorney said she did not want a general answer. She asked the agent if there is any place on the FBI’s record of the tip reflecting that it was to be filed away for “future” needs.

Cody again reiterated that he believes it is the “normal practice” that tips are “all filed away.” It is “clear it was not sent out to the field for further action," the agent added.

Haller represents Kelly Meggs, 53, who is one of four associates of the Oath Keepers charged alongside their 57-year-old founder, Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas. The defendants are accused of orchestrating last year’s insurrection as part of a plan to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.”

Rhodes did not physically enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6, but prosecutors say he spent months planning the assault, recruiting members and stocking up on weapons. Five people died in the attack, which caused a one-day delay of the ceremony wherein Congress certified the 2020 election results.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the trial, which is expected to resume Wednesday and may last another four weeks.

Standing trial with Rhodes and Meggs in the Washington federal courthouse are Thomas Caldwell, 68; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, and Jessica Watkins, 40. 

A seditious conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It requires prosecutors to prove to the jury that the accused Oath Keepers had an actual agreement to "overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force" the U.S. government.  

The Justice Department so far has charged more than 880 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Oct. 6, about 313 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, about 99 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 152 people have been sentenced to a period of incarceration.

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