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Link to congressman investigating Jan. 6 prompts jury concerns

The jury will hear charges against four members of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group accused of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A prospective juror’s ties to a congressman who is investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack prompted concern Thursday from the defense team for four people charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with last year’s insurrection.

The prospective juror said Rep. Jamie Raskin was his constitutional law professor while he attended law school at American University in Washington. Raskin, Maryland Democrat, serves on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, asked about the extent of his connection to the lawmaker. The man is being considered to serve on a jury in which four members of the far-right Oath Keepers group are accused of trying to overthrow the U.S. government to keep Donald Trump in power after Joe Biden defeated him in the 2020 presidential election.

The potential jurist said he has since graduated with his law degree and that he sent a condolence card to Raskin after his son died by suicide just days before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. But they otherwise have not had any interaction since, he said.

Despite the law school connection, the man said he did not watch any of the publicly televised House Select Committee Jan. 6 hearings featuring his former professor over the last couple of months.

“I have not watched the actual hearings,” he said, “or read any transcripts.”

Defense attorneys then questioned the man extensively about his legal work post-graduation. He described having experience in complex federal litigation involving patent and mortgage security case law.

Asked if he did any trial court work, the man said he was never actually physically in a courtroom for any of the cases he worked on because he was tasked with the legal paperwork.

After confirming he has never given jury instructions, the defense team appeared content with his answers and did not object to his qualification.

The man was among 42 jurors qualified this week, which Mehta said was the “magic number” he needed to reach before attorneys can use their pre-emptory strikes.

Jury selection is expected to resume Friday. The judge said he aims to have a 16-person jury empaneled, with four alternates, before the weekend so the panel can hear opening arguments on Monday.

Prospective jurors faced questions over the last three days about the extent of their knowledge surrounding the insurrection and whether they had heard of any of the defendants.

One woman who described Jan. 6 as a “remarkably violent” day on Wednesday received pushback from the defense team. And a man who said he saw an advertisement on YouTube regarding a verdict for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was allowed to stay despite objection from the defense on Tuesday.

The four individuals fighting seditious conspiracy charges in this trial — Edward VallejoRoberto MinutaDavid Moerschel and Joseph Hackett — were part of a group of 11, including Rhodes, who were indicted in January.

Only Rhodes and one other were convicted at the first trial of the top count. Three others from that trial, which lasted about eight weeks, were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but found guilty of other charges.

The final two defendants from the group of 11 — Joshua James and Brian Ulrich — avoided trial by pleading guilty to seditious conspiracy a few months ago.

And a former chapter leader of the Oath Keepers, William Todd Wilson, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in May, one day after the Justice Department unsealed court documents accusing him of conspiring with Rhodes and others to halt the lawful transfer of power on Jan. 6.  

In less than two weeks, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, will preside over a third seditious conspiracy trial at the Washington federal courthouse. Five members of another right-wing group, the Proud Boys, are set to go to trial on Dec. 19.

That same week, the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection is expected to release its final report following a series of public hearings this year.

To date, the government has charged approximately 900 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Dec. 6, about 355 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and about 115 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 185 people have been sentenced to prison time.

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