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New Lawyer for Oath Keepers Leader Stewart Rhodes Says Jan. 6 Trial Defense Will Be ‘Like a Little League Team Facing the New York Yankees,’ Seeks Special Master and Delay

'Oath Keepers' leader Stewart Rhodes appears in a Collin County, Texas jail mugshot.

‘Oath Keepers’ leader Stewart Rhodes appears in a Collin County, Texas jail mugshot.

Update—Sept. 13, 2022 at 6:04 p.m.: Hours after the publication of this story, a judge issued a minute order curtly denying Stewart Rhodes’s requests to delay his trial and appoint a special master. The original story is below.

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers extremist group, has again asked a federal judge to delay his trial on seditious conspiracy charges in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Rhodes and his co-defendants are alleged to have worked together to compile a cache of weapons at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, and have readied a “Quick Reaction Force” to essentially be on standby in order to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win over Donald Trump. That certification is held on Jan. 6 and has traditionally been a hallmark of the peaceful transition of power of U.S. leadership.

Oath Keepers arrests began in January of 2021, but some of those defendants were spun off into a separate case when Rhodes was indicted on seditious conspiracy charges in January of 2022. Eleven Oath Keepers defendants are now charged with seditious conspiracy, and due to limitations on space and safety concerns, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta assigned two trial dates. The first group of the seditious conspiracy defendants, including Rhodes and those who prosecutors have described as some of his top lieutenants and aides, is set to start trial on Sept. 27. The second group has a trial scheduled for November.

Mehta, who granted a trial continuance in May, has repeatedly refused to delay trial a second time. During a hearing last week, he denied a request from Rhodes himself, who asked for a continuance in light of his request to drop attorneys Philip Linder and James Lee Bright, who have represented Rhodes since he was indicted, and substitute Edward Tarpley as his lawyer.

Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, denied that motion — calling it an “eleventh hour request” that was “complete and utter nonsense” — although he did allow for Tarpley to join the case despite apparent acrimony between Bright and Tarpley.

Tarpley, apparently, has wasted little time moving forward with his strategy for Rhodes’ case, which includes yet another request to delay his client’s trial.

He complains that Rhodes’ case is being “fast-tracked to a trial scheduled to begin on September 26, in just two weeks,” although it’s worth noting that the September trial date was determined in May, and all but one of his co-defendants, Edward Vallejo, had been indicted in 2021.

“This is the most massively complicated case in American history, with the shortest amount of time allowed for trial preparation,” the motion continues. “And Rhodes and other codefendants are facing potential life in federal prison if convicted. The largest and most complex case in history is being allotted the shortest time to prepare. And Rhodes and codefendants are being deprived of the tools necessary to defend themselves.”

Tarpley says that federal prosecutors have an “advantage” over Rhodes and his co-defendants, using a baseball metaphor to make his point.

“The government’s advantage in this case could not be greater,” Tarpley says in the motion. “This trial scheduled to start on September 26 will be like a little league team facing the New York Yankees.”

Tarpley also requested a special master to “administer digital discovery” in the case.

“Upon information and belief, this set of cases stemming from the protests on January 6, 2021 constitute the most massive and complex set of cases in the history of the federal courts,” Tarpley’s motion says. “Discovery in these cases is in the range of 50 to 100 terabytes of data; with each defendant dealing with 3 to 5 terabytes of discovery directly material to him.”

Rhodes’ attorney said that the sheer volume of discovery justifies the appointment of a special master.

“Discovery in this case is more massive than the discovery in many cases where courts have appointed special masters to help manage discovery,” Tarpley said, citing the prosecution of men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and “the Bundy prosecutions in the U.S. District of Nevada,” presumably a reference to the 2014 standoff — to which Rhodes has himself been linked — between antigovernment militiamen and federal officials.

Tarpley also brings up the indictment of Oath Keepers lawyer Kellye SoRelle, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with Jan. 6. Tarpley describes SoRelle as a witness who can “testify regarding her advice, observations, and communications with Rhodes and the Oathkeepers organization.”

Tarpley also describes her testimony before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack as “exculpatory evidence[] and Brady material,” saying that “to withhold it or decline to give Rhodes adequate time to obtain it would be error of an extreme magnitude.”

It’s unclear how SoRelle’s indictment would preclude her from testifying on Rhodes’ behalf at trial, and prosecutors have previously indicated that it wouldn’t. Moreover, Mehta has repeatedly said that he does not have the power to compel Congress to provide transcripts from the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation.

While Tarpley’s filing contains several rhetorical flourishes describing the high stakes of his client’s trial, it does not contain references to legal authority or case law.

Tarpley also filed two other motions on Monday: a request to suppress the recording of a November 2020 GoToMeeting call, and a motion to either sever Rhodes from his co-defendants or move him to the November trial group. He also filed three joinder requests on Monday to add himself to pretrial motions filed by his co-defendants.

Bright confirmed to Law&Crime on Tuesday that Tarpley is not the lead attorney on the case, but since Mehta allowed him to join, he is free to file his own motions.

“Mr. Linder and I will continue to pursue the trial strategy that we have worked on and developed over the past eight months,” Bright said.

At that hearing, Mehta also denied Rhodes’ request to continue his trial, which is currently set to start on Sept. 27. He is currently in the first trial group of Oath Keepers defendants charged with seditious conspiracy. The second group is set to go to trial in November, while another group of Oath Keepers members not facing the seditious conspiracy charge are set to go to trial in February.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment, although department policy is not to publicly comment on cases generally.

A status conference in the case is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Read Rhodes’ special master and continuance request, below.

[Image via Collin County, Texas jail.]

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