Is Sidney Powell Secretly Funding the Oath Keepers’ Lawyers? The Feds Want to Know.

is sidney powell secretly funding the oath keepers’ lawyers? the feds want to know.
© Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters

Federal prosecutors in the nation’s capital are trying to drag several lawyers representing indicted Oath Keepers before a judge to make them explain how exactly they’re getting paid, citing a concern that conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell is actually covering the legal tab.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice asked a federal judge to intervene to ensure that members of the armed, anti-government paramilitary group have “competent and conflict-free” attorneys.

They cited recent reports in Mother Jones and BuzzFeed News that laid out how Powell’s political group, Defending the Republic, has quietly funded several defense lawyers.

While the DOJ’s move may seem odd, it behooves prosecutors to have Oath Keepers adequately defended so that any eventual criminal trial is free from accusations of an unfair fight.

More than a dozen members of the MAGA-loyal militia face the extremely rare and serious criminal charge of seditious conspiracy for taking part in the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, when they took part in storming the Capitol building—and kept stashes of firearms and military gear at the ready just outside the District of Columbia.

In their five-page court filing, prosecutors warned that Powell’s secret funding campaign might violate the region’s legal ethics rules, which prohibit lawyers from getting paid by someone other than their client if the agreement causes “interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment.”

The letter, which covers a whopping 17 defendants involved in three different criminal cases, listed five prosecutors from the District of Columbia’s local U.S. Attorney’s Office and two additional lawyers from the DOJ’s National Security Division.

In a separate letter prosecutors sent directly to these defense attorneys last week, they suggested having an outside entity bankroll the defense presented a conflict of interest, because a stronger defense could make these accused insurrectionists less likely drop their fight early and strike a plea deal—a gamble that could ultimately land each person more time in prison, if convicted.

“This fact could be against the interest of a particular defendant,” prosecutors wrote in a footnote.

Prosecutors revealed that they questioned all the defense attorneys about the financing arrangement, but only some of them assured that they weren’t being funded by Powell. Others either dodged the question or didn’t respond at all.

According to prosecutors, two attorneys who represent the farming couple Kelly and Connie Meggs, as well as another lawyer who represents Florida man Kenneth Harrelson, told the government they weren’t breaking the rules—but wouldn’t say how they’re getting paid. Meanwhile, they got no response at all from the lawyers who separately represent the eyepatch-sporting Oath Keepers leader from Texas, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, and Ohio bartender Jessica Watkins.

Prosecutors also got a cryptic response from another lawyer who seemed to suggest that Powell’s group is paying for the defense of Roberto Minuta, who owns a tattoo shop in a small Hudson River city just north of New York City.

“Should Judge Mehta wish for my client or me to explain the arrangement for funding my client’s legal defense in order to confirm that my client’s Sixth Amendment right to conflict free counsel are being afforded—or waived—we will provide him with whatever information he requests,” Hawaii-based defense lawyer William Shipley wrote to prosecutors.

None of these lawyers responded to several requests for comment from The Daily Beast on Wednesday.

But one attorney who previously represented Rhodes and other members of rightwing organizations now being targeted by the DOJ—and struck an arrangement to get paid by Defending the Republic—told The Daily Beast that Powell’s group is doing itself a disservice by operating with secrecy.

“If a rabbit runs away, a dog will chase them. I think it’s a bad idea to be super secretive,” said Jonathan Moseley.

He went further, singling out the top prosecutor in the District of Columbia and defending Powell’s group as nothing more than a GoFundMe alternative that’s providing much-needed resources to people targeted by the U.S. government.

“Matthew Graves is seriously unethical. I think it’s intimidating to defendants. It’s intended to win by starving the defendants of legal representation, rather than on the merits of the prosecution,” he said. “No one should lose their rights because they can’t afford a lawyer.”

That’s something of a false dichotomy. In the United States, people charged with crimes always have the option of being represented by a taxpayer-funded public defender—a right enshrined in the Constitution. But some members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys street gang and the militant Oath Keepers have chafed at the idea of being defended by a state-provided attorney while simultaneously being prosecuted by that same government. Hence, the many pleas for donations. For example, former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio raised more than $81,000 on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo.

Moseley detailed some of those concerns in a court filing last year when he was still representing Zachary Rehl, the leader of the Proud Boys’ chapter in Philadelphia. In that filing, Moseley explained the method by which attorneys seem to be getting funding from Powell’s group.

“Counsel formally applied for financial assistance and coverage for Zachary Rehl’s legal fees and expenses from Defending the Republic on December 2, 2021, after weeks of discussing the availability of such assistance with DTR and Zachary Rhel through his wife,” he wrote then, explaining how Powell’s group eventually “approved Zachary Rehl for financial assistance (donations) to cover his legal fees and expenses through trial in May to June 2022.”

The plan didn’t work out, though, as Rehl eventually went with a court-appointed attorney anyway.

Powell did not respond to requests for comment. However, The Daily Beast reached a Texas attorney at Defending the Republic, Travis Wilson Miller, by phone. When this reporter identified himself, the line went dead. Pressed for an explanation, Miller later texted back “bad service” and requested all questions in writing—but did not answer any of them.

Powell launched two versions of Defending the Republic registered in Dallas, Texas: a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization and a Political Action Committee. The nonprofit’s website lists among its causes “election fraud,” “fighting lawfare,” and “defending Jan 6ers.”

On her group’s website, Powell writes that “those who actually broke into the Capitol, who destroyed property or stole property, who attacked an officer, should be held accountable.” But she also positions that alongside disproven conspiracy theories about the insurrection being “a ‘false flag’ operation created by someone on the left” and decrying the treatment of people “jailed for whatever the government says they did at the Capitol.”

Her nonprofit has also become a vehicle for all kinds of rightwing lightning rod issues.

Earlier this month, Defending the Republic sued the Food and Drug Administration demanding that the government agency quickly turn over records reflecting the way it approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The lawsuit is chock full of ominous sounding anti-vax points about the “glaring issues in the approval process.” The complaint was electronically signed by Miller, Powell, and Texas attorney Robert H. Holmes.

Meanwhile, Federal Election Records show that Powell’s similarly named PAC was used to bankroll the infamous Cyber Ninjas for their so-called election audit in Arizona, a misadventure that perpetuated unproven claims of election fraud and ended when the group concluded that now-President Joe Biden did, in fact, beat former President Donald Trump fair and square. According to FEC records, the PAC paid the Florida computer technicians $14,995 in September last year.

The matter of ensuring that Oath Keepers who are taking money from Powell’s group are aware of that potential conflict is currently before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta. Prosecutors have asked him to hold “on the record” meetings in his chambers with each defense lawyer to have them explain the financial arrangements—and if their clients understand the implications.

Mehta could rule on the prosecutors’ motion in the coming days or weeks.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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