Even defendants who harbor hopes of clemency cling to false hope. Most of their cases will likely be resolved in court well before the 2024 presidential election. This week alone, following Trump’s comments, seven people reached guilty plea agreements.
“What we’ve learned from the past year is that my clients, other than their families and their lawyers who represent them, is that no help is coming,” Joe McBride, a lawyer representing five riot defendants, including those in jail, told CNN.
“It’s us, and we’re going to have to make do with what we have,” he added.
“If it requires pardons, we will grant them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly,” Trump said at a rally in Texas over the weekend.
Trump made similar promises when he was still president – with some January 6 rioters jailed for the 14 days at the end of the presidency. Moreover, Trump did not come to terms, nor did he help the Jan. 6 defendants with their legal bills.
“He could have forgiven some or all of them before he left office between January 6 and January 20 of last year,” defense attorney Jonathon Moseley, who represents the accused Oath Keepers, said during the hearing. CNN’s “New Day” show this week. He pointed to the former president’s previous commitments, including that he would help defendants with bills.
“I don’t know exactly what people think he should have done in each case, but there is a feeling he could have done more.” Mosley said.
Lawyers representing several high-profile people charged in the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation aren’t changing their legal strategies because of the former president’s promises, lawyers say, who understand a pardon years from now is not not a viable approach to business in court now.
And even for the most high-profile cases for defendants who maintain they are not guilty, their trials would be set for months to come. It means that if found guilty, judges could hand down harsh sentences by the end of the year – and several of the defendants facing more serious January 6-related allegations are already in jail pending their trial.
Manipulation of witnesses?
Still, Trump has managed to steer the political conversation towards his supporters who stormed the Capitol last year – with two House Democrats investigating the attack on the Capitol, saying they believe Trump may be tampering with witnesses.
Although pardons can only apply to criminal defendants, and almost all of the defendants who are charged at the time were in the US Capitol on January 6, Trump’s critics have raised the possibility that he could try to buy the silence of close advisers who have not done so. participate directly in the insurrection. The House Select Committee is seeking information from rioters, as well as Trump confidants and supporters. There are few indications at this time that the Justice Department is targeting Trump’s closest advisers with investigations that would touch on his actions, although the department has indicted Steve Bannon and is considering indicting him. former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt. of Congress for failing to testify under subpoena in the House investigation.
On Friday morning, Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat on the House Select Committee, told CNN’s “New Day” program that Trump’s comments “could certainly color” criminal defendants who are choosing between sharing facts and avoid the consequences.
“He literally keeps repeating those things very publicly and openly and reaffirming…what he wanted the outcome to be,” Luria said. “The more he does that, the guiltier he gets.”
Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, said the specter of future pardons could reduce a person’s willingness to cooperate.
“If you think you can get the ultimate sentence reduction without cooperating, you’ll go for it. Now it’s more complicated in this scenario,” Honig said.
“But again, someone thinking longer term might be thinking, well, now I’m going to stretch things out,” Honig added. “Now I am not going to cooperate and I hope that if I am sentenced to prison, it will be cut short, if Donald Trump becomes president again.”
But at least one attorney has said Trump’s comments are likely to sway rioters, potentially making them less likely to accept a plea deal or cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation.
“I think the former president continues to motivate, to impact, to suggest the actions of those who support him. He did that on January 6, and I don’t think anything has changed since,” said attorney Robert Jenkins, who represents the two. members of the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters, on CNN’s “New Day” show this week.
“He certainly puts his finger on the scales,” added Jenkins.
“It’s different when he was president,” Wu said, adding that Trump’s comments were too vague and not directed at any particular individual to constitute genuine witness tampering.
Waiting years for help
The idea that Trump might pardon the Jan. 6 defendants doesn’t even make sense to some lawyers.
It’s so far from their calculations, Trump’s pardoning comments barely registered in the chatter on a mailing list used by defense attorneys on Jan. 6, sources close to the group told CNN.
Defense attorneys representing the Jan. 6 defendants are taking a hard look at when their clients head to trial or consider plea deals — and there’s no hoping for a theoretical return of Trump to the presidency in three years.
“The next election is still three years away, so it’s a bit premature to say that I hope Donald Trump gets elected and pardons my client,” said Guy Womack, who is representing three Jan. 6 defendants.
Speaking to right-wing figure Stew Peters in a jailhouse interview last month, Lang said, “Where do our leaders stand? Our congressmen, our senators, our president? Trump, where are you?”
“We are rotting in jail because we stood up for what you told us to stand up for,” he added.
Defense attorneys are instead aiming to slow down their cases — with no 2024 in mind specifically. Some believe their clients should wait longer before entering into plea deals with the Department of Justice, as prosecutors are still demanding that they accept harsher charges and possible penalties.
Some of the January 6 defendants focused more on a public campaign for more leniency towards them before trial, falsely labeling themselves as political prisoners.
Richard “Bigo” Barnett, who was photographed with his feet up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, said in court this week that he was growing his goatee until “all the J6ers be free”.
Barnett, his attorney McBride told CNN, believes the Capitol riot defendants do not receive due process.
Despite their skepticism of Trump for the defendants, nearly every attorney CNN spoke to said they would still ask Trump to pardon their own clients if he returned to the office. Many are also calling on Biden to consider pardoning defendants who entered Capitol grounds but say they were nonviolent.
“I hope any president, including President Biden, will pardon” people who entered the building and quickly exited, Womack said, referring to one of his clients, the Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan, who was charged with a misdemeanor and convicted. 60 days behind bars.
Ryan publicly begged Trump for forgiveness shortly after his arrest last year, and he broke his promises.
Womack noted this week, speaking to CNN, that Ryan wasn’t angry that Trump hadn’t forgiven him before he left office.
“Anyone facing criminal charges would love to be pardoned and not have to go to trial,” Womack said. “I don’t think there was anything wrong done there. And I didn’t expect the president to talk about it, and he didn’t.”