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Feds slam ‘meritless’ request from ‘QAnon Shaman’ to overturn Jan. 6 Capitol riot sentence based on Tucker Carlson video


Jacob Anthony Chansley, center, with other insurrectionists who supported then-President Donald Trump, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber in the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Chansley was among the first group of insurrectionists who entered the hallway outside the Senate chamber. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Federal prosecutors say that a post-prison request from the Jan. 6 rioter known as the “QAnon Shaman” to vacate his sentence is “meritless” and should be summarily denied.

Jacob Chansley was among the first in the mob of Donald Trump supporters to breach the U.S. Capitol that day, shortly after Congress had begun to certify Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. Chansley — shirtless and wearing a horned Viking-style fur pelt helmet — was seen confronting police as he made his way to the Senate chamber, where his distinctive shouting could be heard as other rioters rifled through desks and paperwork. He pleaded guilty in September 2021 to obstructing an official proceeding of Congress. He was sentenced to 41 months behind bars in November 2021, when a Senior U.S. District Judge called Chansley the “flagbearer” and “very image” of the Capitol attack.

Chansley, who finished serving his sentence in May, filed a motion to vacate his sentence in April after being released from prison and moved to a halfway house in March. He said that closed-circuit television footage provided by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to former Fox News host Tucker Carlson — a noted Jan. 6 apologist — showed that the government didn’t disclose evidence that he was not acting violently while inside the Capitol.

The government calls Chansley’s claims meritless and notes the defendant was aware at the time of sentencing of the very videos he now says exonerate him.

“[T]he government created and provided present counsel a table of the cameras displayed — in part or in full — on the Tucker Carlson program, as well as the dates that they were disclosed to prior counsel,” the government says in its opposition, filed Tuesday.

In other words, according to the government: “The footage at issue was not withheld from defense counsel.” Except for one video that “implicated an evacuation route” for lawmakers, the government says, “all of the footage played on the Tucker Carlson program was uploaded to the defense” on a discovery server by Oct. 22, 2021, and flagged in a status memo on Oct. 25, 2021.

The government says Chansley’s lawyer acknowledged reviewing the video, which undermines Chansley’s claim that he was “escorted” into the Senate chamber by police. During his plea and sentencing, Chansley was represented by attorney Albert Watkins, who has since been replaced by attorney William Shipley.

According to the filing (citations omitted):

Additionally, the government disclosed footage from The New Yorker on April 24, 2021, showing Chansley entering the Senate floor. In an email on May 14, 2021, prior defense counsel not only relayed to the government that he had reviewed this video, but that he believed it depicted “the door to the Chamber being held for Mr. Chansley by law enforcement as he entered into the Chamber (followed thereafter by law enforcement)” and his client “being escorted into the Chamber just before 3:00p.” Counsel even annotated still shots of this video, and noted “[Chansley] enters Chamber with [Officer] Robishaw a few minutes later,” demonstrating not only his awareness of his client’s conduct, but his appreciation of Officer Robishaw’s involvement. As this Court well knows, Officer Robishaw was not “escorting” Chansley into the Chamber; instead he was trying, in vain, to convince Chansley and other members of the mob to leave the building. Again, Chansley was a first-hand witness to Officer Robishaw’s efforts and is uniquely positioned to know exactly what Officer Robishaw did and said on January 6, 2021. Regardless, defense counsel had the video available for his use and explicitly knew the contents of said video.

In other words, all of this material was provided to Chansley prior to his plea and/or sentencing. In sum, Chansley and his prior counsel received thousands of hours of CCV, bodyworn, Senate floor, and third-party video, the grand jury testimony of the most relevant officer depicted in the footage, and a trove of other discovery and elected to proceed to sentencing knowing that despite the fact that they had received copious discovery, it was nevertheless incomplete. Against this backdrop, Chansley’s claim that he is entitled to some type of relief is spurious at best.

The government also says the videos Chansley says exonerate him are incriminating evidence of his role in the riot.

“Chansley’s argument seems to be that the random snippets of Chansley’s movements that were televised on the Tucker Carlson program establish that he somehow did not obstruct the [certification proceeding], or that his actions are mitigated by this evidence,” the government says. “But the footage lacks the context of what occurred before and after what was televised.”

That context, per the filing:

Chansley entered the building as part of a violent crowd that gained access to the Capitol as a result of another rioter’s destruction of a window and door — which Chansley witnessed firsthand — comprising the first breach of the building. By the time Chansley breached the building on the coattails of violent rioters smashing the windows of the Capitol, the mob — through the sheer force of its size and the violence of those participating — had wrested control of portions of the Capitol grounds and the Capitol from a vastly outnumbered U.S. Capitol Police force. When Chansley entered the building, those defending the Capitol were in triage mode, trying to deal with the most violent elements of those unlawfully present and holding those portions of the Capitol that had not yet been seized by rioters while simultaneously protecting Members of Congress and staffers who were still trapped in the Capitol.

Chansley’s actions during the first violent breach of the Capitol provides more than enough evidence of his corrupt intent to interfere with Congress that day. But of course, there is more. The Tucker Carlson footage primarily shows Chansley’s movements from approximately 2:56 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Prior to that time, Chansley had, amongst other acts, breached a police line at 2:09 p.m. with the mob on the Capitol steps, entered the Capitol building less than one minute behind [convicted Proud Boy member] Dominic Pezzola during the initial breach of the building at 2:13 p.m., and faced off with members of the U.S. Capitol Police for more than thirty minutes in front of the Senate Chamber doors while elected officials, including the Vice President of the United States, fled. Chansley then entered the Senate Gallery unescorted at 2:52 p.m., where he proceeded to scream obscenities, while other rioters rifled through the desks of U.S. Senators on the floor below. All these actions were captured by Senate floor cameras, a journalist’s footage, MPD body-worn cameras, other rioter’s footage, and/or Capitol CCV cameras; all of these actions were before the footage in question. And this material was provided to Chansley before his plea and sentencing.

The government argues that Carlson’s attempt to portray Chansley as a peaceful protestor who had the support of the police is, at best, misleading.

The motion continues:

Chansley was not some passive, chaperoned observer of events for the roughly hour that he was unlawfully inside the Capitol. He was part of the initial breach of the building; he confronted law enforcement for roughly 30 minutes just outside the Senate Chamber; he gained access to the gallery of the Senate along with other members of the mob (obviously, precluding any Senate business from occurring); and he gained access to and later left the Senate floor only after law enforcement was able to arrive en masse to remove him. It is true that a sole officer — who was trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Chansley to leave — was with Chansley as he made his way to the Senate floor after initially breaching the Chamber. But the televised footage fails to depict that Chansley subsequently refused to be escorted out by this lone officer and instead left the Capitol only after dozens of additional officers arrived and forcibly escorted him out. All the while, Chansley made his intent clear: he wanted to interfere with the official proceeding. Indeed, before screaming a prayer on the Senate dais — where moments earlier the Vice President of the United States sat — Chansley left a note for the second highest officer in the United States’ executive branch, which stated: “It’s Only a Matter of Time, Justice is Coming.” When Chansley pled guilty to corruptly intending to obstruct a Congressional proceeding, he did so knowingly and voluntarily, with a full understanding of the record and discovery of his criminal acts.

The government notes that Chansley’s attorney said at the sentencing hearing that he and his client had watched “hours” of video provided in discovery and that Watkins’ decision not to use any videos during Chansley’s sentencing was “a reasonable, strategic choice.”

“This isn’t a drive-in movie theater,” Watkins said at the hearing, according to the filing. “You don’t need to see more video.”

The government says that Watkins’ strategy was successful, as Chansley was ultimately sentenced to the low end of the recommended guideline range and received praise — including a favorable comparison to Martin Luther King Jr. — from the judge, a Ronald Reagan appointee.

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Prosecutors note even if Chansley succeeded in getting his sentence vacated, the case against him wouldn’t be dismissed and that he would still have a long legal road ahead of him.

“Chansley’s guilty plea would be withdrawn, the charges in the indictment would be reinstated, and the case would proceed to trial – where Chansley, if convicted, could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment,” the government says in the filing. “Chansley therefore may wish to consider whether the ‘relief’ that he could obtain through these claims is truly preferable to preserving the benefits of the Plea Agreement, under which he was sentenced to the minimum sentence under his calculated guidelines range.”

Read the government’s filing below.

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