A defendant who admitted tasing Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone during the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol Complex has filed court papers that indicate he may seek to blame former president Donald Trump for what occurred. The documents also contain a 195-page transcript of an FBI interview where the defendant, who said he was a former Trump campaign volunteer, told agents he became radicalized by listening to InfoWars host Alex Jones.
Daniel Rodriguez is one of several defendants accused in the attack on Fanone. Rodriguez provided notice that he “may” assert a defense of “public authority.” That notice is a precursor to a possible argument at trial that he was acting “on behalf of” a “law enforcement agency or federal intelligence agency” when he stormed the Capitol and admittedly attacked Fanone. Thus, the documents tee up a possible defense but do not directly employ it.
Under federal procedural rules, Rodriguez’s notice was required to contain the following information:
(A) the law enforcement agency or federal intelligence agency involved;
(B) the agency member on whose behalf the defendant claims to have acted; and
(C) the time during which the defendant claims to have acted with public authority.
Accordingly, Rodriguez’s public defenders answered as follows:
(A) “The Executive Branch,”
(B) “Former President Donald Trump,” and
(C) the date of Jan. 6, 2021.
The defense lawyers also launched into a brief bit of advocacy involving the relevant law.
“[I]t offends due process to convict an individual who was acting upon authorization of a government official,” Rodriguez’s counsel argued while addressing the relevant rule of criminal procedure at play (Rule 12.3, for those keeping track) and attempting to simultaneously link Trump to the siege. They then briefly cited the relevant case law:
The genesis of the authority defense is the decision in United States v. Barker, 546 F. 2d 940 (D.C. Cir. 1976).
In United States v. Barker, defendants were recruited to participate in a national security operation led by a White House official, whom the defendants had previously known as a CIA agent. Barker, 546 F.2d at 949. In reversing the defendants’ convictions, the appellate court carved out an exception to the mistake of law rule that would allow exoneration of a defendant who relied on authority. Id. at 947-49.
The defense noted that it was unclear in the Washington, D.C. Circuit how the “public authority” defense tactic may play out. The defense said it wished to at least assert the possible strategy “out of an abundance of caution” at this stage in the proceedings just in case they chose to pursue it.
The Defendant’s Purported Confession
A 195-page transcript of law enforcement interviews with Rodriguez indicates that the defendant confessed to tasing Fanone. His attorneys want the admission thrown out of court.
“I just came up to the steps again, and I saw them pulling him out, and I tased him,” Rodriguez said of the tug-of-war that left the D.C. officer (who, mind you, voted for Trump himself) fearing for his life.
Fanone was “dragged down the Capitol’s marble stairs, beaten with pipes and poles, tear-gassed and stun-gunned,” Time reported. He pleaded for his life when the crowd “threatened to shoot him with his own gun, telling the rioters he had kids.”
The transcripts reveal how the FBI pressed Rodriguez about what happened:
Q. How many times did you tase him?
A. Oh, just once.
Q. Where’d you tase him at? Like, on his body? Where?
Q. In the neck? Did you do it twice?
A. No. No, for sure —
Q. Because the video shows it twice.
A. No. No. The video — if the video shows it twice, it’s a replay or something.
The defendant eventually called his own critical thinking skills into question when pressed further:
Q. The disparity is in between your story and what happened to Officer Fanone and what’s on video. I can show you the video of you tasering him twice.
A. It was not twice.
Q. I’ll show it to you in just a minute.
A. Show it to me, please.
Q. I will. But the disparity between what you’re saying happened, describing, oh, I’m such a benevolent man coming up to a poor officer who’s struggling to keep — to survive, thinking he’s going to die. Let me help him out. Let me taser him. Is that really the story you want to be written about you? Is that in all of my benevolence, I decided I was going to taser this man who is struggling for his life in that moment and thinking he’s going to die. Four daughters.
A. No. I wasn’t trying to kill him. I didn’t want him to die.
Q. Then, tell us what happened. Don’t leave the story be this crappy story that you’re telling us right now, that you were just there to help him and taser him.
A. No, I wasn’t — I was —
A. I’m not smart.
Q. Think about your mom.
A. No. I’m just not smart. I’m not lying to you guys. I’m not lying (indiscernible).
Elsewhere, Rodriguez suggested that listening to InfoWars helped push him over the edge:
Q: What happened in your life? Like, how did you start going to these rallies?
Q. InfoWars? So, like, Alex Jones stuff?
He expounded later in a veritable monologue:
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that we were doing the wrong thing. I thought we were doing the fucking right thing. I thought we were going to be — I’m so stupid. I thought I was going to be awesome. I thought I was a good guy. I wanted to — you know, my whole life, I’ve been, oh, fuck the police. I really have.
And I started to be — I got involved — I came back from Arizona and I lived here and I — I came back home to California and I got involved with some of the — some bad people, some gang members and I start — I wanted to grow weed. I was growing weed. I got involved with the wrong people. I’m telling you, like, people — killers, like, tattoos all over their face, like, not good people.
And I was growing weed with them and I was like, yeah, this is cool. They all got low riders and this and that, and I was like, oh, this is that lifestyle that’s for me. But it wasn’t. I didn’t fit in. I’m a good person trying to — and I wanted to be a bad person, and it just didn’t work for me. And I kept getting robbed and they kept taking from me.
And then Trump — and I was listening to InfoWars and I was, like, getting patriotic and I was — and I ended up leaving all those people behind me and I ended up being homeless.
[ . . . ]
I was homeless and I went — and I called my mom and I told her I needed somewhere to stay. I needed to come back home and move in. And I was already — Trump was already, like — this is 2015, and I was already into InfoWars and Alex Jones, and he’s backing up Trump. And I’m like, all right, man. This is it. I’m going to — this is — I’m going to fight for this. I’m going to do — I want to do this.
Rodriguez elsewhere said he campaigned for Trump in the Whittier, Calif. area by manning telephones and going door to door.
The 195-page transcript was filed in court by Rodriguez’s own attorneys. They’re arguing that the FBI didn’t read Rodriguez his Miranda rights when they initially questioned him and that the FBI botched reading Rodriguez his rights when they finally chose to do so.
Rodriguez is charged with the following: one count of impeding, obstructing, or interfering with a law enforcement officer during the commission of a of civil disorder that obstructs an official proceeding; one count of assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon; one count of theft of government property; one count of destruction of government property; and three slightly separate iterations of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building without lawful authority.
Read the relevant documents below:
[Image via Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images]
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