Justice Department asks judge to investigate legal defense funding for oath keepers
The unusual request follows media reports that Powell’s nonprofit Defending the Republic used some of the millions of dollars it raised spreading election conspiracy theories. of 2020 to pay legal fees for members of Oath Keepers to be tried. According to BuzzFeed and Mother Jones articles cited in the filing, four defendants — including Stewart Rhodes, who founded the self-proclaimed militia group — took funds from Powell’s organization.
All four are accused of obstructing Congress’ counting of electoral college votes on January 6, 2021; Rhodes and two others are accused of engaging in a seditious conspiracy against the United States.
U.S. prosecutors have asked the trial judge to ensure, privately if necessary, that the lawyer adheres to legal ethics this prohibits outside funding for legal defense unless the client gives informed consent. The rules prohibit lawyers from sharing confidential client information with third parties except in certain circumstances. The government also asks the judge to ensure that the involvement of Powell’s group does not result in “any interference with the independence of the lawyer … or with the client-lawyer relationship”.
Prosecutors have expressed concern that Defending the Republic discourages plea deals, saying it could work against the interests of a particular defendant. Four defendants in the overlapping conspiracies have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. Several others have pleaded guilty in related cases.
Before proceeding with its filing, the Department of Justice interviewed private lawyers representing 10 members of the Oath Keepers. According to the court filing, attorneys for four of the defendants said they were not taking money from Defending the Republic. Lawyers for three others said they were following the rules, but did not say whether they took money from Powell’s group. Lawyers for two defendants did not respond; one of them refused, saying he would answer any questions posed by the judge.
Lawyers for the defendants did not immediately respond or declined to comment in response to inquiries from The Washington Post.
Trials of the defendants are scheduled for this fall and April 2023.
Powell was fined in federal court for filing a frivolous lawsuit challenging Michigan’s election results and was fined in Florida. Powell and Defending the Republic are also being sued in a defamation case by a voting machine company it claims engaged in voter fraud. Powell is appealing Michigan’s fine.
Powell maintained that she was speaking honestly or offering legally protected opinions.
Powell has refused to cooperate with a House committee holding hearings into the Jan. 6 attack, but witnesses have named her as someone who pushed bogus campaign conspiracies at Trump’s White House. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is also investigating Defending the Republic’s financial records.
Powell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.