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Oathkeeper chief speaks to Jan. 6 panel from federal prison

This photo, provided by the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, shows Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, appeared remotely before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Rhodes testified Wednesday from a federal penitentiary where he is awaiting trial for sedition. (Collin County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, appeared remotely before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection on Wednesday from a federal prison where he awaits his trial for sedition.

The panel sought Rhodes’ testimony even after he was arrested last month for conspiring with others to attack the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden as a 2020 election winner. He and 10 others were the first to be charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the violent insurgency. Rhodes pleaded not guilty.

Rhodes’ appearance was confirmed by two of his attorneys, Jonathan Moseley and James Lee Bright. A spokesperson for the January 6 committee declined to comment on the interview.

“He both answers some questions and does not answer others under the Fifth Amendment and preserves his rights to due process at a fair trial,” Moseley said in an email as the interview winds down. continued.

Rhodes’ testimony came as the panel also interviewed Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who aligned himself with former President Donald Trump before the violent attack. The committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans interviewed nearly 500 people, casting a wide net as they attempt to create the most comprehensive account yet of the worst attack on the US Capitol in two centuries.

It is unusual for Congress to interview federal detainees awaiting trial and for defendants to speak about their cases, as they could incriminate themselves. The indictment against Rhodes alleges the oath keepers discussed for weeks trying to overturn the election results and prepared for a siege by buying weapons and setting up battle plans.

The indictment alleges that the oath keepers formed two teams, or “stacks”, which entered the Capitol. The first stack split inside the building to attack the House and Senate separately. The second stack clashed with officers inside the Capitol rotunda, according to the indictment. Outside Washington, according to the indictment, the Guardians of the Oath had stationed two “quick reaction forces” which had firearms “in support of their plot to prevent the lawful transfer of power.”

Rhodes’ lawyers have sought to keep him in jail in Texas if he is not to be released on bail, but a federal judge on Wednesday refused to block his transfer to Washington, DC, where dozens of other defendants of the Capitol Riot are still being held pending trial.

The House panel also interviewed former Justice Department official Clark on Wednesday. Clark appeared for the in-person interview after months of delays which the committee said were due to illness.

The panel voted to recommend contempt charges against Clark in December after he appeared for a Nov. 5 deposition, but declined to be interviewed, citing Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation. A full House vote on the contempt charges was postponed after Clark’s attorney said he would appear for a second time.

Clark met with Trump before the insurgency and unsuccessfully pressured his then-supervisors to publicly announce that the department was investigating voter fraud and directing some state legislatures to appoint new voters, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee report. released earlier this year. The report said Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department culminated in a dramatic meeting at the White House in which the president considered elevating Clark to attorney general.

Trump did not after several aides threatened to resign, but he continued to push the baseless fraud allegations that were repeated by the violent mob of his supporters as they stormed into the Capitol and interrupted Biden’s certification. State election officials, courts around the country and even Trump’s attorney general have dismissed the former president’s allegations of widespread fraud.

Clark’s attorney said in December that his client would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the second interview. The chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said Clark offered “no specific basis” for asserting the 5th Amendment and that he viewed it as a “last ditch attempt to delay the committee.” restricted”. procedure.” But he said the members would listen to Clark.

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Billeaud reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.