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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

FBI finds contact between Proud Boys member and Trump associate before riot

The connection revealed by the communications data comes as the FBI intensifies its investigation of contacts among far-right extremists, Trump White House associates and conservative members of Congress in the days before the attack.

By: New York Times |
Updated: March 6, 2021 1:53:16 pm
Donald trump, US immigration system, US Homeland Security Secretary, trump Immigration rules, US news, world news, Indian expressFormer US President Donald Trump. (Photo: AP/File)

Written by Katie Benner, Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman

A member of the far-right nationalist Proud Boys was in communication with a person associated with the White House in the days just before the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.

Location, cellular and call record data revealed a call tying a Proud Boys member to the Trump White House, the official said. The FBI has not determined what they discussed, and the official would not reveal the names of either party.

The connection revealed by the communications data comes as the FBI intensifies its investigation of contacts among far-right extremists, Trump White House associates and conservative members of Congress in the days before the attack.

The same data has revealed no evidence of communications between the rioters and members of Congress during the deadly attack, the official said. That undercuts Democratic allegations that some Republican lawmakers were active participants that day.

Separately, Enrique Tarrio, a leader of the far-right nationalist Proud Boys, told The New York Times on Friday that he called Roger Stone, a close associate of former President Donald Trump’s, while at a protest in front of the home of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. During the protest, which occurred in the days before the Capitol assault, he put Stone on speaker phone to address the gathering.

A law enforcement official said that it was not Tarrio’s communication with Stone that was being scrutinized, and that the call made in front of Rubio’s home was a different matter. That two members of the group were in communication with people associated with the White House underscores the access that violent extremist groups like the Proud Boys had to the White House and to people close to the former president.

Stone denied “any involvement or knowledge of the attack on the Capitol” in a statement last month to the Times.

Tarrio was arrested in Washington on Jan. 4 on charges of destruction of property for his role in the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner that had been torn from a historic Black church during a protest in Washington in December. He was asked to leave the city, and was not present when the Capitol was attacked. His case is pending.

The Justice Department has charged more than a dozen members of the Proud Boys with crimes related to the attack, including conspiracy to obstruct the final certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory and to attack law enforcement officers.

In court papers, federal prosecutors have said groups of Proud Boys also coordinated travel to Washington and shared lodging near the city, with the intent of disrupting Congress and advancing Trump’s efforts to unlawfully maintain his grip on the presidency.

The communication between the person associated with the White House and the member of the Proud Boys was discovered in part through data that the FBI obtained from technology and telecommunications companies immediately after the assault.

Court documents show FBI warrants for a list of all the phones associated with the cell towers serving the Capitol, and that it received information from the major cellphone carriers on the numbers called by everyone on the Capitol’s cell towers during the riot, three officials familiar with the investigation said.

The FBI also obtained a “geofence” warrant for all the Android devices that Google recorded within the building during the assault, the officials said. A geofence warrant legally gives law enforcement a list of mobile devices that are able to be identified in a particular geographic area. Jill Sanborn, the head of counterterrorism at the FBI, testified before a Senate panel Wednesday that all the data the FBI had gathered in its investigation into the riot was obtained legally through subpoenas and search warrants.

Although investigators have found no contact between the rioters and members of Congress during the attack, those records have shown evidence in the days leading up to Jan. 6 of communications between far-right extremists and lawmakers who were planning to appear at the rally featuring Trump that occurred just before the assault, according to one of the officials.

The Justice Department is examining those communications, but it has not opened investigations into any members, the official said. A department spokesperson declined to comment.

The FBI did, however, say Thursday that it had arrested a former State Department aide on charges related to the attack, including unlawful entry, violent and disorderly conduct, obstructing Congress and law enforcement, and assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon.

The former midlevel aide, Federico Klein, who was seen in videos assaulting officers with a stolen riot shield, was the first member of the Trump administration to face criminal charges in connection with the storming of the Capitol. His lawyer declined to comment Friday.

Right-wing extremists, including members of the Oath Keepers, a militia group that mainly comprises former law enforcement and military personnel, have been working as security guards for Republicans and for Trump’s allies, such as Stone.

Stone, who was pardoned by Trump after refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian intelligence, has known Tarrio for some time and used Oath Keepers as bodyguards before and on the day of the assault on the Capitol.

The Justice Department is looking into communications between Stone and far-right extremists to determine whether he played any role in plans by extremists to disrupt the certification on Jan. 6, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak about the investigation.

Should investigators find messages showing that Stone had any connection to such plans, they would have a factual basis to open a full criminal investigation into him, the people said.

 

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