Straka’s public comments draw warning from federal judge

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Brandon Straka is continuing to publicly discuss the events of January 6 at the Capitol last year.
Wikimedia Commons/Jared Holt

The federal judge who oversaw the criminal prosecution of the #WalkAway Campaign founder and pro-Trump influencer Brandon Straka warned Straka’s attorney in a hearing that if his client continued to publicly deny facts he had admitted to in his guilty plea and in three interviews with federal law enforcement, Straka could be prosecuted under a federal law that makes it illegal to lie to federal officers and during federal proceedings.

“It’s also been brought to my attention that Mr. Straka has been making statements regarding his plea,” Judge Dabney Friedrich told Bilal Essayli, a partner at Essayli & Brown in Irvine, California, during an August 3 status conference in the case. “He’s potentially incriminating himself for a 1001 prosecution…Please inform him that these are not wise choices he is making.”

The “1001 prosecution” is a reference to a section of the US Code that bars “knowingly and willfully” making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation…in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.”

On January 24, Straka, who is openly gay, pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct for entering the Capitol grounds when they were closed to the public on January 6, 2021 during the rioting there that attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. While there is no evidence that Straka participated in the violence or entered the Capitol building, he did urge others to take a plastic shield from a police officer who was battling the rioters and made other remarks in person and later that day on social media that could reasonably be understood to support the violence.

Straka was sentenced to 90 days of home detention and three years on probation. He had to pay a $5,000 fine and pay $500 restitution to repair damage to the Capitol building made by the rioters. With his home detention completed, Straka has joined the right wing chorus on various conservative media outlets that is claiming that the roughly 800 rioters who have been charged with and, in some cases, convicted of crimes are victims of the left. In the most extreme rhetoric, some on the right are describing the rioters as political prisoners and dissidents.

In a May 12 appearance on a podcast produced by former Fox News host Lou Dobbs, Straka said he did not see any violence when he entered the Capitol grounds and stood close to an entrance to the building. Police were “just standing there…They are quite literally standing there in the doorway,” he said.

He made an eight-minute video of his time on the Capitol grounds, which has been removed from youtube.com. When he is heard saying “Go, go” in the video, Straka now says he was urging a young woman who was exiting the building to move past him as opposed to urging the mob to enter the building.

He also disparaged the legal process that led to his guilty plea, saying it was an effort “to create a destructive narrative” and not meant to “exercise any actual justice.” He made similar comments to other media outlets.

“Once you agree to take the plea deal, what you are essentially doing is giving the government permission to write the story from A to Z,” Straka told Dobbs. “It’s fiction and they get the right to write this fiction.”

These statements would mean that he lied when he pleaded guilty and possibly when he discussed what he did on January 6 in three interviews with federal law enforcement. Friedrich said she would be requesting reports from federal probation.

“I will be asking probation for periodic status reports about his supervision,” she told Essayli, who said he would talk to Straka about his statements. Straka was “currently traveling,” Essayli said, and did not attend the hearing.

Over 150 police officers were injured during the January 6 rioting. One officer died from a stroke during the rioting. One rioter was shot and killed by police inside the Capitol building. Another two rioters died from natural causes and third died from a drug overdose. Four officers died by suicide following the rioting.

The August 3 status conference was called after portions of documents that were filed in his case under seal were inadvertently released by clerks in the federal district court in Washington, DC. A coalition of media organizations had asked that those records be unsealed and Friedrich ordered that the four motions to seal those records be unsealed, but not the underlying documents that described Straka’s cooperation with federal law enforcement. The underlying documents were public for less than 30 minutes before being sealed again, Friedrich said.

“The sensitive attachments were sealed again less than 30 minutes after they were unsealed,” she said. While Friedrich said “the court and the clerk’s office deeply regret” the release of those documents, she added that the attorneys should not have put that information in the filings in the first place.

“I think the government bears some responsibility here,” she said. “I think the defense bears some responsibility…I think the presumption should be that you don’t put this kind of information on the docket…You all just need to be more careful.”

Straka, nominally a Democrat, became popular on the right in 2018 when he recorded a video urging Democrats to abandon the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party. He was embraced by right wing media outlets, conservative conferences, the Trump campaign, and other right wing groups.

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