(Ken Silva, Headline USA) In a sudden reversal, Michigan prosecutors have moved to block the public from seeing records about undercover FBI agents, informants and the dubious tactics critics say were used to entrap the men accused of being involved in a conspiracy to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The docket for the state’s 13th Circuit Court shows that the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed Wednesday for a protective order on discovery material, which would prohibit attorneys and defendants from disclosing case materials to reporters or other third parties.
The AG’s filing came just two days after Circuit Judge Kevin Elsenheimer indicated on Monday that he would open the case file to the public.
“Obviously, we normally open files,” Elsenheimer said. during Monday’s pretrial hearing. “Is there anyone who objects to files being opened?”
Michigan Assistant Attorney General William Rolstin said he had no objection to the decision. One of the defendant’s attorneys, Damian Nunzio, added that “we’re objecting to any closed file.”
The judge then said, “The file will remain open for access to public.”
However, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office now wants Elsenheimer to reverse his decision.
According to news site MLive, prosecutors apparently worry that the defendants will disclose discovery material to the public.
“This case and the related state and federal cases have received national and international media attention, and as a result, it may be difficult to find jurors who have not experienced any exposure to this case,” Nessel’s motion reads, according to MLive. “Additionally … [a defendant] agreed to provide the reporter with the entirety of the discovery materials the (attorney general) provided the defense.”
MLive also reported that the motion raises concerns that disclosing the identify of undercover FBI agents and informants could expose them “to the risk of harm, harassment, undue annoyance, intimidation, embarrassment and threats.”
Independent journalist Eric VanDussen filed an objection to the AG’s motion, calling the prosecution’s proposed protective order overbroad, vague and unlawfully restrictive on the constitutionally protected right to gather news for public dissemination.
“The [government is] essentially requesting this Court to issue a gag order, which would violate Proposed Intervenor’s First Amendment right to gather information to report the news, because they would explicitly prohibit information possessed by willing speakers from being ‘disclosed’ to anyone, including Proposed Intervenor,” wrote VanDussen in his objection, which he posted online.
Judge Elsenheimer has yet to rule on the matter.
The defendants on trial are Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null and Brian Higgins. All face the charge of providing material support for terrorist acts—allegedly assisting the Wolverine Watchmen militia in their conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer.
With at least 12 FBI informants and two undercover agents participating in the sting operation to take down the alleged kidnap plotters, civil liberties advocates have accused the U.S. government of entrapping the defendants.
Last week, Headline USA revealed that one of the informants in the sting operation had been working for the FBI since at least 2019, and had contacted one of the defendants in January 2020—months before the FBI officially opened its investigation in March 2020. The revelations undermine government’s claim that it only began infiltrating the Michigan militia movement after an FBI informant discovered their violent online rhetoric in March 2020.
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.