How Important Is JON SCHAFFER's Guilty Plea In Capitol Riot Investigation? Former Federal Prosecutor Weighs In (Video)

April 17, 2021

Earlier today, Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, joined Jonathan Capehart of MSNBC's "The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell" to discuss how prosecutors "will wring every drop of criminal information out of" ICED EARTH guitarist Jon Schaffer, who pleaded guilty in the Capitol riot investigation.

Asked how important this guilty plea from Schaffer is, Kirschner said (see video below): "It's actually pretty consequential, because this is not as some people have said just a glorified trespassing guilty plea. This is actually a guilty plea with cooperation, which we'll talk about in a minute, but it's a guilty plea for a crime that involves breaching the Capitol with the intent to impede a congressional inquiry specifically the Electoral College vote count. And when we realize that defendant Schaffer bills himself as a founding member of the Oath Keepers, this is where the cooperation part of the guilty plea comes into play because I can tell you, today was not sort of the first step in a cooperation agreement with defendant Schaffer. This has been going on for some time.

"Anytime a defendant approaches the prosecution, and it wants to consider pleading guilty and cooperating, what we do is we sit down across the table with that aspiring cooperating defendant and we basically make them tell us everything they know about criminal activity," he continued. Not only criminal activity they've perpetrated, but all of their fellow Oath Keepers, all of their fellow insurrectionists. And then we go about trying to corroborate all that information before we ever strike a plea and cooperation agreement with them."

Asked if this guilty plea is the first of many or it is a guilty plea that is meant to send a signal to the other folks out there who are either have been arrested, charged, or trying to get deals to get their deal now or they're going to be out of luck, Kirschner said: "I think it serves both of those purposes. Think about this. This man fancies himself as one of the founding members of the Oath Keepers. Now, I'm not suggesting that the Oath Keeper organization has been involved in other criminal activity, but if it has, you can bet the prosecutors are going to wring every drop of criminal information out of defendant Schaffer, not only about the run up to January 6th, not only about the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, but anything the Oath Keepers have been up to. And let's remember, there was some coordination between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. So, you know, I think defendant Schaffer can also provide information potentially about the Proud Boys organization. So, this is like the first cooperator shot fired across the bow, and I predict this is going to start the dominos falling. You're going to see other guilty pleas. You're going to see other cooperators. And the big ticket question is how far up the criminal food chain can these kind of cooperating defendants take the government."

Although Schaffer was initially charged with six crimes, including engaging in an act of physical violence and targeting police with bear spray, he pleaded guilty to only two charges: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress; and trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol while armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon. The first charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the second carries up to a 10-year prison term.

According to CNN, prosecutors and Schaffer's attorneys agreed to recommend that he get between three and a half and four and a half years in prison, based on how fruitful his cooperation is with the government.

In his plea agreement, Schaffer acknowledged that on January 6, 2021 he was in Washington to attend the "Stop The Steal" rally at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. to protest the results of the presidential election, which he believed were fraudulent. Schaffer wore a tactical vest and carried bear spray, a dangerous weapon and chemical irritant used to ward off bears. When the rally finished, Schaffer joined a large crowd that marched from the Ellipse to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress, presided over by Vice President Michael Pence, was in session to certify the electoral college vote results. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., members of the mob forced entry into the Capitol building, disrupting the joint session and causing members of Congress and the Vice President to be evacuated from the House and Senate chambers.

In his plea agreement, Schaffer admitted that after arriving on Capitol grounds, he walked past barriers intended to restrict access to the public and to a set of locked doors on the Capitol's west side. At approximately 2:40 p.m., Schaffer positioned himself at the front of a crowd that broke open a set of doors being guarded by four U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officers wearing riot gear. Schaffer admitted to being among the first individuals to push past the damaged doors and into the Capitol building, forcing officers to retreat. Schaffer and others advanced toward five or six backpedaling USCP officers while members of the mob swelled inside of the Capitol and overwhelmed the officers. The officers ultimately deployed a chemical irritant to disperse the mob. Schaffer was among the people who were sprayed in the face, after which he exited while holding his own bear spray in his hands.

As part of the plea deal, Schaffer agreed to cooperate with investigators and potentially testify in related criminal cases, according to CNN. In return for Schaffer's assistance, the Justice Department might later urge the judge to show leniency during his sentencing.

As part of the agreement, the Justice Department has offered to sponsor Schaffer for the witness protection program.

The 53-year-old musician is the first Capitol riot defendant to reach a plea deal.

The Indiana chapter of the Oath Keepers distanced itself from Schaffer after his arrest, claiming he was not a member of the local group. But the national organization, which sells lifetime memberships for $1,200, has not commented on his alleged affiliation with the group.

At a November 2020 Donald Trump rally in Washington, D.C., Schaffer was videotaped walking behind a Florida couple, Kelly Meggs and Connie Meggs, who are accused of being among 10 members of the Oath Keepers to have played a leading role in the Capitol assault. According to federal authorities, Kelly and Connie Meggs plotted for weeks ahead of the attack, attended training sessions and recruited others. Kelly Meggs is the 52-year-old head of the Oath Keepers' chapter in Florida.

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