An FBI agent who was working undercover told jurors Friday that he accompanied two men on a night drive to see the Michigan governor's vacation home, directly connecting the pair to a key step in an alleged plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.
Mark Schweers also explained how he secretly recorded Adam Fox expressing contempt for the Democratic governor during their first meeting two months earlier in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop.
“We want her flex-cuffed on a table while we all pose and get our pictures taken like we just made the biggest drug bust in ... history,” Fox said of Whitmer, laughing and using profanities. “Then you lock her ... up, even if we gotta go with her.”
Fox, 39, who was living in the shop, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, are on trial for a second time for a kidnapping conspiracy. A jury in April couldn't reach a unanimous verdict while acquitting two other men.
Fox and Croft held anti-government views that reached a pitch during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic as Whitmer, like other governors, issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools and restricted businesses. Prosecutors allege the two men wanted to cause national mayhem by kidnapping her before the 2020 election.
Defense attorneys said conversations, text messages and social media posts sometimes were ugly but still protected by the First Amendment. As for a kidnapping scheme, they insist Fox and Croft were simply “big talkers” entrapped by undercover agents and shady informants inside the group.
Schweers said he got inside Fox's circle by posing as an ally from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In September 2020, after a day of gun drills, the agent said about a dozen people, including two informants, drove to Elk Rapids in three vehicles to look at Whitmer's second home and a boat launch.
“Each truck was given a separate assignment,” Schweers said.
He repeatedly said “no” when a prosecutor asked if it was the agent who proposed attacking the state Capitol, kidnapping Whitmer or blowing up a bridge in Elk Rapids. The questions were an effort to counter the defense's entrapment strategy.
In a separate matter, Croft's attorney, Joshua Blanchard, expressed concerns about whether a juror seated Tuesday will be fair.
In a court filing, Blanchard said he had a source who indicated a juror had hoped to be selected and would ensure a certain verdict. The document was seen by The Detroit News before it was sealed in the online file.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, fearing grounds for a mistrial, said any subsequent filings will be sealed and attorneys can’t talk publicly about the issue. He said Blanchard didn't “accurately and completely” include available information. There were no changes to the jury.
On the third day of testimony, Jonker also expressed frustration about the “ridiculous” pace of the trial, fearing “we'll be here until Thanksgiving” if attorneys don't sharpen their approach, mostly a reference to the defense.
“I'm going to think hard over the weekend about time limits. ... Look at the jury: You can see when they're checking out — and they're checking out,” the judge said.
Whitmer has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot.
Trump last week called the kidnapping scheme a “fake deal.”
Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial