As the trials start to unfold for those who took part in the January 6th insurrection, we see the various defenses being brought forward. One that is being tried is “I was following Trump’s leadership”. One of those trying it in order to get out on bail is a 51-year old geophysicist from Colorado named Jeffrey Sabot who, after returning home, tried to destroy evidence by zapping his phone in the microwave (would that even work?) and making other moves. His problem is that he is seen on videos attacking a police officer at the Capitol. He then decided to flee to Switzerland (which with the US does not have an extradition treaty) and say that he was going to ski.
But after arriving in Boston and going to the airport to leave the country, he panicked when he saw police officers whom he thought were coming for him so he left the airport and drove south in a rented car, throwing his phone over a bridge along the way. But he was caught and arrested anyway.
The judge denied his application for bail, saying in his opinion that his behavior up to that point indicated that he was a serious flight risk. He also dismissed Sabol’s claim that he should be excused because he was misled by Trump.
His attorney also contends that Mr. Sabol now understands that his beliefs about the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential Election were “misguided” and “wrong,” and he was “lied to about the election being stolen.” He was caught up inappropriately and made “some really bad decisions,” he argues, in “the frenzy” of the events that transpired on January 6, 2021, and by “things that were said to the crowd of people by people like Roger Stone and Rudy Guiliani and the President himself.” He points out that “[t]he President of the United States of America was telling citizens something evil has happened and you all have to go fix it.”
The Court is ultimately unpersuaded by Mr. Sabol’s argument that he did not plan to commit violence or disrupt the electoral process on January 6, 2021, but rather was caught up in the “frenzy” that was created in part by then-President Trump’s, and his associates’, words and actions.
To be sure, to what extent President Trump’s words and actions led to the violent and shocking storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 is an important question, and one that could still have legal consequences for the former President and his prominent supporters… But President Trump’s culpability is not before this Court. To the extent Mr. Sabol raises this issue to suggest he has a complete defense to the criminal charges he faces based on President Trump ostensibly or actually giving the rioters permission to use violence to interfere with the peaceful transition of power, that argument fails for the reasons clearly and thoughtfully articulated by Chief Judge Howell in Chrestman. Indeed, “even if former President Trump in fact . . . ‘told the assembled rabble what they must do’ (i.e., attack the Capitol and disrupt the certification of the electoral vote count) and ‘ratified their actions,’ . . . he acted ‘beyond [his] power’ as President, . . . and his statements would not immunize defendants charged with offenses arising from the January 6 assault on the Capitol from criminal liability.” If, on the other hand, Mr. Sabol raises this issue not as a complete defense but rather in an attempt to show that he is not a danger to his community because he did not plan to participate in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol and only did so because President Trump directed him and other members of the crowd to do so that day, that argument also fails. As Judge Royce Lamberth explained, even if a Capitol Riot defendant “truly believes that the only reason he participated in an assault on the U.S. Capitol was to comply with President Trump’s orders, this shows defendant’s inability (or refusal) to exercise his independent judgment and conform his behavior to the law. These are not qualities of a person who can be trusted on conditional release.” This same rationale applies, with even greater force, if Mr. Sabol was not acting out of a perceived need to comply with the President’s orders but rather because he was simply “caught up inappropriately in the moment.”
I wonder what lawyers in the later cases are going to try since the ‘Trump made me do it’ defense does not seem to be working that well so far.