The ‘Trump made me do it’ defense is not working

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.


  1. johnson catman says

    Anyone that tries the “Trump made me do it” defense obviously NEVER listened to their mother when their mother asked if they would jump off of a cliff because one of their friends did so or told them to do so. That defense didn’t work with mom, and it sure as hell should never work with a judge.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … throwing his phone over a bridge along the way.

    That probably worked better than the microwave oven for data erasure. I hope it earns him charges for destruction of evidence -- and littering.

  3. Who Cares says

    It does show the kind of fascist people Trump has collected as followers for them to try to the Nuremberg Defense (A.K.A. Befehl ist Befehl) to get out from a trial. And this guy is not the first and won’t be the last that has tried to use it.

  4. mnb0 says

    @3 Who cares: The American prosecution at Nürnberg made sure the Befehl ist Befehl defense was unacceptable before the trials began ….

  5. Who Cares says

    In several of the lesser cases it was used as a successful defense but that came about as much from determining that the person using it had no idea (and no reasonable suspicion to think) that the result of following orders would result in breaking the law then just using the defense.

  6. DonDueed says

    Anyone that tries the “Trump made me do it” defense obviously NEVER listened to their mother when their mother asked if they would jump off of a cliff because one of their friends did so or told them to do so.

    That comparison sprang to my mind too, but on reflection it’s not a very good one. More appropriate would be the case where your pastor or priest told you to jump off the cliff. Or where Charles Manson told you to go kill somebody (if you were a member of his cult).

  7. DonDueed says

    Pierce @2:
    Now I’m imagining the following scenario:
    1. Insurrectionist panics, destroys phone
    2. Then realizes he had turned on cloud backup of all his data (pics, vids, texts, etc.)
    3. Then realizes he just destroyed the only means of accessing or deleting said backups
    4. ???
    5. Uh, profit?

  8. Marja Erwin says

    The German military tradition also expected officers to use their best judgment, and disobey orders if necessary.

    Friedrich Karl of Prussia supposedly told one of his officers: “His Majesty made you a Major because he believed you would know when not to obey his orders.”

    There is no single American tradition, though. A lot of people believe civilians have an obligation to follow any “lawful order” from police or the president. A lot of states have embedded this in their law codes.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    @8 Marja Erwin: any “lawful order”

    Well, there’s the catch, isn’t it?

  10. sonofrojblake says

    Has nobody else noticed that this genius may have destroyed TWO phones? I’m intrigued. Did he microwave a phone, buy and have connected a new phone, then dump that second phone in a river in a later, separate panic? Or did he microwave a phone, carry that phone about for a while, then throw it in a river? I mean, either of those is just amazing, I’m just curious which it is.

    Either way, this guy is a shoe-in for “best act of self-sabotage”…

  11. bmiller says

    Just proves that a formal education (a geophysicist) does not mean that you are very smart or rational. Or are very good at compartmentalizing. Heck, there ARE degreed professionals who are also fervent Pentecostals, so…. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *