Federal prosecutors say a key FBI informant in the alleged plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan was a “double agent” who was “working against the interests of the government” by trying to destroy evidence and prevent arrests.
The confidential informant, Stephen Robeson, played a central role in the investigation that led to the arrest of 14 men for allegedly participating in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020. At the direction of his FBI handlers, Robeson reached out to potential targets, organized meetings, and paid travel expenses for people to attend such events.
Now the government appears to be disowning its own operative, saying he deceived the FBI and at times actively aided targets of the investigation.
Defendants have claimed that it was overzealous government informants, including Robeson, who hatched the alleged plot to kidnap a sitting governor. The defendants have denounced the case as entrapment and an example of “egregious overreaching,” claiming they never would have contemplated the purported crimes without the informants’ involvement.
In a court filing Thursday, prosecutors said that Robeson violated the terms of his agreement with the FBI, including by possessing firearms despite having felony convictions, offering the use of “charity funds to purchase weapons for attacks,” and offering a drone to “aid in acts of domestic terrorism.”
In addition, the filing said that Robeson failed to record “pertinent conversations and events,” didn’t tell his government handlers about other recordings he’d made, tried to delete recordings, and attempted to warn “at least one of the defendants shortly before their arrest” in October 2020.
Last month, Robeson was charged with fraud in state court in Wisconsin. He was also charged last March with a gun crime in federal court to which he ultimately pleaded guilty, under a highly favorable plea deal that involves no jail time despite his multiple prior convictions. Despite that, the Justice Department has remained largely silent on his activities in the Michigan investigation, not even confirming his role as an informant — until now.
The prosecutors’ statements may have significant implications. Defense attorneys have been trying to get Robeson’s communications admitted as evidence, because they want to show that instead of just observing and informing on the accused, he pushed them into a plot they would never otherwise have come up with or agreed to. To that end, the lawyers last month identified dozens of statements by Robeson they hope to bring up during the trial, which is scheduled to begin March 8 in Grand Rapids federal court.
The government’s response, laid out in the new filing, has been to disavow Robeson entirely. In the filing, they call him “an unreliable declarant” — legal speak for a liar — and say that his statements cannot be used as evidence.
Robeson’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Attorneys for several of the defendants also declined to comment.
Defendants have also sought to introduce communications between FBI agents and their informants, saying they help prove that the government planted specific ideas about violence in their heads.
For example, in August 2020, agent Jayson Chambers wrote to an informant known as Dan: “Mission is to kill the governor specifically.”
But in Thursday’s filing, prosecutors said that any statements made by the agents that the government has not specifically cited in search warrants, charging documents, or other formal court filings should not be admitted in court. Although they were working for the FBI on an active investigation at the time they uttered those words, prosecutors say they were “the agents’ own statements and not the statements of the United States government.”
The Justice Department has previously stated its intentions to keep those agents off the stand.
Chambers was removed from the witness list five days after BuzzFeed News reported that he had incorporated a security business and that an online troll linked to the business had been tweeting about the case before it became public. Another agent has been accused of perjury in a separate case.
Defense attorneys, however, are expected to try to call both of them, as well as Robeson, and to question them before the jury about their actions in the investigation.
Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.