Five men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor have asked a federal judge to order Twitter to turn over information about an account that appeared to post about the FBI’s secret investigation into the plot before it was public.
The holder of the account, @ravagiing, claimed to be CEO of a cyberintelligence company called Exeintel. One of the lead FBI agents in the Michigan case, Jayson Chambers, is the registered owner of a company by the same name. BuzzFeed News first reported the existence of the tweets and the agent’s ownership of Exeintel last Thursday.
In the request, submitted to US District Court Judge Robert Jonker Monday morning, attorneys for the defendants seek ownership information for the Twitter account as well as login data and direct messages sent and received by @ravagiing. They noted that since the publication of the BuzzFeed News article, many of the relevant tweets appear to have been deleted and that the bio on the account was changed so that it now omits reference to Exeintel.
Attorneys for the five defendants — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta — have claimed that their clients were entrapped by the FBI and that there was no actual conspiracy to kidnap anyone.
Accessing the Twitter data, the attorneys said, would help determine if “a government agent is in control of a Twitter account which was tweeting confidential details about the investigation” and whether “the agent had a financial interest in the outcome of the investigation.”
Chambers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FBI referred comment to the Justice Department, which said that, as a matter of policy, it does not comment on pending criminal cases. Twitter did not reply to inquiries on the matter.
The motion, filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, said that between Aug. 22 and 24, the Exeintel website appeared to switch its internet domain service from a US-based provider to one based in Switzerland. BuzzFeed News first attempted to contact Exeintel on Aug. 13, and the website went offline soon thereafter. According to the defense attorneys, the change represented “yet another attempt to cover the tracks of the person in control of Exeintel” because “Swiss privacy laws are more difficult to overcome.”
A separate filing by the five defendants called the deletions “sinister” and claimed the action could suggest a “cover up” and “spoliation of evidence.”
The filing, submitted late Sunday, argued that the developments were further evidence that the defendants should be entitled to records from Chambers’ cellular phone, as well as those for a second FBI agent and a key confidential informant in the case. It follows a filing on Friday, also related to Exeintel, that included text messages allegedly sent by Chambers to the informant urging him to instruct a suspect in Virginia to kill Gov. Ralph Northam.
Federal prosecutors have maintained that the phone records, as well as records on confidential informants, do not have to be turned over and that they have provided all the discovery required by law.
Chambers, who has been an FBI agent since 2010, registered Exeintel LLC in New Mexico in April 2019 and described it as an “internet intelligence company,” state records show. On its website, Exeintel said it was “a group of dedicated professionals working in the shadows of cyberspace to provide actionable counterterrorism intelligence to law enforcement worldwide.” It could not be determined whether the company and the website were connected. A review of public federal contracts did not find any granted to Exeintel.
The @ravagiing account, which until last week identified itself as operated by Exeintel’s CEO, has for years posted incendiary tweets attacking Democrats, Muslims, and Antifa while spreading conspiracy theories about climate change. But as BuzzFeed News first reported, it began tweeting about the Michigan case in late 2019, suggesting with increasing urgency that something big was coming.
On Oct. 7, just hours before the FBI arrested more than a dozen men accused of participating in the kidnapping plot, the account tweeted, “Don’t worry Michigan I told ya A LOT more coming soon.” The following day, after the Justice Department revealed the arrests in a press conference, @ravagiing tweeted, “I told ya ahead of time, Michigan.”
All five federal defendants are charged with kidnapping conspiracy, and several of them are also charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, both of which carry maximum sentences of life in prison. A sixth federal defendant, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government. He was sentenced to 75 months in prison last week.
Eight other men are facing related charges, including providing material support to terrorists, in Michigan state court.
On Monday afternoon, Judge Jonker forwarded the requests to federal magistrate Sally Berens for review. A hearing on discovery issues is scheduled for Thursday.