Unlike the vast majority of the nearly 800 people charged in connection with Jan. 6, Griffin did not enter the building, nor is he charged with violence or destruction of property. His trial is expected to last only about a day..
Griffin, 48, faces only two misdemeanor charges: entering a restricted area of the Capitol and disruptive or disorderly conduct in such a location. Both carry a maximum sentence of one year.
Griffin’s defense, with a nudge from the judge, turned the trial into a key test for the Justice Department’s central thesis in hundreds of other Jan. 6 lawsuits: that the Capitol and its grounds were strictly off-limits. in part because then-Vice President Mike Pence was on the site, automatically triggering a Secret Service perimeter and coverage of a federal law designed to protect Secret Service proteges.
Griffin claims he arrived at the Capitol after Pence left the restricted area, and prosecutors have repeatedly declined to clarify their understanding of Pence’s precise location, citing national security concerns. But they say Pence’s whereabouts are insignificant because the law Griffin is accused of breaking only requires that Pence intend to return to the area – which he did shortly after the incident. riot was contained.
To complicate matters, the United States Capitol Police did not allow the Justice Department to share with defense attorneys any footage of Pence’s evacuation that day.
Police Department General Counsel Thomas DiBiase was in the courtroom at the start of the trial and indicated he would have to seek approval from the Capitol Police Board, which includes the Sergeants-at-Arms of the House and Senate, as well as the architect. of the Capitol. A ministry spokesman declined to say whether the request had been formally made.
Prosecutors also argued that a Secret Service witness who accompanied Pence should not have to discuss his precise location.
If U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden decides she has to, it could spill over into hundreds of other Jan. 6 cases involving the same charges.
Griffin has been pushing for a trial since early last year and opted to streamline the process by waiving his right to a jury.
That leaves Griffin’s fate entirely in the hands of McFadden, who has made clear his impatience with the government’s pace of investigation and litigation in the more than 14 months since the Capitol riot. McFadden has dealt prosecutors a few procedural defeats in recent days, including at the start of the trial Monday morning.
The proceedings were a stark contrast to the case of Guy Reffitt, the first Jan. 6 defendant to stand trial. He was found guilty of five counts earlier this month by a jury, following a trial lasting more than a week in which prosecutors launched a damning case against him – the testimony of his teenage son, who secretly recorded conversations, a militia member who traveled with Reffitt to Washington, D.C., and testimony from several police officers of a harrowing confrontation with Reffitt at the start of the Jan. 6 mob attack . In that case, there was no doubt that Pence was presiding over the Senate when Reffitt reached the Capitol grounds.
Griffin’s case presents far less compelling questions and, so far, evidence. They include, primarily, whether his approach to the Capitol – in which he scaled a small stone wall amid the wider push of the crowd – and his conduct outside the building encounter or fall just short of criminal elements required by the two charges he faces.
McFadden, who has in other instances expressed skepticism about the Justice Department’s treatment of the Jan. 6 defendants compared to other protests that led to violence, excluded some videos that prosecutors wanted to present , with the judge saying the government took too long to find them. They were in possession of a witness, Matt Struck, a Colorado-based video editor who worked with Griffin’s Cowboys for Trump and accompanied Griffin to the Capitol last January.
The initial phase of the trial consisted of prosecutors marching McFadden through Griffin’s walk to the Capitol and onto the restricted Capitol grounds. To expose this evidence, they called Struck, a friend of Griffin’s who chronicled their travels on January 5 and 6. Prosecutors relied on dozens of his videos to help build the case against Griffin.
In the videos, members of the pro-Trump crowd can be heard chanting “Decertify!”, “Stop the Steal!” and “Traitors!”
Some of the videos shown in court show Griffin wearing a dark cowboy hat as he climbs the stone abutments that separate various terraces on the Capitol grounds.
Griffin can be seen crawling over one of these barriers, then climbing a bike rack placed on the side like a ladder against another barrier, then climbing a piece of plywood that had been placed against another obstacle. He was far from alone in doing so, running with what appeared to be thousands of others, many carrying pro-Trump flags or barriers.
In video taken after the riot, Griffin appeared to acknowledge that he knew he was crossing a police line. “DC police are saying, ‘You can’t step over that,'” Griffin said, adding that he had been “roped up” for Joe Biden’s nomination.
McFadden seemed particularly interested in this music video, requesting that it be aired twice.
But Griffin suggested there were so many Trump supporters and they were so excited that trying to keep them out of the restricted area was pointless. “What do you think will happen?” he added.
Struck, who testified as part of an immunity sought by prosecutors, said he did not recall any interactions with DC police at the Capitol and did not know why Griffin brought them up while trying to prevent people to enter. “He may have been referring to information we saw on TV,” the video editor said.
The videos also show an interview with Griffin from the afternoon of Jan. 6 in which he complains that Pence certified the election — something that wouldn’t happen for hours. “Pence sold us all out,” Griffin says. “You can imagine the emotion that went through people when we heard that word.”
Griffin’s stated belief that Pence had already certified the election results could make it difficult for prosecutors to prove that Griffin believed Pence was returning to the Capitol when Griffin and others drove through the Capitol grounds.
While the restricted area charge was clouded by questions about Pence’s whereabouts, prosecutors’ evidence on the disorderly conduct charge also appeared weak in the early hours of the trial, as Griffin’s video of the event appears to be a far cry from the images of violence and chaos on Capitol Hill that have filled television screens since January 6.
Griffin’s attorney, Nicholas Smith, pointed out that when his client addressed part of the crowd that afternoon, he said a prayer. Those near him as he spoke through a megaphone appear peaceful and it is unclear how many actually heard him amid the din of the crowd.
“Some of them started kneeling,” Struck said during cross-examination by the defense. “Looks like they were calm and listening to Couy.”
In videos shot that day, Griffin makes harsh statements, such as “We’re not going to take no for an answer.” But he also said protesters must act “peacefully”.
Smith said of his client, “His words didn’t come close to the prompting line.”
The second witness for the prosecution was Capitol Police Inspector John Erickson, who described the various locations where crowds gathered on January 6 and where police erected barricades, with bike racks and what he called “snow fences”.
However, McFadden seemed interested that while some of the fences had signs indicating the area was closed, the permanent architectural elements that Griffin scaled had no such markings.
“No signs or anything on that wall, though?” the judge asked while watching one of the videos.
“That’s right,” Erickson said.
Griffin appeared subdued during the proceedings, occasionally going to the side of the courtroom to privately consult with his attorney. A black cowboy hat similar to the one seen in the videos sat on the defense table next to Griffin, who told the court he worked as a stonemason in addition to serving on the county commission.
Although the trial involves only two misdemeanors, it has attracted unusual interest from the government. Among those in the courtroom on Monday were top Secret Service attorney Patrick Glaze and the head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division in Washington, John Crabb.
The lawsuit also attracted a handful of Griffin supporters, including a man wearing a biker vest emblazoned with the words “Free the Kraken…Under God, fraud vitiates all.”