Rep. Mo Brooks was in virtual court this week to defend himself (yes, as his own lawyer) in a case that will test whether Brooks, Donald Trump, and others can be held liable for the Jan. 6 insurrection violence that unfolded immediately after they (1) helped assemble a crowd of Trump supporters willing to help intimidate Congress into nullifying Trump’s electoral college loss and (2) rallied that crowd with violent rhetoric urging them to “fight” and start “kicking ass” as had been done by ancestors who “sacrificed their blood” to protect their country.
That hearing did not go well for Brooks or other speakers and organizers of the Jan. 6 rally, or Brooks’ own contention—that he was inciting the crowd as part of his official duties as a congressman. It may have looked like a campaign event on Trump’s behalf, and the day’s events may have, without exception, been focused on declaring candidate Trump the “true” winner of the election that was about to be finalized by a joint session of Congress, but actually, sez Brooks, that wasn’t campaigning. As proof of that, he provided to the court evidence that he had his congressional staff working on his speech. Since he was using taxpayer resources to prepare the speech, he argued, obviously it wasn’t a campaign speech.
The Daily Beast has provided a rundown of just how Brooks may have screwed himself on that one, but it’s fairly obvious. Brooks is now claiming that his appearance at the rally of Trump-flag waving Trump supporters chanting Trump slogans while demanding Trump be declared the campaign winner was not a campaign event because he doesn’t want to pay for his own defense lawyers. If he claims that he was demanding Trump’s installation as election winner as part of his House duties, then he can get the Department of Justice to defend him—once again, using taxpayer money.
If telling a crowd to march on the Capitol to demand Trump be appointed the election’s true winner was election-related, though, then the Department of Justice doesn’t have to do squat on his behalf. Them’s the rules.
There is a flaw here, however, and it is the one the Daily Beast is highlighting in their own story. Can you guess what it is? That’s right: Mo Brooks, genius self-defending defense lawyer, has filed documents with the court claiming exactly the opposite.
In his bid to pretend that his now-notorious speech that day was not an attempt to incite the crowd into potential violence, Brooks had asserted to the court that he was giving an election speech using words often used in election speeches. Brooks told the court that “today is a time of choosing” meant “which senators and congressmen to support, and oppose, in future elections”; “tomorrow is a time of fighting” meant only “fighting” in the sense of “future elections.” And the “kicking ass” part, of course, only meant “kicking ass” in the context of the next elections.
Aside from being absolutely ridiculous lies—any brief review of Brooks’ shouting that day will give enough context to make it implausible that he was talking about what he wanted the crowd to do right then, not in the next midterm elections—it’s an unequivocal assertion that his speech was, in fact, a campaign speech. His only defense against the charge that he was directly inciting the crowd to violence is to claim that he only meant it as a campaign speech.
And if it was a campaign speech, and Brooks is now offering up evidence that his taxpayer-provided House staff helped him write his campaign speech, then that’s a red-flag House ethics violation. You can’t do that. You can’t use taxpayer-funded stamps on your campaign fundraising envelopes, you can’t bill campaign stops to taxpayers because you don’t want to spend campaign money on them, and you cannot have your congressional staff writing directly on campaign matters.
Brooks, then, has now painted himself into a corner. In official court documents, he’s asserted both that his Jan. 6 rally appearance before the violence was a campaign speech, and that he directed his congressional staff to help him write it.
So he’s either stolen House resources for campaign purposes or he’s lying to the court when he says his violent rhetoric was intended only to achieve a campaign-related outcome. Gotta be one or the other. If he stands by the “I used my staff” claims he may get the court to order that the Department of Justice provide his defense, but he decimates his own claims that his rhetoric wasn’t meant to provoke violence. If he stands by “it was a campaign speech” as his excuse for why the rhetoric shouldn’t be treated as violent, he’s in for a House Ethics investigation of the sort that would, in the before-times, lead to expulsion.
It’s not likely Brooks will be expelled, because All Republican Lawmakers Are Corrupt. The most likely scenario, based solely on the skepticism expressed by the judge during the day’s hearings, is that the court is going to reject the notion that inciting an attack on Congress counts as an “official” duty. Judge Amit Mehta has proven to have a detailed grasp on the events of that day (he is overseeing multiple trials related to insurrection violence) and has expressed some mild incredulity at the arguments Trump, Brooks and others have presented that don’t square with the public footage of what actually occurred.
It seems unlikely that Brooks is going to be able to snag a taxpayer-provided defense team. It’s more likely that he’ll be getting some new inquiries from the House Ethics Committee while he sputters his way through federal court by himself.