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Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes agrees to waive appearance in trial after positive COVID-19 test

Washington — The seditious conspiracy trial of five alleged members of the far-right Oath Keepers group is back on track after leader Stewart Rhodes agreed to waive his right to appear for portions of witness testimony on Tuesday after he tested positive for COVID-19

The highest-profile trial in the Justice Department's sprawling Jan. 6 investigation was unexpectedly postponed on Monday after its top defendant contracted the virus while in pretrial detention. 

Rhodes, whose attorneys say he is "in total isolation," dialed into Judge Amit Mehta's courtroom from jail in Alexandria, Va., and said he would allow the government to call eight witnesses deemed by his legal team to be "inconsequential" to the case specifically against him. These witnesses include a U.S. Capitol Police officer, a Secret Service agent, the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, and a custodian of records from Facebook. 

Mehta, who is presiding over the trial,, told the court Monday that Rhodes would likely be unable to attend the trial in person for at least five days. The Alexandria City Jail, where the founder of the far-right group is being held, has a 10-day isolation policy,  Mehta said, so any early release would require him to test negative. 

The Alexandria City Sheriff's office, which manages the jail in where Rhodes is being held, says that while it doesn't discuss an individual's medical information, some inmates have recently tested positive for covid-19. The office said, "To reduce the risk of further spread, those inmates, as well as those in the same housing units, are being quarantined."

Rhodes' attorneys told him  they would provide him with transcripts of any witness testimony he misses. 

Rhodes and codefendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell were about to commence the fourth week of what is expected to be at least a 6-week-long jury trial in Washington, D.C. The defendants — all of whom have pleaded not guilty — are accused of planning to halt the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, amassing weapons in the Washington, D.C., area in furtherance of that plan and coordinating their movements both in and around the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Rhodes' positive COVID test is not the first to interfere with the trial.  Last week, a juror contracted the virus and was dismissed. 

And although mandatory masking was dropped as a courthouse policy just last week, Mehta has ordered all parties inside his courtroom to use face coverings. 

Prosecutors say Rhodes, Meggs, Harrelson, and Caldwell were key players in a concerted effort to prevent Joe Biden from assuming the presidency, working from days after the election to oppose the peaceful transfer of power and prepare to take up arms against the government should Trump call upon them for assistance. 

Defense attorneys have argued their clients were largely in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 to provide aid and security to high-profile speakers at various pro-Trump rallies, not to overthrow the government.

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