Oath Keepers trial delayed after leader Stewart Rhodes tests positive for COVID-19
Washington — The highest-profile trial in the Justice Department's sprawling Jan. 6 investigation was unexpectedly postponed on Monday after its top defendant contracted COVID-19 while he was in pretrial detention.
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes — facing the department's most serious charge of seditious conspiracy — contracted the virus and is "in total isolation," his attorneys said they were told by jail officials, and he'll likely be unavailable for several days.
Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the trial and has been trying to keep the trial moving at an efficient clip, told the court that Rhodes will likely be unable to attend the trial in person for at least five days, if not more. The Alexandria County Jail, where the founder of the far-right group is being held, has a 10-day isolation policy, according to Mehta, so any early release, if at all possible, would require him to test negative.
It is unclear how long the proceedings will be put on hold because of Rhodes' diagnosis. Mehta on Monday recessed the court until at least Tuesday morning.
Rhodes' lawyers told CBS News that they are working on a possible remedy for the situation and that all parties are working for the quickest resolution to get the trial underway again.
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' defense attorneys said in court on Monday that they would be willing to waive their client's right to appear for certain witnesses, but Mehta said he needed a firmer confirmation from Rhodes himself that such a move was acceptable. Defendants have the right to be present for any and all court proceedings in their case. Other options discussed on Monday included securing a video conference link for Rhodes' remote participation, but Mehta has yet to rule on any remedial moves.
Rhodes' positive COVID test is not the first to interfere with the proceedings. Last week, a juror contracted the virus and was dismissed from service.
And although mandatory masking was dropped as a courthouse policy just last week, Mehta — cognizant of the long evidentiary road ahead — ordered all parties inside his courtroom to maintain the use of face coverings in an effort to avoid outbreaks.
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.
The Alexandria City Sherriff'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."
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