Defense attorneys grilled an FBI informant today in the trial of two men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor, questioning his motivation to get inside a band of anti-government extremists and the key steps he took to gather evidence.
Dan Chappel was cross-examined for hours as lawyers pressed their theme that any 2020 scheme targeting Gretchen Whitmer was driven by agents and operatives, not marijuana-puffing rebels Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr.
Near the end of the day’s testimony, prosecutors summoned Ty Garbin, a star witness who agreed to cooperate shortly after his arrest and pleaded guilty. He said Fox and Croft were his co-conspirators in the plot.
Earlier, the defense challenged Chappel over his compensation — more than $50,000 in cash — and even a knee injury from Army service in Iraq. He was repeatedly asked questions to show he was getting direction from the FBI at critical times, especially a ride with Fox to scout Whitmer’s vacation home.
“I never expected anything” from the government, Chappel said in response to tense questions from attorney Joshua Blanchard about pay and a new laptop.
“I wanted to stop people from doing bad things to good people,” said Chappel, a 35-year-old trucker who hauls mail and was known as “Big Dan.”
Fox and Croft are on trial for the second time on conspiracy charges. A federal jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict in April but acquitted two other men.
Prosecutors say Fox, 39, who lives in western Michigan, and Croft, 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, wanted to trigger a national revolt by kidnapping the Democratic governor close to the presidential election. The government said disgust over COVID-19 restrictions inspired them to make plans in 2020.
Chappel secretly recorded conversations with the men during that summer and exchanged countless text messages. Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons noted with irony that Chappel at times expressed support for firing shots at Whitmer’s vacation home.
“You said it would look like a hunting accident,” Gibbons said.
Chappel acknowledged that he also suggested a way to damage the door on the house. He said he needed to say certain things to maintain his standing but was trying to soften talk about a violent kidnapping.
Gibbons said Chappel never urged Fox to choose legal ways beyond “domestic terrorism” to settle his differences with government.
“If I was going to do anything like that he would not have kept me in the group,” Chappel replied. “He said numerous times, ‘How many Novembers have we had? How many elections have we had?’”
Whitmer has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot.
Trump recently called the kidnapping scheme a “fake deal.”