A Topeka man charged in connection with the Capitol riot is asking a federal judge to order the government to turn over sensitive material that he says shows undercover officers inciting protesters.
William Pope, whose charges include two felonies, has filed a series of motions asking US District Judge Rudolph Contreras to compel the government to provide him with documents he says he is entitled to have because he is acting as his own attorney.
The government is violating his rights, Pope argues, by failing to give him full access to the discovery material and release documents deemed “sensitive” and “highly sensitive” that he says show police encouraging protesters to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Exercising my constitutional right to represent myself as the officer of the court in my own case necessitates that I have full access to discovery,” Pope said in a recent motion. “…The government’s opposition to granting me full discovery access denies me due process and creates an undue burden limiting my ability to adequately confront witnesses and accusations.”
Attorneys representing Jan. 6 defendants are given full access to the discovery databases in order to prepare a defense, Pope said. That same access, he said, should be available to defendants acting as their own attorneys.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
The debate over the release of Capitol security footage from Jan. 6 intensified last month when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced criticism for granting Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to view more than 40,000 hours of video. On Tuesday, McCarthy said he would soon make access available to the broader public and to lawyers of defendants charged in connection with the insurrection.
In Pope’s case, the government argues that he should not have direct access to the discovery because of concerns about national security, privacy and interfering with the investigation.
“It is well established that protective orders are appropriate where the disclosure of discovery could jeopardize the national security of the United States, compromise an ongoing investigation, or infringe on the privacy of uncharged third parties and others associated with a case,” it said in on Feb. 10 filings.
“Here, there is plenty of good cause to continue to prohibit Pope’s direct access to discovery databases; Pope, and other pro se defendants, will not be granted access to these databases because the databases contain content…that warrant protection that cannot be provided if defendants have access.”
The government said Pope already has access to some body-worn camera footage and US Capitol Police surveillance video and is allowed to view discovery under the supervision of an officer of the court. He may possess materials that are marked “sensitive,” it said, as long as they are secured in a safe place and are used solely in connection with his case.
Pope’s objections to those proposed solutions, the government said, “are not rooted in concern with building his defense, but rather in a desire to engage in a ‘fishing expedition.'”
“Many of Pope’s discovery requests have had no apparent relevance to his case such as his September 28, 2022 request that the government produce documents and records regarding ‘[h]How many years did Joe Biden spend in prison after he was arrested by US Capitol Police for trespassing?'” the government said in a Nov. 12 filings. “And a number of Pope’s discovery requests appear to be derived from false information that he has consumed and circulated online.”
Pope told The Star that the Biden request was in reference to Biden telling David Letterman in a 2007 interview that he was arrested for trespassing after wandering into the Senate chamber while visiting the Capitol at age 21.
“I jokingly asked the prosecutor what he’d been charged with and what plea deal he received,” Pope said. “But prosecutors tend to be humorless and like to take things out of context in their filings.”
Pope said he had every right to raise questions about the Jan. 6 investigation.
“I’m not a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist,” he said in an email this week. “I don’t believe in aliens or spend my time chasing ghosts. I’m confident America landed on the moon. I’m also highly skeptical of wild claims that are not supported by evidence.”
He said he had “repeatedly debunked J6 rumors that are not supported by current facts, such as those that claim antifa was responsible.”
“But there are a lot of very strange things about January 6 that need to be questioned, and unfortunately we don’t have all the answers yet,” he said. “As a Ph.D. student, I believe it shouldn’t be taboo to ask reasonable questions in pursuit of the truth.”
Pope faces eight charges in the Capitol riot, including civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding — both felonies — as well as disorderly conduct in a Capitol building and impeding passage through a Capitol building or grounds. One count involves allegedly trying to force open a door inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite.
In an email Wednesday, Pope said that “the government did acknowledge to me in a September phone call that I was ‘entirely peaceful’ and did not destroy or steal anything in the Capitol.”
Pope ran for Topeka City Council in 2019 and has been a student in Kansas State University’s Leadership Communication doctoral program. A K-State spokeswoman said Tuesday that he was last enrolled in classes in fall 2022. He said he remains in good standing in the program and is waiting to start his dissertation because his court case is consuming so much of his time.
Pope said he has been given access to less than 1% of the total Jan. 6 discovery materials. His most recent motion, filed Feb. 21, asks that the judge publicly release videos he says show undercover Metropolitan Police Department employees stirring up protesters. The videos, he said in his motion, “clearly demonstrate that claims made by the government (claims that there were no undercover government provocateurs at the Capitol on January 6) were false.”
One video clip, he said, shows an undercover MPD employee joining the crowd in chanting “Drain the swamp!” and “Whose house? Our house!” and repeatedly urging protesters to advance up the northwest steps to the Capitol. Pope said the footage could not be shared publicly because the government had designated the material as “sensitive” and placed it under seal.
But since his recent filings have attracted “considerable public attention,” he said, “I believe it is best that this honorable court now publicly release this sealed exhibit in support of my motion.”
In its Nov. 12 filing, the government said it “has disclosed to Pope that the government is not aware of any person who was acting on behalf of any government agency as an ‘agent provocateur’ — that is, as a person who committed or acted to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act — with respect to January 6, 2021.”
Pope’s ongoing battle for the material has been widely discussed in right-wing circles, and even as his case winds through federal court, he posts continuous updates on social media. His Twitter post about undercover MPD officers got thousands of retweets.
“Whether Judge Contreras grants my motion to unseal the undercover police provocateur video, or if it gets released as a trial exhibit, or if Congress releases it, this video will come out eventually,” Pope tweeted on Feb. 26. “But for now, the government continues to hide it from the American people!”
The government said in Feb. 10 filing that “many of the challenges that the Pope now complains of appear to be of his own creation because of the broad definition of what he considers relevant.”
“Rather than focusing on discovery from the time and locations in the Capitol where he was present, he has instead chosen to review footage and discovery from the entirety of the Capitol complex,” the government said. “If his social media postings are any indication, Pope is painstakingly searching for evidence that a coordinated group of federal agent provocateurs were responsible for inciting January 6.”
Pope described himself in a recent court filing as “an ‘entirely peaceful’ Topekan arrested three days after my 35th birthday.” He said he has no criminal history, has never used illegal drugs, has been “a productive member of society” and has “a long track record of being trustworthy.”
“In the past, the federal government has entrusted me as an employee of the National Park Service to account for all fee revenue in Yellowstone National Park,” Pope said in the filing. When working as an auditor for the state government of Kansas, he said, he “frequently handled sensitive files and I always safeguarded that information.”
He said he had no “ill intent” in trying to obtain the material.
“My sole motivation for wanting full access to discovery is to defend myself against accusations the government has brought against me,” he said, “and I will do that the right way.”