The arrest of an FBI agent credited with helping thwart a plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer complicates one of the most closely watched cases of violent extremism that is becoming increasingly focused on allegations of wrongdoing by investigators.
FBI Special Agent Richard Trask, 39, of Kalamazoo, was charged Monday with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, less than murder following a domestic incident with his wife Sunday. He was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond following an arraignment in 8th District Court in Kalamazoo and faces a charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
His arrest comes at a critical juncture in the criminal case against five men charged in federal court with plotting to kidnap Whitmer. Defense lawyers last week leveled a broad attack on the foundation of the high-profile case and suggested a second FBI agent was trying to sabotage defense teams.
Trask, 39, has worked for the FBI since 2011 and served as the FBI’s public face in the Whitmer case, testifying in federal court about the investigation. He has worked on cases involving espionage, terrorism and domestic extremism investigations.
“It’s the last thing you want for a major case like this,” said Andrew Arena, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office. “Any time you give the defense any ammunition it’s not good.”
Details about the incident were not available. Trask did not respond to a message seeking comment Monday and there was no defense lawyer listed in court records.
FBI spokeswoman Mara Schneider said the bureau is cooperating with the prosecutor’s office. Trask’s job status was unclear Monday.
“In accordance with FBI policy, the incident is subject to internal review, and I cannot comment further at this time,” she said in a statement.
That review would include an investigation by FBI internal affairs, Arena said.
“Depending on the severity, it could be a suspension until things are ironed out one way or another,” Arena said.
Aside from his FBI duties, Trask opened a gym at his rural property in Oshtemo Township near Kalamazoo and offers CrossFit training, according to social media posts and state business filings. He filed state paperwork for BCB Health & Wellness last year and maintains an active Instagram account showing him exercising, flexing and posing shirtless.
As part of his bond conditions, Trask is prohibited from possessing a firearm.
“If you can’t carry a weapon, then you’re not going to work as a street agent,” Arena said. “He’s going to be suspended or put on restricted duty.”
Trask was arrested one week after defense lawyers provided the clearest view of how they plan to attack the kidnapping plot case.
Court filings revealed a defense strategy that involves suppressing evidence, attacking the work of FBI agents and claiming FBI informants entrapped men accused in the conspiracy. Five men are awaiting an October trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, though one defendant has asked U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker to move the trial out of Michigan, arguing media conduct and coverage had “corrupted the potential trial atmosphere.”
The arrest is the second potential problem in the case to emerge in recent months.
In March, prosecutors indicted an informant who sources say helped the FBI infiltrate the alleged conspiracy, a rare legal development. The indictment of Wisconsin resident Stephen Robeson after a prolonged period of cooperation suggests the relationship between Robeson and the FBI is destroyed and that prosecutors do not plan on using him at trial, legal experts said.
But defense lawyers can try to call him as a witness and attack Robeson’s credibility.
Trask testified in federal court in January against Delaware resident Barry Croft, an accused plotter who is portrayed as the group’s bomb maker. Trask identified Croft as the national leader of the 3 Percenters, a small militia that participated in the Jan. 6 insurgence at the U.S. Capitol.
During the court hearing, Trask helped provide context about multiple undercover recordings that included Croft. At the time, prosecutors wanted Croft held without bond, saying he was a violent extremist.
Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as tough talkers who were exercising their First Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.
“Croft was saying he was granted permission from God to commit murder, correct?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler asked the FBI agent.
“Correct,” Trask said.
Trask would be expected to play a central role in an October trial of five men in federal court in Grand Rapids.
“In an investigation like this, you’re always trying to ensure you have more than one person who can testify about that piece of evidence,” Arena said. “So if something happens, you’ve got a backup.”
Defense lawyers have raised questions about the other lead investigator, FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola.
Impola came under defense scrutiny earlier this month after a lawyer for co-defendant Barry Croft suggested Impola was trying to sabotage defense teams.
Croft’s lawyer Joshua Blanchard revealed the existence of a recording in which Impola discussed creating “disarray and chaos” for defense lawyers, whom he labeled “paid liars.”
(c) 2021 The Detroit News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.