A former member of the far-right Oath Keepers testified as a witness in federal court on Thursday that he believed the group’s founder, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, was in communication with a U.S. Secret Service agent in the months before the Capitol riot.
The former Oath Keeper, John Zimmerman, told the courtroom that he heard Rhodes’ side of a phone call with the agent ― or someone who represented themselves as an agent ― at a September 2020 rally for then-President Donald Trump in North Carolina.
Asked whether Rhodes had any direct contact with Trump, however, he responded, “Not that I recall specifically,” according to Business Insider.
Zimmerman, of North Carolina, formerly operated a supply store called Prepper JAKZ for people seeking to prepare for the collapse of society.
Rhodes and four others linked to his extremist organization are currently standing trial on seditious conspiracy charges for their alleged parts in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. They face up to 20 years behind bars for what prosecutors say was a carefully planned effort to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Trump to Joe Biden.
Rhodes’ alleged contact with the U.S. Secret Service is significant, as questions remain over the lengths Trump may have gone to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and retain his grasp on power.
The U.S. Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another cooperating Oath Keeper, William Todd Wilson, had told prosecutors that Rhodes made a phone call to someone close to Trump on the afternoon of the Capitol attack ― but that person’s identity remains unclear. Wilson said he was present in the hotel room a short walk from the Capitol where Rhodes implored the unknown contact to convince Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, which Rhodes believed would allow his group “legal cover” to take up firearms in Washington, D.C.
Wilson pleaded guilty to a seditious conspiracy charge earlier this year.
Secret Service agents have fallen under suspicion in the House select committee’s ongoing probe of the Jan. 6 attack. An inspector general said in July that text messages from some agents’ phones around the time of the riot had been erased.
The panel heard testimony from former White House staffers alleging that Trump tried convincing his Secret Service detail to take him to the Capitol when his supporters were mobbing the building as Congress attempted to formally certify Biden’s win. Trump allegedly became violent when the agents refused.
Upon Biden’s arrival at the White House, he reportedly made changes to his protective detail due to concerns that some agents had been politically aligned with his predecessor.