Fleet’s turn on the stand comes at a fraught political moment, just weeks after an assailant broke into Pelosi’s San Francisco home and assaulted her husband. The attack renewed attention on the rising threats of violence toward members of Congress — and in particular, Pelosi, who was the target of many who breached the Capitol seeking to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election.
In addition to his role as a Pelosi adviser and staff director on the House Administration Committee, Fleet has served as a key strategist and adviser to the Jan. 6 select committee. Now, after two years of helping the panel investigate Donald Trump’s role in attempting to subvert the 2020 election — and sending an armed mob to the Capitol — Fleet will play a direct part in one of those rioters’ prosecutions.
Prosecutors are expected to call on Fleet to describe the importance of the joint session of Congress held every four years on Jan. 6 to certify the presidential election. He may also be asked about his own role that day, which was to help fend off efforts by congressional Republicans to challenge the election results — a strategy that was sidelined after rioters, Williams included, broke into the building and forced Congress to flee.
Williams’ case has always been unusual among the nearly 900 defendants charged for their activities at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Video shows her playing an active role amid the mob on Jan. 6, appearing to gesture a wave of rioters toward the speaker’s office, where video shows her among the gathered crowd.
She’s later seen exiting the Capitol, wearing a shirt that read “I’m with Groyper,” a reference to followers of white nationalist personality Nick Fuentes, who prosecutors say Williams had become obsessed with ahead of Jan. 6.
Williams was in court last week as her attorneys attempted to limit the contours of what prosecutors intend to introduce — about Fuentes, allegations that she told friends she planned to sell Pelosi’s laptop to Russians, and about her toxic relationship with an ex-boyfriend who was among the witnesses that provided information to investigators about Williams’ Jan. 6 actions.
The judge also weighed whether to permit prosecutors to raise evidence that Williams stole a hard drive and gavel from Pelosi’s office as well, even though she’s not charged with either offense.
Hundreds of Jan. 6 defendants have pleaded guilty to crimes ranging from simple trespassing to seditious conspiracy — a violent plot to prevent the transition of power to Joe Biden. Hundreds more are continuing to negotiate potential plea deals with the government, leaving just several dozen of the most serious cases likely to go to trial. So far, juries have reached guilty verdicts on every count in the nearly 30 trials that have been held so far against those who breached the Capitol or attacked police officers on Jan. 6.
Williams’ trial is the first for a rioter known to have entered Pelosi’s suite. She’ll face jurors at the same time as another trial — the seditious conspiracy case against leaders of the Oath Keepers — is being concluded down the hall at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., steps from the Capitol itself. Prosecutors say members of the Oath Keepers sought out Pelosi as they scoured the building.
In both cases, defense attorneys raised concerns that the recent attack on Paul Pelosi could cause jurors to draw connections with Jan. 6 defendants like Williams. Her attorney, Lori Ulrich, urged a judge to prevent prosecutors from playing a clip in which rioters can be heard chanting “Where’s Nancy?” — noting that the recent assailant is similarly accused of uttering the same menacing chant as he entered her home.
In the Oath Keepers case, defense attorneys suggested Judge Amit Mehta poll jurors about whether they heard Biden’s recent speech in which he explicitly drew a connection between Jan. 6 and the attack at Pelosi’s home, but they ultimately opted against it.