It was the Perry Mason moment heard round the world. And by that, I mean Wednesday’s live, in-court revelation that attorneys for far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones inadvertently sent two years worth of texts and emails from Jones’ cell phone to his opponents in a defamation trial.
Using those emails and texts judiciously and strategically, Texas lawyer Mark Bankston gave a masterclass in cross-examination, alleging Jones lied about everything from his very use of email to his financial situation to the sincerity of his stated belief that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax. It’s no wonder a jury concluded this week that Jones, who was held liable by default for refusing to provide relevant documents, including texts and emails, now owes $50 million — $4.1 million in compensatory damages and an eye-popping $42.5 million in punitive damages, which Jones’ lawyer already vowed to contest — to the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre.
One would think it could not get worse for the Infowars host. But even before the jury announced its damages award, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble made a ruling that could far overshadow Jones’ monetary woes: She held that barring certain medical records belonging to other Sandy Hook families, Bankston’s possession and use of Jones’ phone data was generally fair game. Why? Because Jones’ lawyer — who realized his mistake but asked only that the other side “disregard” what he shared — failed to specifically identify any privileged material within the 10 days allotted under Texas court rules.
And it’s that decision that stands to make Jones’ life truly miserable. Not only did it leave him open to punitive damages to Lewis’ family and significant damages in two other, similar Sandy Hook cases, but it could also expose Jones to criminal investigation and prosecution in three areas: bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of Congress and any crimes committed in connection to the Jan. 6 attack.
First, as the trial was underway, Jones’ parent media company filed for federal bankruptcy protection, just as some of its subsidiaries did in April. Wednesday’s court proceedings, however, suggest that Jones’ claims of poverty are false. Although Jones has testified that he “lost millions of dollars” after he and Infowars were “deplatformed” in 2018 from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, the contents of Jones’ phone apparently show his revenue increased — and that on some days, he made more than $800,000 through products sold through Infowars advertisements. If Jones’ bankruptcy filings reflect similar discrepancies, he could be referred to the Department of Justice for investigation; it is a federal crime to make false or misleading statements in bankruptcy proceedings and/or willfully file fraudulent documents in a bankruptcy proceeding as part of a larger scheme to defraud, including in order to conceal assets from one’s litigation adversaries.
Second, much is being made of the House Jan. 6 committee’s reported request for the contents of Jones’ phone — and Bankston’s announcement that he will comply with that request.
To be fair, Bankston admitted that while he and his co-counsel saw text messages “from as far back as 2019,” they do not know “the full scope and breadth” of what is on Jones’ phone, much less whether “it even covers the time period” of interest to the committee. (Jones’ lawyer, for his part, told the court the texts produced cover more than six months “from late 2019 into the first quarter of 2020.”) Yet the well-staffed committee will devour its contents, and if there are communications from 2020 and 2021, Jones could be at further risk.
Here’s why: When the committee issued a subpoena to Jones last November, it not only sought his testimony, but demanded he produce relevant documents within weeks. Jones ultimately testified this past January — and claimed to have invoked the Fifth Amendment roughly 100 times — but apparently did not produce his texts.
Those texts remain of intense interest to the committee, which, according to The New York Times, has been trying to obtain them for months — and for good reason. As the committee observed in its subpoena to Jones, both media reports and his own statements reflect he:
“Repeatedly promoted” claims of election fraud and urged his listeners to attend the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol attack in ways that intimated he had knowledge of then-President Donald Trump’s plans;
Was told by the White House on or around Jan. 3, 2021, that after the Ellipse rally ended, he was “to lead a march to the Capitol, where President Trump would meet the group;”
Spoke at the Jan. 5 Freedom Plaza rally at Trump’s request;
Helped organize the Jan. 6 Ellipse rally, “including by facilitating a donor . . . to provide what [Jones] characterized as ‘eighty percent’ of the funding;” and
Marched, with “Stop the Steal” movement leader Ali Alexander and others, from the Ellipse to the Capitol on Jan. 6, where he was recorded “telling people not to be violent and to gather on the east side of the Capitol to hear President Trump speak.”
As the Times has noted, Jones also has a “broad range of ties to people in pro-Trump circles,” and was “closely involved” in two Washington-based rallies on Nov. 14 and Dec. 12, 2020, for which the Oath Keepers provided security.
Further, with longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, Jones was among those Trump allies “meeting in and around, or staying at” the Willard Hotel in Washington, where Jones interviewed former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Jan. 5. Among the texts included in Jones’ phone data, as produced to Lewis’ family’s lawyer, are what Bankston described as “intimate messages” between Stone and Jones.
In short, Jones’ fingerprints — and relationships — are all over Jan. 6 and the weeks preceding it. And if Jones’ phone proves his involvement in Jan. 6 and/or schemes to overturn the 2020 election in ways that contradict Jones’ prior testimony, Jones could also find himself under investigation for one or both of two crimes of which Stone was convicted before Trump pardoned him: obstruction of an official proceeding and false statements to Congress.
Third and finally, Bankston also disclosed in court that the Jan. 6 committee is not the only investigative body to request the phone. “Several law enforcement agencies” also made requests for the phone data, Bankston told the judge, adding that he intends to comply with those requests “immediately.” And although Bankston did not mention the Justice Department by name, it’s a safe assumption that the DOJ is one of the “various federal agencies” that came calling.
Since the season finale of the Jan. 6 committee hearings last month, public reporting shows the DOJ’s own investigation is moving at a faster clip than expected or understood. In recent days, we’ve learned the Justice Department has issued grand jury subpoenas to at least four Trump White House aides: Greg Jacob, Marc Short, Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin. A fifth Trump White House staffer, Cassidy Hutchinson, is reportedly cooperating with the DOJ’s probe.
Jones, on the other hand, was in discussions with the DOJ about potential cooperation in its investigation months ago — but offered help only in exchange for immunity from prosecution. It’s unclear whether Jones ultimately reached a deal with federal investigators, but his eagerness for leniency at a much earlier phase in the DOJ’s work, coupled with its recent, dramatic advances, only underscores why a federal review of his phone data could be more bad news for Jones.
Of course, whether Jones has anything to fear beyond additional defamation liability is something only he (and his email and text buddies) know. It’s also possible that the real damage Jones could do is less to himself than to any number of others — such as Stone, Flynn or even Trump himself — in his orbit.
Nonetheless, if Wednesday’s jaw-dropping turn in Jones’ trial turns out to be either his own Achilles’ heel or a key plot point in unraveling Jan. 6, you won’t find me open-mouthed and gaping again.