House January 6 panel asks lawyer for Alex Jones’s accidentally leaked texts

<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

The House January 6 committee has asked the attorney for a family suing Alex Jones for defamation to turn over up to two years’ worth of text messages from the far-right conspiracy theorist’s phone that he inadvertently received from the defense ahead of the trial.

The request from the select committee – and another from federal law enforcement – was confirmed in an Austin, Texas, courtroom on Thursday by Mark Bankston, the lawyer for the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, which Jones has falsely claimed was a hoax.

Related: Damaging Alex Jones texts mistakenly sent to Sandy Hook family’s lawyers

Notably, Bankston said he had identified texts between Jones and Roger Stone, a far-right political operative and adviser to former president Donald Trump thought to be connected to the Capitol attack. He also said he intended to comply with the requests unless a court order instructed him not to.

The inadvertent transfer of the texts to Bankston, as well as his readiness to turn them over, could mark an extraordinary stroke of luck for the January 6 panel after Jones invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination in a deposition earlier in the committee’s investigation.

Bankston has said in court that Jones’s texts cover a roughly two-year period dating back to 2019, which if true would include his communications from the weeks after the 2020 election that Trump lost to Joe Biden and leading up to the Capitol attack the defeated president’s supporters carried out in early 2021.

But the Infowars host disputed that the texts to which Bankston has referred would contain anything of interest to the January 6 committee, saying on his show on Thursday that they actually covered a six-month period from 2019 to early 2020.

The texts are potentially significant because Jones has claimed that on 3 January 2020 he was asked by the Trump White House and the Secret Service to lead a march from the Ellipse to the Capitol three days later. Just such an action by Trump supporters on 6 January disrupted the congressional certification of Biden’s presidential victory. The texts could shed light on the extent – if any – of that coordination.

Jones’s claim that he was asked asked to lead that march is striking because the panel has heard that Trump later told an adviser he was unaware about such plans, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Details about that supposed request from the Trump White House have been scarce. The committee has struggled to verify the Infowars host’s claims through records from the Secret Service after agents’ texts from January 6 were unlawfully erased.

A committee spokesperson declined to comment on Jones’s texts.

The confirmation from Bankston on Thursday that he was prepared to turn over the text messages was the latest twist in a bizarre saga that could have far-reaching consequences for Jones, particularly as the justice department steps up its criminal investigation into January 6.

Bankston revealed he was in possession of the texts a day earlier, when he told Jones – while he was on the witness stand – that his legal team had “messed up” and provided “an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone with every text message” from the past two years.

Those messages included texts that contradicted claims made under oath that Jones had nothing on his phone pertaining to the Sandy Hook shooting.

Bankston said he immediately alerted Jones’s attorneys to the apparent error but they never took steps to keep the communications out of court by labeling them as privileged.

Jones’s attorney, Andino Reynal, requested a mistrial on Thursday, over the purportedly accidental leak. The attorney argued that he feared the text message leak was introduced in court simply to create more press coverage, the Associated Press earlier reported.

The emergency motion from Reynal sought the return and destruction of the documents, saying the defence had told Bankston to disregard the link to the files with the text messages, which also included messages from Robert Barnes, Jones’s other lawyer with ties to Stone.

But the trial judge, Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis county, denied the motion.

Reynal also asked Guerra Gamble to block the release of materials on Jones’s phone to anyone, including the January 6 committee. Guerra Gamble said she would let Reynal indicate what he wants to keep confidential, and then she would review that request, adding that she wasn’t sure she could block a subpoena, according to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

Jurors in the defamation case brought against Jones by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis – the father and mother of Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting – began deliberations late on Wednesday afternoon.

They resumed on Thursday, the ninth day of a trial which saw Jones apologize and admit that the 2012 shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, was “100% real”.

Jones previously spent years claiming that the 20 children and six adults murdered at Sandy Hook were not killed and instead – along with their grieving loved ones – were “crisis actors” carrying out an elaborate ruse to force gun control reform.

Heslin and Lewis sued Jones for defamation and inflicting emotional stress, saying they suffered mental distress, death threats and harassment. They have demanded at least $150m, saying an apology would not be enough.

Jones lost on the merits of the case by default, because he failed to provide any documents in response to the lawsuit. The jury is deciding how much he owes Lewis and Heslin in compensation. In a later phase, it will determine whether he should pay punitive damages.