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DOJ’s Jan. 6 Prosecutor Strives to Win Tough Cases, Not Friends

April 29, 2022, 9:50 AM

Defense attorneys at the Greenbelt, Md. federal courthouse were relieved to hear assistant U.S. attorney Thomas Windom was headed to Justice Department headquarters rather than focusing on their clients.

“I’ve tried cases vs Windom and he’s a bastard but I really do like him a lot. I’m glad he’s on this because he’s a bastard,” tweeted Maryland criminal defense attorney Mirriam Seddiq after the New York Times reported Windom was brought on to explore whether broader crimes were committed related to the Jan. 6 insurrection beyond the Capitol invasion.

Two sources with direct knowledge confirmed to Bloomberg Law that Windom was detailed several months ago to Main Justice to pursue potential Jan. 6 crimes.

The assignment comes as no surprise to lawyers who have sparred with Windom in the suburban Maryland courthouse where he has served for a decade, winning notable convictions in cases involving public corruption and domestic terrorism.

“There is nobody I can think of who would be better suited to handle a very sensitive case, without being influenced by who the people are, what their political affiliation would be, and what the stakes were,” said Bruce Marcus, a veteran Maryland criminal defense lawyer.

The son of a former Alabama Republican lieutenant governor, Windom graduated from the University of Virginia’s law school in 2005 and clerked for conservative jurist Edith Brown Clement on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. After a stint at Williams & Connolly, he joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland’s southern division, which has jurisdiction over the state’s two most populous counties.

Contentious Theory

He prosecuted a string of local politicians for bribery and wire fraud as well as two cases involving domestic terrorism in which he successfully advanced a contentious, sparingly-used legal theory with significant implications for Jan. 6.

In 2020, Windom convinced a judge to apply an enhancement in sentencing a former Coast Guard lieutenant to 13 years in prison for plotting to kill prominent Democrats. Christopher Hasson had pleaded guilty on gun and drug charges, but Windom—lacking a domestic terrorism statute—conceived the strategy that by proving the defendant was serious about carrying out the murder spree, the judge could amplify the punishment.

Public defender Elizabeth Oyer, who was tapped as DOJ’s top pardon attorney this month, told the federal judge in the case that “Mr. Windom’s strident and dismissive response to” an expert witness’s “very detailed analysis is one of the most alarming things that I have heard in my practice in federal court.”

He employed the same theory again last year, securing expanded prison time for members of the white supremacist group, “The Base.”

The department has recently faced calls to seek the domestic terrorism enhancement in sentencing people responsible for the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

DOJ spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle decline to comment for this article, aside from saying Windom’s current job title remains assistant U.S. attorney.

‘Standoffish’

When Windom’s face appeared on his screen while watching MSNBC last week, defense lawyer Robert Bonsib initially thought, “Whoa! That’s a surprise.”

Then he took a beat, and recognized his litigation adversary fit the bill for a gig of this magnitude.

“He’s the kind of guy you want in that position. He’s not a publicity seeker,” Bonsib said. “He’ll keep his mouth shut and not embarrass anybody.”

Not every Maryland criminal defense attorney holds Windom in the same esteem.

“I’ve had some of my very close friends who said, ‘this guy is standoffish. I can’t talk to him,’” said Marcus. “He is astute enough to know when somebody is trying to ingratiate themselves in order to get information.”

Several defense lawyers and past colleagues described him as fairminded in reaching plea deals for those he felt didn’t deserve harsh consequences or in opting against charging individuals after investigating them.

In one long-running corruption probe, Windom faced public pressure to divulge information on those who were never charged. He refused to talk about the people when he felt he couldn’t prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, said a source familiar with the matter.

High Productivity

Less than a year before moving over to Main Justice, Windom was promoted as the Greenbelt office’s chief. He continued to investigate and try his own cases while supervising a team of 20 prosecutors, said Stuart Berman, a defense lawyer who works opposite Windom.

That’s “an indication of what a highly skilled and highly productive attorney he is,” said Berman, who was Windom’s original supervisor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Greenbelt.

Elevated again late last year to the Jan. 6 investigation, Windom will now be tested on the national stage.

“Even when we’ve had pretty contentious cases where the other side was fighting for every inch that they could, as they should, Thomas relies on what the rules are, what the case law says,” said Ray McKenzie, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland. “And if you don’t know the rules, it’s to your detriment. Because Thomas does.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com