UPDATE: Federal Judge sends Gov. Whitmer kidnapping suspects to trial

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the General Motors Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant on January 27, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. – GM announced a $2.2 billion USD investment at its Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant to produce a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs. GM’s first all-electric truck will be a pickup with production scheduled to begin in late 2021. Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first fully-dedicated electric vehicle assembly plant. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

UPDATE: A federal judge has ruled there is enough evidence to go to trial, in the case against 5 men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Five of the men accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will return to federal court Friday as a hearing on whether there is enough evidence to charge them continues.

A federal judge also plans to consider whether two of the men, including the Michigan man described by federal authorities as the ringleader of the effort, should remain in jail before trial.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens on Tuesday ordered Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta held without bond until trial, saying their repeated participation in discussions about abducting Michigan’s Democratic governor and surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home validated the decision. Berens is scheduled to make bond decisions Friday for Adam Fox and Ty Garbin.

A sixth man, Delaware resident Barry Croft, was separately ordered to be transferred to Michigan earlier this week.

The preliminary hearing began Tuesday and featured hours of testimony by a lead FBI agent on the Michigan case, revealing new detail about investigators’ use of confidential informants, undercover agents and encrypted communication to thwart the purported scheme.

Agent Richard Trask also said members of anti-government paramilitary groups from several states discussed abducting Whitmer or Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during a June meeting in Ohio.

Fox and Croft were among those who attended that session, according to testimony and federal court documents. But it was not clear if talk of targeting Northam went beyond that meeting, and nothing from the complaint or Trask’s testimony indicated that anyone had been charged with a plot involving Northam.

The men could get up to life in prison if convicted.

Several of their defense attorneys implied during questioning on Tuesday that their clients were “big talkers” who did not intend to follow through with action.

Prosecutors, though, said some of the men conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s northern Michigan house in August and September and four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.

Seven other men purportedly linked to an extremist paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court last week with providing material support for terrorist acts and possession of a firearm while committing a felony. Michigan’s attorney general charged an eighth person — a Wisconsin man — in that case on Thursday.

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