TAMPA — On the fifth day of his federal trial on charges that he had illegal weapons and classified materials at his Tampa home, retired U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Jeremy Brown took the witness stand and tried to explain himself.
Yes, two illegal guns federal agents found belonged to him. Yes, he was the author of a report that was marked as “secret” and found in his girlfriend’s recreational vehicle. But no, he didn’t believe the information it contained was classified.
No, the hand grenades agents said they found were not his. Nor was the CD that held four other classified documents, also marked “secret”; he’d never seen it before.
For several hours Friday, Brown talked and talked, having told a judge that it would be his “honor, duty, and pleasure” to testify in his own defense.
But he seemed to falter under cross-examination.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Marcet began what became a lengthy line of questioning, he asked Brown about a visit he’d received in jail from his girlfriend earlier this week, and whether he’d made a particular statement about his upcoming trial testimony.
The statement was: “I could lie my ass off and they’d love the s--t out of me.”
Brown said the statement was taken out of context. He said he was simply talking about his desire to make a good impression.
“I would love to be liked by this jury,” he said, “because my fate is in your hands.”
Brown, 48, is charged in an indictment with 10 separate federal crimes, including possession of unregistered firearms, possession of a destructive device and unauthorized possession of documents related to national defense.
Federal agents said they found a sawed-off shotgun and a short-barreled rifle during a search of his home last year, neither of which had been registered in a federal database, as required by law. They also found the grenades and the classified documents, which related to military activities during Brown’s service.
The search occurred amid a probe into Brown’s involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He is charged in a separate case in Washington, D.C., with being among the rioters who breached a secure area outside the Capitol.
Court documents have detailed his connection to the Oath Keepers extremist group. Members of the group, including several from Florida, have been accused — and some convicted — of a plot to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
But the events of Jan. 6 have scarcely been mentioned in Brown’s Tampa trial.
He served 20 years in the U.S. Army, most of that time in Special Forces, retiring in 2012. From jail, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Florida House of Representatives.
Before Brown took the witness stand Friday, his attorney, Roger Futerman, argued at his urging that the gun charges should be dismissed. Brown, he said, believes those laws are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, which gives people the right to bear arms.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew, citing a lack of case law, promptly denied the request.
On the witness stand, Brown sat straight-backed, sometimes gesturing energetically as he spoke.
He talked about the military’s deployment procedures. He said military officials would have found and confiscated anything he wasn’t supposed to have during inspections of his belongings when he traveled.
He denied ever having seen a CD that federal agents said they found in the RV. The CD held four documents, all classified, that related to military operations in Afghanistan.
Data from the CD indicated the information had been placed on it in January 2005. Brown admitted he was in Afghanistan at that time, but said he would not have had access to classified computer networks. He also noted that the documents related to weapons systems, when, at that time, he worked in communications.
Another document — a trip report relating to the search for missing soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban — was merely a draft that Brown had written while returning from a mission, he said. He was unable to access a classified computer while traveling, so he wrote the report as a template to save time when he later wrote the final version. Despite the “secret” label, he didn’t believe the information in the draft document was classified.
The prosecutor asked Brown about his testimony in a previous court hearing in which he seemed to acknowledge that the document was indeed classified. He admitted he knew the rules about handling classified information and had attended annual training sessions to maintain his access to classified systems.
Richard Chorpening, an intelligence expert from U.S. Central Command, testified earlier Friday that several paragraphs in the trip report did constitute secret information. It identified human sources, as well as tactics and techniques the military uses, Chorpening said.
The trial is expected to wrap up Monday.