(CNN) – Federal prosecutors investigated some of the Proud Boys, including their leader Enrique Tarrio, and their ties to longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, in a previously undisclosed criminal probe in 2019 into whether the men intended to threaten a federal judge.
The threat investigation did not lead to charges. But its existence, now revealed by CNN, sheds new light on how federal prosecutors had already looked into the far-right organization’s ties to someone in former President Donald Trump’s orbit before the siege of the US Capitol in January.
Stone was accompanied on January 6 in DC by members of the paramilitary extremist group the Oath Keepers and Stone has long had close ties to prominent members of the fraternity-like pro-Trump group the Proud Boys.
Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are central to some of the most aggressive parts of the FBI and DC US Attorney’s Office’s Capitol siege investigation.
Stone says he was not inside the Capitol on January 6, and he has not been accused of any crimes connected to that day. But Stone was a key figure in the “Stop the Steal” disinformation campaign following Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election. Stone was pardoned late last year by Trump following his conviction for lying to Congress and witness intimidation.
Investigation after posting picture of judge
The 2019 investigation dates back to Stone’s criminal proceedings in the DC District Court, related to his congressional testimony about Trump campaign efforts to reach WikiLeaks in 2016. A Proud Boys contingent was a prominent fixture supporting Stone at his trial.
In February 2019, less than a month after Stone had been indicted for lying to Congress, he posted on Instagram a photo of the judge presiding over his case, Amy Berman Jackson. The photo showed crosshairs behind her head.
Stone — testifying at a court hearing in 2019 to explain the post — said at the time that a person working with him on his social media accounts had chosen it.
Then, at another hearing the same year, Stone named names. Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, had been helping him with his social media, Stone said under oath, as had the Proud Boys’ Florida chapter founder Tyler Ziolkowski, who went by Tyler Whyte at the time; Jacob Engels, a Proud Boys associate who is close to Stone and identifies himself as a journalist in Florida; and another Florida man named Rey Perez, whose name is spelled Raymond Peres in the court transcript.
A few days later, federal authorities tracked down the men and gave them subpoenas to testify to a grand jury, according to Ziolkowski, who was one of the witnesses.
Ziolkowski and the others flew to DC in the weeks afterwards to testify.
“They asked me about if I had anything to do about posting that. They were asking me if Stone has ever paid me, what he’s ever paid me for,” Ziolkowski told CNN this week. When he first received the subpoena, the authorities wouldn’t tell Ziolkowski what was being investigated, but a prosecutor later told him “they were investigating the picture and if he had paid anybody,” Ziolkowski said. He says he told the grand jury Stone never paid him, and that he hadn’t posted the photo.
Tarrio and Engels did not respond to inquiries from CNN, and Stone declined to respond to CNN’s questions. The FBI’s Washington, DC, office did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.
A person familiar with the case said it had closed without resulting in any charges.
Stone had said under oath that he hadn’t noticed the photo had crosshairs in it until later. In the end, Jackson tightened Stone’s gag order, and Facebook and Instagram later removed his accounts from their sites.
Since the crosshairs picture
Ziolkowski and Engels have stayed in touch with Stone, even up to and after the January 6 riot, Ziolkowski said.
Engels told Ziolkowski he was with Stone on January 6, Ziolkowski said, while Ziolkowski had stayed out of DC. Tarrio had been ordered by a court to leave DC after he was arrested days before for his actions related to another protest.
When asked if he was being pursued by investigators after the crosshairs episode, Ziolkowski said, “I’m sure they’re keeping an eye on me.”
He, Tarrio and Engels have not been charged related to January 6.
But several other key figures in the Proud Boys have been charged for their actions leading up to and during the insurrection. Prosecutors have made clear in recent court filings they are pursuing questions of larger conspiracies among the right-wing groups and the extent of plotting an attack on the Capitol.
Tarrio defended the organization in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
“Were there Proud Boys that went in? Yes, and they’re idiots. They shouldn’t have gone in. But I’m going to support them because they are my brothers,” Tarrio told the paper, in response to a new lawsuit from a member of Congress and the NAACP against Trump and the Proud Boys, among others, on Tuesday. “But there was no plan to go into the Capitol. Unfortunately, one of my guys broke a window. Others trespassed. But there was no plan to even interrupt Congress.”