Spy Suspect Wanted to Flee US Because of Trump, Not to Evade Arrest, Lawyers Say

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Homeland Security police officers stand outside of the U.S. District Courthouse where Jonathan and Diana Toebbe have their hearing in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Homeland Security police officers stand outside of the U.S. District Courthouse where Jonathan and Diana Toebbe have their hearing in Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct. 12, 2021. (Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo File)

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for a Maryland woman charged along with her husband in a scheme to sell Navy submarine secrets to a foreign government denied Wednesday that she had contemplated fleeing the United States to avoid arrest. Instead, they said, contempt for then-President Donald Trump was behind the couple's emigration plans.

Prosecutors at an October hearing had cited messages exchanged by the couple -- including one in which Diana Toebbe wrote, "I cannot believe that the two of us wouldn't be welcomed and rewarded by a foreign govt" -- in arguing that the Toebbes had been brainstorming ways to avoid detection prior to their arrest and were therefore a flight risk now.

But Toebbe's defense lawyers say additional messages produced by prosecutors since then make clear that she and her husband were looking to leave the country simply because they were dismayed by Trump.

"Obviously, the additional messages paint an entirely different picture as to why Mrs. Toebbe wanted to leave the country," wrote Barry Beck, one of her lawyers. "Rather than scheming to escape capture and prosecution for crimes, Mrs. Toebbe was clearly motivated to leave the country for political reasons."

The Toebbes, of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested in October on espionage charges.

Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy engineer, is accused of passing on design information about sophisticated Virginia-class submarines to someone he thought represented a foreign government but who was actually an undercover FBI agent. Diana Toebbe is accused of serving as a lookout during several of the "dead-drop" exchanges at which some of the information was deposited. The identity of the country has not been disclosed.

A judge agreed that the couple was a flight risk based in part on the messages, and ordered them jailed while the case moved forward. But defense lawyers asked Wednesday to reopen the detention hearing, citing additional messages recovered from Jonathan Toebbe's phone at the time of his arrest.

The March 7, 2019, messages included in the defense motion show Diana Toebbe venting "that the entire system is rigged" and telling her husband, "We need to get out."

After Jonathan Toebbe tries to reassure her that special counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian election interference is due to be released soon, and that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is facing prison time, his wife responds, "It's been too long. Nothing has changed. He's still in power." She adds, "Manafort got a slap on the wrist. It's a signal that the entire system is rigged."

Elsewhere in the conversation, Diana Toebbe, who at the time of her arrest was teaching at a private school in Maryland, muses that she was willing to travel anywhere, including "to teach in international schools" or "to take (French President Emmanuel) Macron up on his offer to harbor scientific refugees."

Prosecutors have until later this month to respond to the defense motion.

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