Dislike for Trump is Why Couple Charged With Espionage Wanted to Leave U.S.: Lawyer

Lawyers for a Maryland couple charged with trying to sell United States Navy secrets to an unnamed country said dislike of former President Donald Trump made them want to leave the country, denying that they were attempting to flee arrest.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested in October. Jonathan Toebbe, a former Navy nuclear engineer, is accused of attempting to relay submarine design information to a foreign government.

He left SD cards with relevant data at designated "dead-drop" locations for what he thought was a representative from an unspecified country but was actually an FBI agent. Diana Toebbe is accused of acting as a lookout during the drops.

In October, prosecutors argued that the Toebbes posed flight risks if released from jail. They cited a message Diana Toebbe sent to her husband saying, "I cannot believe that the two of us wouldn't be welcomed and rewarded by a foreign govt." The judge agreed and has kept them jailed since October.

Homeland Security, Jonathan Toebbe, Diana Toebbe
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe have been in jail since October on charges of attempting to sell Navy submarine secrets to an unspecified foreign government. Above, Homeland Security police officers stand outside of the U.S. District Courthouse where the Toebbes have their hearing in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on October 12, 2021. Jose Luis Magana, File/AP Photo

Defense lawyers asked Wednesday that the detention hearing be reopened due to a different set of messages between the couple. Barry Beck, one of Diana Toebbe's attorneys, said the messages show she wanted to leave the country because of Trump.

"Rather than scheming to escape capture and prosecution for crimes, Mrs. Toebbe was clearly motivated to leave the country for political reasons," Beck wrote.

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."

Jonathan Toebbe, Diana Toebbe,
Attorneys for Diana Toebbe argue that she and her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, do not pose flight risks, as they were talking about leaving the country because of Donald Trump's politics, not to avoid arrest. Above, the booking photos released on October 9, 2021, by the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority show Diana and Jonathan Toebbe. File/West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority via AP

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."

The defense motion also notes that the messages were exchanged more than a year before Jonathan Toebbe is alleged to have first made contact with the unidentified foreign country, which in turn alerted the FBI.

"Thus, to the extent the messages that were introduced at her original detention hearing suggested that she was engaged in illegal activity, the newly disclosed messages dispel that implication entirely," Beck wrote, adding that the reason for her wanting to leave the country no longer exists since Trump lost his re-election bid.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.