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California man sent threatening texts to families of congressman, journalist on day of US Capitol riot, feds say

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House Democrats have sent the impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” to the Senate, kicking off the trial process.

USA TODAY

A California man sent threatening text messages to the families of a New York congressman and a journalist on the same day pro-Donald Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, federal authorities said Tuesday

Robert Lemke, 35, was arrested in California on Tuesday on a charge of making threatening interstate communications, according to the Justice Department. He sent messages to family members of the congressman and to a relative of the journalist saying that armed people were near their homes, according to a criminal complaint. 

To the congressman’s brother, Lemke sent, “Your brother is putting your entire family at risk with his lies and other words. We are armed and nearby your house. You had better have a word with him. We are not far from his either. Already spoke to (the congressman’s son) and know where his kids are.” 

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Shortly after the 2020 election, Lemke posted to his Facebook page, “Folks. Be ready for war. Trump has refused to cede,” according to the complaint. Echoing baseless claims of voter fraud, he said, “Supreme Court cases will be successful.”

“Stop telling lies; Biden did not win, he will not be president,” Lemke texted the congressman’s brother on Jan. 6. “We are not white supremacists. Most of us are active/retired law enforcement or military. You are putting your family at risk. We have armed members near your home. … Don’t risk their safety with your words and lies.”

The New York Times and NBC News identified the congressman as Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. He is not identified in the criminal complaint. 

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“He was radicalized by ‘the big lie’ that Donald Trump told and that has been supported by so many Republicans in the House and the Senate,” Jeffries told MSNBC.

Lemke’s texts also included a picture of a home in the same neighborhood as Jeffries’ brother’s house, according to the complaint. He also sent texts to Jeffries’ sister-in-law, according to federal officials. 

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The criminal complaint also doesn’t identify the journalist, but the New York Times, citing a person briefed on the investigation, identified ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos. 

“As alleged, Robert Lemke was dissatisfied with the results of the 2020 Presidential Election and subsequent statements about the election made by a U.S. Congressman and journalist,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. “Rather than peaceably disagree, Lemke allegedly threatened to harm those individuals’ families, demanding they retract their statements.” 

According to the complaint, Lemke told a “New York City-based” relative of Stephanopoulos that the journalist’s “words are putting you and your family at risk. We are nearby armed and ready. Thousands of us are active/retired law enforcement, military, etc. That’s how we do it.”

Lemke, who faces a maximum of five years in prison, is expected to appear in court Wednesday. He identified himself on his Facebook page as a former member of the U.S. Air Force and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California, though both the New York Times and NBC News reported he never worked for the sheriff’s office and didn’t serve in the military. 

“Lemke’s alleged threats, aimed at the family members of a sitting U.S. Representative and a journalist, crossed a bright line,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “The FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force is always on watch, and we act with speed to stop violence – whether the threat comes from within our borders or from outside them. That’s how we do it.”

More than 400 suspects have been identified in relation to the riot that left five people dead. On Monday, the House delivered an article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate. The former president was impeached by the House on Jan. 13 on one article of “incitement of insurrection.”

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