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Suspect in Paul Pelosi attack planned to break House speaker's kneecaps, DOJ says in filing charges

NBC News 11/1/2022 Rebecca Shabad and Ken Dilanian and Andrew Blankstein and Zoë Richards
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WASHINGTON — State and federal authorities on Monday announced criminal charges against the suspect in Friday’s brutal attack on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that allegedly included plans to break the lawmaker's kneecaps.

Federal prosecutors charged the suspected assailant, David DePape, 42, with attempted kidnapping and assault with intent to retaliate against a federal official by threatening or injuring a family member.

Hours later, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced state charges, including attempted murder, residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment of an elder, and threats to a public official and their family.

The federal complaint alleged that DePape was attempting to kidnap the House speaker when he broke into her San Francisco residence, not realizing that she was in Washington, D.C., and only her husband, Paul Pelosi, 82, was home.

"Pelosi was asleep when DePape came into Pelosi’s bedroom and stated he wanted to talk to 'Nancy.' When Pelosi told him that Nancy was not there, DePape stated that he would sit and wait," the complaint said, while adding that Paul Pelosi called authorities from the bathroom.

Police said they recovered zip ties in Pelosi's bedroom and in the hallway near the front door of the home. In DePape's backpack, they said they also found "among other things, a roll of tape, white rope, one hammer, one pair of rubber and cloth gloves, and a journal."

During an interview police conducted on the day of the attack, DePape allegedly said, "He was going to hold Nancy hostage and talk to her."

"If Nancy were to tell DePape the 'truth,' he would let her go, and if she 'lied,' he was going to break 'her kneecaps,'" investigators said in the federal complaint.

The suspect also allegedly told investigators that "by breaking Nancy's kneecaps, she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other Members of Congress there were consequences to actions."

The federal complaint went on to say that DePape told police "he wanted to use Nancy to lure another individual" to him, but the complaint didn't identify that person.

Jenkins on Monday said the state charges against DePape were based on facts contained in the federal affidavit and other information that will be detailed in a motion Tuesday to detain him without bail. His arraignment is set for Tuesday afternoon.

During a news conference announcing the charges Monday evening, Jenkins said the attack appeared to be politically motivated.

"It appears as though this was — based on his statements and comments that were made in that house during his encounter with Mr. Pelosi — that this was politically motivated," Jenkins said.


On Saturday, law enforcement determined that DePape had been living for the last two years in the garage of a residence in Richmond, Calif., just outside of San Francisco. In the garage, "among other things, agents seized two hammers, a sword, and a pair of rubber and cloth gloves," the complaint said.

The FBI has been working with San Francisco police and the Capitol Police on the investigation into Friday's attack on Paul Pelosi. All three law enforcement agencies, as well as the district attorney, got Paul Pelosi's testimony on Sunday, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. The source said he is awake and has all of his cognitive functioning and appeared to remember everything — he told them his version of events.

On Friday, Pelosi "underwent successful surgery to repair a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands," the speaker's office said, adding that his doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

Paul Pelosi was still in the intensive care unit, surrounded by family members, a source with knowledge of the situation told NBC News early Monday.

Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday evening saying that her husband was “making steady progress on what will be a long recovery process.” She did not provide further details about his condition.

Two sources briefed on the investigation said the suspect was searching for the House speaker, who was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the attack. Before the assault occurred, the intruder confronted Paul Pelosi shouting, “Where is Nancy, where is Nancy?”

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said officers arrived at the Pelosi home just before 2:30 a.m. PT and observed “Mr. Pelosi and the suspect both holding a hammer. The suspect pulled the hammer away from Mr. Pelosi and violently assaulted him with it."

Police tackled the suspect, disarmed him and took him into custody, Scott said. San Francisco police said Sunday that zip ties were found at the scene.

According to a Pelosi family member, the suspect brought the hammer and broke the windows of the Pelosi home facing the backyard. The family member said once inside, the suspect was trying to tie up Paul Pelosi and said they would wait “until Nancy got home.” When the suspect wasn’t looking, Paul called 911. The family member said Paul was home alone and was hit in the head with the hammer multiple times. When the police arrived, the suspect said, “We are waiting for Nancy.”

The suspect appears to have operated a website on which he wrote a wide variety of posts touching on almost all manner of modern conspiracy thinking: aliens, Jewish people, communism, vaccines, voter fraud and many other topics. Two law enforcement officials said an early look at DePape’s online footprint showed recent blog posts that espoused ideas typically associated with far-right extremism along with some liberal anti-establishment ideas.

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