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Zeldin attacker says he had been drinking, ‘did not know’ who GOP candidate was

David Jakubonis, 43, an Iraq War veteran, tells investigators he was drinking whiskey on the day of the assault and felt New York gubernatorial candidate was disrespecting veterans

In this image taken from video provided by WHEC-TV, David Jakubonis, left, is subdued as he brandishes a sharp object during an attack U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, right, as the Republican candidate for New York governor delivered a speech in Perinton, N.Y., Thursday, July 21, 2022.  (WHEC-TV via AP)
In this image taken from video provided by WHEC-TV, David Jakubonis, left, is subdued as he brandishes a sharp object during an attack U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, right, as the Republican candidate for New York governor delivered a speech in Perinton, N.Y., Thursday, July 21, 2022. (WHEC-TV via AP)

A man accused of attacking New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin during a recent campaign rally has told investigators he’d been drinking that day and didn’t know who the congressman was, authorities said as the man was arrested on a federal assault charge Saturday.

David Jakubonis, 43, made an initial court appearance Saturday before a federal magistrate judge in Rochester, New York, on a single count of assaulting a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon. The charge carries a potential maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

He was ordered held until a bail hearing in federal court Wednesday. Prosecutors said he should remain detained as a flight risk and is dangerous, according to a court filing. Assistant federal public defender Steven Slawinski, representing Jakubonis, said in an email to The Associated Press that he planned to ask the judge to release Jakubonis from custody.

Jakubonis was arraigned Friday on a separate state charge of attempted assault in the second degree and was released by a local judge. That prompted criticism from Zeldin and other Republicans who held it up as an example of the need to reform New York’s bail laws, something Zeldin has called on Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul to toughen.

A 2019 bail reform law in New York eliminated pretrial incarceration for people accused of most nonviolent offenses. The law gives judges the option to set bail in nearly all cases involving violent felonies, but it has exceptions for certain attempted felonies like attempted assault.

The federal criminal complaint filed Saturday alleged Jakubonis, an Iraq War veteran, told investigators he was drinking whiskey on Thursday before he went onstage as Zeldin addressed a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the town of Perinton to ask the speaker if he was disrespecting veterans.

Jakubonis “did not know who the speaker was or that the speaker was a political person,” according to the complaint. The complaint added that when Jakubonis watched video of Thursday evening’s incident he told investigators he “must have checked out” and that what was depicted in the video was disgusting.

According to video of the attack, Jakubonis raised his arm toward Zeldin as he held a keychain with two sharp points. The congressman from Long Island then grabbed Jakubonis’ wrist and the two tussled to the ground as others jumped in to help. Zeldin, who also served in the military, suffered a minor scrape.

Zeldin, who is Jewish, said at a news conference in the Syracuse area Friday that he saw the man in his periphery on stage.

“The first thing I saw was that he was wearing a hat that said he was a veteran,” he said. “And my guard couldn’t possibly be more dropped. But at the same exact time, I noticed that he had a weapon in his hand.”

He said the man was saying, “You’re done,” to him.

“And obviously in that point, regardless of whatever’s on your hat, this was not a normal situation and there needed to be action taken,” he said.

Jakubonis is an Army veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2009 as a medical laboratory technician.

Zeldin said he was grateful for everyone who jumped in to help. He finished his remarks after Jakubonis was subdued, saying Friday it was important “not to be intimidated.”

On Friday, US President Joe Biden denounced the attack on Zeldin.

“As I’ve said before, violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics. I am especially grateful for the courage of those who immediately intervened, and that he is unharmed and was able to continue his speech,” the president said in a statement.

Zeldin, who has represented eastern Long Island in Congress since 2015, is a staunch ally of former president Donald Trump and was among the Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.

He has focused his campaign on calling for a crackdown on crime but faces an uphill battle against Hochul. He’ll need to persuade independent voters — which outnumber Republicans in the state — as well as Democrats in order to win the general election.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a ceremony to sign a package of bills to strengthen gun laws on June 6, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Amid calls from Republicans and some Democrats to toughen the law, Hochul this year signed a measure to allow someone to be held on bail for hate crimes and additional gun offenses, and give judges more discretion in deciding bail if a person is facing multiple charges.

Judges who set bail must also weigh factors like an individual’s history of using guns, whether they are accused of causing “serious harm” and if they violated an order of protection.

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