Suspected attacker of GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin arrested on federal assault charge

David Jakubonis, 43, was arrested Saturday and charged with assaulting a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon, according to Barbara Burns, a Department of Justice spokesperson. Jakubonis made his first court appearance before US Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson in Rochester on Saturday, according to court documents, and the weapon involved was described in court records as a self-defense keychain.

Jakubonis was already facing state charges over the alleged attack Thursday. He had been charged with attempted assault in the second degree after being accused of confronting Zeldin, a Republican, while he was giving a speech in Fairpoint, New York. Jakubonis “attempted to stab” Zeldin, a statement from the campaign said, and the GOP lawmaker “grabbed the attacker’s wrist to stop him until several others assisted in taking the attacker down to the ground.” Zeldin was not injured.

CNN has attempted to reach the public defender assigned to Jakubonis for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

According to the criminal complaint filed Saturday, Jakubonis, an Army veteran, allegedly told authorities he had consumed whiskey on the day of the campaign event and “must have checked out” as he walked on the stage and asked if Zeldin was disrespecting veterans. Jakubonis told authorities he did not know who Zeldin was at the time.

Jakubonis is next scheduled to appear in court on the federal charge on Wednesday.

Following his initial arrest Thursday, Jakubonis was held for six hours before his arraignment, where he was released on his own recognizance, according to Monroe County sheriff’s deputy Brendan Hurley. He had travel restrictions limiting him to Monroe County and an order of protection was also issued for him to stay away from Zeldin, according to court paperwork.

Due to the class of felony allegedly committed, under New York law, the presiding judge couldn’t have set bond even if they wanted to, Hurley previously told CNN. In 2019, New York’s bail reform law eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, and Class E is the least serious class of felony.

Republicans expressed outrage over Jakubonis’ quick release.

Zeldin, who has made New York’s rising crime rate a central focus of his campaign’s attacks on incumbent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, on Friday condemned the state’s bail system following Jakubonis’ initial release. He said that changes to the state’s cashless bail system are necessary and that judges should have discretion when considering who should remain in police custody.

“My first and foremost concern about cashless bail and the need to overhaul it is dangerousness,” he said. “The judges should have discretion to weigh dangerousness. It’s about the victim,” Zeldin, who was unharmed in the attack, said at a rally in Onondaga County, New York. “But even if you were having a conversation with the strongest advocate of cashless bail, I would challenge them on this point: I would argue that they’re doing a disservice to the person who attacked us on stage last night because they rush — they have to, by law — they have to rush to get him released.”

Zeldin said he believes cashless bail should be repealed and that there “should also be a certain minimum set where certain cases, certain suspects, defendants, they have to remain behind bars.”

Hochul had tweeted Thursday evening that she was “relieved to hear” Zeldin was not injured in the incident.

“My team has informed me about the incident at Lee Zeldin’s campaign event tonight. Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody. I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York,” Hochul wrote.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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