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Man charged with assault and kidnapping for the attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The suspect in the break-in and hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was charged today with federal violations, including attempted kidnapping and assault. The federal filing says the suspect wanted to hold the House speaker hostage and, quote, "break her kneecaps." Those and other disturbing details of the attack are in the federal complaint, which NPR's Eric Westervelt has been reading. He joins us now from the San Francisco Bay Area. Hey, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Hey. Good evening.

KELLY: OK, tell me a little bit more about the federal charges in this case.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, David DePape was charged with one count of assault on an immediate family member of a U.S. official. That includes - and this is the language in the charge - intent to retaliate against the official on account of the performance of official duties. He was also charged with one count of attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official. And again, in that charge, there's the on account of performance of official duties charge. If convicted, those two charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

KELLY: And I gather the complaint also has some chilling details about the attack itself early Friday morning at the speaker's home in San Francisco. What'd you learn?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, it really does. I mean, we've heard that Paul Pelosi was able to call 911 from his bathroom and the police responded quickly; that the suspect, you know, repeatedly asked, where's Nancy? - referring to the speaker, who was not at home. She was in Washington. But today the complaint shows, you know, that he made comments to police and told them, you know, he was going to try to hold Nancy hostage and, quote, "talk to her." The complaint says - and I'm quoting here - "if Nancy were to tell DePape the truth, he would let her go, and if she lied, he was going to break her kneecaps." He told police he did not expect Pelosi to tell the truth. And according to the documents, he told investigators, you know, if her kneecaps were broken, she would, quote, "have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other members of Congress there are consequences to your actions." He called the speaker, quote, "leader of the pack of lies by the Democratic Party."

And I should note, the complaint also, you know, shows that the police who responded found tools there, you know, that would certainly indicate he was preparing for an attempted kidnapping, you know. In his backpack at the crime scene, police say they found rope, tape, several pairs of gloves, a second hammer and plastic zip ties.

KELLY: It's just chilling to listen to the details and contemplate how much worse this could have been. What do we know about the suspect? What more are we learning about him?

WESTERVELT: Well, we know at times he was homeless in San Francisco Bay Area, that in recent weeks he posted some rambling, conspiracy-laden theories about everything from COVID vaccines to the January 6 assault on the Capitol. He has lashed out online against people of color, women, Jewish people and others. Years ago, he was a pro-nudity activist calling for an end to restrictions on public nudity. I mean, a picture is emerging of a man who drifted and who apparently struggled with some serious behavioral health issues as well.

KELLY: And he may face other charges beyond these we've just been discussing?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, he's in a secure ward at San Francisco General Hospital now, but he - DePape is expected to face state criminal charges filed by the district attorney here in San Francisco. Those are expected to include attempted murder, elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary, and he's scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow in San Francisco Superior Court.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR's Eric Westervelt reporting from the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks, Eric.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.