By Sonia Moghe, CNN
Updated: Fri, 15 Oct 2021 19:08:15 GMT
A California man who was accused of sending threats to a congressman and multiple journalists has pleaded guilty to one count of making threatening interstate communications.
At his change of plea hearing Friday, Robert Lemke pleaded guilty to the count related to a threat he made to a family member of a New York City-based journalist, saying in court, "I am regretful and I admit what I did was wrong and against the law."
A prosecutor confirmed that other counts Lemke faced would be dropped at his sentencing, which is scheduled for December 14. Lemke could face between 15 and 21 months in prison, but ultimately it is up to US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein to determine the length of his sentence.
Prosecutors say Lemke sent the relative of the New York journalist a message saying 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," according to the complaint.
Lemke said in court Friday that he sent texts to the family member "to engage in political debate about the reporting of the 2020 election."
"The words I chose would and did put the recipient in fear for her safety," Lemke said in court.
While Lemke pleaded guilty to one count related to threatening that journalist's family, prosecutors detailed several other threats he made to others, including to a family member of Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, in court filings.
"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 [Congressman-1's son] and know where his kids are," the text read, according to the court documents. CNN has reached out to a spokesperson for Jeffries.
Jeffries previously confirmed he was Congressman-1 to CNN. In a statement from his office, he gave "his deep thanks and heartfelt gratitude to the FBI, U.S. Capitol Police, NYPD and all law enforcement authorities involved for their commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of his family and all Members of the United States Congress."
Lemke also threatened other journalists, according to prosecutors, including CNN's Brian Stelter as well as others at CNN.
Prosecutors allege that Lemke researched Stelter's family members and contacted him after a November 2020 show in which the CNN chief media correspondent said, "The 2020 election is over, even though President Trump is still in denial about it."According to prosecutors, Lemke referenced details about Stelter's family members and told him, "You can either choose to dig the hole deeper or stop digging. Because we're not fu***** around."
After Lemke pleaded guilty, US Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York said in a statement that threats will not be tolerated by law enforcement.
"Robert Lemke was frustrated with the result of the 2020 Presidential Election," Williams said. "Rather than attempting to effect change through legal discourse or any of the other freedoms of expression that all Americans enjoy, he instead sent threatening messages to the family member of a journalist. Inevitably, elections result in frustrations for some -- that is part of the political process -- but trying to instill fear in others by threat will not be tolerated by law enforcement."