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Judge: Why charge Capitol rioter with misdemeanor, instead of threat 'essentially to murder' Speaker Pelosi?

Dawn Bancroft pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of parading on Tuesday, despite a video in which she said she wanted to shoot Pelosi "in the friggin' brain."

WASHINGTON — A federal judge pressed the Justice Department Tuesday on why a Capitol riot defendant who said she wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was only facing misdemeanor charges – saying during her plea hearing he was appalled by the comments.

“It’s very troubling to hear someone say the reason they entered the Capitol on January  6 was essentially to murder the Speaker of the House,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told Dawn Bancroft. “Very troubling.”

Bancroft was before Sullivan Tuesday afternoon to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building for entering the U.S. Capitol with her friend Diana Santos-Smith during the riot on January 6.

In a video sent to her children, Bancroft said she and Santos-Smith had broken into the Capitol with other rioters.

“We got inside. We did our part,” Bancroft says in the video. “We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain but we didn’t find her.”

Before he accepted her plea, Sullivan asked federal prosecutors why Bancroft was only facing misdemeanor charges, given the apparent threat on the Speaker’s life she had recorded. Justice Department lawyers said they had determined the video was recorded after Bancroft and Santos-Smith had already entered and then left the building, and so decided not to prosecute it. Bancroft’s attorney also said the video was only sent to relatives and not posted online.

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That was also true, however, of another Capitol riot defendant who did wind up charged with threatening Pelosi: Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr., of Georgia. Earlier this month, Meredith pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce – a federal felony – for texting a relative that he was, “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi C****’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”

Meredith’s mother alerted the FBI about the texts, which also included threats against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and he was arrested a short time later in a D.C. hotel room with two firearms and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition. Meredith had intended to take part in the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, but did not make it to D.C. until the day afterward, and so did not enter the Capitol.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, said the DOJ could have reasonably charged Bancroft with the same felony as Meredith.

“There is a sufficient interstate nexus because she sent the video of her threatening Pelosi to her children,” he said.

Bancroft told the judge the comment was a “stupid” joke make in “the hype of the moment.” He told her it was up to the DOJ to decide whether to charge her with making threats or not, but that it was going to come back up at her sentencing.

“We’re going to talk about that statement more come time of sentencing,” he said. “Because I’m very trouble. Very troubled. So… I want you to start thinking about your motivations behind that statement.”

Bancroft was scheduled to return to court for sentencing on January 25. Her co-defendant, Santos-Smith, also entered a plea of guilty to the same misdemeanor charge Tuesday afternoon and was set for sentencing on the same date.

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