Judge rebukes RNC's 'legitimate political discourse' language at Jan. 6 sentencing

She called the Capitol assault an effort to cancel out votes by a show of force.

February 10, 2022, 6:45 PM

A federal judge on Thursday directly rebuked the Republican National Committee's resolution that declared the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol "legitimate political discourse" as she sentenced a man convicted of punching two officers during the assault to six months in prison.

"It is not 'legitimate political discourse,' and it is not justified to descend on the nation's Capitol at the direction of a disappointed candidate and disrupt the electoral process," said D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson before she sentenced Mark Leffingwell, a disabled former Marine from Washington state. "Cancelling out the votes of other people with a show force is the opposite of what America stands for."

On top of his jail time, Leffingwell, 52, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in the Army National Guard in Iraq, also faces two years probation, $2,000 in restitution charges and 200 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty to assaulting, resisting or impeding officers in October.

PHOTO: Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Janu. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Janu. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images, FILE

Prosecutors said Leffingwell flew from his Seattle home to Philadelphia and drove with a friend to attend then-President Donald Trump's Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse. He joined the assault on the Capitol about an hour after it had started, they said, and investigators cited videos showing him standing at the front of a large crowd on the Senate West Wing steps, just inside the building, where police officers formed a protective line in front of him.

He yelled "Stop the steal!," "Shame!" and "Join us!" at the officers, prosecutors said.

They said while some of the crowd began to back up at the instruction of officers, Leffingwell, still at the front of the crowd, shouted "If you back up, you'll never get back in!" Officers began pressing the crowd, per court records, and he then punched two officers in the head.

He was arrested on the spot, one of few rioters taken into custody during the course of the riot.

Federal prosecutors recommended a 27-month sentence for aggravated assault. For about 30 minutes, Judge Jackson and the attorneys deliberated over whether the term "aggravated assault" applied in Leffingwell's case. If so, it would mean he committed a felony with the intent to commit another felony.

Judge Jackson said she took into account Leffingwell's traumatic brain injury, along with his having no other criminal history. She said she also took into account his two sons when handing down the six-month sentence.

But in sobering and extensive remarks, Jackson said there was a need to deter would-be rioters from doing the same as Leffingwell did.

"The heated rhetoric that got you riled up and brought you to Washington D.C. has not subsided," Jackson said. "The lie that the election was stolen and illegitimate is still being perpetrated. Indeed, it is being amplified, not only on social media, but on mainstream news outlets, and worse, it's become heresy for a member of the former president's party to say otherwise. So, it needs to be crystal clear that it is not patriotism. It is not standing up for America."

In a brief statement to the court, Leffingwell expressed remorse.

"I wish I could go back and make it not happen," he said.

Several of his friends and family wrote letters to the judge, calling him "thoughtful" and an "honest and good American" while describing a strong work ethic.

Prosecutors said he had sound judgment and that he was responsible for his actions, despite his traumatic brain injury. When he encountered the police, "he knew very much what he was doing," a government lawyer said.

"Those letters tell you all of that," said an assistant U.S. attorney. "Despite the injuries that he's suffered, he knows right from wrong."

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