Pelosi desk sitter pleads not guilty in Capitol riot

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An Arkansas man who gained renown for sitting casually with his boot up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Capitol riot pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from those events.

Richard Barnett, 60, entered the plea during a brief hearing held by video Friday before U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper, who sits in Washington.

Barnett faces felony charges of obstruction of Congress, entering a Secret Service-restricted building with a dangerous weapon and disorderly conduct in a restricted building with a dangerous weapon, as well as misdemeanors, including demonstrating in a Capitol building and theft.

The court session was Barnett’s first appearance before Cooper, an Obama appointee who was randomly assigned to the case after Barnett was indicted late last month.

“Barring unforeseen circumstances, you’re stuck with me from here on out,” Cooper told the defendant.

The charges against Barnett are more serious than most of the more than 200 cases filed in the Capitol riot, but not as serious as defendants accused of assaulting police officers.

Prosecutors say Barnett brought a stun-gun walking stick to the Capitol and had it on his waist while sitting in Pelosi’s office. At a bail hearing in Arkansas, prosecutors there played video of him purchasing the device, along with walkie-talkies and pepper spray, at a Bass Sporting Goods store in that state on New Year’s Eve.

There has been no claim Barnett used or threatened anyone with the device, but his alleged possession of the stun-gun during the riot escalates some of the charges against him from misdemeanors to felonies.

Barnett turned himself into authorities in Arkansas and, after a lengthy hearing last month, a magistrate judge ordered the defendant’s release to home detention to await trial. However, the government appealed that decision, and the chief district court judge in Washington, Beryl Howell, blocked Barnett’s release.

At a hearing last week, Howell overturned the magistrate judge’s order, ruling that Barnett should be detained as he awaits trial. Howell, a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel, sounded deeply outraged over his conduct. She also suggested that judges elsewhere in the country might not be as attuned to the impact the riot had on the capital city.

“We’re still living here in Washington, D.C., with the consequences of the violence in which this defendant is accused to have participated,” Howell said. “He not only entered the Capitol without authorization, but he strutted into the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi … He felt so entitled, he put his feet on the desk. He felt so entitled, he picked up her mail and walked off with a piece of mail.”

In addition to being featured on social media camped out at the desk in Pelosi’s suite, Barnett — a construction contractor and used vehicle seller from Gravette, Ark. — boasted that he left the speaker a vulgar note, saying: “Nancy, Bigo was here you b****.”

Speaking to a New York Times reporter on the day of the riot, Barnett said he was injured during the melee and bled on an envelope he found on the desk. He later took the envelope, leaving a quarter there in compensation, he said.

Barnett’s lawyer, Anthony Siano, has stressed that the envelope was empty. The theft charge Barnett faces is a misdemeanor, since the value of the envelope is well under the federal felony threshold of $1,000.

During Friday’s hearing, which journalists and the public had access to via telephone, the prosecutor on the case said she has been in discussion with Barnett’s attorney. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole McClain said that due to the ongoing investigation into the riot and the new charges rolling in day after day, it was premature to begin discussions about a potential plea arrangement.

“We are not at this time extending any plea offers,” she said.

McClain also said the process of disclosing investigative information to defendants in the Capitol cases will be complex, with one set of information particular to the defendant charged and another broader set relating to the incident as a whole.

“There is going to be some overarching discovery that we are going to have to produce in all of the prosecutions of the events of January 6th,” she said.

Cooper set another hearing in the case for March 4.

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