Authorities say US Rep. Lee Zeldin was assaulted by 43-year-old David Jakubonis at an upstate event Thursday, but the congressman escaped serious injury.
Jakubonis, of Fairport, New York, was arrested on a federal charge of assaulting the congressman using a dangerous weapon and appeared in court Saturday afternoon.
He’s being held pending a detention hearing on Wednesday.
Jakubonis was previously charged at the state level with attempted assault in Monroe County for his role in the incident, but was already out of jail by Friday morning.
Officials say while Zeldin was speaking from a flatbed trailer, Jakubonis walked onto the trailer and approached the congressman, extended a keychain with two sharp points and grabbed his arm.
A struggle then ensued between Zeldin and Jakubonis as bystanders intervened.
“I’m OK,” Zeldin said in a statement. “Fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.”
Zeldin’s campaign said after the attacker was taken into custody, the congressman continued his speech.
Zeldin, who is challenging current Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul this November, said said security will be beefed up for the rest of his gubernatorial campaign.
“All security for all events for later in the campaign will be ramped up,” he said. “That’s something that started this morning…that will be sustained through November.”
Zeldin said when he saw the suspect wearing a veteran hat, “My guard couldn’t possibly be more dropped, but at the same time, I noticed he had a weapon in his hand.”
“He was telling me, ‘You’re done,'” he said. “Obviously at that point, regardless of what was on your hat, this was not a normal situation…the first thought was to grab onto his wrist and just to hold it.”
The Metropolitan Republican Club tweeted a photo of the suspect in handcuffs that also shows Kitty keychain, which is described online as a self-defense tool.
Witnesses say that object is the weapon Jakubonis allegedly used to threaten Zeldin.
But at the time, some in the crowd thought he was holding a knife or some other sharp object.
A video posted on Twitter showed the two falling to the ground as others try to intervene.
Among those who helped to subdue the attacker was Zeldin’s running mate, former NYPD Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito, according to state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy.
Langworthy told the Associated Press that he didn’t have any details on the attacker or his weapon but exchanged text messages with Zeldin afterward while the congressman was speaking to police.
“He is fine,” Langworthy said. “He’s not seriously injured. It’s just a chaotic scene there.”
He said Zeldin had “just a little scrape,” but it wasn’t what anyone would consider an injury.
In a statement, Hochul condemned the attack and said she was “relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody.”
President Joe Biden also released a statement on the incident.
“I condemn the attack on Congressman Zeldin in the strongest terms,” he said. “As I’ve said before, violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics. I am especially grateful for the courage of those who immediately intervened, and that he is unharmed and was able to continue his speech. I also want to thank the law enforcement officers who quickly took action and are investigating this attack that challenges our fundamental democratic values.”
Zeldin wondered out loud why the man was released at 3 am, a time of the night when there was no access to mental health resources.
He said the man should have been held until the morning, when he could receive help.
Zeldin, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has represented eastern Long Island in Congress since 2015, is a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and was among the Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.
He has focused his campaign on fighting crime but faces an uphill battle against Hochul. He’ll need to persuade independent voters – which outnumber Republicans in the state – as well as Democrats in order to win the general election.
Democrats are expected to focus on Zeldin’s vocal defense of Trump during both of his impeachments and objection to the election results.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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