Seventeen days after Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law opened a letter that contained white powder and a threatening note, federal investigators have found their suspect. A Massachusetts man will go to court later today for the hoax attack aimed at Donald Trump Jr and which briefly sent his wife Vanessa to the hospital for precautionary tests. The substance turned out to be cornstarch, but that won’t matter much in a federal prosecution for mailing threats:
MORE: Daniel Frisiello of Beverly, MA sent at least five letters containing white powder in last several weeks, U.S. Postal Inspection Service says, the first of which was addressed to Donald Trump Jr. and called him an “awful, awful person.”
— ABC News (@ABC) March 1, 2018
Hoax or not, Frisiello could spend a long time in prison for his stunt. Federal officials will likely charge him under 18 USC 876 (b), which carries a potential 20-year sentence per count:
Whoever, with intent to extort from any person any money or other thing of value, so deposits, or causes to be delivered, as aforesaid, any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of the addressee or of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
His attorneys may argue that (c) applies better, which doesn’t mention extortion as one element, and which carries a five-year maximum sentence per count. However, if federal prosecutors want to deliver a message, (b) can still apply even without the element of extortion. Note carefully that the language uses or in relation to “any threat to injure the person of the addressee or another.” Given who the intended victim was, bet on a maximum charge.
In fact, the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts has filed ten counts against Frisiello:
USA #Lelling announces arrest of Massachusetts man Daniel Frisiello who allegedly sent letters containing suspicious white powder to 5 high profile individuals @FBIBoston @USPIS_BOS pic.twitter.com/wjUtpLd8XV
— U.S. Attorney MA (@DMAnews1) March 1, 2018
Frisiello allegedly sent five such letters, so they’re nailing him with two crimes each: the threat and the hoax. Frisiello also appears to have a bipartisan sense of outrage. One of his other targets was Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat from Michigan facing re-election this year, according to the Associated Press:
Daniel Frisiello, of Beverly, was arrested Thursday. He is expected to appear in federal court in Worcester later Thursday. It could not immediately be determined if he has a lawyer.
Federal authorities say he also sent letters containing powder to four other people, including the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan.
The letter to the president’s son was opened by Vanessa Trump on Feb. 12. She called 911 and reported she was coughing and felt nauseous. She was hospitalized briefly.
How do you draw a line between Stabenow and Donald Trump Jr? Only by going through Crazytown. That may be the best line of defense that Frisiello’s attorneys have, assuming investigators got the right man in these cases, but it’s very tough to sustain an insanity defense, especially for someone who went through all the trouble to mail his attacks to specific people.
Update: At the same AP link, the story has been expanded to include the identities of the other victims. One was Antonio Sabato Jr, a Trump supporter and well-known model who has launched a campaign for Congress. The others are a US Attorney in California named Nicola Hanna and Stanford University professor Michele Dauber, who has campaigned to recall the judge in the controversial trial of Brock Turner.
That’s a rather eclectic set of targets, but the attack on a US Attorney will almost certainly mean that the Department of Justice will pursue the strongest version of the law. Frisiello may be looking at a very, very long time in prison.