Updated Oct 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Man charged over death threats to Biden and Rep. Bennie Thompson

 Rep. Bennie Thompson delivers remarks during a hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on October 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, delivers remarks during a hearing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A Pennsylvania man was indicted Wednesday for allegedly threatening to kill President Biden, House Jan. 6 select committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and a U.S. District Court judge, the Department of Justice announced.

Driving the news: Prosecutors accuse Robert Maverick Vargo of sending a letter "alluding to 'Anthrax,' and containing what appeared to be a white powder" to Thompson's office last week — days before the panel held their closing hearing on the U.S. Capitol riot and voted to subpoena former President Trump.

  • The letter "specifically referenced" Thompson's role with the panel and also threatened his family and Judge Robert Mariani, according to the DOJ statement. It allegedly stated:
"Im going to kill you! I will make you feel the rest of our pain & suffering. There is nowhere or nobody who can keep you from me.  I am going to kill you & those you love.  I promise you that I will keep my promise until the day of my death. ... You & Joe Biden soon will face death for the wrongs you've done to US."
— Excerpt from letter sent to Thompson's office, according to the DOJ

Of note: Prosecutors allege that Vargo, from Berwick, Pennsylvania, sent the letter from the state's Luzerne County Correctional Facility.

For the record: A U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) investigation "determined that the white powder accompanying the threats did not pose an immediate public safety hazard," according to the Justice Department.

Where it stands: A federal grand jury indicted the 25-year-old Vargo on charges of threatening the President of the United States, interstate communications with a threat and influencing a federal official by threat. 

What we're watching: If found guilty, Vargo could face up to 25 years in prison.

The big picture: Threats against lawmakers have been rising for years. But there's been a notable surge since the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection — prompting the USCP to take steps to better monitor and investigate threats.

  • Data shared with Axios last June showed threats against Congress members investigated by U.S. Capitol Police jumped 144% between the first year of Trump's term and the first year of Biden's.
  • The House sergeant-at-arms office began covering security equipment and installation costs at House members' personal residences in August in response to the threats.

Go deeper: Congress on "high alert" amid security threats

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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