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Chicago man faces prosecution in Arizona over threat against U.S. senator

Jeff Flake

The office of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, recently received a death threat against the lawmaker, allegedly from a Chicago man, who appeared in federal court Tuesday. | AP file photo

The feds say James Blevins threatened “to assault, kidnap or murder” a United States senator.

His attorney says the alleged threat was “vague” and “fueled by alcohol.”

Either way, the Chicago man now faces prosecution in Arizona for a threat apparently directed at one of the state’s two Republican senators, Jeff Flake. It arrived amid last month’s uproar over then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Though court records only identify the victim as “United States Senator J. F.,” no other senator has those initials. And the threat was made in a voicemail left Sept. 17, the day Flake and other moderate GOP senators pressured their party’s leaders into a hearing over sexual assault allegations leveled against Kavanaugh.

Prosecutors in Arizona filed the charges against Blevins two weeks ago. But Blevins found himself Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Chicago, where Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin Klamann offered more detail to a judge about the voicemail. She said the caller warned the senator’s office that, “I am tired of him interrupting our president, and I am coming down there to take him and his family out.”

Flake’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Blevins’ attorney, Robert Loeb, said his client had been drinking on his porch with his landlord the day of the threat. Loeb acknowledged a call had been made, but he said it wasn’t clear how the feds decided Blevins had placed it.

Loeb also said the alleged comments were “vague,” though he didn’t deny they could be interpreted as a death threat.

Klamann said several arrests in Blevins’ past suggested he had a history of violence. Loeb said his client’s record would more properly be characterized as a “history of minor altercations.” Most of his arrests were for misdemeanors, Loeb said, and none involved a serious injury.

Blevins also volunteered to the judge that, “since the day all this occurred, I haven’t had a drink since.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman ultimately agreed to release Blevins to a family member’s custody until his next court date in Arizona. The judge made note of Blevins’ community ties after Loeb said Blevins “hardly ever left the state of Illinois.” Loeb later told a reporter Blevins lives in Chicago.

Weisman also said the alleged threat may have simply been an “ill-advised” decision.

Still, he told Blevins that people aren’t always going to agree. He said the senator in question “doesn’t even represent you.” And he said elected officials “need to be able to do their job without fear.”