Courts & Crime

‘Pizzagate’ suspect pleads not guilty in federal court

A North Carolina man who allegedly fired an assault rifle inside a Washington pizzeria that conspiracy theorists falsely claimed harbored a child sex ring, entered not guilty pleas Friday to weapons charges in the case.

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, remained mostly silent through the brief hearing at Washington’s U.S. District Court. Dani Jahn, his court-appointed federal public defender, entered the not guilty pleas a day after a grand jury indicted Welch on a federal count of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines and District of Columbia charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during a commission of violence.

The combined charges carry a maximum of 35 years in prison.

Jahn conceded detention for Welch at Friday’s hearing, meaning that he will remain behind bars at least until his next court appearance on Jan. 5. He has been jailed in Washington since Dec. 4, following his arrest in the so-called “Pizzagate” case.

Prosecutors allege that Welch drove from Salisbury to Washington’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant to investigate an internet fake news story that linked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to an alleged child sex-trafficking ring inside the restaurant.

In court papers filed Tuesday, federal prosecutors allege that Welch stormed the restaurant while brandishing an AR-15 rifle and packing a .38 revolver, weapons that were recovered following his arrest.

“Welch appears to have been motivated in part by unfounded rumors concerning a child sex-trafficking ring that was being perpetrated by high-profile individuals at the Comet Ping Pong restaurant,” FBI Special Agent Justin Holgate stated in an affidavit.

After his arrest, Welch reportedly agreed to talk with investigators.

“Welch stated while he was in the restaurant, he searched for evidence of hidden rooms or tunnels, or child sex-trafficking of any kind,” Holgate recounted in the affidavit, adding that at one point Welch fired his AR-15 at a locked door that had frustrated him.

“When that proved unsuccessful, he climbed furniture to look into the closed-off room,” Holgate reported, adding that Welch “found that it was unoccupied.”

At Friday’s hearing, Jahn complained about media attention generated by the case, notably a New York Times interview with her client since his detainment. Jahn added that the media received copies of the indictment against Welch before she did.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas