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Alaska man pleads guilty in voicemail threats to Sens. Murkowski, Sullivan

Jay Allen Johnson left 17 messages for the state's two senators. Some of the voicemails included threats to kill them, prosecutors said.
Image: Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stand together in the Capitol on Feb. 14, 2019.
Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in the Capitol on Feb. 14, 2019.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

An Alaska man who threatened to kill the state’s two U.S. senators in a series of voicemail messages last year has pleaded guilty to federal charges, prosecutors said.

The man, Jay Allen Johnson, 65, of Delta Junction, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of threatening to murder a U.S. official in connection with voicemails left for Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

Each charge carries up to 10 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska said.

Johnson’s attorney did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson left 17 threatening voicemails in all, prosecutors said. Some threatened to kill or have an assassin kill Murkowski and Sullivan, Johnson admitted in a plea agreement.

The threats cited in court documents do not point to a clear motive. One message said he would burn the senators’ property “just like ... antifa,” according to a criminal complaint. Other messages threatened to use a .50-caliber firearm against the senators.

Johnson agreed to forfeit seven guns, which he is not allowed to own because of a past felony DUI conviction, according to court documents. He will also be subject to protective orders prohibiting contact with either lawmaker.

The number of threats to members of Congress increased last year to around 9,600, Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger has said.

There were more than 8,000 in 2020, he said. In 2017, the agency logged around 3,900 threats, NBC News has reported.

"The number has been going up steadily each year," Manger said at a news conference Tuesday.

Not all of the concerning statements made in phone calls and emails and on social media or other forms rise to the level of crimes, but they are investigated, he said.

Last month, federal judges handed down three-year prison sentences in cases involving threats to kill members of Congress.

A New York City man, Eduard Florea, was sentenced to almost three years for online statements threatening to kill Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

And a San Francisco-area man, Robert Lemke, was sentenced to three years in prison for a number of threats. Journalists and the brother of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., were among the targets.