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Man sentenced to prison for threatening Trump whistle-blower's lawyer

Brittan Atkinson sent an email to attorney Mark Zaid in 2019, threatening to hunt him down and “bleed you out like the pigs you are.”
National security lawyer Mark Zaid
National security lawyer Mark Zaid at his home in metro Washington area, on July 20, 2016.Nikki Kahn / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

A Michigan man was sentenced to one year in prison Thursday for sending an email threatening to hunt down and bleed out like a "pig" an attorney for the whistle-blower who set in motion then-President Donald Trump's first impeachment.

District Judge Thomas Ludington handed down the sentence after the man, Brittan Atkinson, described his arrest and prosecution as a “blessing in disguise.”

“I'm now on the right medication for my mental issues and more importantly, I’ve walked back to the Lord so my spiritual health is better, too,” Atkinson told the judge.

Atkinson admitted to sending the email to Washington lawyer Mark Zaid the day after Trump held up a photo of the attorney and read some of his tweets at a rally in Louisiana in November 2019.

"All traitors must die miserable deaths," Atkinson's email read in part, according to the indictment. "Those that represent traitors shall meet the same fate[.] We will hunt you down and bleed you out like the pigs you are. We have nothing but time, and you are running out of it. Keep looking over your shoulder[.] We know who you are, where you live, and who you associate with[.] We are all strangers in a crowd to you[.]"

The email came at a time when Zaid was facing sustained attacks from the president and his allies after he came forward as the attorney for the whistle-blower who had reported concerns about a phone call in July 2019 between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

During the call, Trump pressured Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, who was then the Democratic presidential front-runner, at the same time as the U.S. was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid.

Atkinson was arrested in February 2020 on a charge of violating a federal law banning threats communicated across state lines. He pleaded guilty last November.

His lawyer, Donald Neville, told the judge Thursday that Atkinson was at a low point in his life when he made the “completely stupid and horrible decision” to send the email.

“Mr. Atkinson was in a much worse place than he is now both mentally and physically that was due to some poor choices on his part that resulted in self medication and chemical dependence,” Neville said.

Atkinson was facing up to five years in prison, but prosecutors recommended a sentence of 12 months.

Before announcing his decision, the judge asked Atkinson how it occurred to him to send an email with such disconcerting language.

“Honestly, I can’t tell you,” Atkinson replied. “I was in a darker place.”

Zaid submitted a written victim impact statement to the court that described the email as a “blatant attempt at overt intimidation of the worst kind.”

“I have handled many high-profile cases on both sides of political ideology in the nearly thirty years I have practiced law, but never before had I received such a personal vile threat,” it said. “It was unnerving, troubling and frankly quite scary.”

Following the hearing, Zaid said he was pleased to see “that the rule of law prevailed.”

“No lawyer or whistle-blower should ever be subjected to this type of unacceptable behavior simply for doing the right thing or their job,” he added.