Alaska man pleads not guilty to threatening Sullivan and Murkowski

Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski speaking to the media
U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski in Anchorage in August 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

A man charged with threatening the lives of Alaska’s two U.S. senators pleaded not guilty on Monday and a judge decided that he will remain in custody.

Jason Weiner, an attorney for Jay Allen Johnson, entered the plea on his client’s behalf during Johnson’s arraignment in U.S. District Court in Fairbanks.

Johnson at the hearing greeted U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott Oravec by saying: “Good morning, Happy Thanksgiving and I’m sorry I’m here today.”

Johnson, from the small community of Delta Junction, was indicted last week on six criminal counts — including threatening to murder a U.S. official, being a felon in possession of firearms, threatening to destroy property by fire and threatening interstate communications.

The government is also seeking to confiscate two pistols, three revolvers, a rifle and a shotgun found on Johnson’s rural Alaska property because he is a felon who is not legally allowed to possess firearms.

In convicted, Johnson could face a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines, assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Tansey said.

Weiner told Johnson during the arraignment that he has sought a plea deal offer from the government prosecutor.

“But at this point, he couldn’t give me one. He’s got to do some consultation in order to do that,” Weiner said in court.

Oravec last Friday ordered Johnson’s detention to continue during a separate hearing. On Monday, the judge said he saw no reason to “disturb that ruling at this point.”

Johnson is accused of making threats against U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, and of threatening to burn down properties owned by Murkowski during a series of profanity-laced voice messages left over the span of months at their offices in Washington, D.C., before his Oct. 4 arrest.

Johnson at an earlier hearing, said he is “a senior citizen and I am highly disabled and I will not be carrying out any of these threats.” He is a felon because of a drunk driving conviction in 2016 that came after two plus previous drunk driving convictions.

Johnson’s wife, Catherine Pousson-Johnson, testified during her husband’s detention hearing in October that he was was in pain after recent surgeries and that he “gets very angry listening to politics on the news.”

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