Feds: Man accused of threatening Trump whistleblower's lawyer is suicidal, has violent past

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal prosecutors want a northern Michigan man accused of threatening to kill one of the attorneys for the whistleblower who spurred the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump to undergo a competency exam.

Brittan Atkinson, 52, of Beaverton, has a four-decade history of aggressive and violent behavior, said he is suicidal and needed mental health treatment, according to a request by prosecutors filed in federal court.

President Donald Trump holds up a newspaper with the headline that reads "ACQUITTED" at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast, at the Washington Hilton, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Washington.

The request provided the backstory of a man who drew attention Thursday when he was charged in federal court. According to prosecutors, Atkinson sent an email last fall to the whistleblower's lawyer that read: "All traitors must die miserable deaths. Those that represent traitors shall meet the same fate," according to the indictment unsealed in federal court. "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," the email continued. "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(.)"

Prosecutors want Atkinson to undergo a competency exam by psychologists with the federal Bureau of Prisons. The request coincided Monday with U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Morris ordering Atkinson jailed pending trial.

In justifying the request, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Parker cited Atkinson's long criminal record and a series of recorded jailhouse phone calls last weekend.

"He described having 'dark, destructive thoughts' and said he had accumulated a

supply of drugs that he had considered using to kill himself," Parker wrote. "He also said that it would be best for him if his family had him involuntarily committed to a mental health facility so he would not have the ability to remove himself from the treatment facility."

Atkinson also revealed that his brain was perpetually in turmoil and that he could not concentrate enough to read, the prosecutor added.

"He added that his thoughts were like a bunch of Slinkys trying to unwind in his head," the prosecutor wrote.

Atkinson is accused of threatening to kill attorney Mark Zaid of Washington, D.C. The email was sent in November one day after Trump criticized Zaid and the attorney's tweets during a rally in Louisiana.

The indictment was unsealed after months of attacks by Trump and GOP allies, attacks that included describing people who might have talked to the whistleblower as “close to a spy” along with suggestions they engaged in treason, an act punishable by death.

In December, Trump retweeted a post that included the alleged name of the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint ultimately led to the president's impeachment by the House.

The whistleblower’s complaint raised alarms about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, alleging that the president abused the power of his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

Atkinson, who public records show worked as a laborer foreman, has a history of assaultive and threatening behavior, the prosecutor noted Monday.

A judge issued a personal protection order that remains in effect after Atkinson repeatedly threatened and harassed someone in Gladwin County, according to court records.

He pleaded no contest to attempted assault and battery in 2016 and had separate 2007 convictions for assault and battery, and attempted resisting and obstructing an officer, according to court records.

Atkinson also was kicked out of the Army in the 1980s following an arrest, the prosecutors wrote.

"While he was being transported to a place of confinement, Atkinson kicked a military police officer in the head," Parker wrote.

Atkinson started out calm last fall when FBI agents questioned him about the email, according to an unsealed FBI search warrant affidavit.

"However, he suddenly became so agitated that he threw his dining room table across the room," Parker wrote.