In 2019, Michigan man Brittan Atkinson emailed a death threat to whistleblower lawyer Mark Zaid, who represented the CIA analyst and whistleblower who filed a complaint in 2019 about former President Trump’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. On June 10, Atkinson was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, according to a POLITICO article.
According to POLITICO, Atkinson was arrested last year and “served almost six months in pretrial detention.” He will also “have to serve about five additional months in custody under federal rules.” U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Ludington “also imposed a term of three years probation” for Atkinson.
The CIA analyst’s whistleblower allegations prompted the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. Zaid received widespread attention for his representation of the whistleblower when Trump read out some of Zaid’s tweets at a November 6, 2019 campaign rally in Louisiana. During the speech, Trump also held up a photo of Zaid. According to POLITICO, Atkinson sent the threatening email to Zaid in November of 2019.
During Atkinson’s sentencing in Bay City, Michigan, Judge Ludington read aloud the email that Atkinson sent to Zaid. “All traitors must die miserable deaths. 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 are all strangers in a crowd to you. The next move is yours.”
POLITICO reports that Ludington “said he was impressed with changes Atkinson has made in his life in the past year or so, but the ‘stark and brutal’ nature of the message he sent Zaid could not be ignored.”
When questioned about the extreme language in the email, Atkinson responded, “Honestly, I can’t tell you how it occurred to me to do that.” He also cited “drug use and mental health issues,” stating that he “was in a dark place,” according to the article.
In the sentencing, Atkinson apologized to Zaid, “although [Zaid’s] name wasn’t mentioned at the hearing.” According to POLITICO, Atkinson said, “I would like to apologize to the victim and his family for any problems I may have caused him.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Vance emphasized the toll that the email took on Zaid, stating: “This is a serious offense that significantly impacted the victim, his family, friends and colleagues.” Additionally, Zaid sent the court a letter that described how Atkinson’s email affected him. “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,” Zaid’s letter read. “It was unnerving, troubling and frankly quite scary … This was a blatant attempt at overt intimidation in the worst kind.”
Zaid also said that “he considered Trump and prominent conservative figures ‘personally responsible for fomenting the climate that led to Mr. Atkinson’s conduct.’”
In an email to POLITICO, Zaid said that he is “pleased to see that the rule of law prevailed with the Court’s sentencing today of an individual who threatened my life because I represented a whistleblower whose lawful disclosure led to President Trump’s impeachment.” He continued, writing: “No lawyer or whistleblower should ever be subjected to this type of unacceptable behavior simply for doing the right thing or their job. I hope this outcome will somehow help restore some level of civility to our society.”