The New York Times floated a conspiracy theory on Tuesday, suggesting that the man who allegedly attacked gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) was part of a carefully orchestrated plan to draw more attention to Zeldin’s tough-on-crime platform.
The article, written by Jonah E. Bromwich and Jay Root, noted that shortly after the attack — which was quickly thwarted by Zeldin and others nearby — the candidate predicted that his assailant would likely be back out on the street, thanks to New York’s bail laws.
“How Did a Man Accused of Attacking Lee Zeldin Go Free Without Bail?” the headline read, followed by a sub-headline that laid out the conspiracy theory: “The decision to release the suspect was seen by some Democrats as a ploy to fuel Mr. Zeldin’s anti-crime campaign as he runs for governor of New York.”
Shortly after the attack, Zeldin shared his prediction on Twitter. “His words as he tried to stab me a few hours ago were ‘you’re done,’ but several attendees, including @espositoforNY, quickly jumped into action & tackled the guy,” he said, adding, “Law enforcement was on the scene within minutes. The attacker will. likely be instantly released under NY’s laws.”
His words as he tried to stab me a few hours ago were “you’re done”, but several attendees, including @EspositoforNY, quickly jumped into action & tackled the guy.
Law enforcement was on the scene within minutes.
The attacker will likely be instantly released under NY’s laws. pic.twitter.com/wZEyIyrjFe
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) July 22, 2022
Zeldin followed with an update just 16 hours later, saying, “Just as I predicted, after the man who tried stabbing me last night was charged with Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, a felony, he was then immediately released under the state’s insane cashless bail law, which MUST be repealed!”
Just as I predicted, after the man who tried stabbing me last night was charged with Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, a felony, he was then immediately released under the state’s insane cashless bail law, which MUST be repealed! My full statement⬇️ pic.twitter.com/mdPAOowcAu
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) July 22, 2022
The NYT piece noted just how quickly the incident became a “flash point” for the campaign — and how quickly Zeldin had been able to capitalize on the fact that it was a perfect example of the failures of the system he said needed to go. It also pointed out the fact that the sheriff who filed the charge — Todd K. Baxter of Monroe County — was an opponent of the bail law and that the attacker could have been charged with a more serious, bail-eligible offense.
“I have no idea why a prosecutor would not charge the more serious offense,” said Charles D. Lavine (D), chair of the Assembly’s judiciary committee and a former defense attorney. “Here’s a situation where someone attacks an elected official with a weapon. Could it have been — as some people are suggesting — that the charge was drafted in such a way as to allow Zeldin to complain about the bail laws in the state of New York? That I don’t know.”
State Assemblyman Demond Meeks (D-Rochester) went a bit further, calling the whole sequence of events “definitely a political ploy.”
And while Zeldin’s campaign team has certainly capitalized on the way the incident showed the need for just the kind of reform his platform proposes, there did not appear to be any solid evidence to back up the claims being made.
We cannot live in a state where someone who commits a felony trying to stab me on stage at a campaign rally then gets immediately released. New York’s cashless bail law must be REPEALED! Kathy Hochul refuses to get this job done. I will! pic.twitter.com/QUhwIiYyov
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) July 23, 2022
🚨Just released our new ad, “REPEAL Cashless Bail!”, now airing digitally statewide. Just this summer alone, there have been A LOT of high profile cases of suspects released under cashless bail. We have to FIRE Kathy Hochul on 11/8, repeal cashless bail, & secure our streets. pic.twitter.com/KCz80FPzgG
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) July 27, 2022
And buried eight paragraphs into the piece the NYT authors admitted as much: “No evidence has emerged to indicate that the charge was chosen to ensure Mr. Jakubonis’s release, serving to amplify Mr. Zeldin’s campaign message. Several criminal lawyers from Monroe County say the charge was fitting given the particulars of the attack on July 21.”