Updated 5:43 p.m. | Joshua Wheeler, the 25-year-old House intern who Capitol Police say tried to bring an unloaded 9mm handgun into the Longworth House Office Building , was released from jail Tuesday on felony firearms charges.
Wheeler has been ordered to stay away from the Capitol, where he started a summer internship for Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., on May 18. But he intended to return to work for the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference as soon as possible, according to defense attorney Pierce Suen. Standing before the judge in a tan suit, Wheeler was described as "well-liked" in Jenkins' office. Suen said the congresswoman's chief of staff would vouch for him. "He's worked really hard to get to this position — to get to this point in his life," Suen said.
Despite his attorney's claims, it sounds like Jenkins will not be bringing Wheeler, who was placed on temporary leave Monday, back to the office. Tom Brandt, a spokesman for the Kansas Republican provided the following statement:
“In Mr. Wheeler’s two weeks in Congresswoman Jenkins’ office, he was well-liked and did a fine job in his role as a Congressional intern," he said. "He came to our office highly recommended from community leaders in his adopted hometown of Atchison, Kansas where he briefly served as Deputy County Clerk for the city of Atchison. At this time our goal is to ensure Mr. Wheeler can move on from this and return home to Kansas.”
Capitol Police arrested Wheeler shortly after 9 a.m. Monday at the New Jersey Avenue and C Street entrance to Longworth. Police said he placed an unloaded 9mm weapon onto the X-ray belt, which was found during a routine search. According to an eyewitness, the gun was in his bag.
A D.C. Superior Court judge acknowledged Wheeler obviously misunderstood the District's strict gun laws, and noted he had no criminal record. However, the judge rejected his attorney's request that he be allowed to return to Capitol grounds as long as he doesn't carry a firearm.
Wheeler must return to court Thursday at 11 a.m. for a preliminary hearing.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native comes from a background steeped in Republican politics and religion. He declined to comment, via his attorney, but his father was quick to speak to his character.
“We’re all kind of shocked, but Josh is the future … as you can see, even all the guards are patting him on the back. Everybody’s pulling for Josh,” said Aaron Wheeler Sr., a pastor who came from Chesapeake, Va., to attend the 1:30 p.m. arraignment. The elder Wheeler identified himself as a "senior adviser" to Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
“He stubbed his toe; as his father, I want him to learn from it,” the elder Wheeler told CQ Roll Call. He carried a blue folder stuffed with some positive press his son received in Atchison, including an article on Wheeler's job as deputy county clerk.
Asked if his son has registered his weapon in Kansas, Wheeler said he didn't know.
"This is a complete shock to me," he said. "He could have taken [it] in because he’s got a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old and maybe he just didn’t want it in the house. I don’t know what happened. I haven’t talked to Josh."
The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia is prosecuting the case. Carrying a pistol is a felony, punishable by a statutory maximum of five years in prison, according to spokesman Bill Miller. Prosecutors did not go forward with the misdemeanor unregistered firearm charge.
Correction 10:40 a.m. A previous version of this post misspelled Jenkins' spokesman's first name. It's Tom.
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