A Utah woman who breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6 with her stepson-in-law has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Janet Buhler, 56, is accused of entering the U.S. Capitol building along with hundreds of other Donald Trump supporters looking to stop the certification of Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election. She was at the Capitol that day with her stepson-in-law, former Salt Lake City police detective Michael Lee Hardin, 50.
Buhler pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building, a misdemeanor that carries a potential six-month jail sentence. The other charges against her, including disorderly conduct and entering and remaining in a restricted building, will be dismissed pursuant to the plea bargain when Buhler is sentenced.
Hardin, who was named the Salt Lake City Police Department’s Office of the Year in 2012, is facing similar charges. His case is ongoing.
Buhler’s plea agreement hearing on Thursday was almost derailed when she balked at admitting to some of the facts used in the charge against her.
“I don’t agree with some of the things that she just said,” Buhler said, referring to Assistant U.S. Attorney Hava Mirell. The prosecutor had recited a line of Buhler’s statement of offense stating that the 56-year-old knew she wasn’t supposed to be at the Capitol, at least in part, because she had seen the barricades outside the building.
Buhler, a piano teacher and accompanist, claimed that she didn’t see the barricades, and it took some questioning from the presiding judge before she faced the music.
“Were you aware when you arrived at the Capitol, before you entered, in looking at the Capitol and what was going on outside, were you aware — what did you see?” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly asked Buhler, in an attempt to discern whether Buhler understood that she wasn’t authorized to be inside the Capitol that day. “Did you see barriers? Did you see people trying to get in and law enforcement trying to keep them out? What did you see?”
“I just disagree with the fact that she said there were barriers up,” Buhler said. “There weren’t barriers.”
After some more back and forth, and after Buhler spoke briefly with her attorney, Buhler amended her statement.
“So I just wanted to say that I don’t recall seeing the barricades, I’m not saying they weren’t there,” Buhler said.
Kollar-Kotelly, a Bill Clinton appointee, tried to get the hearing back on track. She asked Buhler what her purpose was in entering the Capitol. Buhler said that Hardin wanted to go in, and she wanted to keep an eye on him because he could be, as Buhler said, “a little hot-headed” and she didn’t want him to get in trouble.
“You might have been influenced by your son-in-law, but you had a purpose going in as well,” Kollar-Kotelly said.
“I had never been to the Capitol before,” Buhler said, perhaps in an attempt to frame hers as one of the so-called Jan. 6 “tourist cases.”
“I did want to see the Capitol building,” Buhler added. “And that was my purpose. [I] thought maybe this is my opportunity to see the building.”
Buhler said that she didn’t “have any idea” that people would be causing damage inside the building: “That’s not the kind of thing I was interested in at all.”
Shortly after this exchange, Kollar-Kotelly seemed to slam the brakes on the hearing.
“I don’t think I can accept it,” Kollar-Kotelly said, referring to Buhler’s plea. “If she was going in as a tourist, this was not a tourist visit.”
“I knew I wasn’t a tourist,” Buhler said, appearing to pivot somewhat from just wanting to see the Capitol building to instead wanting to be heard by Congress.
“I think that that day I was concerned about the election,” Buhler said. “I was just thinking that all those people, the congressmen, they didn’t even know we were out there, that they didn’t know there was a crowd. I felt they didn’t understand that people were concerned that there was an election that was questionable. And I just feel like that if they knew people were out there that they might think about whether they could like take a second look or, you know, see if they would reconsider.”
In fact, by the time the violent mob of Trump supporters overran police at the Capitol on Jan. 6, dozens of “second looks” had already been taken. More than 60 lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies challenging the election results had failed, and numerous recounts and audits affirmed the results, which had been certified by local authorities.
Buhler acknowledged cheering other rioters who broke through the doors into the Capitol building. She also admitted to having stepped inside the Senate gallery, which is when she realized she and Hardin needed to leave the building.
Kollar-Kotelly then called for a brief break in the hearing before deciding whether to accept Buhler’s plea.
“I have to say I think it’s very close,” Kollar-Kotelly said, when she returned a few minutes later.
“You knew that the Electoral College votes were being counted, and you, along with the others, wanted the congressmen and congresswomen to be aware that there were those who were outside in the Capitol to be aware [that] you were not accepting, or were not happy, however you want to word it, with the election result,” Kollar-Kotelly said. “Would you agree with that, what I’ve said so far?”
“Yes, I would agree with that,” Buhler said.
That seemed to satisfy Kollar-Kotelly just enough to accept Buhler’s plea.
“She knew they were doing the [Electoral College] vote, and the purpose of going in and being with the others is so that Congress would be aware that they were [upset] about the election results,” Kollar-Kotelly said to Mirell, the prosecutor, who also accepted Buhler’s representation at that point. “It’s a little thin, [but] I think there’s barely enough.”
Kollar-Kotelly then turned to Buhler.
“Are you entering this plea of guilty because you are guilty?” she asked.
“Yes,” Buhler responded.
“How do you plead to count five, parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building — guilty or not guilty?”
“I plead guilty,” Buhler said.
Buhler’s sentencing has been set for June 1.
[Images via FBI.]
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