HARRISBURG, Pa. – A Pennsylvania woman accused of helping to steal a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the attack on the U.S. Capitol was ordered released from detention on Thursday and placed in her mother’s custody.
Riley June Williams, 22, must stay in the home she shares with her mother and abide by other conditions of release, including avoiding contact with any witnesses or victims of the Jan. 6 Capitol storming. Federal Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson said he was releasing Williams in part because she had no prior criminal record, but he warned her that her mother, Wendy Williams, could be criminally charged if she fails to report to the court any violations of the conditions of release.
“Your mother is making an enormous leap of faith on your behalf, and you are the one person in this courtroom who can make sure your mother doesn’t have to choose between her love for you and her duty to this court,” Carlson told the defendant.
Although a federal prosecutor argued earlier this week that Williams should be detained, he and Williams’s public defender said Thursday that they had reached an agreement on release.
Williams faces two felony charges punishable by decades in prison, as well as two misdemeanors, according to charging documents. An updated affidavit filed Tuesday accuses her of filming and then sharing a video of someone else picking up an HP computer from a desk in Pelosi’s office. A user named “Riley” later posted on the social media platform Discord that they “STOLE S – T FROM NANCY POLESI,” the affidavit says.
Williams was first charged with trespassing as well as violent entry to and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Prosecutors then added the felony charges: aiding or abetting the theft of government property and obstructing, influencing or impeding an official proceeding.
As bailiffs escorted her into court on Thursday, Williams whispered “Hi, Mom” to her mother, who was seated at the defense table. Williams sat erect throughout the hearing and answered Carlson’s questions succinctly and without emotion.
Her public defender, Lori Ulrich, acknowledged that Williams entered the Capitol during the attack and said it was “regrettable that Ms. Williams took the president’s bait.” In a speech to thousands of supporters before the storming, then-President Donald Trump encouraged them to “fight” and “show strength.”
But Ulrich argued without further explanation that the charges against Williams were “overstated.”
She also sought to characterize allegations that Williams changed her phone number after the riot as an attempt to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend, rather than an effort to escape authorities. While the FBI wrote in the affidavit that Williams appeared to have fled, Ulrich said a police officer investigating the former boyfriend’s alleged abuse directed her to change the number.
That ex-boyfriend was a key witness in the FBI’s investigation. He told authorities that Williams’s friends played a video of her stealing a hard drive or computer from Pelosi’s office. Williams planned to send the device “to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service,” the former boyfriend said, according to the affidavit.
The FBI said that “the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons” and that Williams either destroyed the laptop or still has it.
The stolen laptop, “only used for presentations,” was taken from a conference room, Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, has said.
In video clips allegedly live-streamed from the Capitol by Williams, a female voice that the FBI believes is hers instructs someone else in Pelosi’s office to put on gloves. A black-gloved hand then takes a computer off a table as a caption on the video says, “they got the laptop.”
Another video, published by ITV News and posted to YouTube, shows Williams directing people up a staircase in the Capitol toward Pelosi’s office, the affidavit says. “Up the stairs! Up the stairs!” she allegedly yells. “Go! Go!”
The FBI said they determined that Williams drove to and from Washington for the “Stop the Steal” demonstration with her father, but that the pair separated during the event. Wendy Williams later told an ITV News reporter that her daughter had suddenly become interested in Trump’s politics and “far-right message boards,” according to the affidavit.
Williams “took off” in expectation of law enforcement looking for her, her mother told ITV News. The defendant surrendered to authorities on Monday, a day after she was charged.
Williams, her mother and her father, who also attended Thursday’s hearing, declined to answer questions from reporters afterward. Williams is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 25 at a virtual hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Before Williams was brought back to Dauphin County Prison to be processed for release, Carlson gave a pointed speech about the allegations that she had tried to interfere with Congress’s constitutional obligation to certify the electoral college results. Calling her alleged actions “antithetical to these constitutional values,” Carlson said Williams was being released from custody because her public defender and the assistant U.S. attorney on the case fulfilled their constitutional obligation to pursue justice.
“Your freedom, conditioned as it is by the orders that I have entered, is the result of the prevailing of the Constitution,” Carlson said. ” . . . The Constitution prevails here today. And the Constitution will always prevail in this country.”
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The Washington Post’s Christine Spolar, Hannah Knowles and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.