CLAYTON, Mo. — The 19-year-old Chesterfield man accused of trying to crash a U-Haul truck into the White House earlier this year has hired a new attorney, who says his client has always been a “good kid,” and focusing on what led to that moment will serve as his defense.
Scott Rosenblum entered Thursday as the lead attorney for Sai Kandula, who is facing numerous federal charges connected to the May incident.
Investigators seized a swastika flag from Kandula’s backpack, and federal court documents allege Kandula told authorities he wanted to “seize power and be put in charge of the nation," and that he would "kill the president if that's what I have to do and would hurt anyone that would stand in my way.”
No explosives were found in the U-Haul, and Kandula wasn't carrying any weapons or ammunition, according to investigators. The Secret Service said no agency or White House personnel were injured in the incident.
Rosenblum says he’s planning to focus on his client’s history.
“We're going to be all about mitigation,” Rosenblum said. “What will be explored is what type of person Sai has always been and what led up to that moment in time.
“Obviously, his background is such that he's always been a very good kid, comes from a good family, and they remain very supportive. He had friends. He took a job out of school. He worked, went to school close to his family, grew up in West County.
“You have to look and see exactly what his state of mind was at that time, at that moment in time, to see the extent of culpability.”
Kandula has remained in federal custody in Washington D.C. ever since the incident, which began shortly after 9:30 p.m. May 26. A U.S. Park Police officer who was on patrol nearby saw the truck going east on H Street, near the walking entrance to Lafayette Square, a park that sits north of the White House complex, just across Pennsylvania Avenue, according to court documents.
Kandula then drove the truck onto the sidewalk and crashed it into the metal bollards that prevent vehicles from entering the White House complex. After backing the truck up, he crashed into the bollards a second time, according to the documents.
The Park Police officer drove behind the U-Haul and saw Kandula get out of the truck and remove a red and white flag with a swastika on it from a backpack he was carrying. Kandula said he purchased the flag online because "Nazis have a great history" and that he admired their "authoritarian nature, Eugenics and their one world order." Nazi party leader Adolph Hitler was a "strong leader," he said.
The officer told Kandula to get on the ground, where he was searched and arrested before being taken to a Park Police station for questioning, according to the documents.
Kandula told investigators he flew from St. Louis-Lambert International Airport to Dulles International Airport. His flight arrived at the Virginia airport at about 8 p.m., according to the documents.
Kandula, who told police he had been planning the trip to Washington, D.C., for six months, said he considered it a success because his "intention was to send a message to us," and the us was the Secret Service, according to court documents.
Kandula attended Marquette Senior High School from 2018 to 2022.
Kandula participated in student council during his sophomore year and played tennis during his sophomore and junior years, according to the district.
Kandula was charged in federal court with one count of depredation of property of the United States in excess of $1,000. He was initially charged with assault with a dangerous weapon; reckless operation of a motor vehicle; threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on a president, vice president or family member; destruction of federal property; and trespassing.
Agents from the Secret Service and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force on Tuesday executed a federal search warrant at Kandula's parents' Chesterfield home. They searched for notes, computers or any evidence of planning that led up to or motive behind Monday’s events.
Rosenblum said Kandula’s father has visited his son multiple times.
“He's adjusting as well as he can be adjusting at the moment, and obviously he's looking forward to getting past this ordeal and so is his family.”
Rosenblum said a hearing for Kandula has been scheduled for Sept. 19 in a federal courtroom in D.C.
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