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Suspect pleads not guilty on all charges in Comet Ping Pong pizza case

The front of the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

A North Carolina man accused of commandeering a Washington pizza restaurant with an assault-style rifle Dec. 4 pleaded not guilty to all charges Friday in a brief federal court appearance.

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., is charged with a federal count of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition and indicted on two D.C. offenses: assault with a dangerous weapon and possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.

Comet pizza gunman anticipated ‘violent confrontation,’ police say

The federal firearms and D.C. assault charges each carry a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison. The D.C. firearms count carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Welch, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, stood with his hands clasped behind his back as his attorney entered his plea. Other than responding “Yes, sir” to a question asked by U.S. Magistrate G. Michael Harvey, he did not speak.

Comet Ping Pong customers came out to support the restaurant after a gunman entered it with an assault rifle, firing it at least once. (Video: Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Through his attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Dani Jahn of the District, Welch did not contest prosecutors’ motion to continue to hold him in jail pending his next court appearance concerning the incident at Comet Ping Pong in Northwest Washington. Harvey set Welch’s next appearance for Jan. 5.

Jahn said Welch intended to invoke his right to remain silent, asking the media to contact the federal defender's office instead of the defendant. The New York Times published an account of a Dec. 7 jailhouse interview with Welch that he had without an attorney present, Jahn said.

"I believe protocols are in place to ensure that does not happen again at this point," Jahn said.

‘I am sure he is sorry for any heartaches he has caused,’ mother of alleged ‘Pizzagate’ gunman says

In charging documents, an FBI agent wrote that it appeared Welch contemplated “a violent confrontation” at the restaurant, citing text messages and calling records.

"Raiding a pedo ring, possible [sic] sacrificing the lives of a few for the lives of many," Welch texted a friend two days before he drove to Washington in a Toyota Prius, according to an FBI affidavit. The text continued: "Standing up against a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes babies and children in our own backyard."

Police said Welch was consumed with the viral fake-news story known as “Pizzagate,” which falsely linked Hillary Clinton to a child sex-trafficking ring. The conspiracy theory said the ring operated in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, where Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, occasionally dined.

Previous court documents state that Welch told police that he had gone to the restaurant to investigate rumors of a child-sex-ring operating there.

In the end, Welch did not shoot anyone and surrendered after he found no evidence of hidden rooms or sex trafficking, police said. The documents filed earlier state that adults and children were in the restaurant that Sunday afternoon and fled when the gunman walked inside with a .38-caliber Colt revolver and a Colt AR-15 rifle — loaded with 23 bullets — strapped across his chest.

Welch fired the assault-style weapon two or three times in the restaurant, police said. They said he also pointed the rifle toward an employee who had emerged from the back with pizza dough after everyone else had fled.