WASHINGTON — A police officer arrives at the front door of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco in the predawn hours of Oct. 28, 2022, to find her husband Paul Pelosi, 82, and an intruder standing together calmly but awkwardly in the foyer, each clutching opposite ends of a hammer.
Within seconds, the tense quiet is shattered: Ordered to drop the hammer, the intruder briefly scuffles with Mr. Pelosi before raising the tool above his head and lunging toward Mr. Pelosi. Panicked officers rush inside to try to subdue the assailant, as Mr. Pelosi lies motionless on his side making guttural sounds.
The graphic and harrowing scene unfolds in a roughly 90-second clip of police body camera footage released on Friday by a San Francisco court in the trial of David DePape, the man who has been charged with assaulting Mr. Pelosi. The speaker’s husband would go on to spend six days in a San Francisco hospital and undergo surgery for a skull fracture. It was an extraordinary depiction of a brutal act of political violence, which stemmed from an attempt to abduct Ms. Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the presidency.
Together with surveillance video from the Capitol Police and other evidence released on Friday, it raised fresh questions about what is being done to protect public officials and their families against escalating threats. Its release also underscored the pernicious influence of misinformation in the United States, where some influential voices on the right had spread conspiracy theories about the attack on Mr. Pelosi.
The body camera video and separate surveillance footage from outside the home that captured the minutes before Mr. DePape gained access to the Pelosi home disproved groundless claims circulated on the far right and amplified at all levels of Republican politics that the assault was an inside job or a cover story for a sordid situation involving Mr. Pelosi.
But rather than quell such conspiracy theorizing, the documentary evidence only fed the cycle that began in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when former President Donald J. Trump and Republican lawmakers were among those questioning the official account.
“No matter what happens, no matter what footage we have, what documents we have, people tend to spin narratives to support their side of the story,” said Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation expert. “We just see this distrust of what you can see with your own eyes over and over and over again.”
Mr. DePape himself was clearly influenced to carry out the attack by right-wing conspiracy theories he learned about online. In an interview with a San Francisco detective hours after the attack, he made clear he had fully bought into lies about the 2020 election. He described Ms. Pelosi as the “leader of the pack” of lying Democrats who spent four years undermining Mr. Trump, “until they were finally able to steal the election.”
The new evidence underscored the spontaneous nature of the attack. In the police interview, Mr. DePape said he had been looking for Ms. Pelosi, a political figure who for decades has been demonized and dehumanized by Republicans, and that he planned to kidnap her, break her kneecaps and see her “wheeled into Congress.” Ms. Pelosi was not home the night of the attack.
In a brief, emotional statement to reporters at the Capitol on Friday, Ms. Pelosi said she did not plan to view or listen to any of the footage released publicly and would not be commenting about the incident or the case again.
“I have absolutely no intention of seeing the deadly assault on my husband’s life,” Ms. Pelosi said. “I won’t be making any more statements about this case as it proceeds, except to again thank people and inform them of Paul’s progress.”
When asked how he was doing, Ms. Pelosi said simply that he was “coming along.”
Alongside the release of a 911 call Mr. Pelosi placed while the intruder was in the house and an interview the suspect gave in which he said he was looking for Ms. Pelosi, the material now in the public realm provides an almost complete picture of what happened during the attack and the political motivations of the attacker.
In the 911 call, Mr. Pelosi can be heard speaking calmly and choosing his words carefully, as he tries to convey to a police dispatcher that he is in danger without directly saying anything to anger the intruder, who is apparently listening in.
“There’s a gentleman here just waiting for my wife to come back, Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Pelosi says. “She’s not going to be here for a day, so I guess I’ll have to wait.”
Eventually, Mr. DePape appears to be losing patience with Mr. Pelosi, who tells the dispatcher, “He wants me to get the hell off the phone, OK?”
The attack and subsequent release of the video come at a time when politically motivated violence is on the rise and lawmakers are deeply concerned about how to protect themselves and their families against serious threats.
“We live in dangerous times of unprecedented extremism and political violence which have no place in our democracy or in the everyday lives of elected officials and their loved ones,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and minority leader, said on Friday.
Also released Friday was Capitol Police surveillance footage of the Pelosi residence that showed the suspect breaking into the home through a back door. The materials were released after a legal effort by a consortium of media outlets, including The New York Times.
The surveillance video shows Mr. DePape casing the house for several minutes before entering, at one point carrying two backpacks — a scene that Capitol Police officials would have seen had they been monitoring the feed from the Pelosi home the night of the attack. But Ms. Pelosi was not present at the time, and crucial minutes went by before any officer reviewed the footage.
Since the attack, many elected officials have been pressing for more protection for lawmakers and their families, and the surveillance footage was certain to amplify questions about the response of the Capitol Police.
Unlike presidents, who receive round-the-clock security provided by the Secret Service and paid for by taxpayers, including separate protection for their family members, most members of Congress receive little government-provided security, and their families seldom have any.
As speaker of the House, Ms. Pelosi had a large security detail with her at all times. But that protection does not extend to family members.
For years, Ms. Pelosi, whose speakership ended this month, has been one of the most threatened members of Congress, in part because of a coordinated effort by Republicans to target the most powerful woman in American politics. In advertisements and fund-raising appeals designed to anger, scare and animate their core supporters, they for years have portrayed Ms. Pelosi, a wealthy woman from the progressive bastion of San Francisco, as the most sinister Democratic villain of all.
The suspect, Mr. DePape, 43, faces numerous felony charges in state court, including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He also faces federal charges of attempted kidnapping of a federal officer and assault on a family member of a federal official. If convicted, he would face the possibility of life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty, and the next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 23, when a trial date will be set.
Mr. Pelosi has been slowly recovering since the attack. In recent weeks, he has attended some high-profile events with his wife, including Ms. Pelosi’s portrait unveiling and the Kennedy Center Honors. At both events, he wore a hat to cover any visible head injury and a dark glove to cover the hand that had been wounded. Earlier this month, Mr. Pelosi sat in the House gallery overlooking the floor as members cast what would be their first of 15 votes to elect a new speaker. Still, Ms. Pelosi and her family members have been candid about the long road he faces before he can make a full recovery.
“He’s been out a bit because the doctor said he has to have something to look forward to, and so again, one day at a time,” Ms. Pelosi told CNN’s Chris Wallace in a recent interview. “He had wounds and all the rest in that on his body. Those took time, but they healed. Tendons, you know all that stuff. But the head is a different thing.”
Ms. Pelosi said that with a serious head injury, “you have to be careful about movement. You have to be careful about light. You have to be careful about sound. And it just takes a while. You get very tired, but, you know, without going so further into it, but it takes, it will take probably another three or four months, according to the doctors, for him to be really himself.”
According to his daughter Alexandra Pelosi, Mr. Pelosi was never deeply political, despite being married to the most powerful Democratic operator in the country. His circle of friends included many Republicans, and he forbid the family to discuss politics at the dinner table.
But Mr. Pelosi played an invaluable behind-the-scenes role for his wife over her years leading House Democrats, a fairly unglamorous role that was on display in a recent HBO documentary about Ms. Pelosi made by Alexandra Pelosi.
Mr. Pelosi, a multimillionaire venture capitalist, took care of what his family referred to as the “business of living,” buying dish towels, doing the dishes, dealing with contractors and even shopping for his wife’s clothes, leaving her free to focus all of her energy on her work.
“He’s remained out of the limelight as much as he could,” Alexandra Pelosi said in a recent interview. “He almost got to the end without anyone knowing who he was.”