The 24-year-old sometime construction worker accused of gunning down the boss of the Gambino crime family had no new messages scribbled on his palms as he stood in a Staten Island courtroom on Monday morning.
“New arraignment, Anthony Comello,” a court officer called out. “Docket number 1741.”
Comello had fled to New Jersey after Gambino boss Francesco Cali was shot to death outside his Staten Island home on the night of March 13. He had been arrested in Brick Township, and during a court hearing there last week, he raised his shackled left hand, revealing the QAnon symbol drawn on the palm with blue ballpoint pen, along with several right-wing watchwords.
“MAGA forever… UNITED WE STAND… Patriots in charge.”
His palms on Monday were as blank as his expression when he was brought into Part AR1 to be arraigned on murder charges. Afterwards, a reporter asked defense attorney Robert Gottlieb if he had instructed his client to wash his hands.
“His mother did,” Gottlieb replied.
But Gottlieb made clear that in his view the now scrubbed-away messages remain inscribed in his client’s psyche and are of central importance to the case.
“What was picked up by the media, that was real,” Gottlieb said. “That was what he wanted to express that day.”
Gottlieb continued with what he himself wanted to express on his client’s behalf on Monday.
“At the end of the day, after everything is known about the case, it’s going to show that the hate that’s spewed on the internet by QAnon and other right-wing conspiracy websites, hate words that have been spewed by citizens, including politicians, including right at the White House,” he said. “Words matter. Hate words matter.”
Back when Donald Trump and his father were dealing with associates of Mafia boss Carlo Gambino in construction and real estate and city government, nobody could have imagined the son would one day become the president of the United States.
Nor could they have imagined that one of Don Carlo’s successors would be gunned down by an apparent adherent to paranoid conspiracy theories imagined by some of the Donald's most fervent supporters.
“It’s definitely related to the White House,” Gottlieb said on Monday.
He made this declaration a day after U.S. Attorney General William Barr submitted to Congress a four-page letter summarizing the report filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the letter said.
According to the summary, Mueller was less certain whether Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. He left it up to the U.S. Department of Justice to decide, and it quickly determined against criminal charges.
All of which makes you wonder why Trump ranted about a witch hunt and complained of being the victim of an illegal conspiracy involving the deep state and radical left-wing Democrats. He even welcomed QAnon conspiracy theorist Lionel Lebron to the White House, as was reported by The Daily Beast.
In so doing, Trump lent unspoken credence to conspiracies such as “Pizzagate,” which led a gunman to storm a Washington, D.C. pizzeria in search of a supposed sex dungeons for children maintained by the Hillary Clinton cartel. Pizzagate gave rise to QAnon, which conjures ever more intricate conspiracies that rational folks immediately reject, but too often hold sway with the troubled and vulnerable among us.
As Gottlieb tells it, the crime with which his client is charged had less to to do with the Don than with The Donald. Gottlieb said his client will plead “unequivocally not guilty.” The strength of the case against him— surveillance video of the shooting, a fingerprint at the scene, cellphone and license plate trails, a videotaped statement to detectives—suggests Gottlieb is contemplating an insanity defense.
One observer has called it Mafia Pizzagate.
And a Mafia Pizzagate insanity defense could result in a public and detailed examination of what Gottlieb describes as right-wing hate spewing through cyberspace and between his client’s ears. And it will play out in the least virtual of realities, a criminal trial in New York Supreme Court.
“All of that is going to become much clearer once all the evidence is known and the truth comes out,” Gottlieb said.
He declined to comment on whether the killing also had something to do with Cali’s niece, as some detectives have theorized.
In the meantime, a worry that Comello might be in danger of retaliation was reflected by the presence of more than a dozen court officers at the hearing. Comello’s mother saw him at a secure location on Sunday, but his parents and siblings stayed away from the courthouse on Monday.
Gottlieb asked Judge Raja Rajeswari to have Comello placed in protective custody.
“Everyone is concerned,” Gottlieb said.
The judge agreed and further consented to Comello being given whatever medication he had already been prescribed at the time of the shooting. Comello was then led back out in a jailhouse outfit with broad green stripes, blank-palmed and blank-faced, a figure such as neither the Trumps and the Gambino crime family of earlier times could have imagined.