WASHINGTON — The man accused of crashing a U-Haul truck into barriers near the White House earlier this week is not a U.S. citizen. Officials said Wednesday.
Sai Varshit Khandula, 19, of suburban St. Louis, wore an orange jumpsuit in his brief courtroom appearance — his first since Monday’s incident — as prosecutors sought pretrial detention.
A government lawyer told the court that Khandula was neither a citizen nor a legal permanent resident.
But later Wednesday, a Justice Department official clarified the open court comments and Kandula said Legally holds a green cardPermanent US citizenship.
The origin of the suspect was not mentioned in court.
A college student who was on the same high school track team with Khandula told NBC News on Tuesday that they both belong to the sizable Indian American community in Chesterfield, Missouri.
Gandula answered routine questions from Magistrate Judge Robin Meriwether, confirming his name and that he understood the proceedings.
Gandula’s defense attorney, Diane Shrewsbury, requested a new pair of glasses for Gandula, telling Judge Meriwether that her client’s glasses had been taken after his arrest and that he was having trouble seeing.
Judge Meriwether said he would take care of that issue.
On Tuesday afternoon, Kandula was ordered held without bail at least until his next court date.
Shrewsbury told reporters he was not in a position to comment on the case as he had only met Kandula for the first time a few minutes ago.
The defendant faces multiple charges — including threatening to harm the president, vice president or a family member.
In courtrooms across the United States, prosecutors and defense attorneys file charges against green card holders every day with deportation as a key bargaining chip.
But under Monday night’s circumstances, immigration attorney Corey Alonso-Yoder said he could not foresee a situation in which Gandula would be offered any deal to stay in the United States.
“Most likely, yes,” said Alonso-Yoder, who teaches law at George Washington University, and would be deported if convicted. “If he was convicted of those facts, it would most likely be a expungable offense.”
The suspect’s loved ones will face no consequences from Monday night, regardless of their immigration status.
“It shouldn’t have any impact on his family,” Alonso-Yoder said. “He stands and falls under this kind of accusation. It doesn’t open a door to any investigation into his relationship and their immigration status.”
Authorities said the teenager, from suburban St. Louis, told authorities he admired Nazis and hoped to “seize power” following his U-Haul crash.
Gandula is accused of renting a U-Haul truck at Dulles International Airport before it crashed into the north wall of the White House around 9:35 p.m. Monday.
A bystander took video that shows the U-Haul’s driver rear-end the 26-foot-long vehicle before jumping the curb and crashing back into curbs on the sidewalk.
In law enforcement interviews after the incident, Khandula reportedly spoke fondly of the Nazis, saying they “have a great history,” according to the criminal complaint filed against the teenager.
A court document revealed that Gandula said he admired the Nazis’ “totalitarian nature, eugenics and their one world order”.
Although President Joe Biden was in the White House at the time of Monday’s attack, the administration declined to say whether he had been briefed on the crash as it unfolded.
The White House said Tuesday morning that he was fully briefed on the matter by the Secret Service and the Park Police.
Daniel Barnes from Washington DC and David K. from New York City.