Facing likely impeachment — and the potential for criminal liability — for helping incite last week’s deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, President Trump on Tuesday sought to defend himself, saying the speech he gave at a rally shortly before the siege was “totally appropriate.”
Speaking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews before departing for Alamo, Texas, the president was asked whether he accepted any personal responsibility for the events that left at least five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, after a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building.
“So if you read my speech, and many people have done it, and I’ve seen it both in the papers and in the media, on television, it’s been analyzed and people thought what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump replied. “And if you look at what other people have said, politicians at a high level, about the riots during the summer, the horrible riots in Portland and Seattle and various other places, that was a real problem, what they said. But they’ve analyzed my speech and my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence and everybody to the T thought it was totally appropriate.”
In December, Trump, on his now frozen Twitter account, urged supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, promising a “wild” time. He spoke for over an hour at the “Save America” rally prior to the assault on the Capitol, telling supporters, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
“When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules,” Trump said, in demanding that Vice President Mike Pence refuse to accept the Electoral College slates from several states that voted for President-elect Joe Biden.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” the president said. Pence, who constitutional experts said had no choice in the matter, declined to follow Trump’s order.
Later, a large group of the insurrectionists surging into the Capitol chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
“We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump exhorted the thousands of supporters who had gathered on the Ellipse, at the other end of the Mall from the Capitol. “We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about.”
“We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump said, before returning via motorcade to the White House, where he reportedly watched the carnage on television. “We are going to the Capitol. … We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
Others, including Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, also spoke at the rally demanding that Republicans block the Electoral College count.
Hours later, as police attempted to clear the building, Trump posted a video telling the rioters it was time to “go home.” He repeated his lie that the election was stolen from him and told the hundreds who had committed federal crimes that they were “very special” and “we love you.”
Last week, Michael R. Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said, “We are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building, but . . . others that maybe assisted or facilitated or played some ancillary role in this. We will look at every actor and all criminal charges.”
When Trump’s “fight like hell” comments were raised, Sherwin reiterated, “We are looking at all actors here, and anyone that had a role, if the evidence fits the element of a crime, they’re going to be charged.”
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