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‘A simple protest that got out of hand’: Trump defends role in Capitol attack

Washington: Donald Trump has defended his role in the US Capitol attack, denying that he incited the riot while accusing his former vice president and attorney-general of being too weak to help him overturn the 2020 election.

In his first public appearance since the January 6 congressional hearings began, Trump also branded the investigation against him as a “sham”; described what happened at the Capitol that day as a “simple protest that got out of hand”; and insisted there was “not one shred of evidence” to support the view that he engaged in an unlawful conspiracy.

Donald Trump and the scene at the US Capitol on January 6.Credit:AP

“There’s no clearer example of the menacing spirit that is devouring the American Left than the disgraceful performance being staged by the Unselect Committee,” Trump said, using the nickname he has given the January 6 Select Committee, which consists of seven Democrats and two Republicans. “They’re con artists.”

Speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Tennessee, Trump also gave one of his strongest signals yet that he was planning another tilt at the White House in 2024, seemingly undeterred by the probe against him.

“Would anybody like me to run for president?” he asked, as the crowd roared with enthusiasm.

Later, he added that “if I become president some day” he would consider issuing pardons to some of the people who have been charged for their role in the Capitol attack, saying they were being treated worse than murderers.

The comments came a day after the January 6 committee held its third public hearing into the insurgency, using the session to drive home the pressure Trump had placed on his then vice president, Mike Pence, to overturn Biden’s election victory – despite being told this was illegal.

For more than two hours on Thursday, witnesses testified that Trump had put Pence’s life at risk by embracing an elaborate plot, spearheaded by renegade lawyer John Eastman, to stop the certification of electoral college votes.

Multiple other Trump advisers, including former attorney-general Bill Barr, had revealed earlier in the week how they repeatedly tried to debunk Trump’s claims of a stolen election.

Former US vice president Mike Pence.Credit:AP

But in a grievance-fuelled address lasting almost 90 minutes, Trump said he simply wanted Pence to send the votes back to state legislatures because of the electoral “fraud” he claims took place.

“He had a chance to be, frankly, historic,” Trump said of Pence. “But just like Bill Barr and the rest of these weak people … he did not have the courage to act.”

The former president also took aim at the committee itself, accusing the group of editing video depositions and taking witness statements out of context in order to create a “fake and phony narrative and a chilling attempt to weaponise the justice system against their political opponents”.

“What happened on January 6 was a simple protest that got out of hand,” he said. “And they never show the size of the crowd. I believe it was the largest number of people I’ve ever spoken to. I’m not talking about the very small percentage of people who went down to the Capitol, many of whom did nothing wrong … I’m talking about the crowd I spoke to before [at the rally that preceded the attack].”

Trump’s speech was the seventh time he appeared at the Faith and Freedom conference, an annual conservative gathering that bills itself as America’s “premiere pro-faith, pro-family event” and is designed to “empower conservative activists to fight for their values at the polls”.

But with only five months until the midterm elections, it comes at a critical juncture for the former president, who has repeatedly said he would wait until after the midterms – when the Republicans are expected to regain control of Congress – to announce if he will run for president again.

The findings of the committee’s probe could end up having an impact on such an announcement, particularly if it leads to a criminal investigation into Trump by the Department of Justice.

Others in Trump’s orbit have already found themselves in legal turmoil as a result of the committee’s work, such as former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who pleaded not guilty to contempt of Congress charges on Friday after not co-operating with the January 6 investigation.

The committee’s fourth hearing will take place on Tuesday and is likely to feature testimony from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his top deputy Gabriel Sterling.

Raffensperger is the electoral official who famously rebuffed Trump’s pressure to simply “find” enough votes to help reverse his defeat in Georgia – the once Republican state that ultimately handed Biden control of the White House after it flipped to the Democrats in 2020. Sterling, meanwhile, was an outspoken critic of Trump’s claims of fraud.

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