Former U.S. President Donald Trump left office more than a year ago, but his conduct in the waning weeks of his presidency as he tirelessly sought to remain in power and his reported role in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, remain a focal point of the American political scene and multiple investigations.
Trump, with a wide base of Republican voter support, is teasing another run for the presidency in 2024 after losing in 2020 to Democrat Joe Biden, now the 46th U.S. president. Both men are in their 70s, but an electoral rematch in two years is possible.
Trump is already assailing Biden’s performance during his first year in office, while Biden and his aides attack Trump, zeroing in on his baseless claims that he was cheated out of a second term by electoral fraud.
But for the moment, the focus is not on 2024 or the nationwide congressional elections coming up in nine months. The current focus is on how the Trump presidency ended.
Special grand jury
A prosecutor in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia, has convened a special grand jury to investigate Trump’s phone call to the top Georgia election official, Brad Raffensperger, in early 2021 asking him to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss in the state.
“So, look. All I want to do is this,” Trump said in a recording of the call to Raffensperger. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”
Meanwhile, several U.S. news outlets reported Tuesday that aides to Trump drafted orders, which apparently were never issued, calling on the Defense and Homeland Security departments to seize voting machines in key political battleground states in hopes of proving electoral fraud.
Trump lost one court challenge after another in states that Biden won. William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, declared that federal investigators had not found evidence of fraud that would have changed the election outcome.
Undaunted, Trump turned his attention to the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6, 2021, imploring then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Biden electors from several key battleground states that the Democrat had won.
Shortly before Congress convened that day, Trump staged a rally near the White House in front of several thousand of his supporters, urging them to “fight like hell” to block certification of Biden’s win.
Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed into the U.S. Capitol, smashing windows and doors, ransacking offices and scuffling with police, injuring 140 of them. Five people died that day or in the immediate aftermath, with one Trump protester shot dead by a police officer.
To this point, 768 people have been charged with criminal offenses during the chaotic melee at the Capitol, many with minor trespassing charges but some with assaulting police. A total of 178 have pleaded guilty, with many receiving a sentence of a few weeks in jail, although some facing assault charges have been sentenced to more than four years. The rest of the cases remain unresolved as investigators pore through vast video footage of the mayhem to identify the rioters.
A select committee in the House of Representatives — seven Democrats and two vocal anti-Trump Republicans — has been investigating the events leading up to the January 6 riot, interviewing more than 300 witnesses, including Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff.
Other key witnesses, including Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, have refused to testify, but the committee expects to reach conclusions by midyear about how the riot unfolded, Trump’s role in fomenting it and why for three hours he declined to call off his supporters from the ensuing riot.
Trump has belittled the investigation, issuing a statement saying, “The January 6th Unselect Committee composed of Radical Left Democrats and a few horrible RINO Republicans is looking to hold people in criminal contempt for things relative to the Protest, when in fact they should hold themselves in criminal contempt for cheating in the Election.”
Trump’s RINO reference — Republicans in Name Only — derisively referenced the two Republicans on the committee: Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Congressman Adam Kinzinger.
This past weekend at a political rally in Texas, Trump spoke up for the rioters arrested at the Capitol, saying, “So many people have been asking me about it. If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”
But Trump faced immediate blowback for his pardon suggestion, drawing a rebuke from Cheney and other Republicans.
“Trump uses language he knows caused the Jan 6 violence; suggests he’d pardon the Jan 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy; threatens prosecutors; and admits he was attempting to overturn the election,” Cheney said on Twitter. “He’d do it all again if given the chance.”
A close political ally of Trump’s, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, rejected pardons as “inappropriate.” Graham told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” show, “I don’t want to send any signal that it was OK to defile the Capitol. There are other groups with causes that may want to go down the violent path if these people get pardoned.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also assailed Trump, saying, “You know, his remarks this weekend, he defended the actions of his supporters who stormed the Capitol and brutally attacked the law enforcement officers protecting it.
“I think it’s important to shout that out and call that out. He even attacked his own vice president for not, in his words, having ‘overturned the election.’ And it’s just a reminder of how unfit he is for office,” Psaki said.