Could Donald Trump be prosecuted for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol?
How deeply involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol was ex-president Donald Trump and what charges could face?
Ex-president Donald Trump has been accused of surreptitiously orchestrating and encouraging an attempted coup in a bid to overthrow the government on 6 January 2021 when an angry mob - a mixture of his followers and various far right groups such as the Proud Boys, stormed the Capitol building. Several people died either directly or indirectly as a consequence of the disturbances, including five police officers.
Trump addresses the masses at ‘Save America’ rally
Just an hour and a half before the Capitol building was stormed, Trump had addressed his supporters at the Save America rally held at the White House Ellipse in Washington DC. “These people are not going to take it any longer,” Trump began. “It would be really great if we could be covered fairly by the media, the media is the biggest problem as far as I am concerned. The fake news of the Big Tech, Big Tech is now coming into their own, we surprised them by beating them four years ago and this year, they rigged an election like they’ve never rigged it before. All of us here today do want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical Left Democrats, which is what they’re doing, and stolen by the fake news media, that’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up, we will never concede. Our country has had enough, we will not take it any more and this is what it’s all about. We will ‘Stop the steal’”.
Trump labelled Biden’s victory as fraud, arguing, “In Detroit, there were more votes than voters…” and that some voters, “got three, four, five, six… I heard one who got seven ballots! This is the most corrupt election in America, maybe in the world”.
Concluding his one hour, 12-minute speech, Trump appeared to invite the estimated 30,000-strong crowd to join him on the two-mile walk from the White House to the Capitol. “So we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol,” he said. “And we’re going to try to give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we are going to try to give them the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all, God bless you and God bless America!”
Trump however, returned to the White House and did not join the march to the Capitol. Half an hour later, protesters, some carrying arms, had broken through police barricades at the Capitol and by 2 p.m. were inside the building.
So while Trump implied that he would join the crowd on a march to the Capitol, he didn’t. But neither did he make much of an effort to cool the situation down when he found out that it turned violent.
Did Trump actively incite and encourage people to attack the Capitol? One part of his rally speech which could be regarded as criminal incitement, and that’s the line which Democrats have focused on, when he fired a warning, “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore”.
Whether the select House committee who are investigating events of 6 January will consider that as criminal incitement - urging others to riot remains to be seen. The most serious crime that Trump could be charged with is seditious conspiracy - the committee would need to prove that Trump colluded directly with the leaders of the mob “with the intention of exciting hatred or contempt against persons or state institutions”. Trump’s lawyers will likely highlight another part of his speech in which he told those gathered, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” to counter that argument.
What crimes could Trump be charged with?
Another allegation that the committee will be looking at is whether Trump deliberately obstructed or was involved in obstructing an official session of Congress - which is an offense. On 6 January, Congress were due to meet in a joint session to count the votes of the Electoral College. Trump had earlier urged vice-president Mike Pence to “do the right thing” and reject fraudulent votes. Proving that his intention was to disrupt the congressional counting, either on 6 January or before, will be a complex task.
The select committee will hold two sessions this week - on Tuesday and Thursday. There will be two further hearings after that on dates yet to be confirmed. Whether those hearings conclude that Trump broke the law regarding the Capitol attack or his attempts to overturn election results is anyone’s guess, but even if they do, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that he will be prosecuted.
Most American support the investigation
According to a June poll conducted by Navigator Research, 71% of respondents opposed the actions of the rioters on 6 January compared to 22% who supported it with 64% in favour of the select committee’s investigation to uncover the truth. A majority 54% voted in favour of the Department of Justice (DOJ) filing criminal charges against Donald Trump for his involvement in the Capitol riot, compared to 37% who opposed the suggestion.
“Our polling not only shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the actions of the individuals and groups who perpetrated the assault on the Capitol, but nearly two in three support the investigation being carried out by the January 6th Committee.” said Bryan Bennett, Senior Director of Polling & Analytics at the Hub Project and Advisor to Navigator Research. “The unity across partisanship on these questions underscores the crisis in confidence Americans have in our democracy, and the desire to ensure that attacks on free and fair elections never happen again.”