It's easy to forget that in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, there was a political consensus: Regardless of party or ideology, every prominent political voice agreed that participating in an insurrectionist riot inside the nation's seat of government is indefensible. The idea that any credible politician would defend or rationalize the violence was patently absurd.
Donald Trump, mindful of the public's revulsion toward the assault, was eager to be seen as a mainstream figure. As regular readers know, the then-president said on Jan. 7, "Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem." He went on to describe the riot as a "heinous attack."
Reading from a prepared text, Trump added, "The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy.... To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction: You do not represent our country, and to those who broke the law: You will pay."
Five days later, the Republican condemned the "mob [that] stormed the Capitol and trashed the halls of government." On the final full day of his term, again reading from a script, Trump added, "All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated."
Contrast this with the rhetoric the former president used on Newsmax this week. After saying he would "absolutely" hand out pardons if voters returned him to the White House, Trump said of the rioters:
"Some of these people are not guilty. Many of these people are not guilty. In many cases, they're patriots. They're soldiers. They're policemen."
It's emblematic of the bewildering final stage of a multi-step process that's unfolded over the last year:
- The rioters' attack was bad.
- The rioters' attack was bad, but it was Democrats' fault.
- Maybe the rioters weren't so bad.
- The rioters are innocent "patriots."
As for Trump's "absolute" willingness to pardon the rioters if he runs and wins in 2024 — it was the second time in four days he raised the prospect — the rhetoric is not going unnoticed. Robert Jenkins, an attorney representing several Jan. 6 defendants, told CNN yesterday that the former president's talk of pardons will make defendants "far less likely to cooperate" with prosecutors in upcoming criminal cases.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, a member of the Jan. 6 committee, argued yesterday that Trump's rhetoric may constitute witness tampering. His colleague, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, told Rachel on the show last night about the degree to which the former president's pardon talk may also resemble obstruction of justice.