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Conservative federal judge: Trump puts power over democracy

A Republican-appointed judge says Donald Trump is a “charlatan” who’s undermining our system of government by prioritizing pursuit of power over democracy.


Dustin Thompson, a 38-year-old exterminator in Ohio, found himself unemployed once the Covid-19 crisis began in earnest. In the weeks and months that followed, he fell down what he described as “the rabbit hole” of right-wing lies and conspiracy theories about Donald Trump and the Republican’s re-election campaign.

After his preferred candidate lost, Thompson traveled from Ohio to Washington, D.C., and attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally, where the voter was fed additional lies. In fact, he heard Trump tell him and his confederates to “fight like hell,” at which point he did exactly that — and joined the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“If the president’s giving you almost an order to do something,” Thompson told jurors during his criminal trial, “I felt obligated to do that.”

This was, in a nutshell, the defendant’s criminal defense: Thompson didn’t deny storming the Capitol, but he blamed Trump, whose “respect” and “approval” he sought. Federal prosecutors responded that Trump wasn’t on trial and jurors need not consider the former president’s actions: Even if Trump was to blame for the insurrectionist violence, Thompson still needed to be held accountable for his crimes.

Yesterday, a jury agreed and convicted the Ohioan on six counts, including felony obstruction of Congress. He’s the third Jan. 6 rioter to face a jury trial, and so far, each of three have been found guilty. The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, ordered Thompson detained until his sentencing, criticizing the defendant as “weak-minded,” deceptive, and part of a “gullible” mob.

But as NBC News reported, that’s not all he said.

After the verdict, Walton went on to criticize Trump. “I think our democracy is in trouble, because unfortunately we have charlatans like our former president, who doesn’t, in my view, really care about democracy but only about power,” he said.

If Walton’s name sounds at all familiar, he has helped adjudicate politically relevant legal disputes in recent years. It was Walton, for example, who called out the Trump White House for trying to dictate to the Justice Department who should and shouldn’t be prosecuted. “I just think it’s a banana republic when we go down that road,” the jurist said a couple of years ago.

Around the same time, Walton condemned then-Attorney General Bill Barr’s mishandling of the Mueller Report on the Russia scandal. The Republican lawyer’s actions led the judge “to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller report in favor of President Trump.”

Now, Walton has also characterized the former president as a “charlatan” who’s undermining our system of government by prioritizing pursuit of power over democracy.

At this point, some will probably assume that Walton is a liberal jurist appointed by a Democratic president. He is not. Walton was first chosen for the D.C. Superior Court by Ronald Reagan, and he was tapped for the D.C. District Court by George W. Bush.

By most measures, Walton has generally earned a reputation as a conservative. He's just a conservative who's taking a stand in support of democracy and the rule of law — which has turned him into a notable critic of the nation's most recent Republican president.