During the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a group of violent pro-Trump rioters made their way into the building and reached a doorway that led to a House chamber hallway. That hallway was an escape route for legislators who saw attackers through glass windows.
When rioters smashed those windows, one of the insurrectionists, Ashli Babbitt, tried to break through to enter the hallway where members of Congress were being evacuated, ignoring law enforcement pleas. A police officer fired a single shot, and the rioter later died at a local hospital.
Late last week, NBC News obtained a memo that showed that the Capitol Police officer who fired the shot had been formally exonerated after an internal investigation. Yesterday, as the New York Times reported, the Capitol Police made their findings official.
The U.S. Capitol Police announced on Monday that they had cleared a lieutenant who fatally shot a rioter inside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack, after an extensive investigation found that he acted lawfully and potentially saved lawmakers and aides from serious harm or death. The department's decision to formally close the case followed a determination in April by the Justice Department that charges against the officer were not warranted.
"The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House chamber where members and staff were steps away," the Capitol Police said yesterday.
But as this part of the Jan. 6 story comes to a close, it's worth appreciating Donald Trump's role in making the tragedy vastly worse -- not just by encouraging the insurrectionists to come to D.C., and not just by inciting the violence, but by trying to make the officer in this case a villain.
In June, for example, the former president publicly demanded the officer be identified, adding that he saw Babbitt as an ally who was on his "side."
Last month, the Republican went further, saying there was "no reason" for the officer to shoot the rioter. A few days later, Trump asked on Fox Business, "Who was the person who shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman?"
Earlier this month, the former president went so far as to say Babbitt "was murdered at the hands of someone who should have never pulled the trigger." The Republican added, "We know who he is.... There must be justice!"
Despite all the political posturing about Trump siding with law enforcement and championing "law and order," months after the attack he helped inspire, the former president expects his followers to believe a rioter was an "innocent" martyr, while the officer who protected members of Congress from insurrectionist violence committed "murder."
It's a difficult perspective to defend. As a Washington Post analysis recently put it, "This, at its heart, is Trump's view of justice. Those on his side are exempt from accountability for their actions. Those on the other side, however, most be dealt with harshly — more harshly than the law allows."
If the former president starts denouncing the U.S. Capitol Police, at least we'll know why.