The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump vows pardons, government apology to Capitol rioters if elected

The comments came on the same day President Biden was delivering a prime-time address warning of the threat to democracy from “MAGA Republicans” and election deniers.

Violent insurrectionists loyal to then-President Donald Trump storm the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (John Minchillo/AP)

Former president Donald Trump said he would issue full pardons and a government apology to rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and violently attacked law enforcement to stop the democratic transfer of power.

“I mean full pardons with an apology to many,” he told conservative radio host Wendy Bell on Thursday morning. Such a move would be contingent on Trump running and winning the 2024 presidential election.

Supporters of the former president attacked the Capitol as Congress was confirming Joe Biden’s electoral college win in the 2020 election, the worst attack on the seat of democracy in more than two centuries. The insurrection left four people dead, and an officer who had been sprayed with a powerful chemical irritant, Brian D. Sicknick, suffered a stroke and died the next day. About 140 members of law enforcement were injured as rioters attacked them with flagpoles, baseball bats, stun guns, bear spray and pepper spray.

As a result, the House impeached Trump for inciting an insurrection.

Trump’s comments to Bell came on the same day President Biden is scheduled to deliver a prime-time address in Philadelphia about extremist threats to American democracy and efforts to rescue “the soul of the nation,” and as Trump is battling in court over top-secret documents he apparently took to his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving office and did not return despite being subpoenaed.

Biden on Thursday night is expected to deliver a dire warning on rising political violence and threatening rhetoric, a message he has ramped up in recent weeks. In his latest public appearances, the president has doubled down on his concerns that “MAGA Republicans” have captured much of the GOP and are threatening democracy by encouraging attacks against federal authorities and political figures, pushing debunked speculations and continuing the promotion of false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

In a fiery speech on Sept. 1, President Biden explained how extremist Republicans are threatening American democracy. Here are the highlights. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Trump, during his conversation with Bell on Thursday morning, also said that he met with some Jan. 6 defendants in his office this week and that he is helping some financially.

“I am financially supporting people that are incredible and they were in my office actually two days ago, so they’re very much in my mind,” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to them. What they’ve done to these people is disgraceful.”

A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how the former president is financially supporting the rioters.

Trump has raised the prospect of pardons in previous interviews, as well, but the notion of an apology and financial support is a new element.

The former president, who has not officially announced a 2024 presidential bid but is expected to do so, said that, if “I decide to run, and if I win, I will be looking very, very strongly about pardons, full pardons.”

“That is probably going to be best, because even if they go for two months or six months [to jail], they have sentences that could go a lot longer than that,” he said.

“Oh, years and years,” Bell added.

“We’re working on it very hard, we’re working with legal,” Trump said, though he also did not offer details about how he is “financially supporting” the rioters.

And while Trump appears to be touting his generosity toward supporters who participated in the Capitol riot, as the Daily Beast reported in May and August last year, the former president has notably refused to pay the legal fees of his attorney and close ally Rudy Giuliani, who faces multiple investigations in his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In his interview with Bell, Trump suggested that the Jan. 6 defendants are “mostly” “firemen, they’re policemen, they’re people in the military.” He accused the justice system, which he described as “this radical left system,” of mistreating the defendants.

“They’re sick, they don’t mind,” Trump said. “Some of the legal people on the other side, they’re the most coldhearted people. They don’t care about families. They don’t care about anything.”

The former president then launched into a plea that “contributions should be made” to defendants’ legal funds, though he did not promote any specific giving channel.

“I’m looking at it very carefully … I’ve studied cases,” Trump said. “We have to do it, because they have some good lawyers, but even [with] the good lawyers … you get some of these judges that are so, so nasty and so angry and mean.”

It has been nearly 20 months since the deadly riot, and to date, about 370 rioters have pleaded guilty to federal charges or been convicted, and more than 220 have been sentenced. More than 800 defendants have been arrested and federally charged from nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The longest punishment handed down so far in the attack was given Thursday to Thomas Webster, a former New York City police officer and Marine Corps veteran, who during the attack swung a flagpole at police before tackling one officer and yanking his gas mask off. Webster was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Webster was the first riot defendant facing the felony charge of assaulting an officer to try his luck with a jury.

The second longest punishment was handed down a month ago to Guy Reffitt, a recruiter for the right-wing Three Percenters movement in Texas, who was convicted this year of five felony offenses, including obstruction of Congress as it met to affirm the 2020 election result, interfering with police and carrying a firearm to a riot.

Prosecutors said Reffitt led a mob while armed at the Capitol and asked a judge to sentence him to 15 years after applying a terrorism sentencing penalty. Reffitt was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Earlier this week, Joshua Pruitt, a member of the far-right Proud Boys group who instigated the Capitol mob and who menaced Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) during the attack, was sentenced to 55 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Investigators found that Pruitt was planning for full battle at the Capitol.

Pruitt pleaded guilty in June to obstructing an official proceeding, and federal sentencing guidelines recommended 51 to 63 months in prison, in part because he has a lengthy criminal history. While Pruitt, a former D.C. bartender, acknowledged that he broke laws, he said during his sentencing that he “did believe the election was stolen. I still do.”

On Thursday, a Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to a chemical-spray assault on three police officers during the Jan. 6 insurrection, including Sicknick.

In a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Julian Khater, a smoothie-shop owner in State College, Pa., admitted to assaulting and injuring law enforcement officers with a dangerous weapon.

Khater pleaded guilty to counts punishable by up to 20 years in prison but faces a likely sentence of 78 to 97 months under federal guidelines negotiated with prosecutors. He has spent 17 months behind bars since his arrest and will be sentenced Dec. 13.

Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. In what was likely its final hearing, the committee issued a surprise subpoena seeking testimony from former president Donald Trump. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.

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