The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump suggests that if he is reelected, he will pardon Jan. 6 Capitol rioters

Several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, criticized the idea on Sunday

Former president Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Conroe, Tex., on Jan. 29. (Michael Stravato for The Washington Post)

CONROE, Tex. — Former president Donald Trump suggested Saturday night that he will pardon the rioters charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol if he is elected president in 2024.

Trump, who has teased but not confirmed another run for president, has repeatedly criticized the prosecution of people who violently stormed the Capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. But his comments at a Texas rally on Saturday marked the first time he dangled the prospect of pardons, an escalation of his broader effort to downplay the deadly events of Jan. 6.

Some of those involved in the riot held out hope for a pardon from Trump before he left office 14 days later, but none were granted.

“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly,” he said Saturday near the end of a lengthy campaign rally in Conroe, a city about 40 miles north of Houston. “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

On Jan. 19, the Supreme Court rejected former president Donald Trump’s request to withhold records from the House committee investigating the Capitol attack. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Authorities have arrested and charged more than 700 people in a sprawling investigation into the insurrection. This month, the Justice Department charged Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers group, and 10 other members or associates of the group with seditious conspiracy, the most serious charges levied as part of the department’s investigation.

Several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), pushed back against Trump’s comments Sunday, calling the suggestion of clemency for those accused in the Capitol riot “inappropriate.”

“I don’t want to reinforce that defiling the Capitol was okay,” Graham said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” The senator said he hopes those who stormed the building “go to jail and get the book thrown at them, because they deserve it.”

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), one of seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump on an impeachment charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, told ABC News’s “This Week” that the former president should not have “made that pledge to do pardons.”

“We should let the judicial process proceed,” Collins said, adding that she would be “very unlikely” to support Trump if he ran in 2024.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) also said those responsible for “the assault on the U.S. Capitol have to be held accountable.”

“Oh my goodness, no,” Sununu told CNN’s Dana Bash when asked whether the rioters should receive pardons.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — who is one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders in Congress and has repeatedly spread falsehoods about the election and the insurrection — criticized Graham for not supporting the “J6 defendants.”

Graham “doesn’t care about our justice system being completely violated by Democrats in their political war against Republicans and President Trump,” Greene said in a statement.

At his Texas rally, Trump also bashed the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, as he continued to spread baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen from him.

“This hasn’t happened to all of the other atrocities that took place recently,” he said. “Nothing like this has happened. What that ‘unselect’ committee is doing and what the people are doing that are running those prisons, it’s a disgrace.”

Since leaving office, Trump and other Republicans have aggressively defended those who broke into the Capitol as patriots. On the first anniversary of the riots, Trump released a scathing statement attacking President Biden and the events marking the anniversary as “political theater.”

“The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America,” he said in a statement, “I say, let them have it because America sees through theirs lies and polarizations.”

Reis Thebault in Washington contributed to this report.