Two men wanted in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol were arrested over the weekend, including one who reportedly served as a bodyguard to former president Donald Trump’s longtime political confidant Roger Stone, federal authorities said Monday.
Roberto Minuta breached the Capitol grounds and “aggressively berated and taunted U.S. Capitol police officers” during the Jan. 6 insurrection, the FBI said in court papers.
Also arrested over the weekend was Isaac Steve Sturgeon, 32, of Dillon, Mont., who is charged with shoving a metal police barricade into police officers during the insurrection, according to court records.
Meanwhile, Jacob Chansley, the Phoenix man who sported face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns while inside the Capitol during the siege, will remain jailed until trial, a judge in Washington ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth explained that Chansley carried a spear into the Capitol, ignored orders from police to leave, used a bullhorn to encourage other rioters and was among the first rioters into the building.
Chansley doesn’t fully appreciate the severity of the charges against him, Lamberth said. The judge said he has no faith that Chansley would follow release conditions.
At least five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died as a result of the violence at the Capitol, and two other officers took their own lives in the days after. More than 300 people have been charged with federal crimes.
Minuta, 36, of Hackettstown, N.J., had been “equipped with military-style attire and gear, including apparel emblazoned with a crest related to the Oath Keepers,” the FBI said, referring to the far-right antigovernment militia.
The New York Times identified Minuta as one of six people who provided security to Stone in the hours before the assault on the Capitol. Stone, who was pardoned after his sentence for several felony charges was initially commuted by Trump, was in Washington the day of the assault but has denied any involvement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Gianforti told a magistrate judge in White Plains federal court that Minuta was among Oath Keepers who illegally provided freelance security in Washington for “various high-profile individuals who I won’t name.”
Minuta, who was arrested at his tattoo shop in Newburgh, N.Y., told federal agents “something to the effect of: ‘Why am I being targeted here? Why aren’t you going after Antifa and Black Lives Matter members?”‘ Gianforti said.
The prosecutor said the statements suggest “a lack of remorse for his actions and an ongoing allegiance to the ideology that led him to break the law.”
He accused Minuta of “screaming at Capitol Police officers on Jan. 6 and indeed spitting at their feet, which is one of the most disrespectful gestures that one can do.”
Gianforti said Minuta had cancelled his phone account on March 1 and gotten rid of his iPhone while moving between a Texas dwelling and his New York business.
Ben Gold, Minuta’s court-appointed attorney, said his client was not violent on Jan. 6. A magistrate judge agreed, letting him be freed on $ 150,000 US bail despite the prosecutor’s request he be held as a danger to the community and risk to flee.
“He’s not a flight risk. He’s not a danger to the community,” Gold said.
The lawyer said a criminal complaint describing the charges says Minuta entered the Capitol forcefully, but yet the description afterward “doesn’t say he used an ounce of force.”
Authorities said Sturgeon, the Montana man, was identified through police body camera video and photographs posted to social media.
The FBI said Sturgeon, who owns a lawn care business, traveled to Kenya on Jan. 24 and was deported from that country to New York. He was arrested Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Sturgeon told a federal magistrate Monday he “wasn’t trying to flee,” adding he’s a frequent traveller.
His defence attorney declined to comment on the charges.
Prosecutors said Sturgeon faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday sought to beat back right-wing conspiracy theories suggesting that fake supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
It was Wray’s first testimony in Congress since the attack — a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s November election victory — was carried out by supporters of Trump who, in a speech near the White House, exhorted them to march to the Capitol in protest.
“I was appalled that you, our country’s elected leaders, were victimized right here in these very halls,” Wray testified before the Senate’s judiciary committee.
“That siege was criminal behaviour, pure and simple. It’s behaviour that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.”
Early on, Republicans on the panel sought to equate the Jan. 6 riot to the occasional violence that ensued in months of racial justice protests in dozens of U.S. cities last year.
But Wray was unequivocal in terms of what the agency has learned so far about the events of Jan. 6.
“We have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th,” he said.
Last month in another Senate hearing, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin brought up the possibility that “agent provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” had circulated among the crowd on Jan. 6, citing an article by a right-wing think-tank.
Wray said there had been no evidence presented yet of fake Trump protesters crashing the event, which appears to have been planned for weeks according to previous testimony, and he reiterated his assertion from 2020 hearings that white supremacists “have been responsible for the most lethal attacks over the last decade” in terms of domestic terrorism.
Hundreds charged so far
The U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 300 people on criminal counts ranging from conspiracy to attacking police and obstructing Congress.
Five people in attendance died that day, including a Trump supporter who was fatally shot and a Capitol police officer who was killed in circumstances that are still unclear. Three others suffered fatal medical episodes, according to reports.
At least 18 people associated with the far-right Proud Boys — which Canada labelled a terrorist group last month — have been charged and nine people tied to the anti-government militia known as the Oath Keepers are facing charges they conspired as far back as November to storm the Capitol to prevent Biden from becoming president.
Biden took office on Jan. 20.
Federal investigators including the FBI have come under scrutiny since Jan. 6 over why more was not done to protect the Capitol ahead of the attack.
On Jan. 5, the FBI’s Norfolk, Va., office distributed a raw, unverified intelligence report which warned that violent extremists intended to disrupt Congress.
Still unclear how Capitol Police officer was killed
Wray told lawmakers on Tuesday the intelligence was shared with other law enforcement agencies three different ways, but acknowledged he personally did not see the report until a few days later.
As to why other top law enforcement officials did not see it, Wray said: “I don’t have a good answer to that.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said to Wray: “What I don’t understand is why this … raw intelligence didn’t prompt a stronger warning and alarm.”
The FBI has yet to arrest any suspects in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, or for pipe bombs that were discovered outside the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.
The FBI has obtained a video that shows a suspect spraying bear spray on police officers, including Sicknick, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Wray said he couldn’t yet disclose a cause of death for Sicknick.
Democrats and some Republicans condemned Trump for his weeks of false claims leading up to Jan. 6, that the election was stolen. He repeated that claim in his first significant speech since leaving the presidency last week.
But Wray said he stood by comments made by former attorney general Bill Barr, who had infuriated Trump after the election when he said the Justice Department did not have evidence of any widespread election fraud.
“We are not aware of any widespread evidence of voter fraud, much less that would have affected the outcome of the presidential election,” Wray told lawmakers.
We are not aware of any widespread evidence of voter fraud, much less that would have affected the outcome of the presidential election,” Wray told lawmakers.
In a newly unsealed search warrant, investigators say rioters carried weapons inside the Capitol including tire irons, sledge hammers, stun guns, bear spray and, in at least one case, a handgun with an extended magazine.
“Everyone involved must take responsibility for their actions that day, including our former president,” said Grassley, who was among those who voted to acquit Trump on a count of incitement of insurrection in a Senate impeachment trial last month.
WATCH | Former FBI agent Jack Cloonan on the domestic terrorism threat:
Given the events of Jan. 6, the likelihood of someone attempting an attack around the presidential inauguration is ‘extremely high,’ says former FBI special agent Jack Cloonan. 7:46
Senate judiciary committee chair Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said the government has not done enough to protect against threats from far-right extremists and white supremacists, and accused the Trump administration of playing down those threats.
He said the Trump administration “never set up a task force to combat the numerous incidents” from the far-right, and instead focused on Black Lives Matter activists.
With respect to other issues, Wray said he was concerned about violent attacks against Asian Americans during the past year. But he stopped short of condemning what he called “rhetoric” — offensive language used by Trump and other legislators regarding the pandemic that Democrats have characterized as pejorative or racist.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump on Sunday hinted at a possible run for president in 2024, attacked President Joe Biden and repeated his fraudulent claims that he won the 2020 election in his first major appearance since leaving the White House nearly six weeks ago.
“Our movement of proud, hard-working American patriots is just getting started, and in the end we will win. We will win,” Trump said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Refusing to admit he lost the Nov. 3 presidential election to Biden, Trump offered a withering critique of his Democratic successor’s first weeks in office and suggested he might run again. “They just lost the White House,” the former Republican president said after criticizing Biden’s handling of border security. “But who knows, who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
Trump’s tumultuous final weeks in office saw his supporters launch a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to block Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory, a win that Trump falsely claimed was tainted by widespread fraud.
A civil war has erupted within the Republican Party, with establishment figures such as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell eager to put Trump in the rearview mirror, and others, such as Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, believing the party’s future depends on the energy of the pro-Trump conservative base.
Trump declared that the Republican Party is united and said he had no plans to try to launch a third party — an idea he has discussed with advisers in the last couple of months.
“We’re not starting new parties. We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be united and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party,” he said.
The results of a straw poll of CPAC conference participants gave Trump a strong show of support, with 55 per cent saying they would vote for him in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came in second place with 21 per cent.
Without Trump, DeSantis led the field with 43 per cent, while other potential Republican candidates had single digits.
But not everyone supported Trump. A separate question on the poll asked whether Trump should run again in 2024, and it led to a mixed result — with 68 per cent saying he should run and 32 per cent saying they were opposed or had no opinion.
“It’s tough to get seven out of 10 to agree on anything,” pollster Jim McLaughlin told CPAC in explaining away the results.
Still, Trump fervour at the four-day CPAC event has been so strong that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., declared it “T-PAC,” and participants rolled out a golden statue of the former president.
“Hello CPAC, do you miss me?” Trump said.
Trump’s flirtation with another run could freeze the Republican field for 2024 as other potential candidates try to decide whether they will have to compete against him. Many of those 2024 possible candidates spoke during the CPAC event.
An hour into his speech, Trump dove deeply into his unfounded claims of election fraud, going against the advice of confidants who believe he needs to look to the future.
Watch <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@realDonaldTrump</a> speak at <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CPAC2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CPAC2021</a> <a href=”https://t.co/7T3VRd3HkS”>https://t.co/7T3VRd3HkS</a>
“We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that has to be fixed immediately. This election was rigged,” Trump said. “And the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.”
“You won! You won!” the crowd shouted. Trump’s campaign and his supporters brought dozens of failed lawsuits attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which Biden won by more than seven million votes.
In the short term, Trump is making plans to set up a super PAC political organization to support candidates who mirror his policies, an adviser said.
Starting his speech more than an hour late, Trump said he wanted to save the culture and identity of the United States.
He sought to position himself as the lead critic of the new president, including on immigration and security along the U.S. border with Mexico and the slow reopening of schools closed due to the pandemic.
“Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history,” Trump said.
The <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CPAC2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CPAC2021</a> crowd gives President Trump some love! <a href=”https://t.co/iJ80pnTMce”>pic.twitter.com/iJ80pnTMce</a>
When Justin Trudeau met virtually with U.S. President Joe Biden this week, the prime minister suggested that relations between the two countries had taken a significant hit during Donald Trump’s administration, noting that “there’s a lot to rebuild.”
Tensions over trade culminated in tariff battles during Trump’s term in the White House, and his use of Twitter to blast the prime minister certainly put a chill on their relationship.
However, despite the often-tense relationship between Trudeau and Trump, tough deals were still forged, including a revamped NAFTA agreement, while the countries continued to co-operate on longstanding issues.
“The relationship between the United States is so deep and so broad that you can’t characterize it simply in terms of whether or not an individual president and a prime minister get along” said David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2016 to 2019.
“Having said that, I think it is of huge value if they do,” he said. “There are times when having that kind of close personal relationship can make a difference. So I think it’s desirable, but it’s not essential.”
Yet MacNaughton said the reality was that Canada and U.S. continued to have a constructive relationship on the meaningful files.
For example, the military and intelligence relationship between the two countries continued to be very strong, he said.
While negotiations for the new NAFTA agreement — the Canada–U.S.–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) — were tough, an agreement was still hashed out, MacNaughton said.
“And frankly, I’m not sure if we were renegotiating NAFTA today, we would have an easier time with [the Biden administration].”
As well, key figures from Donald Trump’s administration were able to forge strong relations with Canada and members of Trudeau’s team. Sonny Perdue, the U.S. secretary of agriculture was a “great friend,” while former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and former finance minister Bill Morneau “got along really well,” MacNaughton said.
Governors and premiers
And as CBC’s Aaron Wherry chronicled in his book Promise and Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power, Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, built a rapport with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was also a senior adviser to the president.
Even Trump’s controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon had said he had developed a good relationship with Trudeau’s Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary from 2015 to 2019.
Then there are the on-going Canada/U.S. relationships between governors and premiers, MacNaughton said. On a regular basis, the Atlantic, Western and Great Lakes premiers get together with their New England, Great Lakes and Western governor counterparts.
As well, there are bilateral mayoral, business and union relationships, he said.
“So to say the relationship was broken is putting too much emphasis on Donald Trump’s M.O.”
Chris Sands, director of the D.C.-based Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, said so much in the Canada/U.S. relationship is managed by unknown bureaucrats who continued working behind the scenes and were “getting important things done.”
That Canada was able to make a deal to keep the border restricted but not closed following the COVID-19 pandemic was a testament to the co-operation and trust we have [for] the Canadians,” he said.
‘Knows how to get things done’
“I don’t want to say that it was magic, but it was really good and it was a sign of a relationship that knows how to get things done,” Sands said.
“There were a lot of things that weren’t fun but they did get done in the Trump era and they’re still getting done now.”
Still, relations “did get pretty bad” as “trust was eroded over the last four years, particularly on the Canadian side toward the U.S,” said former American diplomat Scotty Greenwood, who spent four years as chief of staff of the U.S. Embassy in Canada.
“I do think that the relationship suffered. I do think the relationship between the leaders matters,” she said. “While there’s a certain inevitability of Canada/U.S. relations, there are still times when you really benefit from a good working relationship at the top to solve thorny issue or to create big opportunities.”
On that front, relations at the top were at times tumultuous with the president.
And some of that, at least, seemed to be sparked by Trump’s ire with Canada/U.S. trade deals and what he saw as Canada having an unfair trade advantage.
In 2017, Trump called Canada a “disgrace” for policies that he said hurt American farmers and would tweet a year later that “I love Canada but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years!”
What eventually followed was the tense renegotiation of NATFA. But before that, Trump in June 2018, in the days leading up to the G7 leaders summit in La Malbaie, Que., slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports.
The rhetoric became more heated after the summit, when Trump got word that Trudeau had said the tariffs were insulting and that Canada wouldn’t be pushed around. Taking to Twitter, Trump lashed back that the prime minister was “very dishonest & weak.”
Later, Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, remarked there was “a special place in hell” for Trudeau, while Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Trudeau had “stabbed us in the back.”
Such level of diplomatic vitriol prompted former prime minister Brian Mulroney to observe he had “never seen language like this. Least of all from subordinates of the president directed at the prime minister of their greatest friend and ally.”
WATCH | Trudeau caught complaining about Trump’s lateness:
PM Justin Trudeau, France’s Emmanuel Macron, UK PM Boris Johnson and other VIPs shared a few words at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday – and seemed to be talking about U.S. President Donald Trump’s lengthy impromptu press conferences earlier in the day. 0:25
A year later, however, there was another flareup. At a NATO summit reception in Buckingham Palace in London, Trudeau was caught on video complaining to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron that Trump was late because “he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”
Trump would later respond that while Trudeau was “a very nice guy,” he’s “two-faced” and was just upset that he had challenged the prime minister to make a greater financial contribution to NATO.
WATCH| Trump responds to Trudeau:
U.S. President Donald Trump says PM Justin Trudeau ridiculed him last evening because he was upset that Trump called him out over low NATO spending. 0:41
Weeks later, Trump would take another shot at Trudeau when he learned his cameo in the film Home Alone 2: Lost In New York had been edited out of CBC’s broadcast. (CBC said it had cut the scene before Trump was president and did it to make way for commercials.)
“I guess Justin T doesn’t much like my making him pay up on NATO or Trade!” Trump tweeted.
The relationship would come into focus again in June 2020 when Trudeau made headlines for his 21-second pause after being asked about Trump’s threat to use military force against protestors in the U.S.
WATCH | Trudeau’s 21-second pause:
Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump threatening the use of military force against protestors in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before saying “we all watch in horror and consternation.” He did not comment on Trump. 2:59
Relations would be tested a few months later when Trump again slapped a tariff on Canadian aluminum, only to back down after Canada was set to impose retaliatory measures.
Yet despite these tensions, Trudeau was still able to work out and maintain a relationship with Trump, said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.
“It was difficult, but every Western leader had difficult relationships with Mr. Trump.”
Robertson said while other Western leaders gave up, Trudeau kept trying.
Most important relationship
“He had to because it’s our most important relationship,” Robertson said. “The one relationship our prime minister has to get right is the relationship with the United States.”
Greenwood, the former diplomat, said in an ironic twist, Trump’s threats to tear up NAFTA and his disruption of the system made the U.S. much more aware of the importance of Canada.
“What happened was the awareness of the economic relationship between the United States is maybe at an all-time high in Congress,” she said.
Greenwood, however, wondered if the new U.S. administration will be able to build from this new awareness.
“It seems to me the question is how will the prime minister, the president seize on the kind of awareness that now exists in the U.S … where policy makers appreciate more than ever our interconnectedness with Canada.”
“To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world,” Biden stated in his proclamation.
Most immigrant visas were blocked by the orders, according to immigration lawyers.
As many as 120,000 family-based preference visas were lost largely because of the pandemic-related freeze in the 2020 budget year, according to the American Immigrant Lawyers Association. Immigrants could not bring over family members unless they were U.S. citizens applying for visas for their spouses or children under the age of 21.
It also barred entry to immigrants with employment-based visas unless they were considered beneficial to the national interest such as health care professionals.
And it slammed the door on thousands of visa lottery winners who were randomly chosen from a pool of about 14 million applicants to be given green cards that would let them live permanently in the United States.
The blocked visas add to a growing backlog that has reached 437,000 for family-based visas alone, said California immigration lawyer Curtis Morrison, who represented thousands of people blocked by the freeze.
A backlog could remain
“I’m thrilled for my clients who are now in a position that they can now enter the U.S.,” he said. “But that backlog will take years if the administration does not take ambitious measures.”
A federal judge last year issued a ruling that all but lifted Proclamation 10052 by allowing temporary foreign workers to enter the United States if their employers are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or several other large organizations that represent much of the U.S. economy.
But Proclamation 10014 continued to block thousands of immigrants.
Biden’s actions come only days after thousands of visa lottery winners at risk of having their visas expire won a court order that put their visas on hold by the judge in the case. Now they will be allowed to use their visas to enter the country.
The United States makes available up to 55,000 visas a year for immigrants whose nationalities are underrepresented in the U.S. population. The visas must be used within six months of being obtained.
Meanwhile, Biden has proposed legislation that would limit presidential authority to issue future bans against immigrants.
The president has not said whether there will be any redress for visa lottery winners who lost out because of the pandemic-era policies. But he is calling for the U.S. to increase the number of diversity visas available via the lottery each year from 55,000 to 80,000.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump will be making his first post-presidential appearance at a conservative gathering in Florida next weekend.
Ian Walters, spokesperson for the American Conservative Union, confirmed that Trump will be speaking at the group’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 28.
Trump is expected to use the speech to talk about the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, as well as to criticize President Joe Biden’s efforts to undo Trump’s immigration policies, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.
CPAC is being held this year in Orlando, Fla., and will feature a slew of former Trump administration officials and others who represent his wing of the party, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, signalling a growing feud between the two most important voices in the Republican Party.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said in a statement released through his political action committee amid the fallout over his second impeachment trial.
Trump and McConnell parted ways in the weeks after the Nov. 3 presidential election, with Trump irked that McConnell had recognized Democrat Joe Biden as the winner.
They have not spoken since, a former White House official said.
The loss of both the White House to Biden and control of the Senate — which Democrats picked up in a pair of upset Georgia election run-off victories last month — leaves Republicans on edge as they plot how to win back congressional control in 2022.
The gap between the two men widened when McConnell declared on the Senate floor on Saturday that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
‘He didn’t get away with anything yet’
Minutes after the Senate voted Saturday, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican leader said Trump’s actions surrounding the attack on Congress were “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” adding he was outraged by the violence and Trump’s repeated false claims that his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.
He even noted that although Trump is now out of office, he remains subject to the country’s criminal and civil laws.
“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” McConnell said.
The two are trying to push the party in opposite directions — McConnell back toward the roots of a budget-focused, pro-trade party, while Trump, who is still backed by a large portion of the Republican voter base, advocates a more populist approach.
Trump vows to stay involved
McConnell, who normally stays out of intra-party conflict, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Monday that he would consider “trying to affect the outcome of the primaries” during the 2022 congressional campaign season.
He said that he welcomed Republicans of all stripes, but “what I care about is electability.”
In his statement on Tuesday, Trump pledged he will continue to be involved in Republican politics.
“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.”
A decade ago, when Republicans took a sharp turn to the right with the Tea Party movement, it was McConnell who pointed out that the movement’s right-wing candidates may have been able to win some Republican Senate primaries but often sank in the general election.
That era saw the Democratic majority in the Senate swell to 59-41 by 2009. Republicans reclaimed the majority in 2015, in part due to McConnell’s support of more moderate Republican Senate candidates.
Despite their current differences, McConnell played a major role during Trump’s administration in helping pass the president’s signature 2017 tax cut and in confirming three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A Democratic congressman accused Donald Trump in a federal lawsuit on Tuesday of inciting the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and of conspiring with his lawyer and extremist groups to try to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election he lost to Joe Biden.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson by Joseph Sellers, a Washington lawyer, and the NAACP, is part of an expected wave of litigation over the Jan. 6 riot and is believed to be the first filed by a member of Congress. Thompson, the Democratic chair of the House’s homeland security committee, could be joined by other members of Congress, lawyers said.
The case also names as defendants the Republican former president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and groups including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, extremist organizations that had members charged by the Justice Department with taking part in the siege. The suit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.
A Trump adviser, Jason Miller, said in a statement Tuesday that Trump did not organize the rally that preceded the riot and “did not incite or conspire to incite any violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6th.” A lawyer for Giuliani did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
The suit, filed in federal court in Washington under a Reconstruction-era law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, comes after Trump was acquitted on Feb. 13 in a Senate impeachment trial that centred on allegations that he incited the riot that saw five people in attendance die, including a Trump supporter who was fatally shot and a Capitol police officer who was killed in circumstances that are still unclear.
Trump’s acquittal is likely to open the door to fresh legal scrutiny over his actions before and during the siege.
WATCH | McConnell highly critical of Trump despite vote to acquit:
Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, excoriated Donald Trump on Saturday for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but defended his vote to acquit him at the impeachment trial. 2:49
Even some Republicans who voted to acquit Trump on Saturday acknowledged that the more proper venue to deal with Trump was in the courts, especially now that he has left the White House and lost certain legal protections that shielded him as president.
“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation and former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one,” Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the chamber floor after the Senate voted 57-43 to find Trump guilty of the impeachment charge, a result that didn’t meet the threshold of a two-thirds majority for a conviction.
Riot a ‘foreseeable culmination,’ suit alleges
The suit traces the drawn-out effort by Trump and Giuliani to cast doubt on the election results even though courts across the country, and state election officials, repeatedly rejected their baseless allegations of fraud.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the suit says, the men portrayed the election as stolen while Trump “endorsed rather than discouraged” threats of violence from his angry supporters in the weeks leading up to the assault on the Capitol.
“The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence,” the suit says. “It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully co-ordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”
Presidents are historically afforded broad immunity from lawsuits for actions they take in their role as commander-in-chief. But the lawsuit filed Tuesday was brought against Trump in his personal, not official, capacity and alleges that none of the behaviour at issue had to do with his responsibilities as president.
“Inciting a riot, or attempting to interfere with the congressional efforts to ratify the results of the election that are commended by the Constitution, could not conceivably be within the scope of ordinary responsibilities of the president,” Sellers said in an AP interview.
“In this respect, because of his conduct, he is just like any other private citizen,” Sellers said.
Though the impeachment case focused squarely on accusations of incitement, the lawsuit more broadly accuses Trump of conspiring to disrupt the constitutional activities of Congress — namely, the certification of election results establishing Biden as the rightful winner — through a months-long effort to discredit the outcome and to lean on individual states and his own vice-president to overturn the contest.
The case against Trump was brought under a provision of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which was passed in response to KKK violence and prohibits violence or intimidation meant to prevent Congress or other federal officials from carrying out their constitutional duties.
“Fortunately, this hasn’t been used very much,” Sellers said. “But what we see here is so unprecedented that it’s really reminiscent of what gave rise to the enactment of this legislation right after the Civil War.”
Defending use of ‘trial by combat’
The suit cites incendiary comments that Trump and Giuliani made in the weeks leading up to the riot and on the day of it that lawyers say were designed to mobilize supporters to work to overturn the election results and to prevent the Senate’s certification process. That process was temporarily interrupted when Trump loyalists broke into the Capitol.
Giuliani has said his exhortation to those in attendance for a “trial by combat” was a Game of Thrones reference to encourage investigations of voting systems used in the Nov. 3 vote.
Dominion Voting Systems, which has headquarters in Toronto, is one of two voting software companies to target Trump allies in lawsuits.
Trump told supporters at a rally preceding the riot to “fight like hell,” but lawyers for the former president adamantly denied during the impeachment trial that he had incited the riot. They pointed to a remark during his speech in which he told the crowd to behave “peacefully” that day.
Defence lawyers are likely to revisit those assertions in the lawsuit. They may also argue, as was done during the impeachment case, that Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that her chamber will move to establish an independent, Sept. 11-style commission to look into the insurrection. Pelosi said the commission will “investigate and report on the facts and causes” relating to the attack and “the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.”
At the White House on Tuesday, press secretary Jen Psaki said the president supports the formation of a commission. Biden “backs efforts to shed additional light on the facts to ensure something like that never happens again,” she said.
Look, he warned you. Way back at the dawn of his political adventure, Donald Trump opined that his supporters would stay with him forever, even if he pulled out a gun and shot somebody in the middle of a Manhattan avenue.
That proposition has fortunately never been tested.
Yet his second impeachment, and the 57-43 vote which led to his acquittal, have managed to unearth thorny truths about American politics and his indelible place in it.
One obvious takeaway from this unusual episode is that the U.S. Constitution’s impeachment provisions have revealed themselves to be a dull-toothed tiger.
This has potentially long-lasting implications: Trump could run for office again, and the country’s constitutional guardrails have proven feeble at a time of mounting threats to democracy.
The Senate’s most powerful figure, Democrat Chuck Schumer, called it a vote that will live in infamy and expressed his fear of this acquittal setting a precedent with bleak implications for the republic.
“If encouraging political violence becomes the norm, it will be open season — open season — on our democracy,” Schumer, the Senate’s majority leader, said.
“Everything will be up for grabs by whoever has the biggest clubs; the sharpest spears; the most powerful guns.”
His Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, spent minutes on the Senate floor also ripping into Trump, saying the former president could yet face criminal and civil threats and that he hadn’t gotten away with anything.
McConnell voted to acquit Trump, however, which he described as a technical matter of agreeing with scholars who argue you can’t convict a former official.
Forty-three of the 50 Senate Republicans opposed conviction. Strikingly, this is weak by historical standards: The seven Republicans voting to convict a president of their own party actually set a new record.
And that speaks volumes about how impeachment has worked.
Political parties didn’t exist back when the framers, in their powdered wigs, gathered in downtown Philadelphia to put impeachment rules to paper in 1787 — let alone today’s entrenched party solidarity, which renders the idea of achieving a Senate conviction as remote to our generation as a presidential tweetstorm would have seemed to James Madison’s.
Trump has now single-handedly created a fuller sample size to measure what happens when an impeachment case reaches the Senate, by doubling the number of presidential impeachments in U.S. history from two to four.
The answer is: probably nothing.
Attaining that 67-vote threshold to convict is hard when the person on trial is the de facto leader of one party in the chamber; it’s even harder when Congress is deeply unpopular, and senators are being asked to turf a leader their supporters prefer to them.
Most Republicans made clear they wanted to avoid the trial, and the few who’d backed impeachment faced the wrath of Trump supporters in their home states.
It was all pretty predictable.
They sat through days of testimony where Democrats accused the ex-president of the most serious crime ever committed against the republic by an American commander-in-chief: turning a mob against the state.
Was there a point to all of this?
Republicans watched presentations accusing Trump of whipping up this mob with years of violence-threatening rhetoric; of fomenting its anger with weeks of delusional attacks on the election result; and of timing it all to crash into the Capitol on Jan. 6, when he organized a rally just as lawmakers met to certify the election of Joe Biden as president.
Trump’s lawyers countered that, yes, he urged supporters to march on the Capitol — but, they noted, Trump told them to stay peaceful, and when he urged them to “fight like hell,” they said, he was using a term commonly employed by all politicians.
If the result was so utterly predictable, then that in itself raises an important question. Was this pointless?
It’s far too soon to conclude that this process left Trump unblemished — or for that matter that he leads a consequence-free political existence.
Accountability mechanisms still exist in American politics, even if dented and hammered beyond the shape originally fashioned by the founders.
There are at least four potential consequences for Trump’s past actions.
The impeachment itself, for starters, might have failed to deliver Trump a short-term sting but will carry a long-term stink.
For as long as there’s an American republic, schoolchildren will ask about that president who got impeached twice.
Joseph Ellis, a presidential historian who participates in academic surveys ranking presidents, has said the likelihood of Trump being ranked dead last went up with his record-setting second impeachment.
The impeachment also allows voters, both in the Republican primaries and in the general election in 2024, to evaluate how candidates handled this moment. Did they back Trump strongly or meekly? Did they oppose him? Did they duck the debate?
Next: ‘Serious’ criminal investigations
A second source of potential trouble ahead for Trump: the legal system. Prosecutors in several jurisdictions have publicly revealed they’ve opened criminal investigations related to him.
When asked about the likely outcome, two former prosecutors told CBC News they wouldn’t be surprised to see charges against Trump.
In fact, said Ben Gershman, who specialized in corruption cases at the Manhattan district level and state level in New York and now teaches law at Pace University: “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t charged.”
Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, described Trump’s legal exposure as: “Extremely serious. On the tax, the mortgage fraud [laws] and the matter in Georgia, where he’s on tape.”
The ultimate punishment
A third potential source of scrutiny involves investigations into what happened on Jan. 6. There have already been different processes launched in Congress, and there will be others, probing the attack and how the Trump administration responded.
Finally, there’s the punishment Trump has already started suffering: The sting of electoral rejection.
That metaphor Trump used about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue was never completely accurate. It’s broadly, but not totally, true that his voters are an unbreakable block.
After four years of Trump’s presidency, a tiny percentage soured on him, in small-but-sufficient numbers to cost him some states.
That much-vaunted unflappability of his base cannot obscure the fact that not once — not for a moment in Trump’s presidency — did he build on that base to achieve approval numbers anywhere close to the ones currently enjoyed by Biden. Several surveys showed majority or plurality support for impeaching Trump.
Now settled into his post-presidency in his seaside home at Mar-a-Lago, Trump will keep arguing that he was robbed in the election.
He has insisted, and will keep insisting forever, that he was a victim of the courts, the Democrats, weak-kneed Republican officials and voting machines in a supposed conspiracy that cost him numerous swing states, and he’ll correctly point to the near-record total of 74 million votes he received.
But it won’t change a thing about Trump’s status: defeated president.
Nothing he does will erase the other verdict rendered in a larger political court, by a record-smashing number of voters — 81,268,924 people who did what Republican senators never would to Donald John Trump.
The U.S. Senate on Saturday voted to allow witnesses to be called in its impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, who faces a charge of inciting his supporters to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The 55-45 vote will allow Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state to testify. Herrera Beutler, one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, released a statement late Friday detailing a conversation she said with House Republican Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy told her that during the attack on the Capitol, he asked Trump to publicly call off the riot and that Trump told him, “‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,'” according to Herrera Beutler’s statement.
Before the vote, U.S. senators were poised to vote on whether Trump will be held accountable for inciting the horrific attack. Until now, the impeachment trial has moved quickly, laying bare the danger to lawmakers’ lives and the fragility of the country’s tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power.
But senators are now seemingly confused about what should happen next. After the vote, some huddled on the floor of the chamber and strategized about how to proceed. Some also expressed confusion about what, exactly, they had voted for earlier.
WATCH | Trump’s team delivers final arguments in impeachment trial:
Donald Trump’s legal team has rested its case in the former U.S. president’s second impeachment trial. Lawyers argued that Democrats have, many times, also used aggressively charged language for political ends and that nothing Trump said, before or after Jan. 6, rose to the level of incitement of insurrection as it’s defined by law. 2:43
Impeachment trials are rare, especially for a president, and the rules are negotiated for each one at the outset.
For Trump’s trial, the agreement said if senators agree to hear witnesses, votes to hear additional testimony would be allowed.
The nearly week-long trial has delivered a grim and graphic narrative of the riot and its consequences in ways that senators, most of whom fled for their own safety that day, acknowledge they are still coming to grips with.
Acquittal is expected in the evenly divided Senate. That verdict could heavily influence not only Trump’s political future but that of the senators sworn to deliver impartial justice as jurors.
House prosecutors have argued that Trump’s rallying cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” for his presidency just as Congress was convening Jan. 6 to certify Joe Biden’s election victory was part of an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and false claims that unleashed the mob. Five people died, including a rioter who was shot and a police officer.
Trump’s lawyers countered in a short three hours on Friday that Trump’s words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment is nothing but a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.
Only by watching the graphic videos — rioters calling out menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-vice-president Mike Pence, who was presiding over the vote tally — did senators say they began to understand just how perilously close the country came to chaos. Hundreds of rioters stormed into the building, taking over the Senate. Some engaged in hand-to-hand, bloody combat with police.
While it is unlikely the Senate would be able to mount the two-thirds vote needed to convict Trump, several senators appear to be still weighing their vote. Many Republicans representing states where the former president remains popular doubt whether Trump was fully responsible or if impeachment is the appropriate response. Democrats appear all but united toward conviction.
Conviction would make history
Trump is the only president to be twice impeached and the first to face trial charges after leaving office.
Unlike last year’s impeachment trial of Trump in the Ukraine affair — a complicated charge of corruption and obstruction over his attempts to have the foreign ally dig up dirt on then-campaign rival Biden — this one brought an emotional punch over the unexpected vulnerability of the U.S. tradition of peaceful elections. The charge is singular: incitement of insurrection.
On Friday, Trump’s impeachment lawyers accused Democrats of waging a campaign of “hatred” against the former president as they wrapped up their defence.
WATCH | Democrats wrap up case for Trump’s impeachment:
House prosecutors wrapped up their impeachment case against Donald Trump on Thursday insisting the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on ‘the president’s orders’ to stop Joe Biden’s election and warning that he would do it again if not convicted. 2:44
His lawyers vigorously denied that Trump had incited the riot, and they played out-of-context video clips showing Democrats, some of them senators now serving as jurors, also telling supporters to “fight,” aiming to establish a parallel with Trump’s overheated rhetoric.
“This is ordinarily political rhetoric,” Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen said. “Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles.”
But the presentation blurred the difference between the general encouragement that politicians make to battle for health care or other causes and Trump’s fight against officially accepted national election results, and it minimized Trump’s efforts to undermine those results. The defeated president was telling his supporters to fight on after every state had verified its results, after the electoral college had affirmed them and after nearly every election lawsuit filed by Trump and his allies had been rejected in court.
Democratic senators shook their heads at what many called a false equivalency to their own fiery words. “We weren’t asking them to ‘fight like hell’ to overthrow an election,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.
Democrats say that Trump was the “inciter in chief” whose months-long campaign against the election results was rooted in a “big lie” and laid the groundwork for the riot — a violent domestic attack on the Capitol unparalleled in history.
“Get real,” the lead prosecutor, Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, said at one point. “We know that this is what happened.”
The Senate has convened as a court of impeachment for past presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton and now twice for Trump. But the unprecedented nature of the case against an out-of-office president has provided Republican senators one of several arguments against conviction.
Republicans maintain the proceedings are unconstitutional, even though the Senate voted at the outset of the trial on this issue and confirmed it has jurisdiction.
Republican votes will be closely watched
Six Republican senators who joined Democrats in voting to take up the case are among those most watched for their votes.
Early signals came Friday during questions for the lawyers.
Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republicans from Maine and Alaska, respectively, asked the first question. Two centrists known for independent streaks, they leaned into a point the prosecutors had made, asking exactly when Trump learned of the breach of the Capitol and what specific actions he took to end the rioting.
Democrats had argued that Trump did nothing as the mob rioted.
Another Republican who voted to launch the trial, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, asked about Trump’s tweet criticizing Pence moments after being was told by another senator that Pence had just been evacuated.
Van der Veen responded that at “no point” was the president informed of any danger. Cassidy told reporters later it was not a very good answer.