- Multiple people who stormed the Capitol have claimed they did so on the instructions of President Donald Trump, the Washington Post reported.
- Trump instructed his supporters to come to Washington to attend a “Stop The Steal” rally as he sought to overturn the election, promising his supporters that the protest would be “wild.”
- Leonard M. Niehoff, a First Amendment expert, said that the response to Trump’s direct call for supporters to visit the Capitol and “fight” meant the president could be liable.
- Other legal experts believe the president would be protected from prosecution under legal precedent.
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Some of the people who stormed the Capitol earlier this month have said did so on the instructions of President Donald Trump, which some legal experts say could open him to criminal charges of incitement, the Washington Post reported.
Multiple people who the FBI arrested in the wake of the failed insurrection on January 6 have told the agency that they did so on the instructions of the president, according to the Post, which cited both court documents and video footage from the failed insurrection.
Trump had instructed his supporters to come to Washington that day to attend a “Stop The Steal” rally as he sought to overturn the election, promising his supporters that the protest would be “wild.”
One man reportedly told the FBI that he and his cousin had marched towards the Capitol because “President Trump said to do so” while one man who threw a fire extinguisher at police officers told agents he had been “instructed” to go to the Capitol by the president.
Others who have been arrested for their role in the riot have sought presidential pardons from criminal charges on the grounds that they felt invited to the Capitol by the president.
The so-called “QAnon Shaman,” whose distinctive costume made him the face of the Capitol protests, requested through his lawyer last week that Trump issue him with a pardon, saying that he and other rioters were “peaceful individuals who accepted the president’s invitation with honorable intentions.” He has been denied bail.
Jenna Ryan, a Texas realtor who was arrested after taking part in the Capitol siege, also asked President Trump for a pardon because she claimed to have been following the president’s instructions.
“I just want people to know I’m a normal person,” she told CBS11. “That I listen to my president who told me to go to the Capitol.”
Another video clip cited by the Post shows a man among a crowd of angry protesters outside the Capitol shouting at police officers: “We were invited here! We were invited by the president of the United States!”
Their insistence that they were following President Trump’s orders could increase his chances of being charged for incitement, say some legal experts, according to the Post.
Federal prosecutors have confirmed they are investigating Trump’s role in inciting the riots after he addressed the crowd before the riot and urged them to “fight like hell” and the crowd chanted “Fight for Trump!”
He also told them during the speech outside the White House that, after the rally, “we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol.”
Leonard M. Niehoff, a First Amendment expert, told the Post that Trump’s direct call for supporters to visit the Capitol and for them to “fight” meant that he could be potentially liable for inciting violence.
“The clear instruction was you are going to the Capitol to stop the steal. You are going there to show strength. You are going there to take the country back and not to let this happen,” Niehoff said, according to the Post.
“Is it conceivable that you would listen to that speech and say to yourself, ‘All the president wants us to do is go to the Capitol and then go home?’ I just don’t think so.”
However, another legal expert told the Post that he believed Trump’s speech would be protected by legal precedent.
Constitutional law professor at UCLA School of Law Eugene Volokh told the Post that the bar for prosecution for incitement was set too high to affect Trump.
“One reason why we have a high bar for incitement is because it applies to everyone,” he said.
“It doesn’t just apply to the president. It applies to organizers, labor activists, private citizens. It’s important to keep that bar high.”
The development comes after the House of Representatives last week impeached the president and charged him with inciting an insurrection. Trump has insisted that “people” think his speech was “totally appropriate.”
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