Following the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the rioters arrested in the aftermath of the attack adopted one common line of defense for their actions: “Trump asked us to be here.” Now, their words may end up being used against Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial as he faces the charge of inciting a violent insurrection. It’s the first time a former president will face such charges after leaving office.
Several Trump supporters facing federal charges have argued they were taking orders from the then-president when they marched on Capitol Hill to challenge the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.
“I feel like I was basically following my president. I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there,” Jenna Ryan, a Texas real estate agent who posted a photo on Twitter of herself flashing a peace sign next to a broken Capitol window, told a Dallas-Fort Worth TV station.
Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man photographed on the dais in the Senate who was shirtless and wore face paint and a furry hat with horns, has similarly pointed a finger at Trump.
The day after the insurrection, Chansley called the FBI and told agents he traveled “at the request of the president that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021,” authorities wrote in court papers.
Chanley’s lawyer unsuccessfully lobbied for a pardon for his client before Trump’s term ended, saying Chansley “felt like he was answering the call of our president.” Authorities say that while up on the dais in the Senate chamber, Chansley wrote a threatening note to then-Vice President Mike Pence that said: “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
Those comments, captured in interviews with reporters and federal agents, are likely to take center stage as Democrats lay out their case.
Trump is the first president to be twice impeached and the first to face a trial after leaving office. The charge this time is “inciting violence against the government of the United States.” His impeachment lawyer, Butch Bowers, did not respond to call for comment.
House lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump last week for inciting the storming of the Capitol say a full reckoning is necessary before the country — and the Congress — can move on. Opening arguments in the trial will begin the week of February 8.