NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former President Donald Trump on Friday accused the House Jan. 6 committee of running sensationalized hearings that are making use of “doctored” video and selective editing that are presenting a warped picture of the assault on the Capitol, though he did not provide evidence.
Speaking at a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, Trump denounced the committee for using tactics that would never be allowed in a courtroom. Witnesses, including some of Trump’s closest aides and family members, testified for hours behind closed doors, but Trump said that the snippets shown to the public lack the necessary context.
“It’s a complete and total lie; a complete and total fraud,” he said.
Trump’s appearance took place after the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack held three public hearings, with more scheduled next week. Until this point, the former president’s rebuttal has largely come through statements posted on his social media site, Truth Social.
The speech was vintage Trump: Long, meandering and entertaining to the audience crowded into a hotel ballroom in Nashville, Tennessee. Over 95 minutes, he touted his record in office, disparaged foes in Congress, repeated his baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen, and complained about the treatment he has endured in his political career..
At one point, Trump teased a possible presidential campaign in 2024. He began a sentence about the tasks facing “the next Republican president,” and then paused: “I wonder who that will be?”
When the audience stood and clapped, he continued: “Would anybody like me to run for president?”
Trump returned often to the issue that has dominated the news over the past week: His role in the Capitol attack. He mocked various committee members, saying that Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has a head shaped like a watermelon and calling the panel’s vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney, R., Wyo., a “warmonger.”
If Republicans wrest control of the House in the midterm elections in November, he said they should open “a full investigation into the egregious abuse of power that has taken place in the name of January 6.” Among the first who should get subpoenaed in a GOP-controlled Congress are Cheney and Schiff, he said.
Trump denied that the people who stormed the Capitol were carrying out a coup. Most were charged with “parading through the Capitol” and “should not be treated the way they’re being treated,” he said. If he becomes president again, Trump said he would consider pardoning some of the people charged in the Jan. 6 attack. The crowd applauded that pledge.
“If it were an insurrection that took place at the Capitol, you would have known it very soon,” he said. “These were strong people. These were great patriots. They were policemen, they were firemen, they were soldiers, they were sailors.
The latest committee hearing, on Thursday, focused on Trump’s efforts to dissuade his number two, Mike Pence, from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory while presiding over the electoral vote count.
Trump persisted Friday in claiming that Pence could have asked the states to reconsider the slates of electors they’d certified, citing allegations of voter fraud. The vice president was not, Trump suggested, “a robot.” Pence insisted he had no such power — an argument supported by legal experts — opening a rift between the two that continues to this day.
Pence attended the past half dozen Faith & Freedom conferences and his presence here could have been awkward if he’d crossed paths with Trump, whom he hasn’t spoken to in a year. Though he was invited to speak this week, Pence declined, citing a scheduling conflict. (A person close to Pence said that he was committed to attending a fundraising event for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Rep. Steve Chabot.)
Trump’s attack on the committee clearly resonated with the audience. In interviews, the conference-goers said they were not in the least bit swayed by the panel’s conclusion that Trump played a central role in trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power. Most said they haven’t been watching the hearings or echoed Trump’s complaint that the panel is making a one-sided argument with no time allowed for a dissenting view.
“It’s a kangaroo court,” said Steve Merczynski of New York City, 56, who sells MAGA hammocks. “You can’t have a hearing filled with all Democrats and anti-Trump fake Republicans. It’s really a lynching.”
Rebecca Lawson, a South Carolinian in her early 50s, said: “I don’t waste my time with the hearings. I want to know about the insurrections that went on with Black Lives Matter and Antifa and the riots and burning down Portland, Oregon, and burning down Minnesota” after George Floyd’s killing. “I want to know about those insurrections.”
This week’s Faith & Freedom conference has provided a forum for potential Republican presidential candidates to road-test a 2024 message.
Several speakers introduced themselves to an audience of Christian conservatives and Republican activists who comprise the core of the GOP electoral base.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, drew an unmistakable distinction with him over Russia. During his term, Trump had sought to befriend Russian President Vladimir Putin and forge closer ties between the two countries. He contended that Ukraine ”hated” him and wanted him to lose the 2016 election.
Haley recounted how she “broke protocol” in the job and met with Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. before meeting with the Russian ambassador. Without mentioning Trump by name, she said: “Washington and Putin didn’t appreciate what I did. But I didn’t care. Where I come from, you stand with your friends and you stand up to your enemies.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a potential Trump running mate in 2024 or presidential candidate in his own right, told of his upbringing in South Carolina by “two praying women: My grandmother and my mother, who made a path for me.”
Scott said that as a high school student, he once failed a civics course. “After nine years in the U.S. Senate, I am not the only one failing civics,” he said, to laughter from the audience.
There was little doubt, though, that Trump was the main draw. Before he took the stage, loudspeakers blasted Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” the song played as he and his wife Melania danced for the first time at the inaugural ball in 2017. Merchants sold “Ultra MAGA” T-shirts and bright red Trump hats. Attendees drank from Trump-branded thermoses.
“I’ve been to a lot of Faith & Freedom conferences,” David Donnally, 64, a pastor at a West Palm Beach, Fla., church said in the hours before Trump’s speech. “They’re always well attended. I never stood in line for an hour-and-a-half.”
All signs point to another Trump candidacy. “Every indication around the Trump team is that they’re positioning to run and to run emphatically,” Timothy Head, executive director of the coalition, said in an interview. “There won’t be any apologies and there won’t be any kind of circumspection. This will be a full-bore campaign.”