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As Jan. 6 defendant blames Trump, DOJ tells jurors former president is not on trial

Dustin Thompson, who stole a bottle of liquor and a coat rack on the day of the riot, said he wanted Trump's approval and respect.

WASHINGTON — A federal prosecutor told jurors Thursday that former President Donald Trump is not on trial as a Jan. 6 defendant sought to blame him for his decision to loot the U.S. Capitol.

Dustin Thompson, 38, a college-educated Ohio resident, told jurors this week that he was hoping to gain the "respect" and "approval" of Trump when he stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Thompson said he got sucked into conspiracy theories after he lost his job at the beginning of the Covid pandemic and believed Trump's baseless claims about a stolen 2020 election.

A jury will soon decide the fate of Thompson, who testified that he was “following presidential orders” when he stole a bottle of liquor and a coat rack inside the Capitol.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney William Kennelly Dreher said in closing arguments that it was "an easy case" and that the jury should not consider Trump's behavior in deciding Thompson's guilt, calling the defense's effort to blame Trump a "sideshow."

Dustin Thompson leaving U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., on April 12, 2022.
Dustin Thompson leaves U.S. District Court in Washington on Tuesday.NBC News

Dreher told jurors that Trump and Rudy Giuliani, an ally of the former president’s, could not have authorized Thompson’s conduct, arguing that Samuel Shamansky, Thompson's attorney, was trying to distract jurors from his client’s conduct.

Shamansky told jurors that the Jan. 6 “plot” began “at the highest levels of our government” and that Trump took advantage of “vulnerable” supporters like his client who “believed the lies that were fed to them” in the months leading up to the attack.

Dreher argued that Thompson's attorney focused on what Trump said on the morning of Jan. 6 because he wants jurors to forget what his client did that afternoon.

“He wants you to think you have to choose between President Trump and his client,” Dreher said. “You don’t have to choose, because this is not President Trump’s criminal trial."

An alleged photo of Dustin Thompson at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
An alleged photo of Dustin Thompson at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Department of Justice

Dreher said jurors can think Trump bears responsibility for the attack and "lied to the American people" and still find Thompson guilty.

“You can think that on the morning of Jan. 6, President Trump was encouraging the crowd. ... You can think they were doing things ... that made President Trump happy,” he said. The defendant is "an adult, not a child. President Trump didn’t hold his hand as he walked down to the Capitol."

In his closing argument, Shamansky told jurors that Thompson was “bombarded” by Trump’s lies, saying, “You had, frankly, a gangster who was in power making those statements on tape."

Nearly 800 defendants have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and hundreds more suspects have been identified to the FBI.

The total number of people suspected to have either unlawfully entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 or assaulted members of law enforcement or the media outside is nearly 3,000.

More than 250 defendants have pleaded guilty, with punishments from a few months of probation to more than five years in federal prison.

Thompson is the third Jan. 6 defendant to face a jury trial. The first two defendants to face juries — Guy Reffitt and Thomas Robertson — were found guilty on all counts.