“All of them – all of them were telling us, ‘Trump sent us.” In harrowing, heart-wrenching testimony before a House select committee established to investigate the events of Jan. 6, U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino A. Gonell and his Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department colleagues described last week how those they witnessed violently breaching the Capitol explicitly pointed to then-President Donald Trump’s role in causing the insurrection.
Although the court of public opinion may have found Trump guilty of inciting the Capitol riot, the case in federal court is much trickier. Under the Anti-Riot Act, prosecutors have to prove two distinct questions: whether Trump caused the riot and whether he intended to cause the riot. The officers’ testimony — which directly links Trump’s words to the rioters’ actions — may bring prosecutors one step closer to holding Trump legally responsible for Jan. 6.
While criminal charges remain unlikely because of the protections afforded to any speaker under the First Amendment and recent court cases that limit the scope of the Anti-Riot Act, the new evidence could help prosecutors to thread the needle. Specifically, the officers’ testimony could support the notion that Trump’s calls on supporters to reject Congress’ certification of the election were not merely the musings of a sore loser but were instead deliberately calculated to instigate violence and further his multifaceted strategy to overturn the election. [Continue reading…]