Donald Trump has launched an angry verbal attack on the congressional January 6 hearings, dismissing them as a “rigged deal” and “one-sided witch-hunt” that are “getting terrible ratings”.
In his first public appearance since the televised sessions began, Trump on Friday claimed without evidence that the House of Representatives panel has made its case using doctored videos and deceptively edited witness depositions.
He also denied the allegation made on Thursday that he bullied Vice-President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election. “I never called Mike Pence a wimp,” Trump told a gathering of religious conservatives in Nashville, Tennessee. “Mike Pence had a chance to be great, he had a chance, frankly, to be historic. Mike – and I say it sadly because I like him – but Mike did not have the courage to act.”
Trump’s desperate attempts to remain in power after he lost the election to Joe Biden have been thrown back into the spotlight by the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, with visceral footage and damning testimony from his closest aides and family.
The panel is methodically making the case that the attack on the US Capitol was an attempted coup and that Trump was at the centre of the conspiracy. On Thursday, it heard that the attack jeopardized Pence’s life. The findings could prompt the justice department to pursue a criminal prosecution against Trump.
Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, the former president walked on to a stage framed by a faux classical temple with Corinthian columns in a ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Trump was nearly two hours later than scheduled at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference, but attendees gathering under a ceiling painted to resemble a blue sky and clouds greeted him with rapturous cheers and chants of “USA! USA!”
Unrepentant, he continued to push his “big lie” of a stolen election and likened Pence to a “robot” and “human conveyor belt” for accepting the advice of those who said he did not have the authority to reject state electors and therefore keep Trump in the Oval Office.
Trump described the hearings as an “insurrection hoax” reminiscent of the investigations into his election campaign ties with Russia but said it was ultimately “peanuts” by comparison.
“There’s no cleaner example of the menacing spirit that has devoured the American left than the disgraceful performance being staged by the ‘unselect’ committee,” Trump said during a rambling speech. “They’re con people. They’re con artists. Every one of them is a radical left hater, hates all of you, hates me even more than you, but I’m just trying to help you out.
“The ‘unselects’ have shredded every standard of decency, fairness, precedent, tradition, separation of powers, executive privilege and due process. Nobody’s ever done this before. They are knowingly spinning a fake and phony narrative and in a chilling attempt to weaponise the justice system against their political opponents.”
The committee hearings have turned the words of Trump’s inner circle against him. His attorney general William Barr was seen in a deposition describing the claims of election fraud as “bullshit”, and the former president’s daughter testified that she accepted Barr’s assessment.
Without offering evidence, Trump claimed that the panel was using video that has been misleadingly doctored and edited out of context. “The committee is taking the testimony of witnesses who defended me for eight hours, chopping it up and truncating soundbites to make it sound like what they said was absolutely terrible,” he remarked.
He added: “Just remember, it’s also the people that weren’t allowed to even testify but wanted to. A lot of people wanted to go and testify about what they saw and how crooked it was. Meanwhile, the committee refuses to play any of the tape of people saying the good things, the things that we want to hear.”
The former president went on to hurl puerile insults at Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the committee along with seven Democrats.
“It’s a one-way street. It’s a rigged deal. It’s a disgrace and it’s never happened in the history of our country where we have no representation,” Trump said. “They say, ‘Oh, they have Republicans!’ Who are they? Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the crier. He cries every time he speaks.”
Pointing to his head, Trump mocked: “This guy’s got a mental disorder.” Pretending to trace tears from his eyes, he added: “He cries. Every time this guy gets up to speak, he starts crying. I said there’s something wrong with that guy. These are our representatives.”
Trump said that he would “very, very seriously” consider pardons for those involved in the riot if he became president again. “What happened on January 6th was a simple protest that got out of hand,” he said.
He compared the size of a crowd at his speech earlier in the day to that which attended civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. “I made a nice speech but I liked his speech better,” he quipped.
He claimed that “no one was killed” except the Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot while attempting to climb through a broken window inside the Capitol. In fact, a bipartisan Senate report connected seven deaths to the insurrection.
Trump summed up: “Let’s be clear, this is not a congressional investigation, this horrible situation that’s wasting everyone’s time. This is a theatrical production of partisan political fiction that’s getting these terrible, terrible ratings, and they’re going crazy.”
He also used his speech to attack the Biden administration and insist that war would never have broken out in Ukraine if he was still president. As is customary at his rallies, he teased another White House run in 2024. “Would anyone like me to run for president?” he asked. There was a sustained roar of approval from the crowd.
It is hard to find anyone at the Faith & Freedom event who is being swayed by the January 6 committee. Asked if she watched Thursday’s hearing, Susanne Thoen, 67, a retired human resources director from Nashville, said: “The farce? Excuse me? You mean the leftist agenda? No. There was no insurrection. I’m not going to waste my time watching the mainstream media.”
Joseph Padilla, 42, a retired US marine, added: “It’s another distraction. Is this something that they’re trying to make a big push to divide us more because of the midterms coming up? They’re trying to point out flaws because this administration has nothing but flaws.”