Tuesday, July 16, 2024

RFK Jr. downplays Jan. 6 attack, says he wants a special counsel to review related cases

RFK Jr. downplays Jan. 6 attack, says he wants a special counsel to review related cases

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent presidential candidate, said Friday that if he was elected, he would appoint a special counsel to investigate how prosecutors handled cases related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Kennedy also said Friday that there was “little evidence of a true insurrection” and falsely claimed that the protesters at the Capitol “carried no weapons.”

More than 1,000 people have been charged in the attack, including 10 on gun-related charges. Hundreds have been convicted and sentenced.

Kennedy later issued a second statement Friday night that said, “My understanding that none of the January 6 rioters who invaded the Capitol were carrying firearms was incorrect. Several have been convicted of carrying firearms into the Capitol building.”

“Others assaulted Capitol Police with pepper spray, bludgeons and other makeshift weapons,” he added.

“As president, I will appoint a special counsel — an individual respected by all sides — to investigate whether prosecutorial discretion was abused for political ends in this case, and I will right any wrongs that we discover,” Kennedy said. “Without the impartial rule of law, there is no true democracy or moral governance.”

The statement comes a day after a Kennedy campaign fundraising email referred to Jan. 6 defendants as “activists” who have been “stripped of their Constitutional liberties.” The campaign later retracted the email and said the communication, which claimed the defendants have been stripped of their rights, “does not reflect Mr. Kennedy’s views.”

Kennedy characterized the events of Jan. 6 as “a protest” that turned into “a riot.” But on Friday, he disputed calling what happened that January day an insurrection.

“Because it happened with the encouragement of President Trump, and in the context of his delusion that the election was stolen from him, many people see it not as a riot but as an insurrection,” Kennedy’s statement read.

Throughout the statement, Kennedy — who was temporarily banned from Instagram in 2021 for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus vaccines — espoused several false claims about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“I have not examined the evidence in detail,” the statement read, “but reasonable people, including Trump opponents, tell me there is little evidence of a true insurrection. They observe that the [rioters] … had no plans or ability to seize the reins of government.”

Republicans in seven states that Joe Biden won sent falsified paperwork to the Senate and the National Archives falsely claiming Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Trump’s allies then used those documents to try to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory on Jan. 6.

Text messages and speeches made public across dozens of court cases show that many rioters came to D.C. with the goal of pressuring Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans to go along with that effort. Several top leaders in the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups were found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their actions on Jan. 6.

Further on in the statement, Kennedy claimed that protesters at the Capitol that day “carried no weapons.”

Eight men have been convicted of possessing guns at or near the Capitol on Jan. 6, and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent is awaiting trial for flashing his badge and a gun on the grounds. A 10th person was arrested last month on charges accusing him of firing a pistol in the air on the Capitol’s west plaza.

Other weapons and makeshift weapons were deployed by rioters, including pepper and bear spray, flagpoles, fire extinguishers and broken furniture from inside the building. More than 140 police officers were injured. One died the next day, while another took his own life after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Kennedy also emphasized that Trump had urged people to “protest ‘peacefully.’” While the former president used that word in his speech the morning of Jan. 6, he also told his crowd of supporters, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Trump watched television coverage of the violence unfolding and resisted entreaties to intervene from advisers, allies and his elder daughter, as well as from lawmakers under attack.

A House select committee tasked with investigating the attack held several public hearings on the matter and issued an 800-plus-page report that wove together evidence drawn from thousands of documents and more than 1,000 witness interviews over the 18 months of the inquiry. It argued that Trump embarked on an orchestrated plan to remain in office despite his election loss, pressuring state officials, the Justice Department and his own vice president to help him. Ultimately, the committee argues, he inspired his supporters to commit violence in his name.

Kennedy said he was concerned about the “harsh treatment” of people incarcerated for Jan. 6 crimes, a popular far-right talking point. A Washington Post study of Jan. 6 sentences found that rioters who assaulted police officers received lighter punishments than in similar cases nationally. In two-thirds of cases, judges sentenced below what federal guidelines recommended.

Kennedy referred to Jan. 6 as “one of the most polarizing topics on the political landscape,” and said he was “listening to people of diverse viewpoints on it in order to make sense of the event and what followed. I want to hear every side.”

Kennedy, who launched his presidential campaign as a Democrat but filed as an independent in October, has increasingly ramped up his attacks on President Biden. Throughout his long-shot third-party bid — and uphill battle to gain ballot access across the country — he has touted his appeal to Republicans, Democrats and disaffected voters in between who are weary of a Biden-Trump rematch. But Kennedy’s statement Friday echoed complaints lodged by Trump and his Republican allies in Congress about how the Jan. 6 cases were handled.

“I am concerned about the possibility that political objectives motivated the vigor of the prosecution of the J6 defendants, their long sentences, and their harsh treatment,” he said. He also expressed concerns about the “weaponization of government agencies” against political opponents.

“Both establishment parties are using J6 to pour fuel on the fire of America’s divisions,” Kennedy added.

Kennedy has a history of downplaying the severity of political violence that occurred on Jan. 6. In an interview with Politico in October, he said that “Jan. 6 was an attack on a building. And we have lots of layers of government behind that building.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen? Right?” Kennedy asked that same month on the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast.” “I mean, we have an entire military, Pentagon, a few blocks away.”

Kennedy previously told The Washington Post that he would consider pardoning those convicted of their role in the riot if he was presented evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

He drew sharp criticism this week when he advanced an argument that Biden poses a greater threat to democracy than Trump, saying, “The greatest threat to democracy is not someone who questions election returns,” but rather Biden, pointing to his administration’s exchanges with social media companies.

Kennedy is the scion of the famous Democratic family whose father and uncle were killed in two of the most high-profile acts of political violence in American history. Kennedy’s uncle, former president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Five years later, Kennedy’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated after winning the California Democratic presidential primary.

Kennedy argued his views on the Jan. 6 attack are shared by “many reasonable Americans,” but a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in December found they are held by a Trump-supporting minority of the country. An overwhelming majority of Americans, 73 percent, say the punishments given to rioters have been fair or not harsh enough. A majority of Americans also believe that those entering the Capitol were a threat to democracy.

However, Republicans increasingly view the rioters in a positive light, with only 18 percent saying they were “mostly violent,” compared with 77 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.

Judges overseeing these cases have repeatedly emphasized that threat and lamented that Trump and his supporters downplay it.

“This is not normal. This cannot become normal. We as a community, we as a society, we as a country cannot condone the normalization of the January 6 Capitol riot,” Judge Royce Lamberth, an appointee of Ronald Reagan, said earlier this week after sentencing a man who led a mob push against police that left officers in fear for their lives.

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

Source link