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Over 1,100 rioters have been charged for Jan. 6. Many name Trump in their statements

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's been 2 1/2 years since a mob violently stormed the U.S. Capitol and tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We want Trump. We want Trump. We want Trump.

RASCOE: Now Special Counsel Jack Smith appears to be on the verge of indicting former President Donald Trump for alleged crimes related to the attempt to overturn the election. More than 1,100 people have already been charged in connection with the Capitol riot, and the former president's name has come up a lot in those cases. NPR's investigative team has been tracking all the cases, and NPR's Tom Dreisbach has been looking at where Trump fits in. Good morning, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

RASCOE: How has Trump come up in the cases of those who rioted on January 6?

DREISBACH: You know, following these cases from the very beginning of these investigations, Trump's name is just all over the records. Especially in one key moment, which was one month before the riot, when Trump tweeted that there would be a protest in DC on January 6 and said, will be wild. The records include Facebook messages and tweets from people who responded and then at that moment started making plans to come to D.C. There's this one message that really sticks out to me from a guy who texted his friend, if Trump tells us to storm the bleeping Capitol, I'ma (ph) do that then. He did storm the Capitol, and he was sentenced to two months in prison. You know, and on January 6 itself, when Trump said people should march to the Capitol, people listened, according to the records. And some of those people ended up actually storming the building.

RASCOE: Has anyone tried to blame Trump for what they did?

DREISBACH: You know, some people are totally unrepentant about what happened on January 6. I've talked to them from jail in some cases. But for others, there's this kind of a theme in the cases that, Trump told us the election was stolen. We believed him. He told us to come to D.C. on January 6 and march to the Capitol. He's the commander in chief. We listened. But now they feel like Trump misled them. One defendant wrote from jail to the judge in his case and said he loathed Trump and that, quote, "Trump's words and actions are nefarious, causing pain and harm to the world," and that January 6 "left a scar Trump is responsible for."

RASCOE: Is that an effective argument with judges, though?

DREISBACH: Yeah. At sentencing, you get a sense that judges are listening a little bit for whether someone takes responsibility for their actions. And when people say they realize they were misled about the election, some judges do seem open to hearing that. I've heard judges reference Trump and say basically that he did whip up the crowd with election lies, in their view. But as an actual legal defense, Trump made me do it is not really effective, it seems.

RASCOE: So how has Trump come up in the cases of those who rioted on January 6?

DREISBACH: Yeah, in one case there is this rioter who stormed the Capitol, and he stole a bottle of bourbon and a coat rack. And then he tried that kind of version of a defense - Trump made me do it. The jury convicted him. And then at his sentencing, Judge Reggie Walton, who was actually appointed by George W. Bush - Judge Walton said January 6 brought to mind Nazi Germany when, quote, "a very educated, intelligent population was able to be swayed to engage in the atrocities based upon a demagogue." Judge Walton said if the rioters had their way, you would have made this country, in a sense, a dictatorship. So Judge Walton said he needed to send a strong message as a deterrent. And that man was sentenced to three years in prison.

RASCOE: So how do you think those cases might fit in with the Trump indictment if and when it comes?

DREISBACH: From what we understand, based on widespread reporting so far, the special counsel has not told Trump that he's under investigation for actually inciting the crowd with that speech on January 6. And that would be kind of the clearest way the rioters would be connected to the Trump prosecution. Legal experts say that charge would be potentially tricky. Incitement can be difficult to prove. There are First Amendment defenses Trump could raise.

The charges that seem to be most under consideration at the moment seem to be focused on the effort by Trump and his allies to overturn the election by enlisting the so-called fake electors, pressuring state election officials, the Department of Justice, and ultimately Vice President Pence. And the January 6 committee in Congress said that rioters could play a role in finding the intent needed to make those criminal charges stick. The committee said because Trump watched the rioters storm the Capitol and waited hours to tell people to leave, that shows he acted with corrupt intent. But, you know, we'll have to see what the special counsel, Jack Smith, decides in the end.

RASCOE: NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thanks so much.

DREISBACH: Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tom Dreisbach
Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.