Federal prosecutors urged a jury Thursday to reject a Jan. 6 defendant’s claim that Donald Trump caused him to breach the Capitol and help ransack the Senate parliamentarian’s office.
In closing arguments in the case of defendant Dustin Thompson, the Justice Department attorneys called Thompson’s argument a “sideshow” meant to whip up the jury’s anger at Trump rather than focus on the obvious violations of law that Thompson committed.
“Defense counsel wants you to focus so much on what President Trump said on the morning January 6. He wants you to forget what his client did on the afternoon of Jan. 6,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Dreher.
“He wants you to think you have to choose between President Trump and his client, Mr. Thompson, right? That you can only find that one of them committed a crime that day or that one of them is worse than the other,” Dreher continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to choose.”
Dreher’s closing argument underscored a tightrope for the Justice Department as it continues to investigate figures in Trump’s orbit for their roles in motivating and stoking the conditions that led to the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol. A slew of defendants have argued in court filings that they took their cues from Trump that day, interpreting his call to “fight like hell” against the results of the 2020 election as a command to storm the Capitol.
The Jan. 6 select committee in Congress has pointed to those arguments — as well as Trump’s lengthy silence during the riot — as evidence that Trump bears singular, perhaps criminal, responsibility for the violence that broke out that day
Dreher didn’t contradict that narrative but urged jurors to set it aside. The jury is slated to begin deliberating Thursday afternoon.
“This is not president Trump’s criminal trial,” he said. “It is not up to you to decide whether anyone other than the defendant should be prosecuted for any of the crimes charged. The fact that another person may also be guilty is no defense of a criminal charge. The question of the possible guilt of others should not enter your thinking.”
In Thompson’s closing argument, attorney Samuel Shamansky appealed to the jury to consider “human nature.” He reminded them that Thompson had spent nearly a year out of work before Jan. 6, isolated amid the pandemic and consuming a firehose of pro-Trump disinformation and propaganda.
Shamansky didn’t dispute the bulk of the factual case presented by prosecutors: Thompson entered the Capitol after Trump’s speech, joined a mob in ransacking the Senate parliamentarian’s office and stole a coat rack and bottle of liquor during the unrest. He stood by as rioters assaulted police in a Capitol tunnel and ran away from officers that evening when they approached him to ask about the coat rack.
But Shamansky urged the jury to consider the “mental” impact that Trump’s words had over time.
“He consumed these lies and this misinformation,” Shamansky said, calling Trump an “evil and sinister man who would stop at nothing to get his way on January 6.” Shamansky described Thompson as a “pawn” in Trump’s “sick game” to remain in power.
“In your hearts, in your heads,” Shamansky said to the jury, “do the right thing.”
The arguments capped a trial in which there was unusually broad agreement between prosecutors and the defense attorneys about the defendant’s conduct. Thompson took the stand to argue that he was in Trump’s thrall when he committed the actions he took, but acknowledged knowing that they were wrong at the time.
Thompson’s wife also testified that she witnessed her husband become increasingly radicalized during Trump’s presidency, and that it became particularly acute when he became unemployed in March 2020.