- A Capitol rioter’s defense lawyer called Trump an “evil and sinister man” responsible for January 6.
- Federal prosecutors stressed that Trump was unable to authorize the Capitol attack or make it legal.
- Dustin Thompson’s defense strategy aims to undercut charges he acted “corruptly” on January 6.
An accused Capitol rioter’s defense lawyer on Thursday referred to former President Donald Trump as a “gangster” who bears responsibility for whipping up the crowd of supporters that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
In a closing argument at the trial of accused rioter Dustin Thompson, the defense lawyer Samuel Shamansky punctuated his argument that Trump manipulated his supporters on January 6 and deserved blame for the violence at the Capitol that day.
“You had, frankly, a gangster who was in power,” Shamansky said.
In another apparent reference to Trump, Shamansky said the Capitol attack was coordinated by an “evil and sinister man who would stop at nothing to get his way on January 6.”
Shamansky’s closing argument came a day after Thompson, 38, took the stand in his own defense against charges that he obstructed Congress’ certification of the 2020 election results and stole a coat tree from a Senate office. Thompson was preceded on the witness stand by his wife, Sarah Thompson, who testified that her husband had spent much of 2020 unemployed, isolated amid pandemic restrictions, and watching “conspiracy theory-type videos” online.
On the witness stand, Dustin Thompson said he felt he was following “presidential orders” when he advanced on the Capitol on January 6. Thompson testified that he came to believe in 2020 that, if Trump didn’t win the election, “it was gonna be stolen.”
In March of that year — just months after marrying his wife on New Year’s Day — he lost his job as an exterminator as COVID-19 caused mass layoffs.
“It was just an awful year,” he recalled. “It’s not good to be isolated like I was.”
In an indictment last year, prosecutors alleged that Thompson traveled from Ohio to Washington, DC, to attend a Trump rally on January 6. After Trump’s speech, he walked to the Capitol, where he entered the Senate parliamentarian’s office and stole a bottle of liquor and a wooden coat tree, prosecutors alleged.
Later on January 6, Thomspon ran away from law enforcement officials who approached him near the Capitol out of fear that he would be arrested.
Shamansky on Thursday urged jurors to sympathize with Thompson and consider his state of mind on January 6.
“The vulnerable are seduced by the strong,” the defense lawyer said. “That’s what happened.”
In his own closing argument, federal prosecutor William Dreher called the defense strategy a “sideshow” and told jurors to hold Thompson accountable for his actions regardless of how they feel about Trump’s responsibility for January 6.
“President Trump did not hold his hand as he walked down to the Capitol to loot and defile the Senate parliamentarian’s office,” Dreher said.
Dreher said the jurors did not “have to choose” between Trump and Thompson “because this is not President Trump’s criminal trial.”
“This is the trial of Dustin Thompson,” he added.
“It is not up to you to decide whether anyone other than the defendant should be prosecuted for any of the crimes charged.”
Thompson’s trial has played out as a test of sorts for the strategy of shifting blame onto Trump.
In two previous jury trials, defense lawyers disputed at least some facets of the Justice Department’s case. Shamansky, for his part, has done little to dispute the Justice Department’s telling of Thompson’s actions on January 6, choosing instead to pin responsibility on Trump.
In the aftermath of January 6, Democratic lawmakers and police officers have filed civil lawsuits alleging that Trump and his political allies, including Rudy Giuliani, incited the crowd that later stormed the Capitol. In court filings, others facing criminal charges in connection with January 6 have claimed that they were acting at Trump’s direction, but judges have largely rejected that argument.
But, in Thompson’s case, that argument is now before a jury.
Before sending them into deliberations, Judge Reggie Walton instructed jurors that Trump and his political allies lacked the ability to authorize the Capitol attack or make it legal.
Dreher emphasized in his closing argument Thursday that “President Trump could not make that legal.”
“When the proof is overwhelming, and the defense doesn’t make sense, your job as the jury is very easy,” he said.
The jury began deliberations early Thursday afternoon. A verdict could come within hours.