Capitol riot suspect attributes Jan. 6 actions to Trump
By Michael Kunzelman | Associated press
WASHINGTON — Mentions of Donald Trump have been rare in early trials of those accused of storming the U.S. Capitol, but that changed on Tuesday: The latest Capitol riot defendant to stand trial blames his actions on the former president and his false statements about a stolen election.
Dustin Byron Thompson, an Ohio man accused of stealing a coat rack from the Capitol, doesn’t deny he joined the mob on Jan. 6, 2021. But his attorney has vowed to show Trump abused his power to “allow” the attack.
Describing Trump as a man without scruples or integrity, defense attorney Samuel Shamansky said the former president engaged in a ‘sinister’ plot to encourage Thompson and other supporters to ‘do his dirty work’ .
“It is Donald Trump himself who spews out the lies and uses his position to authorize this assault,” Shamansky told jurors Tuesday during opening statements at the trial.
Justice Department prosecutor Jennifer Rozzoni said Thompson knew he was breaking the law that day.
“He chose to be part of the chaos and chaos,” she said.
Thompson’s attorney has requested subpoenas to call Trump and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as witnesses at his trial this week. A judge denied that request but ruled jurors could hear recordings of speeches Trump and Giuliani gave at a rally before the riot.
Thompson’s jury trial is the third in hundreds of Capitol Riot lawsuits. The first two ended with jurors convicting both defendants on all counts they were charged with.
In a February court filing, Shamansky said he wanted to argue at trial that Thompson was acting at the direction of Trump and “his various conspirators.” The lawyer asked to subpoena other members of Trump’s inner circle, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon, former senior White House adviser Stephen Miller and former Trump lawyers John Eastman and Sydney Powell.
Prosecutors said Thompson could not show Trump or Giuliani had the power to “empower” him to break the law. They also noted that the video of the speeches from the rally “perfectly captures” the tone, delivery and context of the statements insofar as they are “marginally relevant” to proving Thompson’s intent on Jan. 6.
Thompson’s attorney argued that Trump would testify that he and others “orchestrated a carefully crafted conspiracy to question the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.” Shamansky claimed that Giuliani incited the rioters by encouraging them to engage in a “trial by combat” and that Trump provoked the crowd by saying that “if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have any more country”.
Shamansky said Thompson, who lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic, has become an avid consumer of conspiracy theories and lies about a stolen election.
“It’s the garbage that Dustin Thompson listens to day after day after day,” Shamansky said. “He goes down this rabbit hole. He listens to this echo chamber. And he acts accordingly.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled in March that any in-person testimony from Trump or Giuliani could confuse and mislead jurors.
More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes stemming from Jan. 6. More than 250 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Thompson is the fifth person to stand trial on charges related to the riots.
A jury on Monday found former Virginia police officer Thomas Robertson guilty of storming the Capitol with another off-duty officer to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Last month, a jury convicted a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun.
A judge hearing evidence without a jury decided cases against two other Capitol riot defendants in separate trials. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden acquitted one of all charges and partially acquitted the other.
Thompson has a co-defendant, Robert Lyon, who pleaded guilty to charges related to the riots in March.
Thompson, then 36, and Lyon, then 27, drove from Columbus, Ohio, to Silver Spring, Maryland, stayed overnight at a hotel, then took an Uber to Washington, D.C. , the morning of January 6. After President Donald Trump’s speech, Thompson and Lyon headed to the Capitol.
Thompson was wearing a “Trump 2020” winter hat and body armor as he entered the Capitol and went to the Senate Congressman’s office, where he stole two liquor bottles and a wallet. coat worth up to $500, prosecutors say.
Thompson and Lyon exchanged text messages during the riot.
“A girl is already dead,” Lyon said in a text, an apparent reference to the shooting death of a law enforcement officer on a rioter, Ashli Babbitt.
“Was it Pelosi?” Thompson replied.
“I’m taking our country back,” Thompson then texted Lyon.
Around 6 p.m. on Jan. 6, Thompson and Lyon were sitting on a sidewalk waiting for an Uber driver to pick them up when Capitol police officers approached and warned them they were in a restricted area. As they began to leave, Thompson picked up a coat rack that appeared to be from the Capitol, the FBI said. Thompson fled when officers told him to put the luggage rack down, dropping it as he fled. Lyon stayed behind and identified himself and Thompson to the police.
That night, Thompson received a text from his wife that read, “I will not post bail.”
The FBI said agents later searched Lyon’s cellphone and found video that showed a ransacked office and Thompson shouting, “Wooooo!” ‘Merica Hey! This is our home!” Surveillance video also captured Thompson leaving a Capitol office with a bottle of bourbon, the FBI said.
Thompson is charged with six counts: obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote, stealing government property, entering or staying in a restricted building or property, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted-access building or land, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a Capitol building, and marching, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
Lyon pleaded guilty to theft of government property and disorderly conduct. Both counts are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison. Walton is due to sentence Lyon on June 3.