© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Trump Defends His Behavior on Jan. 6 With Familiar Lies During the Debate

Trump turned to one of his favorite villains to excuse his Jan. 6 behavior: Nancy Pelosi.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate. Gerald Herbert/AP

Former President Donald Trump denied a prominent role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Thursday night, repeating a debunked lie about offering National Guard support to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi while also trying to avoid the issue entirely.

About a half hour into the debate, moderator Jake Tapper asked Trump what he would say to voters who believe he violated his presidential oath on Jan. 6 and fear he’d repeat his actions.

Trump initially avoided directly answering the question, instead going on a short spiel about America’s high points on Jan. 6.

“Let me tell you about Jan. 6. On Jan. 6, we had a great border, nobody coming through, very few. On Jan. 6, we were energy independent. On Jan. 6, we had the lowest taxes ever. We had the lowest regulations ever. On Jan. 6, we were respected all over the world,” he said.

Perhaps surprisingly, Trump had time left on his clock. Tapper pressed him again. Trump, very briefly — barely — addressed the question before going on to falsely blame someone else.

“I said peacefully and patriotically,” Trump said before once again turning his attention, this time to Pelosi and the mayor of Washington, D.C. He said he offered them 10,000 National Guard soldiers, and they turned him down — which is not true. Trump also falsely claimed that Pelosi said, “I take full responsibility for Jan. 6.”

The House’s Jan. 6 Committee has already debunked Trump’s claim about the offer of troops; no formal requests were sent to Pelosi. And the only idea of troops that was floated was actually for Trump and his supporters.

The Pelosi comment Trump may have been referring to was also not accurately reflected. In a brief video clip, Pelosi said she took “responsibility for not having” the U.S. Capitol Police “just prepare for more.” But after the debate, she posted on X asking “How dare he place the blame for January 6th on anyone but himself, the inciter of an insurrection?”

President Joe Biden hit back in his rebuttal.

“He encouraged those folks to go to Capitol Hill,” Biden said.

He claimed that Trump sat in the Oval Office for three hours — “three hours watching, being begged by his vice president and a number of his colleagues” — to call for a stop. “Instead, he talked there, talked about these people being patriots, great patriots of America,” Biden said. “In fact, he says he’ll now forgive them for what they’ve done.”

Moderator Dana Bash later asked Trump if he would commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election after all the legal challenges are exhausted. She also asked if he would explicitly state political violence “in any form is unacceptable.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have to say that. But of course, I believe that it’s totally unacceptable,” Trump responded. He once again repeated his falsehood that Pelosi was responsible for the political violence in 2021, and he said he would accept the election results “if the election is fair.”

“I want that more than anybody,” Trump said.

This language, and lack of a blunt yes or no, is familiar. Last month, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “If everything’s honest, I’d gladly accept the results.”

But once again, Bash repeated her question. Specifically, she pressed Trump on whether he would explicitly accept election results. Trump talked about Ukraine. Bash again asked a third time, requesting a yes or no answer on whether he will accept the results of the election.

“If it’s a fair and legal and good election, absolutely,” Trump said, before moving to well-debunked claims on election fraud. “But the fraud and everything else was ridiculous.”

Nuha Dolby is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.