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House Jan. 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson says our democracy is 'very fragile'

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, speaks to the media after the committee voted to subpoena former President Donald Trump.
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U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, speaks to the media after the committee voted to subpoena former President Donald Trump.

Updated August 3, 2023 at 4:37 PM ET

Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who served as chairman of the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee said the charges former president Donald Trump faces are consistent with the evidence the committee reviewed.

The former president is set to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon to answer to the indictment that charges him with four counts related to the 2020 election. Those are conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.

"The arraignment today is not something that we should look forward to as Americans, but it's something we cannot go forward [without] because our democracy, in its current form, is very fragile," Thompson said in an interview on NPR's Morning Edition with Leila Fadel. "No one is above the law, not even a former president of the United States."

The Democratic-led House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, recommended in its final report in December that the former president should be prosecuted for his actions.

A grand jury indictment, unsealed this week, charged Trump withfour felony counts: conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. The four charges have a maximum prison sentence ranging from five to 20 years.

"They are serious," Thompson said about the four charges included in the indictment. He believes that Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith made a decision to focus on those charges based on how strong the evidence was for each count.

The former president, however, wasn't charged for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by assisting, aiding or comforting those involved in an insurrection, something the Jan. 6 committee recommended in its final report.

The following is an edited excerpt of the interview with Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Some argue that these indictments could be bad for the country, what do you say to that?

We've had challenges as a country in the past. As you know, we fought a Civil War over slavery, and we came out of that a stronger nation. This is just one of those tests that as a democracy, we have to go through. I'm convinced that a jury of his peers looking at the evidence will make a decision, and that decision over the long term will make us stronger as a nation.

Trump's lawyers argue that this is a free speech issue and Trump can say something he believes. What do you make of that?

You can believe it all you want to, but if all the lawyers around you and all the evidence point to the contrary, it's malpractice on your part as a president to continue to promote what you know, not to be true.

HJ Mai edited the digital version of this story, and Jacob Conrad edited the audio version. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.