Former US President Donald Trump on Friday lashed out at the committee investigating the January 6 uprising and continued to tease his plans for a third presidential race.
It was his first public appearance since the committee began its hearings.
Speaking to religious conservatives at a sprawling resort near Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House, Trump lambasted the committee’s efforts as “theatrical production of partisan political fiction” and insisted it had done nothing wrong.
“What you see is a complete and utter lie. This is a total scam,” he said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference.
He dismissed the videotapes and testimony presented by the committee, including first-hand testimony from senior aides and members of his own family, as selectively redacted.
He also downplayed the uprising as “a simple protest that got out of hand.”
Mr. Trump’s appearance at an event long known as a proving ground for presidential candidates comes as he pondered when he could officially launch another White House campaign.
The debate, according to people familiar with the discussions, is centered on whether to make a formal announcement later this summer or fall, or, in keeping with tradition, wait until the November midterm elections.
While allies insist he has not yet made a final decision on his plans, Trump has been broadcasting his intentions for months and continued teasing them on Friday.
“One of the most pressing challenges facing the next Republican president is wondering who it will be,” Trump said at one point, drawing thunderous applause and chants of “USA!”
“Would anyone like me to run for president?” he asked the crowd, drawing renewed applause.
Ralph Reid, chairman of the Coalition for Faith and Freedom, said: “We don’t know if he’s going to run, although of course, given his speech, I think he wanted everyone to know it was his plan.”
“I think a lot of Trump’s plans for the future are directly based on (Joe) Biden, and I think the more Biden continues to stumble on the world stage and on the domestic stage, people are forgetting the other side, the dark side of the Trump presidency. said Brian Lanza, a Republican Party strategist and former Trump campaign staffer.
An announcement in the near future could complicate other ambitious Republicans’ efforts to run their own campaigns. For example, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, said she would not run against him.
I think a lot of Trump’s plans for the future are directly related to Biden, and I think the more Biden continues to stumble on the world stage and on the domestic stage, the more people forget about the other side, the dark side of the Trump presidency.Brian Lanza, Republican Party strategist
There are also concerns that a short-term announcement could hurt Republicans as they enter the final stretch of an interim campaign in Congress that appears increasingly favorable to the party.
Trump’s candidacy could unite otherwise repressed Democratic voters, rekindling the energy that has galvanized the party in the 2018 and 2020 campaigns.
Republicans want the November election to be framed as a referendum on the first two years of a Biden presidency. They don’t want anything, including Trump, to throw them off that trajectory.
Regardless of his decision, the aura of inevitability that Trump has sought to create since his departure from the White House has been pierced. A long list of other Republicans laid the foundation for their own potential campaigns, and some made it clear that Trump’s candidacy would not have much impact on their own decisions.
Among them is former Trump Vice President Mike Pence, who was hailed by the committee on Jan. 6 as someone who puts the national interest ahead of his own political considerations.
With his eye on the White House bid, Pence is keeping an active political schedule, focusing on drawing attention to the Democrats’ vulnerabilities. But his troubles came to light on Friday when Trump continued to criticize him for not going along with his scheme to cancel the 2020 election results.
Although he denied ever calling Pence a weakling, Trump spoke out against his former deputy, saying, “Mike didn’t have the guts to act.” This drew applause from the crowd, which Mr. Pence, himself an evangelical Christian, has spoken of many times.