“A simple protest that got out of hand”: Trump downplays the Capitol attack, ridicules Pence, and flirts again with White House bid

Former President Donald Trump made his first public appearance on Friday since the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection began its hearings and, unironically, on the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. In typical fashion, he excoriated the congressional panel and all but confirmed his third presidential bid.

Speaking to religious conservatives at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual conference in Nashville, Trump denounced the congressional committee’s hearings as a “theatrical production of partisan political fiction” and protested his innocence.

“What you’re seeing is a complete and total lie. It’s a complete and total fraud,” Trump told a cheering audience. In a 90-minute speech, he downplayed the never-before-seen video footage claiming it was selectively edited. And that insurrection? Trump said it was “a simple protest that got out of hand.”

While he denied calling Vice President Mike Pence a wimp, an allegation made by former White House aides to the Jan. 6 committee, Trump railed against his former vice president saying, “Mike did not have the courage to act,” which drew applause from the crowd of about two thousand attendees.

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The event, used by potential national candidates to gauge the temperature of evangelical voters, was not attended by Pence and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—both credible contenders for the White House.

According to the Washington Postdecidedly niche merchandise was for sale outside the venue, including iodine pills (to help against the fallout of a nuclear war) and t-shirts with “Trump told you so” as the top seller.

But will he or won’t he run? Although teasing a potential bid for months, like most things in life, it’s all about timing. Does he announce later this summer, in the fall, or after the November midterm elections?

“One of the most urgent tasks facing the next Republican president — I wonder who that will be,” Trump said at one point, prompting a standing ovation and chants of “USA!”

“Would anybody like me to run for president?” he asked the crowdunleashing more cheers.

Whatever Trump decides, there’s a lengthy list of Republicans preparing for their campaign, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. As reported by the Associated Press, other potential White House contenders include former Secretary of State Mike PompeoSen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.)—all scheduled to make an appearance at the three-day conference.

In an awkward political dance, both Trump and Pence are expected to be in Illinois next week according to the Chicago Tribune. Trump will attend a rally in downstate Illinois to support Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), while Pence will give a speech at the University Club in Chicago on the economy followed by a visit to Peoria for a local Lincoln Day celebration.

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