Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, voiced staunch opposition to former President Donald Trump‘s suggestion that he would pardon the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021—arguing that it could make similar acts of violence “more likely.”
Trump complained during a Saturday rally in Texas that his supporters, who violently stormed the federal legislative building just over a year ago, are being treated “very unfairly.” The former president floated the idea that he would pardon the January 6 rioters if he chooses to launch a successful White House bid in 2024 and wins.
Many legal scholars and some Republicans quickly condemned the idea. Graham—who is typically seen as a close Trump ally—joined the chorus of critics when he was asked about the former president’s remarks during a Sunday interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation.
“Pardons? Do you agree?” anchor Margaret Brennan asked the GOP senator.
“No, I don’t want to send any signal that it was OK to defile the Capitol. There are other groups with causes that may want to go down to the violent path that these people get pardoned,” Graham asserted.
He went on to call Trump’s suggestion “inappropriate.” Graham compared the pardon idea to Vice President Kamala Harris raising money to pay the bail of protestors who were arrested during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, while she was still a senator.
“When Kamala Harris and her associates and the people that work for her, her staffers, raised money to bail out the rioters who hit cops in the head and burned down stores, I didn’t like that either. So I don’t want to do anything from raising bail to pardoning people who take the law into their own hands because it will make more violence more likely,” the South Carolina Republican said.
Graham said he wants to “deter” the kind of behavior that occurred on January 6, 2021. “And those who did it, I hope they go to jail and get the book thrown at them because they deserve it,” the senator added.
At the rally in Conroe, near Houston, Trump suggested that he wanted more mob action like what was seen on January 6 if prosecutors investigating him and his business do anything he views as illegal. He also put forward the pardon idea for the hundreds of rioters charged in the wake of the Capitol attack.
“And another thing we’ll do, and so many people have been asking me about it, if I run [in 2024], and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly,” Trump told thousands of supporters at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons.”
Some legal scholars and prominent Republicans were quick to raise alarms.
“This is beyond being a demagogue to the stuff of dictators. He is defying the rule of law. Failure to confront a tyrant only encourages bad behavior. If thinking Americans don’t understand what Trump is doing and what the criminal justice system must do we are all in big trouble,” John W. Dean, who served as White House Counsel in former GOP President Richard Nixon’s administration, posted to Twitter, sharing a clip of Trump’s remarks.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who voted with six other GOP senators to convict Trump for inciting the January 6 violence in his second impeachment trial, criticized the pardon suggestion in a Sunday interview as well.
“Let me say this, I do not think the president should have made—that President Trump— should have made that pledge to do pardons. We should let the judicial process proceed,” Collins told ABC News. “January 6th was a dark day in our history.”
However, some Trump loyalists praised the former president’s suggestion.
“I’m so happy to hear President Trump say he will treat J6 defendants fairly and pardon them if needed,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, posted to Gettr.
Hundreds of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol a little more than a year ago in an apparent effort to disrupt the formal certification of President Joe Biden‘s Electoral College victory. They were largely animated by Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” or “stolen,” an allegation not substantiated by evidence.
Ahead of the attack, Trump told supporters at a rally to walk to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to save their country. More than 760 people have been charged for their alleged involvement in the assault on the legislative building.
Whether the former president launches another bid for the White House remains to be seen. Trump has repeatedly teased the possibility, as he did again on Saturday, but he has not officially confirmed his plans.
Newsweek reached out to Trump’s press office for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.