Bennie Thompson says Trump indictment is a test of the country's democracy. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chaired the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee, says holding former President Donald Trump accountable is important because of the "very fragile" state of our democracy.

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

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For more on the case against former President Donald Trump, we're joined by a man who's familiar with a lot of the evidence that the prosecution will be bringing. Congressman Bennie Thompson is a Democrat from Mississippi. He chaired the House Select Committee that spent two years investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and matters related to Trump's campaign to reverse the 2020 election results. In his opening statement for that committee over a year ago now, Thompson said this to the American public.

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BENNIE THOMPSON: But our work must do much more than just look backwards. The cause of our democracy remains in danger. The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over.

FADEL: And Bennie Thompson joins me now.

Good morning, Congressman.

THOMPSON: Good morning.

FADEL: Congressman, when you listen to your words then and see this indictment now, how much did your committee have to do with these charges against the former president?

THOMPSON: Well, as you know, we spent almost two years looking at the facts and circumstances that brought about January 6. We spent a lot of time talking to witnesses, collecting evidence. And at the end, it was clear in the mind of the committee that former President Trump had created some serious issues with his administration and government and democracy in general that we couldn't ignore. And so I see the current charges consistent with a lot of the evidence that we uncovered as a committee.

FADEL: Now, the charges didn't include accusations of inciting an insurrection that were investigated, seditious conspiracy, basically to conspire to overthrow the government that were investigated. What do you make of that decision?

THOMPSON: Well, I think it was a decision the special prosecutor and his team made based on the evidence and whether or not they felt it was strong enough to go forward with. But as I look at any of the four charges, they are serious. Three of them, as you know, mirrored what the committee said. And obviously, the civil rights violation is altogether something that's been talked about in other lawsuits and other things. But again, it's not a great day for democracy in this country when you have the No. 1 person in government formally indicted on charges, so I think we have to go forward with it. The arraignment today is not something that we should look forward to as Americans, but it's something we can't not go forward with because our democracy in its current form is very fragile. So no one is above the law, not even a former president of the United States.

FADEL: You said the democracy is very fragile. And in that opening statement, you referenced the danger to American democracy. Today, on the day that Trump is going to be arraigned for charges that accuse him of trying to thwart the vote and a peaceful transfer of power, do you see this moment as any less dangerous?

THOMPSON: Well, I see it - when you are told as an individual you lost the election by any number of individuals that you've worked with over the last term, four years of your administration, and you still refuse to take their advice, our evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt said from the attorney general on down, they indicated - they told the president, you lost. In America, we need to prepare for the transition - the peaceful transition of power. And former President Trump did not do it. Even the speech just before the January 6 riot, he continued to promote what we all call now as the big lie. And you can't do that in the greatest democracy in the world and expect not to be charged at some point like he's being charged today.

FADEL: Now, Trump's lawyers have been saying that his defense will be simple, that this is a free speech issue, and he can say something he believes. What do you make of that? How do you respond to that?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, 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 the president to continue to promote what you know not to be true. And the ultimate situation occurred with the attack on the Capitol because he never said in any of his speeches, my lawyers have told me that I lost the election. And so again, he heard what the lawyers told him, but he refused to let it come out of his mouth.

FADEL: Some argue that these indictments could be bad for the country even if they pursue justice because a portion of this country believe, true or not, that Trump is a victim of politics, and it could divide the country even further. What do you say to that?

THOMPSON: Well, we've had challenges as a country in the past. As you know, we fought a civil war...

FADEL: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...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.

FADEL: Mississippi Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson is former chair of the House Select Committee that investigated the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. Congressman, thanks for joining us this morning.

THOMPSON: Thank you for having me.

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