RFK Jr. says he 'made a mistake' after Jan. 6 comments

He had falsely claimed the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol "carried no weapons."

April 9, 2024, 12:33 PM

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. "made a mistake" when discussing the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in controversial comments last week that prompted multiple clarifications from his independent presidential campaign, he said in a new interview.

Speaking to NewsNation's Chris Cuomo on Monday, Kennedy said he made "unforced errors" during a two-day stretch in which his team had to walk back remarks the campaign made about Jan. 6 -- including a fundraising email that called the people arrested for their actions that day "activists."

Kennedy specifically pointed to that email and when he falsely claimed the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol "carried no weapons."

"You know, all I can say is that this is my responsibility. It's my campaign," he told Cuomo.

"I made two mistakes this week and I left people with the impression that I did not share, I think, what is the general consensus about Jan. 6 -- that it was a traumatic day in our nation's history, that there were police who were beaten, who were assaulted, that there were congressional members who were threatened, that there were people who were intending to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power in this country, and that's not OK," Kennedy said. "And it’s not OK even if you believe the election was stolen."

That was a shift in tone from last week, when Kennedy said Friday that he was still "listening" to arguments about the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to try to "hear every side," and suggested, without evidence, that prosecutions of the rioters have been politically motivated.

Kennedy also last week expressed skepticism that the events that day constituted an "insurrection." He said that "reasonable people, including Trump opponents, tell me there is little evidence of a true insurrection."

The comments were part of a lengthy statement Kennedy released to try to "clarify" his views on Jan. 6 -- an apparent response to the backlash he received for an initial fundraising email his team sent calling Jan. 6 defendants "activists."

Pressed by Cuomo on Monday about whether he believes Jan. 6 was an insurrection, Kennedy said, "I think it was a protest that turned into a riot. I think there were people who wanted an insurrection. And -- but I don't know what your definition of an insurrection is."

PHOTO: Demonstrators pass a sledgehammer forward to help in their attempt to enter the U.S. Capitol building during the protests in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
Demonstrators pass a sledgehammer forward to help in their attempt to enter the U.S. Capitol building during the protests in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

HIs campaign last week blamed an outside vendor for the original fundraising email, which was blasted to supporters on Thursday by "Team Kennedy" and stirred controversy after NBC News reported on it.

A campaign spokesperson said that they've since stopped working with the vendor.

"That statement was an error that does not reflect Mr. Kennedy's views," a spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. "It was inserted by a new marketing contractor and slipped through the normal approval process. The campaign has terminated its contract with this vendor. Anybody who violated the law on Jan. 6 should be subject to appropriate criminal and/or civil penalties."

But Friday's statement, rather than clarifying Kennedy's stance on Jan. 6, instead said he is still forming an opinion about what happened that day and the future of those imprisoned for taking part.

PHOTO: Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a campaign event in Oakland, CA, March 26, 2024.
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a campaign event in Oakland, CA, March 26, 2024.
Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

He said that as president, he would appoint a special counsel to "investigate whether prosecutorial discretion was abused for political ends in this case, and I will right any wrongs that we discover."

Federal prosecutors have charged more than 1,265 defendants across nearly all 50 states and Washington, according to data released in January by the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C.

They secured sentences of incarceration for more than 460 people, and hundreds of others have been sentenced for lesser offenses to periods of home detention or probation.

"I am concerned about the possibility that political objectives motivated the vigor of the prosecution of the J6 defendants, their long sentences, and their harsh treatment," Kennedy said. "That would fit a disturbing pattern of the weaponization of government agencies – the DoJ, the IRS, the SEC, the FBI, etc. – against political opponents."

On Monday, Kennedy acknowledged his call for a special counsel had been divisive but said, "My purpose, Chris, is not to exonerate those people, but rather just to restore peace. ... Presidents appoint special counsels all the time. They do it even when, you know, to investigate themselves to assure the public that there is a process here that the public can trust."

While Kennedy said last week that he has not "examined the evidence in detail," he also claimed some had observed the Jan. 6 participants "carried no weapons, had no plans or ability to seize the reins of government, and that Trump himself had urged them to protest 'peacefully.'"

But according to the U.S. attorney's office in D.C., more than 200 people have pleaded guilty to felonies that include assaults on federal officers, obstructing law enforcement and seditious conspiracy. Plus, 123 people had been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

There is also video evidence of rioters carrying everything from stun guns, knives and batons to chemical irritants spray, sticks or even flags used to stab or strike any number of officers trying to protect the building that day.

In an updated statement Friday night, Kennedy said that his claim that the Jan. 6 rioters did not carry weapons was not true.

"My understanding that none of the January 6 rioters who invaded the capitol were carrying firearms was incorrect," he said.

"Several have been convicted of carrying firearms into the Capitol building. Others assaulted Capitol police with pepper spray, bludgeons, and other makeshift weapons," he said in the statement. "This behavior is inexcusable. I have never minimized or dismissed the seriousness of the riot or any crime committed on that day."

Attorney General Merrick Garland has defended the department's integrity in prosecuting these cases and characterized Jan. 6 as "an unprecedented attack on the cornerstone of our system of government: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next."

"In the ongoing Jan. 6 investigations and prosecutions led by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matt Graves and Special Counsel Jack Smith, the Justice Department is abiding by the longstanding norms that ensure independence and integrity of our investigations," Garland said in January as he marked the three-year anniversary of the attack. "We are following the facts and the law wherever they lead. We are enforcing the law without fear or favor. We are honoring our obligation to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of everyone in our country. We are upholding the rule of law, and we are protecting the American people."

In an interview last month on Fox News, Kennedy was asked whether he would pardon any Jan. 6 defendants.

"That's not something I would comment on until I'm president of the United States," he said, later adding, "I would look at any individual cases."

ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.