Leaving Aside Trump’s Role in Provoking the Capitol Riot, His Reaction to It Was Enough To Justify Impeachment
After last month’s assault on the U.S. Capitol began, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported, “White House officials were shaken by Trump’s reaction.” She said they described him as “borderline enthusiastic because it meant the certification [of Joe Biden’s election] was being derailed.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R–Neb.), in an interview two days after the riot with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, likewise said “senior White House officials” had told him Trump was “walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.” Sasse described Trump as “delighted” by the violence.
You may not credit these second- and third-hand accounts of Trump’s mood as his followers, outraged by his fantasy of a stolen election, stormed the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. CNN is not exactly friendly toward Trump, and Sasse is a longtime critic. Their reports were based on information from unnamed officials who cannot be asked to confirm or deny making the comments attributed to them. Yet as the House members who are prosecuting Trump for inciting the Capitol riot emphasize, these accounts are consistent with Trump’s public behavior after the protest he convened to “stop the steal” turned violent.
The question of whether Trump intended to provoke a riot would be crucial if he were criminally prosecuted for his conduct on January 6. It matters less in an impeachment for “high crimes or misdemeanors,” which are not limited to statutory violations. But regardless of his intent before the riot started, Trump was strikingly reluctant to intervene after it began, and his irresponsibility at that point is independent grounds for impeachment. His reaction betrayed his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” as well as his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”
The rioters started fighting with police and breaching the security barriers around the Capitol at 12:53 p.m., nearly an hour into Trump’s inflammatory speech at Ellipse Park, where he urged his supporters at the “Save America” rally to “show strength” against an “egregious assault on our democracy” by marching to the building where Congress was about to anoint “an illegitimate president,” warning that “our country will be destroyed” should Biden be allowed to take office. Video shows that people in the audience began heading for the Capitol during Trump’s address, which started just before noon and concluded at 1:12 p.m.
About an hour after Trump supporters acting on his imaginary grievance began their attack, he tweeted a video of his speech. Why not? After all, as he later told reporters, his remarks were “totally appropriate” and had nothing to do with the riot.
Half an hour later, after Vice President Mike Pence had been rushed from the Senate floor to save him from rioters who wanted to “hang” him because he had refused to reject electoral votes for Biden, Trump took the time to tweet this: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.” He was referring to the
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