Hours after becoming the first US President to be impeached twice, on Wednesday Donald Trump for the first time condemned the “calamity” of the mob invasion of the Capitol and urged his followers to refrain from further violence.
Holed up at the White House, watching proceedings on TV, Trump later released a video statement in which he made no mention at all of the impeachment but appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week,” he said, his first condemnation of the attack. He appealed for unity “to move forward” and said, “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for.”
“No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement,” he said.
In the videotaped speech, Trump said he was “calling on all Americans to overcome the passions of the moment and join together as one American people. Let us choose to move forward united for the good of our families.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 13, 2021
Apparently repudiating his supporters who assaulted Congress a week ago, an event that triggered his second impeachment in the House of Representatives, Trump said, “There is never a justification for violence. No excuses, no exceptions: America is a nation of laws.”
“Those who engaged in the attacks last week will be brought to justice,” he said, before launching into a condemnation of “censorship” following the decision by tech companies to ban his social media accounts.
Trump did not mention the impeachment or specifically acknowledge Biden’s election victory, although he did note the need for a peaceful “transition.”
Trump appeared subdued in the video, a marked contrast from his fiery speeches the week before, which saw him accused of inciting an insurrection and the mob that stormed the Capitol.
Analysts suggested his remarks were aimed at leading Republican senators such as Mitch McConnell, who has indicated he could support a Senate vote for impeachment.
The New York Times reported that Trump had to be pressured to put out the video and was deeply uneasy about it afterward.
“Several officials urged him to shoot the video, with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, enlisting aides and even Vice President Mike Pence to tell him it was the right thing to do,” the report said. “After it was recorded and posted, Mr. Trump still had to be reassured it was the right thing, according to administration officials.”
The speech was largely written by White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, his deputy, Pat Philbin, and Trump’s main speechwriter, Stephen Miller, the Times said.
Trump earlier became the first US president in history to be impeached twice when the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to charge him with inciting last week’s mob attack on Congress.
“Today, in a bipartisan way, the House demonstrated that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States,” Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said afterward.
The Senate will not hold a trial before January 20, when Biden assumes the presidency, meaning the real estate tycoon will escape the ignominy of being forced to leave early.
He is set, however, to face a Senate trial later and if convicted he might then be barred in a follow-up vote from seeking the presidency again in 2024.
“Donald Trump has deservedly become the first president in American history to bear the stain of impeachment twice over,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who in a week’s time will become Senate leader.
“The Senate is required to act and will proceed with his trial.”
In the House of Representatives, the only question was how many Republicans would join the lockstep Democratic majority in the 232-197 vote. At final count, 10 Republicans broke ranks, including the party’s number three in the House, Representative Liz Cheney.
“I am in total peace today that my vote was the right thing and I actually think history will judge it that way,” said Adam Kinzinger, a vocal Trump critic and one of the Republicans who crossed the aisle.
Following the mayhem inflicted by Trump’s followers when they invaded Congress, fears of violence remained high.
Armed National Guards deployed across the capital and central streets were blocked to traffic.
In the Capitol building itself, guards in full camouflage and carrying assault rifles assembled, some of them grabbing naps early Wednesday under the ornate statues and historical paintings.
Speech to mob
Trump survived a first impeachment almost exactly a year ago when the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him of abusing his office to try and get dirt on Biden’s family before the election.
This time, his downfall was triggered by a speech he delivered to a crowd on the National Mall on January 6, telling them that Biden had stolen the presidential election and that they needed to march on Congress and show “strength.”
Amped up on weeks of election conspiracy theories pushed by Trump, the mob then stormed into the Capitol, fatally wounded one police officer, wrecked furniture and forced terrified lawmakers to hide, interrupting a ceremony to put the legal stamp on Biden’s victory.
One protester was shot dead, and three other people died of “medical emergencies,” bringing the toll to five.
Pelosi told the chamber before the impeachment vote that Trump “must go.”
“He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” she said.
Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar branded Trump a “tyrant,” saying that “for us to able to survive as a functioning democracy there has to be accountability.”
But Nancy Mace, a newly elected Republican congresswoman, said that while lawmakers “need to hold the president accountable,” the speed of the impeachment “poses great questions about the constitutionality.”
The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said that while Trump deserves censure, hurriedly impeaching will “further divide this nation.”
McConnell open to voting for conviction
Trump, who has been stripped of his social media megaphones by Twitter and Facebook, and finds himself increasingly ostracized in the business world, is struggling to impose his message — let alone any kind of resistance.
His refusal to accept any responsibility for the horrifying scenes on January 6 — including his insistence Tuesday that his speech was “totally appropriate” — has infuriated allies and opponents alike.
The main question now is to what extent former Republican allies in the Senate will turn on their party’s figurehead once the Democrats take over control of the chamber.
Current Senate leader McConnell says he will not call for an impeachment trial before Trump’s January 20 exit. However, he said he is open to the possibility of voting to convict Trump in a later trial after Biden becomes president.
“I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell said.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that McConnell is signaling privately that he believes Trump did commit impeachable offenses.
This presents a potentially fatal shift in the ground under Trump’s feet, because it could lead other Republican senators to join in convicting Trump with the goal of turning the page in the turbulent relationship between the party and former reality TV host and real estate magnate.