July 15, 2021
WN: Sick . . .
Part two of an excerpt from “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.” Rucker and Leonnig will discuss this book during a Washington Post Live event on July 20.
As the sun rose over Washington on Jan. 6, electricity hung in the air. The big day had come. Thousands of President Trump’s supporters began gathering on the Ellipse to stake out a good spot from which to see the president, who was scheduled to address the “Save America” rally around noon. Organizers had obtained a federal permit for 30,000 people, but it looked as if the crowd would be even larger than that. Thousands more prepared to make their way toward the Capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s election.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff already had been on edge. A student of history, Milley saw Trump as a classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose. He described to aides that he kept having a stomach-churning feeling that some of the worrisome early stages of 20th-century fascism in Germany were replaying in 21st-century America. He saw parallels between Trump’s rhetoric about election fraud and Adolf Hitler’s insistence to his followers at the Nuremberg rallies that he was both a victim and their savior.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides. “The gospel of the Führer.”
This and other episodes recounted in this book are based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 people, including the most senior Trump administration officials, friends and outside advisers to the 45th president. Most of the people interviewed agreed to speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. Scenes were reconstructed based on firsthand accounts and, whenever possible, corroborated by multiple sources and buttressed by a review of calendars, diary entries, internal memos and other correspondence among principals.
Around the same time, Pence arrived at the Capitol to begin the day’s proceedings, set to start at 1 p.m. Just as his motorcade deposited him at the building’s eastern front, the vice president’s office released a three-page letter to members of Congress signed by Pence outlining his interpretation of his legal duties and the limits of his power as presiding officer. In it, Pence wrote, “I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of this election,” adding that he would ensure that they “receive a fair and open hearing.”
But, Pence stressed, “as a student of history who loves the Constitution and reveres its Framers, I do not believe that the Founders of our country intended to invest the Vice President with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the Joint Session of Congress, and no Vice President in American history has ever asserted such authority.”
Pence vowed to hear any objections, and then to count the electoral college votes “in a manner consistent with our Constitution, laws, and history.” His final words: “So help me God.”
Reading from a carefully prepared text, McConnell said, “The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a National Board of Elections on steroids … [If] this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
McConnell and most of his colleagues did not know about the mayhem building outside. But Sen. Mitt Romney had been more attentive than others. On Jan. 2, the senator from Utah received a call from Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, warning him about unsettling personal and specific threats. Milley had shared with King online chatter he had discovered through an app on his phone called Dataminr.
Pro-Trump rhetoric was interlaced with calls for violence and references to smuggling guns and other weapons into Washington to “stop the steal.” One message said something along the lines of, “Let’s burn Senator McConnell’s house down while he’s in it.”
At the White House, Trump was back in his private dining room watching everything unfold on television. Aides, including Dan Scavino and Kayleigh McEnany, popped in and out. The president was riveted. His supporters had heeded his call to march on the Capitol with “pride and boldness.” For Trump, there was no more beautiful sight than thousands of energetic people waving Trump flags, wearing red MAGA caps and fighting to keep him in power.
“He thought, ‘This is cool.’ He was happy,” recalled one aide who was with Trump that afternoon. “Then when it turned violent, he thought, ‘Oh, crap.’ ”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham said, “It took him a while to appreciate the gravity of the situation. The president saw these people as allies in his journey and sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”
As rioters marauded through the Capitol, it was clear whom they were looking for. Some of them shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” Trump didn’t exactly throw them off the hunt. At 2:24, the president tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
Pence gave orders to the military, the actual commander in chief was effectively AWOL. Trump spent the afternoon glued to the television watching the drama unfold.
After his tweet castigating Pence amid the height of the attack, Trump had issued two tweets that many of his aides felt still missed the mark. In neither did Trump call on his supporters to leave the Capitol.
As soon as she saw on the television in her second-floor office that the rioters were inside the Capitol, Ivanka Trump said to her aides, “I’m going down to my dad. This has to stop.” She spent several hours walking back and forth to the Oval trying to persuade the president to be stronger in telling his supporters he stood with law enforcement and ordering them to disperse.
Kevin McCarthy, who had been trying to reach Trump at the White House, finally succeeded and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the rioters. Trump falsely claimed that the attackers were members of antifa. McCarthy told the president that in fact they were his own supporters.
“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said, according to the account that Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said McCarthy gave her.
Other advisers who were away from the White House tried to call Trump, but he didn’t answer. They figured he knew what they were going to say, and he didn’t want to hear it. Plus, he was busy watching TV.
At 4:05 p.m., Biden delivered remarks from Wilmington, Del. The senators stopped what they were doing and silently watched on television screens. Trump still had not appeared on camera since the siege began, but the president-elect stepped in to try to calm the nation.
“At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” Biden said. He added: “This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.”
Biden said, “The words of a president matter, no matter how good or bad that president is. At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.”
Watching from their secure room, the senators stood and applauded — Republicans and Democrats alike. “It was like, wow, we have a leader who said what needed to be said,” Romney recalled.
At 4:17 p.m., Trump posted on Twitter a video of remarks to the nation that he had recorded in the Rose Garden after those closest to him had pleaded for hours. He began by repeating his fraudulent line that the election was rigged.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt,” Trump said. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everybody knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order.”
Then the president said: “We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.”
The president’s message was jarringly inconsistent. He had recorded three takes, each time veering off the script his speechwriters had prepared. The version released was the most palatable option.
At 4:39 p.m., Miller gave Meadows an update on the status of removing protesters from the complex. McConnell joined the call at different points and sounded furious.
“I want it clear,” the Senate majority leader demanded. “I want it cleared out now. The Senate needs to get its business done.”
He added: “We’re going back in session at 8 o’clock in prime time. If you haven’t secured the entire area, you have to secure the two chambers, because we’re going to go back on the air in prime time and let the American people know that this insurrection has failed.”
At 6:01 p.m., Trump tweeted again: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
At no time that Wednesday since the Capitol siege began did these government and military leaders hear from the president. Not even the vice president heard from Trump.
At 8:06 p.m., an emotional Pence called the Senate back into session. “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” he said. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins, and this is still the people’s house.”
Graham gave an animated speech in which he appeared to be grieving for a friend who had lost his way.
“Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey. I hate it being this way,” he said. “All I can say is: Count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful.”
When it was Romney’s turn, he had sharp words not only for the president but also for some of his fellow senators.
“We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters, whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning,” Romney said.
In the end, six Republican senators objected to the counting of Arizona’s electoral votes and seven objected to counting Pennsylvania’s.
In the House, where Pelosi gaveled the session to order an hour later, at 9 p.m., the Republican resistance was greater still. One hundred twenty-one House members, nearly two-thirds of the Republican conference, voted against counting Arizona’s votes, and even more, 138, voted against counting Pennsylvania’s.
Pelosi could hardly believe it. “That they, in the middle of the night, would say, ‘We still want to [object to] Pennsylvania,’ just showed you the total cavalier disregard they had for our country,” she recalled. They weren’t beholden to country, she said, but to Trump, “this insane person spreading this insanity.” Maybe the House Republicans feared him, maybe they agreed with him, Pelosi said, “or they were just in a cult.”
At 3:24 a.m., Congress completed its duty and voted to confirm Biden’s 306-to-232 electoral win. Pence formally declared him the next president of the United States.
Please click on: ‘I Alone Can Fix It’