Bitter end in sight
Reeking of disgrace, condemned by all but diminished bands of sycophants for unleashing a violent mob that terrorized Congress, President Donald Trump on Thursday evening abandoned his deluded hopes of clinging to office for four more years. He is struggling to hang on for 12 more days, trying to make America believe he'll behave for a "seamless transition" to President-elect Joe Biden, though Trump couldn't bring himself to say his successor's name in a taped two-minute video address to the nation.
The top two Democrats in Congress — Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — called for Trump’s immediate removal on Thursday, warning that if his Cabinet does not invoke the 25th Amendment so Vice President Mike Pence can fill the remainder of Trump's term, lawmakers would pursue a fast-track impeachment, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. The Associated Press reported that several Trump Cabinet members were sympathetic to the 25th Amendment option, but with Pence reportedly opposed, an attempted impeachment is the likelier path, though still a long shot to pull off.
Former White House chief of staff John Kelly told CNN that if he were still there, he would favor invoking the amendment because "what happened on Capitol Hill yesterday was a direct result of him poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the fraud." Egged on by Trump at a rally near the White House, his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and rampaged for several hours on Wednesday, delaying but ultimately failing to prevent Congress' formal counting of electoral votes to affirm Biden’s victory.
Another result: A Capitol Police officer died Thursday night of injuries suffered battling the rioters, according to the department. The officer was reportedly bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher. That's the fifth fatality from Wednesday's mayhem. A woman Trump supporter was shot dead by police when she tried to breach a barricaded doorway at the Capitol, authorities said. Three other people died of what police described as "medical emergencies"; one was a Georgia woman "potentially crushed to death."
"By inciting sedition as he did yesterday, he must be removed for office," Pelosi said of Trump in a news conference. "While there’s only 13 days left, any day could be a horror show for America." The conservative Wall Street Journal's editorial implored Trump to step down. "If Mr. Trump wants to avoid a second impeachment, his best path would be to take personal responsibility and resign," the Journal said. "It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly."
Trump belatedly denounced those "who infiltrated the Capitol" and "defiled the seat of American democracy," but he took no responsibility for inciting the riot, nor did he acknowledge that the perpetrators — to whom he said on Wednesday: "We love you, you’re very special" — were his people. He falsely claimed he "immediately" deployed the National Guard. As The New York Times, CNN and others reported, he initially resisted sending them. Defending his two months of nonstop false claims of election fraud, Trump said, "My only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote."
Schumer said that while the days of Trump's presidency are dwindling, his conduct Wednesday "demonstrated that each and every one of those days is a threat to democracy so long as he is in power." If Pence "and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the President, plain and simple," said the Senate Democratic leader.
What's left of Trump's circle is breaking as stalwart loyalists who tolerated just about everything until now announced they have been overtaken by revulsion over his incitement of sedition by MAGA goons.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced her resignation, effective Monday, saying the "traumatic and entirely avoidable event ... deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside." Chao is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among those who had to flee from the mob. She said she was staying on for a few days to help the transition with Biden's nominee to lead the department, Pete Buttigieg.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted her resignation Thursday in a scathing letter to Trump. "There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me," she wrote.
Also announcing his resignation Thursday was Trump's former acting chief of staff and current special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney. "I just can’t do it. I can’t stay," he told MSNBC. "The president of the United States went onstage and said go march down the street and invade the Capitol, and they did."
Others crowding the exits: deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger; White House social secretary Rickie Niceta; the Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and security, John Costello, who said Trump "long disregarded and diminished the rule of law"; Ryan Tully, the National Security Council’s senior director for European and Russian Affairs; Tyler Goodspeed, acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews, who said, "As someone who worked in the halls of Congress I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, in a Thursday morning statement, said "what transpired yesterday was tragic and sickening," He called out "supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends" and urged Trump to "strongly condemn the violence." Wolf said he will stay in his job for an "orderly transition."
A State Department political appointee who worked on Iran policy, Gabriel Noronha, was fired by the White House on Thursday after tweeting Wednesday evening that Trump "fomented an insurrectionist mob" and is unfit for office.
Janison: Blood on Trump's hands
Trump must answer for the death of Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old San Diego woman shot by police at the Capitol on Wednesday, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The violence is on Trump, and he has no excuse.
Like thousands of others, Babbitt answered his call to protest against a legal presidential succession. She was the kind of supporter Trump would find useful, an armed forces veteran who recited his talking points. She wore one of his campaign flags into her final "battle."
Trump, in a bellicose rally speech, told the faithful to "fight" for him. "We're going to walk down and I'll be there with you. We're going to walk down — We're going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we're going to walk down to the Capitol ... "
He did not. It was one of his casual lies. Risking nothing, Trump stayed secure at the White House as Babbitt and the others marched to the confrontation.
It is as if Trump had sent a volunteer unit including Babbitt into an unwinnable combat situation far away. The little cosplay insurrection achieved nothing. No matter what she believed, she died in vain.
A historic security failure
Three top security officials in Congress lost their jobs Thursday over the deadly security breakdown that left the Capitol Police outnumbered and overrun by the Trump mob's onslaught. See this pair of videos showing cops being forced to retreat while fighting back at the intruders who attacked them at barricades.
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund will resign effective Jan. 16, before Biden's inauguration, according to a police spokesperson. McConnell asked for and received the resignation of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger. And Pelosi said House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving will step down. McConnell said Congress would have to address the "shocking failures in the Capitol’s security posture and protocols."
Three days in advance, the Pentagon asked the Capitol Police command if it needed reinforcement from the National Guard and was told no thanks, according to defense officials who spoke to The Associated Press. Even as the crowds arrived, an offer of FBI help was turned down. The Capitol Police planned only for a "free speech" demonstration and were leery of deploying soldiers against Americans after June's racial-injustice protests.
Critics including Biden, Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups on Thursday decried what they described as a double standard in the handling of the overwhelmingly white pro-Trump demonstrators, reports Newsday's Figueroa.
"You can’t tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol," Biden said during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware. "We all know that is true. And it is totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. The American people saw it in plain view."
Will Trump face riot charges?
The top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., on Thursday pointedly did not rule out charging Trump in connection with inciting a riot after his supporters invaded the Capitol complex.
"We are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building, but … were there others that maybe assisted or facilitated or played some ancillary role in this? We will look at every actor and all criminal charges," said acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin. Worries over prosecution appear to have played a role in Trump agreeing to tape the Thursday video condemning the "heinous attack," after previously resisting, The New York Times reported.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen vowed that consequences for pro-Trump rioters could include being charged under Trump's executive order authorizing up to 10 years in prison for "injury of federal property" — a measure he had aimed at leftists who removed or vandalized statues and monuments.
Sherwin voiced frustration that more of the intruders weren't arrested Wednesday and were allowed to just walk out when the siege ended. Investigators are now poring through ample video and photo evidence, much of it posted on social media by the rioters themselves, to hunt down and arrest the insurrectionists. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau has deployed its "full investigative resources" and will "hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol." The FBI asked for public help and already have received thousands of tips, The Washington Post reported. Local D.C. police posted a gallery of photos.
Making the identification task easier: Few of the participants wore masks for protection against the coronavirus. A Maryland company fired an employee whose work ID badge with his name on it was plainly visible in a photo.
Self-pardon and a Pirro-ette?
Trump has suggested to aides he wants to pardon himself in the final days of his presidency, an extraordinary and legally untested effort to avoid potential future federal criminal charges, The New York Times reported.
Trump also has considered a range of preemptive pardons for family, including his three oldest children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — for Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, and for close associates like personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Legal scholars are divided about whether a self-pardon would stand up in court, but they see a dangerous precedent if presidents unilaterally can declare they are above the law.
Bloomberg News reports that Trump also may offer preemptive pardons to other friends and allies and a regular pardon to convicted tax cheat Albert Pirro, the ex-husband of Fox News' Trump fan Jeanine Pirro. Small-world department: When Jeanine suspected Albert was having an affair, she hired Bernard Kerik, an ex-NYPD commissioner and future Trump pardon recipient, to bug his boat.
Social media outcast
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday the social media giant is banning Trump for his remaining time in office and perhaps longer, after the president used online platforms to incite the mob that stormed the Capitol with his false stolen-election claims.
Holding Trump accountable for the "use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government," Zuckerberg wrote, "We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great."
"Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete," he said.
A 12-hour Twitter ban on Trump was lifted Thursday morning, but he didn't immediately start tweeting again. Twitter warned Trump that it plans to escalate its enforcement efforts and suspend him permanently if he continues to break its rules.
King: Trump dishonored self, country
Newly retired Long Island Rep. Peter King on Thursday blamed Trump for giving "marching orders" to the Capitol mob and then failing to immediately call off and condemn "thousands of people almost carrying out a military assault against the Capitol."
"This was probably the most shameful moment in American history, and he's saying basically he understands why they were doing it," King told Newsday's Tom Brune. "It was terrible."
Biden's response to the act of "domestic terrorism" drew praise from Republican King. "Joe Biden did exactly what you would hope," King said of the president-elect's live-televised call for peace and order on Wednesday afternoon. "In short, he definitely showed leadership."
More coronavirus news
The U.S. set another daily record for COVID-19 deaths with 4,279 in a 24-hour period ending at 5 p.m. Thursday, according to ABC News. The overall toll exceeds 364,000.
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones and David Olson. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Biden has settled on two more Cabinet picks: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former top union leader, as labor secretary and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as secretary of commerce.
- To bolster security for Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration at the Capitol, military personnel have erected a 7-foot-tall fence around the grounds. The "nonscalable" fence will remain up for a month.
- Trump's former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who until now refrained from going public with criticism of Trump, told a Republican National Committee meeting that "his actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history."
- Trump's former Attorney General William Barr also loosened his muzzle. "Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress" is "inexcusable" and a "betrayal of his office and supporters," Barr said in a statement.
- How scary was it inside the Capitol with the Trump mob running amok? Read these first-person accounts from Politico, The New York Times and CBS News.
- The storming of Congress shook U.S. allies around the world while authoritarian regimes reacted with glee, according to Yahoo News.
- Simon & Schuster said on Thursday that it would cancel the publication of an upcoming book by Sen. Josh Hawley, one of several members of Congress who mounted a challenge to the election results. The publisher said it "cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat."