Will his second impeachment serve in a bizarre way as a consolation prize for Donald Trump? Removed from power in less than a week and stripped of his social media megaphones, the soon-to-be-former president still can be the center of attention — his favorite place — after Joe Biden becomes the occupant of the Oval Office.
The timing of the House's 232-197 vote to impeach Trump on Wednesday — one week to the day after violent insurrectionists heeding his call to "fight like hell" against Biden's election overran the U.S. Capitol — means the 45th president's Senate trial likely will begin after Trump has left office. Unlike his first impeachment over the 2019 Ukraine scandal, Trump can't count on Senate Republican leaders to hold the line for him. Mitch McConnell, among others, is fed up.
McConnell pointedly did not rule out Wednesday that he might eventually vote to convict Trump. The Senate would take 17 Republicans to convict. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while opposing impeachment, said Wednesday that censure would have been appropriate.
"The president bears responsibility for [last] Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding," said McCarthy, a steadfast Trump ally until the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. According to reports describing an angry Tuesday phone call, during which Trump ridiculously blamed the violence that left five dead on antifa, McCarthy told him: "It’s not antifa, it’s MAGA. I know. I was there."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Trump: "He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love." A majority of House Republicans voted against impeachment, but significantly 10 broke ranks to support it. House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming said, "There has never been a greater betrayal by a President."
During the floor debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election, and others fell back on whataboutism, pointing to urban unrest last summer over police killings of Black people to argue that Trump was the victim of a double standard. Others such as Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas found Trump's actions indefensible — "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding" — but said the impeachment process was too rushed. There were reports that some Republicans wanted to vote to impeach Trump but feared for their personal safety if they did.
Biden said in a statement after the vote that it was his hope the Senate leadership "will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation." For more, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune with Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Trump: Get calm, don't carry on
It took a week after the Capitol insurrection. But after his impeachment, desertions from former supporters and peril for his business empire as leaders in the corporate world and professional golf cut off ties, Trump finally came forward with a call for peace that did not also recirculate his inflammatory and false claims of a "stolen" election.
Trump put out a video on the White House Twitter account, which is still open, calling on his supporters to refrain from violence. He said he "directed federal agencies to use all necessary resources to maintain order" for Biden's inauguration. YouTube temporarily lifted its suspension of Trump to host his video message.
"I unequivocally condemned the violence that we saw last week, violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement," Trump said in Wednesday night's video. "Mob violence goes against everything I believe in, and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence … If you do any of these things, you are not supporting our movement, you're attacking it, and you are attacking our country. We cannot tolerate it."
Trump made no mention of his second impeachment, nor did he express any regret about inciting the Capitol insurrection, nor did he concede that Biden won. He did complain about "the unprecedented assault on free speech," lashing out at the social media shutdown of his accounts and of his more incendiary supporters.
Hitting bottom, Trump fears for bottom line
Trump's paramount concern these days is what the blowback for his riot incitement could do to his immediate political and financial future, The Associated Press reports, citing four White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing.
The loss of his Twitter account and fundraising vendor could complicate Trump’s efforts to remain a GOP kingmaker and potentially run again in 2024. Moreover, Trump seethed at the blows being dealt to his business, including the withdrawal of a PGA championship from New Jersey golf course and the decision by New York City to cease dealings with his company.
"The president incited a rebellion against the United States government that killed five people and threatened to derail the constitutional transfer of power," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "The City of New York will not be associated with those unforgivable acts in any shape, way or form, and we are immediately taking steps to terminate all Trump Organization contracts."
The mayor said, "We’re on strong legal ground," citing provisions of the contracts covering criminality — which he said applied to Trump in connection with the Capitol riot. For more, see Newsday's story by Matthew Chayes.
Janison: MAGA saga of endless lies
In his four erratic years as president, Trump mastered the practice of telling the very opposite of the truth, sometimes with disastrous results, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Once again, we hear from the Trump camp the not-quite-adult version of, "I know you are but what am I." Reviled for inspiring a violent attack on the Capitol, its leader tries to turn it around by accusing partisan foes of divisiveness with their impeachment.
Trump created the moment leading to his second impeachment with massive, repeated and emphatic lies. Without it, he could not have fired up the rally crowd that marched over to the Capitol on Jan. 6. If you believed Trump, and chose to accept that the election was "stolen," it would seem an act of "patriotism" to use force on the peoples' behalf. Without that false premise, it was just a mob revolt for a would-be monarch attempting to cancel Biden's election.
Trump has acted this way all along. Whether accusing Democrats of representing a violent threat, or making an issue of Biden's dysfunctional son while Trump's own family was steeped in conflicts of interest, or aligning his interests with criminal Russian politicos in 2016 but calling U.S. investigations corrupt, it was one projection after another.
The day may come when prosecutors accuse Trump post-presidency of financial fraud and manipulation. No doubt he would accuse prosecutors of fraud and manipulation.
Report: Trump stiffing Rudy on fees
Trump seems to be dissatisfied with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's manic performance mounting legal challenges to election results and a media blitz with false accusations of election fraud. Giuliani failed spectacularly, and The Washington Post reports his long relationship with Trump has fractured. However, the president's reputation for not paying bills remains intact.
Trump has instructed aides not to pay Giuliani’s legal fees, two officials said, and has demanded that he personally approve any reimbursements for the expenses Giuliani incurred while traveling on the president’s behalf to challenge election results in swing states.
The Post's sources said Trump has privately expressed concern with some of Giuliani’s moves and did not appreciate a demand from Giuliani for $20,000 a day in fees. White House officials have started blocking Giuliani’s calls to the president, an adviser told The New York Times. Giuliani was a central figure in the Ukraine scheme, so credit him with assists in Trump's twin ignominies as the only twice-impeached U.S. president.
Perhaps Trump will give Giuliani a preemptive pardon in lieu of cash. Or perhaps he won't.
As the push for his impeachment gained steam since the Capitol riot, Trump was upset generally that virtually nobody was out in public defending him. The suddenly silent included press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and chief of staff Mark Meadows, a senior administration official told the Post.
"The president is pretty wound up," said the official. "No one is out there."
Split within split for LI members
Long Island's House members followed party lines in Wednesday's impeachment vote, but the two Republicans who voted no, Reps. Lee Zeldin and Andrew Garbarino, had different takes on Trump's culpability.
Zeldin of Shirley offered a theory that Trump was blameless for the disruption at the Capitol because it already had begun when he addressed the rally of his backers. "This was preplanned," Zeldin said. That puts aside Trump directing the rally crowd to head to the Capitol and his calls for "wild" protests in the days and weeks before.
Garbarino of Bayport said he voted no out of concerns that the process was "rushed" but added, "I believe the President bears some responsibility."
The Democrats voted yes. "He built a mob, filled it with lies, and encouraged it to ‘fight to stop the steal,’ " said Rep Thomas Suozzi (Glen Cove). "If we do not hold the President accountable for this act of sedition, it would set a dangerous precedent and pose a lethal threat to the future of democracy in this country," said Rep. Kathleen Rice (Garden City). Rep. Gregory Meeks (St. Albans) said Trump has to be held accountable because "the world is watching."
Co-conspirators on the inside?
More than 30 House Democrats are demanding information from Capitol security officials about "suspicious" visitors at the Capitol on Jan. 5 — the day before insurrectionists swarmed the building — who would have been permitted entry only by a member of Congress or a staffer.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey Democrat, said she witnessed colleagues escorting people through the Capitol that day for what she described as "reconnaissance" in the building, where tours have been suspended because of the pandemic. "Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex," the Democratic lawmakers wrote.
At least one protest organizer said he coordinated with three House Republicans, CNN reported. Ali Alexander, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who led one of the "Stop The Steal" groups, claimed in a livestream video that he planned last week's rally that preceded the riot with far-right Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama. Brooks notably at the rally urged the crowd to "start taking down names and kicking ass."
Progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), a hate object for Trumpists, said she feared during the riot that her own colleagues in Congress — "QAnon and white-supremacist sympathizers and, frankly, white-supremacist members" — might divulge her location to the mob outside, endangering her safety.
Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told a news conference Tuesday that "I think people are going to be shocked with some of the egregious contact that happened within the Capitol," but he didn't spell out what he meant.
Off the rails
Biden will no longer ride Amtrak from Delaware to Washington next week, a sudden change that comes amid sharply heightened security concerns surrounding his inauguration, CNN reported.
Biden on Wednesday received a briefing from senior officials at the FBI, the Secret Service and key members of his national security team about the potential for additional extremist violence in the coming days. "This is a challenge that the President-elect and his team take incredibly seriously," a transition team statement said.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are still expected to take their oaths of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol at a significantly scaled-down event, which already was planned with limited attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Guard deployment in the nation's capital is expected to swell to 20,000 members — more than three times the number of troops now in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined.
Experts on domestic-extremist violence warn that the Capitol insurrection could be just the beginning, The Associated Press reported. Those who monitor online chatter say the threat of more violence by far-right fringe groups hasn’t abated, though it has been tougher to track since one of their go-to social media havens, Parler, was booted off the internet.
More coronavirus news
The U.S. set a one-day record Tuesday for COVID-19 deaths — 4,327 — according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- For the first three years and 51 weeks of his presidency, Trump's approval ratings rarely dipped under 40%. They've plunged now. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll pegged the rating at 34%. In a Quinnipiac poll, it's 33%.
- Airbnb said it will cancel and block all reservations in the Washington metro area in coming days after discovering accounts for numerous individuals involved in hate groups and last week's attack on the Capitol, reports The Washington Post. Hotel executives were discussing how they could close down with the exception of bookings for security personnel, an industry executive told the Post. Hotel unions called for such a move.
- Kushner quashed an effort to sign Trump up to join extremist-friendly social media platforms such as Gab and Parler after the president got bounced from mainstream sites including Twitter and Facebook, Bloomberg News reports.
- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said "public safety" needs drove the silencing of Trump's tweets. "Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all," Dorsey wrote. But he also acknowledged that having to take such actions sets a "dangerous" precedent for "the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation."
- Snapchat made its ban on Trump permanent Wednesday, "based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines."
- Minutes after he was impeached, Trump awarded the National Medal of Arts to country singer Toby Keith and bluegrass singer Ricky Skaggs in a private ceremony at the White House.
- Chad Wolf, who resigned as Homeland Security acting secretary on Monday, said Trump bears some responsibility for the events at the U.S. Capitol last week. "He's the President. What he says matters," Wolf said on CNN on Wednesday.
- Among the latest arrestees for the Capitol riot is Olympic gold medalist swimmer Klete Keller, who competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 games. Seen on video in his Team USA jacket, Keller was charged with obstructing law enforcement duties and unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds, as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. Also arrested Wednesday were two Virginia police officers and a neo-Nazi who wore a "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirt.