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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Accuser exposes an icy logic behind Capitol violence as Donald Trump clung to power

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), an impeachment manager, on

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), an impeachment manager, on Thursday during Trump's second impeachment trial in the Senate. Credit: via Getty Images

Rep. Ted Lieu, a leading voice in Congress for Donald Trump's impeachment, offered a powerful point about motive that could get short shrift, given the more cinematic aspects of the Senate proceedings.

In a 15-minute speech Wednesday, Lieu (D-Calif.) cracked open the cold calculation behind Trump's wailing for help. By the time Congress voted to accept Electoral College results on Jan. 6, the defeated president "ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power," Lieu said.

The political logic of the U.S. Capitol assault was that simple — to halt a well-founded constitutional process and thus cling to office. The fact that it — like most Trump gambits — didn't work doesn't mean it never happened.

"How did our exceptional country get to the point where a violent mob attacked our Capitol, murdering a police officer, assaulting over 140 other officers?" asked Lieu, one of the impeachment managers. "How did we get to a point where rioters desecrated, defiled, and dishonored your Senate chamber, where the very place in which you sit became a crime scene … ?"

And after Trump's "efforts in the courts and threatening officials failed, he turned to privately and publicly attacking members of his own party in the House and in this Senate," Lieu continued. "He would publicly bait senators, naming them in social media."

On Jan. 4, Trump called the Republicans who refused to pretend he won a "surrender caucus" and implicitly threatened their jobs. On Jan. 5, he tweeted a thinly veiled warning that sounded strategic: "I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C. They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen."

Lieu again pointed to the motive behind Trump's call to action.

"The president wasn’t just coming for one or two people or Democrats like me," he said. "He was coming for you, for Democratic and Republican senators. He was coming for all of us, just as the mob did at his direction."

The rest of this week's accounting for motive came from outside Congress. In Rochester, New York, alleged Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola, 43, was arraigned on 11 charges, including conspiracy and assaulting, resisting or impeding a Capitol Police officer.

In a 15-page motion for release, Pezzola's federal public defender, Jonathan Zucker, said his client was fooled by Trump and "acted out of delusional belief" in response to the former president's claims the election had been stolen.

"Hopefully, as a result of this experience he has learned not be so gullible and will not be so easily duped again," Zucker wrote.

That defense isn't unprecedented. In 2019, a die-hard Trump fan in Florida was sentenced to 20 years for mailing dud pipe bombs to Democrats after his public defenders argued their client, Cesar Sayoc, was motivated by his obsessive belief in the then-president. But in the end Sayoc's actions didn't cost lives.