Trump stayed out of sight in a nearly empty White House as the impeachment process unfolded in the heavily fortified US Capitol. There, damage from last week’s riots provided a visible reminder of the insurrection the president was accused of inciting.
Abandoned by some members of his own party, Trump could do nothing but watch the story unfold on television. The suspension of his Twitter account deprived Trump of his most powerful means of keeping Republicans at bay, giving the impression that Trump had had his fangs removed and, for the first time, questioning his control over his adoptive party.
He was finally heard hours after the vote, in a tenuous video that condemned the insurrection on Capitol Hill and warned his followers not to engage in further acts of violence. It was a message that was largely missing a week earlier, when rioters marching on Trump’s behalf arrived on Capitol Hill to try to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
Vote to impeach Donald Trump finalized in writing
“I want to be very clear: I unequivocally condemn the violence we saw last week,” Trump said. He added that “no true supporter” of his “could ever support political violence.”
But that message, partially motivated to warn of legal exposure for sparking the riots, ran contrary to what Trump has said during his tenure, even as he urged his followers to “fight” for him last week.
Trump did not say a word about his impeachment in the video, although he complained about the ban on his social media. And later on Wednesday, he asked his allies if he had gone too far with the video, and wondered if it might upset some of his followers.
Four White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing discussed Trump’s private conversations on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to do so publicly.
With only a week left in Trump’s term, there were no belligerent messages from the White House fighting the proceedings at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and there was no organized legal response.
Some Republicans in Congress defended the president during the House debate in the impeachment, and his words moved to the same space violated by rioters a week earlier during a siege of the citadel of democracy that left five dead.
In the end, 10 Republicans voted in favor of impeachment.
It was a marked change from Trump’s first impeachment trial. That December 2019 House vote, which made Trump the third president to be impeached, ran along partisan lines. The charges at the time were that he had used the powers of the office to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political enemy, Joe Biden, now president-elect.
At the time, the White House came under fire for not creating the kind of robust “war room” that President Bill Clinton mobilized during his own impeachment fight.
However, Trump’s allies organized their own rejection campaign. There were attorneys, White House courier meetings, and an allied-led media blitz on TV, radio, and conservative websites.
Trump was acquitted in 2020 by the Republican-controlled Senate and his approval ratings were unharmed. But this time, when some members of his own party backed down and accused him of indictable crimes, Trump remained isolated and quiet. A presidency centered on the bombastic statement “I can only fix it” seemed to end with a groan.
The third-rank Republican in the House, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said that “there has never been a greater betrayal” by a president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Told colleagues in a letter that he had not decided how he would vote in impeachment.
For the first time, Trump’s future seemed in doubt, and what was once unthinkable – that enough Republican senators would challenge him and vote to impeach him – seemed at least possible, though unlikely.
But the White House made no effort to line up the votes in defense of the president.
The team surrounding Trump is empty, the White House attorney’s office is not crafting a legal defense plan, and the legislative affairs team largely abandoned.
Trump leaned on Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., to pressure Republican senators to oppose the impeachment. Graham’s spokesman said the senator was making the calls of his own free will.
Trump and his allies believed that the president’s solid popularity among Republican constituencies of lawmakers would deter them from voting against him. The president was livid with McConnell and Cheney’s perceived disloyalty and has been deeply frustrated at not being able to strike back with his Twitter account, which has kept Republicans at bay for years.
He has also turned against his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who promoted the electoral conspiracy theories and whom many in the president’s orbit believe is partly to blame for both political trials. Trump had been irritated by Giuliani’s lavish expenses, which included a request to be paid $ 20,000 a day, and was telling his assistants to stop paying him.
Trump watched much of the day’s proceedings on television from the White House residence and his private dining room across from the Oval Office. Shortly before he was charged, Trump was in the East Room of the White House presenting the National Medal of Arts to singers Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs, as well as former Associated Press photographer Nick Ut.
His main concern, beyond his legacy, was what a second impeachment could do to his immediate political and financial future.
The loss of his Twitter account and fundraising lists could complicate Trump’s efforts to remain a Republican kingmaker and potentially run again in 2024.
In addition, Trump was infuriated by the blows his business received, including the withdrawal of a PGA tournament from one of his golf courses and the decision by New York City to stop dealing with his company.
There is a possibility that if the Senate condemned him, he could also be barred from running for election again, thwarting any hope of another presidential campaign.
How the world’s newspapers responded to the ‘Trump hate mob’
A White House spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether anyone in the building was trying to defend Trump, who was now the subject of half of the presidential impeachments in the nation’s history.
A campaign adviser, Jason Miller, argued that the efforts by Democrats will serve to galvanize the Republican base behind Trump and will end up hurting Biden. He blamed the fast-paced Democrats for the silence, saying there was “no time to mount a traditional response operation.” But he promised that “the real battle will be in the Senate, where there will be a more traditional pushback effort.”
Reminders of the Capitol siege were everywhere as the House moved toward the impeachment roll call.
Some of the Capitol doors were broken and the windows smashed. A barricade had been erected outside the building and there were new controls. Hundreds of members of the National Guard patrolled the halls, even sleeping on the marble floors of the same rotunda that once housed Abraham Lincoln’s coffin.
And now the Capitol is the most storied site, adding to the chapter featuring Clinton, indicted 21 years ago for lying under oath about sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and Andrew Johnson, indicted 151 years ago. for defying the Reconstruction Congress. Another entry is for Richard Nixon, who avoided impeachment by resigning during the Watergate investigation.
But Trump, the only accused twice, will be alone again.