US

How Trump fiddled with his TV remote while the Capitol was sacked

President Donald Trump watched his followers ransack the US Capitol on television after falsely promising to join them and then slipping away to the White House.

After whipping his loyalists into a frenzy at a rally on the White House Ellipse on Wednesday, Trump retreated as the chaos he unleashed unfolded, still raging over the election results.

Insiders say that Trump, watching the pandemonium on cable news, appeared disinterested in the insurrection he had unleashed, instead fuming at his own vice president for not backing his attempt to overthrow the election. 

Trump’s most infamous day began with a tweet shortly after 8am, calling on Vice President Mike Pence to intervene in a join session of Congress and illegally overthrow the confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden‘s election to the presidency.

Already, huge crowds of Trump supporters had begun streaming into the Ellipse and gathering on the White House lawn. 

Trump claimed he would march with his supporters to Capitol on Wednesday, but instead watched the chaos he unleashed on television in a dining room off the Oval Office

Police officers stand guard as supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021

Police officers stand guard as supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021

As the morning wore on, Trump issued a stream of tweets reiterating his false claims of fraud in the presidential election, as well as challenging the results of Tuesday’s runoffs in Georgia, which Democrats swept, giving them control of the Senate.

At about 11.50am, Trump took the stage at his rally on the Ellipse, likely his last as president. In a fiery speech, he repeated his appeal to Pence to illegally intervene in Congress, and falsely claimed he would join his supporters in marching on the Capitol.

‘After this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,’ Trump said. ‘We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.’

‘You’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength, and you have to be strong,’ he continued, exhorting his supporters ‘to fight’.

‘We will never give up, we will never concede,’ Trump said, delighting the crowd by calling Democratic election victories the product of ‘explosions of bulls**t.’ 

‘We´re going to the Capitol,’ he said. ‘We´re going to try and give our Republicans … the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.’ 

Earlier in the rally, his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had advocated what he had called ‘trial by combat.’ 

Trump spoke for more than an hour, and the rally dispersed at about 1pm, with Trump’s supporters streaming toward the Capitol.

Trump spoke for more than an hour, and the rally dispersed at about 1pm, with his supporters streaming toward the Capitol

Trump spoke for more than an hour, and the rally dispersed at about 1pm, with his supporters streaming toward the Capitol

Trump's supporters surged across the National Mall towards the Capitol, as the president retreated in his motorcade to watch the chaos on television in the White House

Trump’s supporters surged across the National Mall towards the Capitol, as the president retreated in his motorcade to watch the chaos on television in the White House

On January 6, 2021, Pro-Trump supporters and far-right forces flooded Washington DC to protest Trump's election loss. Hundreds breached the U.S. Capitol Building

On January 6, 2021, Pro-Trump supporters and far-right forces flooded Washington DC to protest Trump’s election loss. Hundreds breached the U.S. Capitol Building

Pro-Trump protesters break windows of the Capitol building. Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election

Pro-Trump protesters break windows of the Capitol building. Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election

Shortly before 2pm, the rioters descended on Capitol Hill while lawmakers were inside certifying the vote. Over the next two hours, the violence escalated. Some broke into politicians’ offices, tauntingly sat at their desks and left threatening notes. One of the protesters was shot dead by cops (bottom right) 

But Trump was not among the crowd as promised, and instead slipped into his motorcade and made the brief drive back into the White House compound.

Aides say the prospect of Trump joining the march was discussed by the White House but eventually abandoned. 

Also at around 1pm, Pence publicly issued a letter declaring that he would not illegally intervene in Congress, minutes before convening the joint session of Congress to certify the electoral college.   

Soon after Congress convened, Trump’s allies in legislature raised their objections to the certification, sending the House and Senate into separate sessions for debate as the president’s mob grappled with police on the Capitol steps.

At 1.33pm, CSPAN reported that the mob had breached the Capitol and was heading for the House and Senate chambers, which were evacuated. Lawmakers were evacuated as the mob ran wild.

Back in the White House, Trump spent much of Wednesday afternoon watching the insurrection on television from his private dining room off the Oval Office.

But a White House official says that the president appeared disengaged and disinterested as scenes emerged that shocked the conscience of the nation.

Trump is seen in the Oval Office in a file photo from Monday. An insider says he watched the insurrection on television in a private dining room located off the president's office

Trump is seen in the Oval Office in a file photo from Monday. An insider says he watched the insurrection on television in a private dining room located off the president’s office

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC

Protesters gesture to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, DC

Protesters gesture to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, DC

Supporters of US President Donald Trump occupy the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC

Supporters of US President Donald Trump occupy the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC

Instead, the official says, most of Trump’s attention was consumed by his ire at Pence for defying his demands and acknowledging he did not have the power to unilaterally choose the next president. 

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

Aides say they pleaded with Trump to intervene as the situation at the Capitol raged out of control, but that he showed little interest in stopping the insurrection. 

Instead, at 2.24pm, Trump tweeted his rage at Pence in the midst of the attack, writing: ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!’ 

On Wednesday, Trump effectively banned Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, from the White House, an official said, believing him to have been the driving force behind Pence’s refusal to overturn the vote. 

About ten minutes later, at the insistence of desperate aides, Trump tweeted a tepid call for peace, writing: ‘Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!’

At 2.55pm, one of Trump’s supporters was fatally shot in the melee at the Capitol. Air Force veteran Ashli Babbit, 35, was shot dead by police when she tried to clamber through a barricaded entrance inside the Capitol.  

Trump supporters erected a noose in front of the Capitol and called for giving enemy lawmakers 'the rope'. The mob breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification

Trump supporters erected a noose in front of the Capitol and called for giving enemy lawmakers ‘the rope’. The mob breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification

People wearing protective hoods evacuate the House gallery as Trump's mob tries to break into the House Chamber

People wearing protective hoods evacuate the House gallery as Trump’s mob tries to break into the House Chamber

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol

U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door as protesters try to breach the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC

U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door as protesters try to breach the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC

The White House is lit at dusk on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation's capital

The White House is lit at dusk on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital

Trump then reluctantly issued another tweet and taped a video encouraging an end to the violence. The posts came at the insistence of staff and amid mounting criticism from Republican lawmakers urging him to condemn the violence being perpetrated in his name, according to the official.

And even as authorities struggled to take control of Capitol Hill after protesters overwhelmed police, Trump continued to level baseless allegations of mass voter fraud and praised his loyalists as ‘very special.’

‘I know your pain. I know your hurt. But you have to go home now,’ he said in a video posted more than 90 minutes after lawmakers were evacuated from the House and Senate chambers. ‘We can´t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You´re very special.’

The violence, coupled with the president´s tepid response, alarmed many in the White House and appeared to push Republicans allies to the breaking point after years of allegiance to Trump. After four years with no shortage of fraught moments, Wednesday´s events quickly emerged as the nadir of morale in the Trump White House, as aides looked on in horror at the chaos at the Capitol Trump had fomented.

A number of White House aides were discussing a potential mass resignation, according to people familiar with the conversation. And others quickly departed.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady´s chief of staff and a former White House press secretary, submitted her resignation Wednesday. Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, White House social secretary Rickie Niceta and deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews also resigned, according to officials. More departures were expected in the coming days, officials said.

A protester supporting U.S. President Donald Trump jumps from the public gallery to the floor of the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC

A protester supporting U.S. President Donald Trump jumps from the public gallery to the floor of the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC

Demonstrators storm the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC

Demonstrators storm the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC 

A Congressional staffer holds his hands up while Capitol Police Swat team check everyone in the room as they secure the floor of Trump supporters in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021

A Congressional staffer holds his hands up while Capitol Police Swat team check everyone in the room as they secure the floor of Trump supporters in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021

A US Marine stands guard outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC on January 6, 2020. The presence of the guard indicates that US President Donald Trump could be in the Oval Office

A US Marine stands guard outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC on January 6, 2020. The presence of the guard indicates that US President Donald Trump could be in the Oval Office

Other aides indicated they planned to stay to help smooth the transition to the Biden administration. And some harbored concerns about what Trump might do in his final two weeks in office if they were not there to serve as guardrails when so few remain.

Trump´s begrudging statement acknowledging defeat came after even longtime allies floated whether members of his Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office. 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told ABC late Wednesday that ‘responsible members of the Cabinet’ should be thinking about fulfilling their oath of office, adding that Trump had ‘violated his oath and betrayed the American people.’

Conversations about removal took place among administration aides and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to people involved in the deliberations, but there did not appear to be serious discussion to do so by his Cabinet, of whom a majority would have to vote to sideline him.

Trump has been single-mindedly focused on his electoral defeat since Election Day, aides said, at the expense of the other responsibilities of his office, including the fight against the raging coronavirus. 

Indeed, it was Pence, not Trump, who spoke with the acting defense secretary to discuss mobilizing the D.C National Guard on Wednesday afternoon.


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