By Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Inspired by Donald Trump and his Congressional acolytes, insurrectionists ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
When the mob breached the Capitol walls in a violent and deadly siege, a capitol police officer sent a text to his father, “The Capitol has fallen.” Another officer Brian Sicknick resisting terrorists was bludgeoned and was killed with a fire extinguisher. The New York Times reported, “some 50 police officers were injured as the mob swarmed barricades, threw objects, battered doors, smashed windows and overwhelmed some of the officers who tried to resist the advancing crowd.”
In a December 19 tweet, Trump poured more gasoline on a fire he had been building for years with this tweet, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th, be there, will be wild.” (emphasis added) In a Georgia speech, Trump demanded that Pence unlawfully overthrow American voters’ vote while signaling his displeasure with Pence and urged followers with see you on the 6th. Trump angered when Pence disclosed that he would follow the Constitution and confirm the elections, turned on Pence. During his January 6 speech, Trump unleashed domestic terrorists on Pence to stop the Electoral College vote count. Trump incited insurrectionists falsely claiming that Pence and Congress could overthrow the Electoral College results and the decisions of over sixty court cases.
The coup was not a spontaneous event. Domestic terrorists plotted on social networks to bring firearms, explosives, a hanging noose, and zip-tie handcuffs to capture and possibly kill Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, and perhaps others. Insurrectionists entering the Capitol were chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” With a hangman’s structure on Capitol grounds, they were serious. Through the swift action of the security detail and capitol police, the Vice President, Majority Leader, the Speaker, and lawmakers were ensconced in secret locations. Eric Gavelek Munchel photographed in the Senate heavily outfitted in military garb, a weapon, and zip-tie handcuffs is now up on federal charges with little doubt about who he was after.
Inciting rebellion against Pence and Congress with the intent to overthrow democracy with false claims of voter fraud is an overt act of sedition. Trump was doing more than just pouring gasoline on a fire that he created. He may have also flattened the tires on the fire trucks. It appears deliberate.
My alarm bell first went off when Trump fired Mark Esper and appointed Christopher Miller to be Acting Secretary of the Defense Department. In the face of warnings, Miller approved a very constrained mission for the National Guard when he directed a small number of unarmed guardsmen to direct traffic and support local police with crowd control when he must have known things would get worse. The Capitol police chief, who resigned after the riot, called for assistance but was denied. The Sergeant of Arms of both the House and Senate were fired when it appeared that their failures further enabled the Capitol’s storming.
Catastrophic intelligence and security failures were made possible through a complete lack of preparation by agencies under Trump’s authority. The security failures may be criminally negligent and undoubtedly inexcusable. Seeing what was happening, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan wanted to mobilize Maryland State Police and National Guard immediately. Hogan was repeatedly denied permission until Pence authorized him to send help to our Capitol under siege.
Trump and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany falsely claimed Trump ordered the National Guard after the Capitol fell to domestic terrorists. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller never mentioned Trump and indicated he “spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol.” It was widely reported that Pence, not Trump, ordered the reinforcements. Miller confirmed that he coordinated with Pence. After enormous pressure to call off the coup, Trump issued a very late and problematic statement asking his followers to end their actions and go home, adding that he loved them. By that time, he knew the National Guard was purging insurgents and ending the takeover.
While lawmakers were forced to evacuate, we can be proud of the interns who rescued and protected the historic boxes with the electoral college votes and let’s acknowledge courageous lawmakers led by Nancy Pelosi to return to a damaged Capitol for a late-night session to count the vote and confirm the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Through election treachery, repeatedly stoking false claims of election fraud and encouraging crimes of sedition, Giuliani, Trump, and Donald Jr. caused massive damage to the hallowed halls of the historic people’s house. While Trump has repeatedly dumped on our democracy, even praising dictators, insurrectionists defecated on bathroom floors and tracked excrement in multiple capitol hallways. Extensive damage caused by the raging mob included shattered windows, broken doors, graffiti-covered statues, and teargas burns on the walls can be erased. The defilement to democracy may be long-lasting and very hard to repair. It is already spawning new Jim Crow efforts to enact greater voter suppression of minority voters in Georgia, Pennsylvania and in other Republican-controlled legislatures where Biden won.
Democracy must function within the rule of law. When laws and the Constitution are broken, there must be appropriate consequences for all involved, especially the House and Senate members who are sworn to uphold the Constitution. White Supremacists, Proud Boys, and QAnon are organized domestic terrorist groups and must be declared as such. The troublemakers should be outed and arrested as the evidence is collected.
Vice President Pence should attempt to remove Trump through the use of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. Pence has sent mixed signals about the 25th Amendment action, perhaps because he has an unwilling cabinet. He refused to take a call from Speaker Pelosi and soon to be Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to talk about it. The 25th Amendment may not be a viable option given the sycophantic make-up of Trump’s cabinet. Here are a few examples of what is known:
Passivity and inactivity undermine the rule of law, yet Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen has not publicly called for action on the 25th Amendment to address Trump’s unhinged actions inspiring criminal violence and at least five deaths. In statements since the failed coup, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has made it clear he is with Trump. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “I’ve had no contact with other cabinet members in that area nor do I expect to have any…” Secretary of Education Elisabeth Prince DeVos resigned in a coward’s act rather than deal with the need for the application of the 25th Amendment. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, wife of Mitch McConnell, also resigned even with her husband at risk. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller has been slow-walking meeting requests from the Biden-Harris transition team and early on blocked access to military intelligence agencies. What role Miller played during the coup is not entirely clear and needs to be determined.
Two cabinet members had polled the others to determine an appetite for using the 25th Amendment. The appointees who would need to vote include: Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Benjamin S. Carson, Sr. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Administrator of the Small Business Administration Jovita Carranza, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
When Trump fails to resign and the cabinet fails to act, the House has to impeachment for sedition. Republicans not wanting to vote in the matter were begging Pelosi not to impeach by suggesting that it is now time to heal. Impeaching Trump in his waning hours may not seem necessary, but as any doctor knows, an open wound must first be cleaned before it can be stitched. Congress must address this open wound in our Nation first then begin the healing process.
Suppose the Senate fails to convict acts of sedition. In that case, our democracy will falter, ending with a divided house, which is what Putin sought all along. As the first Republican candidate for President, Abraham Lincoln, on June 16th, 1858, ominously warned, “In my opinion, it (slavery) will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
We have witnessed a murder scene and the attempted murder of a Vice President, Speaker and others, extensive destruction and theft of Federal property, and a failed coup to overthrow democracy. In the face of these extraordinary crimes, how could the Senate just go home?
White Nationalism and hate crimes are on the rise, and systemic racism is so hard-wired into our culture that white Americans often fail to notice. We must now confront it. This is not over. Our Nation must be prepared for more. The Senate must act now.