The Morning Dispatch: It Could Have Been So Much Worse

Plus: Will Trump face a second impeachment?

Happy Monday! With everything going on in the world, it seems kind of small to care about something as trivial as the NFL playoffs. Which teams even played yesterday? We didn’t have time to watch. (Editor: Sorry about the Bears, Declan.)

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • House Democrats will very likely move to impeach President Trump this week. According to a timeline laid out by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House is likely to pass a resolution early this week calling on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and wrest power from President Trump. Once Pence does not, the House will bring impeachment legislation to the floor.

  • The U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surged nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate currently stands at 6.7 percent, down from a staggering 14.8 percent in April but still nearly double its pre-pandemic levels.

  • Twitter announced Friday it had permanently suspended President Trump’s Twitter account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” As part of a QAnon conspiracy theory purge, the platform suspended Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell’s accounts for good as well.

  • Amazon, Apple, and Google have moved against social media platform Parler in the wake of last Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol, removing the less restrictive social network popular on the right from their respective app stores and—in Amazon’s case—kicking it off its web-hosting services. The companies said Parler has repeatedly violated their respective rules about policing posts advocating for and organizing violence and/or crime.

  • Breaking with Operation Warp Speed’s decision to withhold vaccine distribution to ensure the availability of second doses, the Biden administration reportedly plans to release nearly all available COVID-19 vaccine doses upon taking office on January 20 in an effort to get the first shot to more people as fast as possible.

  • President-elect Joe Biden announced that he will appoint William J. Burns, a career diplomat who was Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state from 2011-2014 to lead the CIA. Burns was ambassador to Russia from 2005-2008 and ambassador to Jordan from 1998-2001.

  • An Indonesian passenger jet with 62 people aboard crashed into the ocean on Saturday, just minutes after taking off from Jakarta. Officials said on Sunday that rescuers located the plane’s black box flight recorder and the remains of some of the passengers.

  • Ronna McDaniel and Tommy Hicks were reelected chair and co-chair of the Republican National Committee, respectively. The pair—who are both close allies of President Trump—will serve through the 2022 midterm elections.

  • U.S. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood died by suicide on Saturday, the Washington Post reports. Liebengood, who was at the Capitol during the insurrection on Wednesday, is the second Capitol Police officer to die this week.

  • The man carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern and the man who broke into Pelosi’s office during Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol were both arrested and have been charged in federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced Saturday. West Virginia House of Delegates member Derrick Evans resigned Saturday after being taken into custody Friday for violent entry, disorderly conduct, and unlawful entry of a restricted building. Approximately 40 people have been charged in D.C. Superior Court and 16 people have been charged in D.C. federal court for charges related to curfew violations, unregistered firearm possession, and violent or unlawful entry of the Capitol, among other offenses.

  • The United States confirmed 274,350 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 14.4 percent of the 1,903,393 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,894 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 374,322. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 129,229 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 22,137,350 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 6,688,231 have been administered.

The More We Learn, the Worse It Gets

In the immediate aftermath of last Wednesday’s D.C. riot, it was all many Americans could do to process the brute fact of what had happened: A pro-Trump mob storming the U.S. Capitol in a furious effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. But in the days since—as we’ve studied the video, reviewed social media postings, and analyzed the background of the assault’s leaders—a clearer picture has started to emerge of an attack that was not just deliberate, but even planned in advance.

Let’s start by (again) dispensing with one viral lie: that the people who stormed the Capitol were Antifa interlopers there to make Trump supporters look bad. Over the weekend, the Associated Press examined the histories of more than 120 people who have been publicly identified as having participated in the attack:

Many of the rioters had taken to social media after the November election to retweet and parrot false claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen in a vast international conspiracy. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president. During the riot, some livestreamed and posted photos of themselves at the Capitol. Afterwards, many bragged about what they had done.

As more video footage of the attack itself emerged, it became increasingly plain that many in the crowd had come to the event already prepared for violence. Video of men kitted out in tactical gear moving in tandem up through the crowd on the Capitol steps and into the building itself went viral on social media, as did horrific photos of a man leaping through the Senate chamber with flex cuffs in hand.

Unearthed pre-riot posts from pro-Trump forums like social network Parler and Reddit spinoff TheDonald.win show show similar evidence of hardline Trump supporters trading tips and plans for how to smuggle firearms into D.C., which has very restrictive gun laws. “Those coming armed should meet outside the city and then move en masse,” said one commenter on the latter site in a post documented by investigative journalism site Bellingcat. “Too easy to get picked off moving onesies and twosies.” Another replied: “There is not enough cops in DC to stop what is coming.”

Not all such planning was done in such visible public forums, of course. A number of right-wing paramilitary groups participated in the attack, including at least one chapter of the Proud Boys, whose chairman Enrique Tarrio was arrested as he arrived in D.C. several days before the rally.

This isn’t to say that the riot wasn’t in some respects a spontaneous event. Many of those who traveled to D.C. to gather on the Mall and hear Trump speak—even many of those who stormed past police barriers to climb the Capitol steps—had no intention when they showed up that morning of participating in an attempted armed insurrection against the U.S. government. But the most bloodthirsty elements of the crowd took charge once they arrived at the Capitol, and the mob was happy to follow along.

Another thing that became clear over the weekend was how close things came to being much worse. There was a shockingly short span of time between the locking down of the Senate chamber and the arrival of the rioters in the building. The quick thinking of one officer who lured protesters away from the chamber door may have been all that prevented actual shooting on the floor of the Senate.  

As reporters spent the days following the brawl poring over the photos and footage, law enforcement was doing the same. Dozens of arrests have been made, including some of the people who achieved the most notoriety on social media: Jake Angeli, who breached the Capitol shirtless in red, white, and blue facepaint and a fur-and-horns headdress; Richard Barnett, who was photographed with his feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk and stole mail from her office; and Eric Muncel and Larry Brock, the men photographed with flex cuffs in the Senate chamber.

Federal investigators are looking carefully at the planning of the January 6 march, with a particular focus on who planned the storming of the Capitol. Alt-right activist Ali Alexander claimed in a video posted before the protest that he was working with three House Republicans—Reps. Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Mo Brooks—to organize the event. Alexander said he consulted the lawmakers as he “schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting…” Alex Jones, the InfoWars conspiracy theorist who claimed the Sandy Hook shootings were faked and has been publicly praised by President Trump, claimed in a video that the White House asked him three days before the event to lead the march to the Capitol. And sources familiar with the investigation tell The Dispatch that there are indications some of the militia groups involved had plans that included harming lawmakers and harming or capturing Vice President Mike Pence.

Impeachment Redux

The House could vote early this week on articles of impeachment for President Trump’s role in provoking riots on Capitol Hill last Wednesday that left at least five people—including a Capitol police officer—dead. If a simple majority of the lower chamber votes to advance the article(s) of impeachment, Trump will become the first U.S. president to be impeached twice.

But given that just 10 days remain in Trump’s term—and the Senate is not set to reconvene until January 19 (except for two pro forma sessions)—the president is all but ensured to remain in office until Joe Biden is sworn in, barring an unexpected resignation or his Cabinet’s invocation of the 25th Amendment.

In a letter to her Democratic colleagues last night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to undertake the latter and declare the president “incapable of executing his duties of office.” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is expected to request unanimous consent to bring up a resolution requesting Pence do exactly that, giving the vice president 24 hours to respond before impeachment proceedings are initiated.

Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu and David Cicilline began drafting the articles of impeachment on January 6 as they sheltered in place at the Capitol building. As of last night, Cicilline said the article had 210 cosponsors—pulling in nearly all of the chamber’s 222 Democrats. 

“It was a coup to try to keep President Trump in power. We can’t just simply say let’s just wait 12 days and he’ll be gone. We have a responsibility to hold him accountable,” Cicilline—a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Judiciary Committee—told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday. “We took an oath and our framers gave us one mechanism to impose a punishment on a president who engages in this behavior, and that’s impeachment.”

When articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate, the chamber is compelled to begin a trial immediately. If you recall from last year, however, the House doesn’t need to send the articles over to the Senate immediately. If and when President Trump is impeached, Pelosi may choose to delay the process yet again—this time to free up the (soon-to-be) Democratic-controlled Senate to confirm President-elect Biden’s Cabinet and move on his legislative agenda in the early days of his presidency.

“Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” Rep. James E. Clyburn, the House’s Democratic whip, said on Fox News yesterday. “And maybe we will send the articles sometime after that.”

“We call ourselves the people’s house,” Clyburn continued. “If we are the people’s house, let’s do the people’s work and let’s vote to impeach this president and then we’ll decide later—or the Senate will decide later—what to do with that, an impeachment.”

Tensions between Trump and congressional Republicans have been running incredibly high since Wednesday, but even so, only a handful of GOP senators have called for Trump’s removal from office. 

Sen. Ben Sasse said in an interview withCBS on Friday he would “definitely consider” any articles of impeachment against Trump. “I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office,” Sasse said. “He swore an oath to the American people to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He acted against that. What he did was wicked.”

“That said,” Sasse continued, “the question of what the House does now and how the Senate responds to it over the next 12 days is a critically important question, but the most important question is the prudential one of how we bring the country back together five and 10 and 15 years in the future.”

Sen. Pat Toomey said over the weekend he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, but is instead advocating for the president to “resign and go away as soon as possible,” because any impeachment would not be completed prior to Trump leaving office. “I acknowledge that may not be likely, but I think that would be best.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is calling for the same. “I want him to resign. I want him out,” she told reporters Friday. “He hasn’t been focused on what is going on with COVID. He’s either been golfing or he’s been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful to him under the bus, starting with the vice president. He doesn’t want to stay there. He only wants to stay there for the title. He only wants to stay there for his ego. He needs to get out. He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing.”

In the House, many of the dozens of Republicans who have amplified Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen have indicated they oppose any efforts to impeach him. In a letter organized by Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, a group of seven House Republicans who voted to accept Biden’s electoral college victory—including Reps. Chip Roy, Thomas Massie and Mike Gallagher—urged Nancy Pelosi not to move to impeach Trump. But there are House Republicans who would likely support impeachment if Democrats don’t play games with the process or drag it. 

Asked for his thoughts on impeachment proceedings, Biden sidestepped the question. “That’s a decision for the Congress to make. I’m focused on my job,” the president-elect said Friday. “I’ll be speaking with Nancy and the Democratic leadership this afternoon, as a matter of fact, about my agenda, as well as whatever they want to talk to me about.”

While some fear that moving forward with the impeachment process may stoke unnecessary division with Trump already on his way out, others worry that a failure to pursue punitive measures following what happened Wednesday would only stand to further embolden Trump and his most ardent supporters.*

Worth Your Time

  • Who should be held accountable for Wednesday’s siege on the Capitol? According to conservative columnist George Will, President Trump, Sen. Josh Hawley, and Sen. Ted Cruz. “The three repulsive architects of Wednesday’s heartbreaking spectacle—mobs desecrating the Republic’s noblest building and preventing the completion of a constitutional process—must be named and forevermore shunned,” he writes in his latest column. Even though Trump “lit the fuse for the riot in the weeks before the election,” the president’s conspiratorial antics were enabled by Hawley and Cruz and their refusal to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, Will writes. While Trump is gone in just over a week, it will take longer to “scrub” Hawley and Cruz from public life. “Until that hygienic outcome is accomplished, from this day forward, everything they say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet ‘S’ as a seditionist.”

  • Part of the reason it’s so important to apportion blame for last Wednesday’s atrocity is to avoid maligning political actors who had nothing to do with it. In a piece for National Review, Jack Butler argues against letting the siege of the Capitol become yet another partisan squabble. “Wednesday revealed serious problems with a far too high number of Republican Party elected leaders and supporters,” he writes. “But to paint with so broad a brush as to condemn all of conservatism as irredeemable is merely to reinforce the damage done to our political system.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Making sense of Wednesday’s events in his Sunday French Press, David argues that we must be clear about what transpired: “A violent Christian insurrection invaded and occupied the Capitol.” David walks us through his reasoning, and explains why many Christians “are constantly in the business of taking exceptional behavior from our political opponents and trying to argue that the exceptional is emblematic.” How can the evangelical movement push back against this trend? “Rebutting enabling lies does not mean whitewashing the opposition. It does not mean surrendering your values or failing to resist destructive ideas. It does mean discerning the difference between a problem and a crisis, between an aberration and an example. And it means possessing the humility to admit when you’re wrong. It means understanding that no emergency is ever too great to stop loving your enemies and blessing those who persecute you.”

  • In Friday’s G-File on the horrors of last week, Jonah argues that it’s not just the political left with a snowflake problem. “Conservatives mock ‘safe spaces,’ ‘trigger warnings,’ and ‘snowflakes’ who can’t handle hard truths,” he writes. “Well, who’s the party of snowflakes now? Stripped of all their lawyerly evasions, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz endorsed the idea the election was stolen not because they actually believe it, but because the voters they crave want to hear that it was. They all prattle about the ‘voices of the unheard’ and whine about the mean things people say about them or Trump. How much mileage have they gotten out of Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ thing?”

  • As the House considers articles of impeachment, Sarah offers a way that Joe Biden could work with the GOP Senate to help ensure a conviction. “If Biden promises to pardon Trump for all crimes committed before January 20, 2021, at least a few Republican senators would be able to explain that they voted to convict—not to punish Trump—but to help him. And to allow the country to move on.” 

  • Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to Donald Trump—and much of the Republican Party’s—election-related conspiracy-mongering in the weeks since November 3. Politico’s chief political correspondent Tim Alberta had been talking to Trump supporters across the country in the months and years leading up to the election, and joined Friday’s episode of the Dispatch Podcast to explain why Wednesday’s Capitol siege was almost inevitable.

Let Us Know

Which of the below categories best describes your position? Why?

  1. President Trump should be impeached and removed as soon as possible.

  2. President Trump should be impeached and removed, but the timing isn’t urgent.

  3. President Trump committed impeachable offenses, but it’s not worth pursuing them this close to the end of his term.

  4. President Trump committed impeachable offenses, but it’s not worth pursuing them because it would further divide the country.

  5. President Trump has not done anything impeachable.

*Correction, January 11: The item about impeachment initially included a sentence saying that if Trump were convicted, he’d be barred from holding office. Disqualification would require a separate vote.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).