At a rally, Trump had promised to join his loyalists in marching on the Capitol, but instead retreated to the White House in the ‘Beast’ presidential limousine as the chaos he unleashed unfolded, still raging over the election results.
Cocooned in a small private dining room next to the Oval Office, Trump watched the pandemonium on cable news, but appeared disinterested in the insurrection he had unleashed.
Instead, Trump grew increasingly agitated and focused on fuming at his own vice president for not backing his attempt to overthrow the election, insiders say.
As the television showed scenes from the Capitol that shocked the nation, increasingly desperate aides say they pleaded with Trump to intervene, but he resisted.
‘He kept saying: ‘The vast majority of them are peaceful,” an administration official told the
‘He was a total monster today,’ the official added, blasting Trump’s response to the crisis he created as indefensible.
As the violence escalated and Twitter locked Trump’s accounts for inciting the insurrection, he reportedly whined that he was unable to tweet, venting fury at aides when he tried to post to the platform but was blocked.
Trump is seen surveying the crowd assembled for his rally on Wednesday shortly before taking the stage. At the rally, Trump promised to join his loyalists in marching on the Capitol, but instead retreated to the White House
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
Trump’s most infamous day began with a tweet shortly after 8am, calling on Vice President
Already, huge crowds of Trump supporters had begun streaming into the Ellipse and gathering on the National Mall.
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.
Just prior to taking the stage at his rally, Trump was in a festive mood. The Laura Branigan song Gloria blasted over loudspeakers as Trump watched the crowd on monitors in a tent offstage, a video posted by his eldest son shows.
Trump looked out approvingly at the massive crowd of his loyalists and conferred with key advisors, as Don Trump Jr filmed the scene and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle danced to the tune.
Trump advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle danced to the tune ‘Gloria’ and posed with boyfriend Don Trump Jr backstage before Trump’s rally on the Ellipse on Wednesday
Trump loyalists packed the Ellipse on Wednesday morning for a rally, where he whipped the crowd into a frenzy
‘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.’
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’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
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 was extremely agitated, moving from the Oval Office to the nearby private dining room, initially energized, but increasingly angry and closed off, said one source.
Trump was not allowing staff to help craft any messages earlier in the day. “It’s not a controlled situation,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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
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
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
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, while Trump watched on television in the White House
TIMELINE OF THE CHAOS
6AM: Crowds start to gather for Trump rally that is scheduled for 10am
On December 19, Trump told his fans on Twitter to gather in Washington DC. He said: ‘Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, be wild!
They gathered peacefully in their thousands outside the White House to first wish Eric Trump a Happy Birthday, and then head from the President himself.
11.50am: Trump speaks at Save America Rally, promises to walk with crowd down to the Capitol
In a long, sermon-like speech that went on for more than an hour, Trump told his fans that he’d walk with them. At that stage, there was no mention of violence.
‘And after this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,’ he said.
He did not, however, walk with with them as promised.
1pm: Lawmakers gather in the House chamber to certify Biden’s election win
1.10pm: Rioters arrive at the Capitol building and start clashing with police.
At 1.26pm, Capitol police order the evacuations of Library of Congress, Madison Building and Cannon House Office Building but not the House chamber
1.40pm: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bows orders a 6pm curfew but does nothing to address the escalating situation at the Capitol.
Meanwhile, Capitol police request back-up.
2.11pm: The rioters scale the walls of the Capitol. Vice President Mike Pence is evacuated from the House chamber moments later.
2.39pm: Videos and photographs emerge showing rioters smashing the windows of the Capitol building
2.47pm: Rioters are seen at the dais
2.53pm: Congress is removed from the Chamber in breathing masks and escape hoods
3:51 p.m. The District of Columbia National Guard, about 1,100 troops, is mobilized to support local law enforcement.
6pm: Washington DC curfew begins, many ignore it to stay put
8pm: Lawmakers return to the Chamber to certify Biden win
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 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.
Trump issued a recorded video statement, shown above on a monitor in the White House briefing room. Aides pressed him to speak out more forcefully against the insurrection, but he declined
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
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
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
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
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.
WHAT DOES THE 25TH AMENDMENT SAY? CAN TRUMP’S CABINET REALLY TOPPLE HIM?
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with presidential authority in the event of death or removal from office, and was ratified in 1967, in the wake of John F Kennedy’s assassination.
What does the 25th Amendment say?
It is in four sections, all dealing with the president leaving office during his or her elected term.
The first section states that the vice president takes over the Oval Office if the president dies or resigns – or is removed – something which the original Constitution did not clearly state.
Presidents of course can be removed by impeachment, a feature of the constitution from the start. They can also be removed through the 25th Amendment – of which more below.
Section II states that if the vice president dies, or resigns – or is fired – both the House and Senate have to confirm a new vice president. Until 1967, presidents could change vice presidents mid-term on their own if they got the vice president to agree to resign – not something that actually happened, but which was possible in principle.
Section III makes clear that a president can temporarily delegate his powers to the vice president, and later reclaim them when he – or she – is capable of serving. This is most often invoked if a president is under the influence of surgical anesthetic for a short period of time.
Section IV is the amendment’s most controversial part: it describes how the president can be removed from office if he is incapacitated and does not leave on his own.
The vice president and ‘a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide’ must write to both the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, saying that ‘the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’
The term principal officers of the executive departments would normally mean the cabinet secretaries.
So at least eight of the president’s 15 most senior Cabinet members together with the vice president must agree that a president should be removed before any plan can move forward.
Notifying the House Speaker and the Senate president pro tempore is the act that immediately elevates the vice president to an ‘acting president’ role.
The deposed president can contest the claim, giving the leaders of the bloodless coup four days to re-assert their claims to the House and Senate.
Congress then has two days to convene – unless it is already in session – and another 21 days to vote on whether the president is incapable of serving. A two-thirds majority in both houses is required to make that determination.
As soon as there is a vote with a two-thirds majority, the president loses his powers and is removed, and the vice president stops acting and is sworn in as president.
But if 21 days of debate and votes ends without a two-thirds majority, the president gets back his powers.
What could happen to trigger the 25th Amendment?
Vice President Mike Pence and eight of the 15 ‘principal’ Cabinet members would have to agree to notify Congress that President Donald Trump was incapable of running the country.
That group is made up of the Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Interior Secretary, Agriculture Secretary, Commerce Secretary, Labor Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretary, Transportation Secretary, Energy Secretary , Education Secretary, Veterans Affairs Secretary and Homeland Security Secretary.
Their formal notification would go to the House Speaker and, in the senate, to the ‘president pro tempore’, the Senate’s most senior member. As soon as the letter is sent, Pence would become ‘acting president.’
Alternatively, Congress could set up its own mechanism to decide if he is fit for office – maybe a commission, or a joint committee. Pence would still have to agree with its conclusion and then write formally to the Speaker and president pro tempore.
Or another possibility is that the pool of ‘principal officers’ is considered to be bigger than the 15 and a majority of that group call Trump incapable.
What if Trump does not agree?
If Trump claims he is capable of holding office, he would write to the House Speaker and the president pro tempore of the Senate within four days, setting up three weeks of intense debate in both houses of Congress.
Trump would be removed from office if both two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate agreed with Pence and his cabal.
If either of both chambers fell short of that mark, Trump would retain his powers and likely embark on a wholesale housecleaning, firing Pence and replacing disloyal Cabinet members.
Are there any loopholes?
The 25th Amendment allows Congress to appoint its own panel to evaluate the president instead of relying on the Cabinet – the men and women who work most closely with Trump – to decide on a course of action.
It specifies that some ‘other body as Congress may by law provide’ could play that role, but Pence would still need to agree with any finding that the president is incapable of discharging his duties.
That commission could hypothetically include anyone from presidential historians to psychiatrists, entrusted to assess the president’s fitness for office.
Another loophole is that it does not spell out that the Cabinet is needed to agree, but says that the ‘principal officers’ of the departments are needed. That term is undefined in the constitution. In some departments legislation appears to name not just the secretary but deputies and even undersecretaries as ‘principal officers’, so many more people could be called in to the assessment of Trump’s fitness.
But Trump’s cabinet has a swathe of ‘acting’ cabinet officer – and it is unclear if they could therefore take part in removing him.
Could Trump fire Pence if he rebelled?
Yes, in principle. If Trump smelled a whiff of trouble – if Pence and a cabal of Cabinet members, or Pence and a panel assembled by Congress seemed ready to judge him incapacitated – he could dismiss his vice president with the stroke of a pen to stop the process.
But installing a more loyal VP could be problematic since the 25th Amendment includes its own poison pill: Both houses of Congress must vote to approve a new vice president.
That means Trump would find himself up against the same Congress that would vote on his fitness for office, unless the process were to unfold in the weeks before a new Congress.
Theoretically, a Democratic-controlled Congress could make life dramatically more difficult for the president if it came into power in the midst of the constitutional crisis.
One scenario has appeared to stump presidential historians, however: Firing Pence before the process is underway, and then leaving the vice presidency vacant, would give Congress no practical way forward. That would present its own constitutional crisis.
Is there any precedent for this?
No. Only Section III, the voluntary surrender of presidential powers, has ever been used – and only very briefly.
In December 1978, President Jimmy Carter thought about invoking Section III when he was contemplating a surgical procedure to remove hemorrhoids.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both voluntarily relinquished their powers while undergoing procedures under anesthetic.
Section IV has also never been invoked, although there have been claims that Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff Donald Regan told his successor, Howard Baker, in 1987 that he should be prepared to invoke it because Reagan was inattentive and inept.
The PBS documentary ‘American Experience’ recounts how Baker and his team watched Reagan closely for signs of incapacity during their first meeting and decided he was in perfect command of himself.