After the 'witch-hunt': Walls close in on Trump in final days
President Trump is growing increasingly isolated after the House on Wednesday made him the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, putting a final, lasting stain on his legacy just a week before he leaves office. Cabinet members and White House officials have rushed for the exits following Trump’s remarks to a violent mob of supporters that ultimately stormed the U.S. Capitol last week in a bloody and dark episode of American history. Even Trump’s most loyal allies have been put off by the developments, and aides are absent from the airwaves and the public.
There has been no coordinated effort by the White House to push back against the president’s impeachment for incitement of insurrection, and Trump has been largely silent after being stripped of his biggest communication tool: his Twitter account.
Ten Republicans joined with Democrats in voting to impeach Trump, underscoring the rift in the GOP set off by Trump’s actions. There is now a real possibility that the Senate could vote to convict Trump on the lone article of impeachment and prevent him from ever holding public office again.
One former White House official said they were not surprised by the lack of public defense from the administration, saying it has become clear that Trump “has lost the staff” and noting that aides had been whittled down already in the waning days of his presidency.
Another former administration official suggested those still in the White House could be wary of their own liability if they publicly defend the president, while others are likely still “shaken” by last week’s violence.
Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill have pushed back against the impeachment proceedings, but even those lawmakers have stopped short of defending his conduct and have instead warned that impeachment would further divide the country at a time of boiling tensions.
Even some of Trump’s supporters in conservative media have started to abandon him. Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera threw his support behind impeachment, saying in a video message Wednesday that Trump should know that “history is judging him.”
A day earlier, Trump told reporters that his second impeachment was “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics” that was “causing tremendous anger.”
In the wake of those comments and widespread concerns that Trump supporters may descend on Washington, D.C., for Inauguration Day, the president issued a statement on Wednesday calling for calm.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” Trump said. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for.”
The White House later released a five-minute, pre-recorded video address by Trump from the Oval Office in which he made no mention of the impeachment vote but said he “unequivocally” condemned last week's violence at the Capitol. Trump did not acknowledge his own role in the violence.
Aides have long described the president as his own best spokesperson. He marked the day of his first impeachment by holding a two-hour rally in Michigan and live-tweeted the House hearings and his first Senate trial.
But the president has been out of view for the past week, save for a trip to the southern border on Tuesday. Without access to Twitter, he is no longer able to hit back at critics or upend the news cycle on a moment’s notice.
White House staff have not made use of the briefing room or disseminated statements defending Trump; instead, most watched as the House marched toward impeaching Trump a second time.
Trump's isolation also extends beyond Washington. The events of last week have imperiled his businesses, with the PGA Tour canceling plans to host its 2022 tournament at his Bedminster, N.J., golf course and banks cutting ties with him.
Meanwhile, the president’s actions are splintering the GOP. Ten House lawmakers, including the GOP’s third highest ranking lawmaker, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), joined with Democrats to impeach Trump on Wednesday afternoon.
Cheney, the House Republican Conference chairwoman, is now facing calls from some GOP colleagues to resign from her leadership position. She has rejected those calls.
A Senate trial is expected to commence after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Wednesday, meaning Trump would not have the defense of the White House counsel’s office like he did last time, though Pat Cipollone could still defend Trump in his personal capacity.
Alan Dershowitz and Rudy Giuliani, two controversial lawyers who have been outspoken defenders of the president, have indicated they would be willing to represent Trump in a Senate impeachment trial.
Sources say that plans for a defense do not appear to be the subject of discussion in the White House at this stage. One former official suspected that was likely because of the rapid pace of the House impeachment, which afforded no time for hearings or participation by Trump’s attorneys.
“Because of the rushed nature of the Democrats’ second impeachment effort, it’s too soon to talk what the Senate defense effort will look like,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign. “But it will be robust, and it will be designed to make sure that each U.S. senator realizes that Americans view this impeachment as politically motivated.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, angry over what transpired in the Capitol, is not expected to defend Trump this time around. The Kentucky Republican, who will relinquish his majority leader title to Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) next week, said in a note to colleagues Wednesday that he hasn’t made a decision on whether to vote to convict Trump.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell said.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that McConnell has concluded privately that Trump committed impeachable offenses and believes that impeaching him will make it easier to purge him from the GOP.
At least 17 Republican senators would need to vote with all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus to convict Trump.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently traveled aboard Air Force One with Trump, said he opposed impeachment, calling the process divisive and rushed. He also criticized Republicans supporting impeachment, accusing them of damaging the party, and said he feared Senate leadership was “making the problem worse.”
Trump allies have been circulating polling from McLaughlin and Associates, a firm favored by the president, that shows a majority of voters in battleground states surveyed this week, and Republicans in particular, do not support impeachment.
The poll, the findings of which were reviewed by The Hill, found that 65 percent of respondents believe attacking Trump and moving forward with impeachment will further divide the country.
Those close to the president highlighted that 80 percent of Trump voters and 76 percent of Republicans surveyed said they are less likely to vote for a member of Congress who votes for impeachment. The poll surveyed 800 voters from Jan. 10 to 11.
A Morning Consult poll released Wednesday morning found that 53 percent of registered voters support impeaching Trump and 54 percent support convicting and removing him from office.
One former White House official said Trump should not yet be worried about a conviction in the Senate and described the impeachment charge as weak, arguing that the text of his speech on Jan. 6 does not support the charge of “incitement of insurrection.”
“You only worry if you think that they’ve got 17 [Republican] votes,” the person said. “There’s no indication that they are anywhere near that number.”
Bill Cassidy, the Louisiana Republican senator, predicted on Sunday morning that Donald Trump will not be the party’s nominee for president in 2024, pointing to the number of seats lost by Republicans in the House and Senate over the four years Trump was in office.
Donald Trump on Sunday launched his attempted political comeback, teasing a possible run for the presidency in 2024 and denouncing Joe Biden for “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history”. The former president made his first speech since leaving the White House at the rightwing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, to an effusive reception. Trump claims, entirely falsely, that he actually won the 2020 election but was fraudulently denied his victory.
The theme of the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference is “America Uncanceled.” But this week, just days before CPAC was set to kick off in Orlando, Florida, conference organizers announced they’d had to cancel one of their own scheduled speakers. “We have just learned that someone we invited to CPAC has expressed reprehensible views that have no home with our conference or our organization,” CPAC organizers tweeted Monday, referring to right-wing social media figure Young Pharaoh.
The Washington Post on Thursday denounced online abuse that targeted one of its reporters after a photo of her speaking with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was shared on Twitter. The attacks on White House correspondent Seung Min Kim came after Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic on Wednesday shared a photo of Kim showing Murkowski a tweet from Neera Tanden, President Biden's nominee for Office of Management and Budget director, in which Tanden criticized Murkowski.