Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have begun circulating articles of impeachment against Donald Trump for inspiring a mob that overtook the US Capitol on Wednesday, marking the first serious steps towards trying to remove the president in his final days in office.
Congressmen David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and Ted Lieu of California have drafted documents to impeach Mr Trump for “abuse of power,” the same nominal charge levied against him when the House impeached him for the first time in December 2019.
No president in US history has been impeached twice.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is the lead sponsor of the effort to impeach Mr Trump.
“In his conduct of the office of the President of the United States … Donald J. Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States” the Democrats draft impeachment articles state, citing the president’s involvement with a crowd of supporters that eventually overpowered police and burst into the US Capitol to terrorise lawmakers and staff.
Congress had convened in a joint session at the Capitol on Wednesday, 6 January 2021, to count and certify the votes of the Electoral College, the impeachment articles explain.
“Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd of his political supporters nearby. There, he reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ He also willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol,” the articles state.
At least four people have died as a result of the mob’s storming of the legislature, with one woman being shot and killed by Capitol Police outside the House chamber.
It was not immediately clear on Thursday whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi would pursue impeachment.
The House is not scheduled to be in session until 21 January, the day after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
High-ranking members of Ms Pelosi’s leadership team, including House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, tweeted his support for the impeachment effort on Thursday.
“Donald Trump should be impeached, convicted and removed from office immediately,” the New York congressman wrote. Mr Jeffries was one of seven House managers at Mr Trump’s Senate impeachment trial last January and February.
At his “Save America March” on the Ellipse just south of the White House early on Wednesday afternoon, the president encouraged thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to be “strong.”
“We will never give up,” Mr Trump said to roars of applause. “We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about.”
He remained defiant throughout the day. Reports emerged that he was “borderline enthusiastic” about the chaos at the Capitol; senior aides either quit or leaked to reporters they were considering stepping down.
Mr Trump resisted sending in the National Guard to protect his own vice president — not to mention the thousands of other lawmakers, political staffers and public employees in peril.
He also did not outright condemn the rioters he himself had encouraged to gather at the Capitol. In a video posted to Twitter, since deleted by the social media platform, Mr Trump told the rioters he “loves” them, although he urged them to “go home.”
“You have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” he said.
But he simultaneously appeared to see the riots as some sort of poetic justice against his own vice president and Congress for fulfilling their constitutional duty to ratify the results of Mr Biden’s victory.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote in a post that was also quickly purged from Twitter.
House Judiciary Democrats already sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday urging him to invoke the 25th Amendment and to remove Mr Trump from office.
The vice president was reportedly incensed with his boss on Wednesday for putting him and others in danger as an angry mob inspired by the president laid siege to the US Capitol.
“I’ve known Mike Pence forever,” Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said on Wednesday in an interview with Tulsa World, his hometown newspaper.
“I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today,” Mr Inhofe said.
But Mr Pence has not yet indicated whether he will huddle with the president’s Cabinet to remove Mr Trump from office and take over the presidency with 13 days before Mr Biden’s inauguration.
Even if Democrats do fast-track impeachment articles against Mr Trump through the House, it is unlikely they could muster support from 67 senators to convict and remove him.
Most Republicans who voted to uphold and certify Mr Biden’s electoral victory on Wednesday did not place blame for the day’s riots squarely on Mr Trump’s shoulders, although they did admit his address to the crowd beforehand certainly did not help diffuse tensions.
“He should have shown more disdain for the rioters. I don’t want to say he should have apologized — that’s not exactly accurate — but he should have expressed more disdain,” said Mr Inhofe, noting that Mr Trump only put out one statement on the riots, a video address that was taken down by Twitter for containing false information about the 2020 election results and violating its terms of service.
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