“They’re Being Told to Stay Away From Trump”: After a Day of Violence and 25th Amendment Chatter, Trump’s Allies Are Jumping Ship
As the violent mob incited by President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, some West Wing staffers panicked that they were possibly becoming participants in a coup to overthrow the government. “What do I do? Resign?” one nervous White House staffer asked a friend on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after news broke that a woman had been shot and killed inside the Capitol. The West Wing staffer told the friend that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone was urging White House officials not to speak to Trump or enable his coup attempt in any way, so they could reduce the chance they could be prosecuted for treason under the Sedition Act. “They’re being told to stay away from Trump,” the friend said. The White House declined to comment.
Cipollone’s purported concern that Trump was committing treason––a federal crime––illustrates the chaos and fear of Wednesday’s unprecedented events. At least one staffer isn’t waiting to flee the ship. On Wednesday night, CNN reported that Stephanie Grisham, the former White House communications director and Melania Trump’s current chief of staff, resigned over the Trump-inspired riot. As staff quit or steer clear, Trump is increasingly isolated and alone. According to a person close to the White House, Trump refused to take calls on Wednesday from business leaders who wanted him to call off the insurrectionists. A former West Wing staffer said Republicans were texting and calling Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to lobby him to intervene, but Meadows wasn’t answering.
In recent days, as Trump’s bid to overturn the election became increasingly desperate, he expressed anarchist comments in private, a second Republican close to the White House told me. The Republican said Trump told people that he wanted David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to lose the Georgia Senate runoff election as a way of punishing them and Mitch McConnell. “Trump told people he is really angry that the senators and McConnell hadn’t stood up for him to challenge the election. He’s happy they lost.” According to the Republican, Trump has said he’ll be the most dominant force in Republican politics if there’s no party leadership.
Other Republicans I spoke to on Wednesday echoed the view that Trump wants to blow things up on his way out the door. “He’ll want to burn the whole thing down,” a Republican strategist said. “Trump doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.”
Tonight, there was a sense that the ground had shifted. Even Stephen Miller told one Republican that it was a terrible day. Twitter finally suspended Trump’s account—at least for 12 hours. And the immediate question facing Republicans became whether the violent scene today merits them invoking the 25th Amendment and removing Trump from office. The provision in the Constitution requires the vice president to secure support from the majority of the Cabinet or Congress. According to a D.C. strategist close to the White House, some prominent Republicans are lobbying Mike Pence to greenlight the process. “Pence has to initiate it,” the strategist said. Republicans I spoke to were doubtful Pence would take the extraordinary step given his longtime fealty to Trump––even in the face of being humiliated. “Maybe if Trump calls for another protest, then it’s possible,” the former West Wing official said.
No matter what happens in the next 13 days, Trump has set himself up for perpetual warfare with a Republican Party that is, finally, willing to confront his destructive authoritarianism. “Everyone is blaming Trump for Georgia,” the Republican strategist said. “When Trump took office, we had the White House and both branches of Congress. Now we have nothing. He inherited a Lamborghini and treated it like a lawn mower.”
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