On Jan. 6, 2021, at 2:24 p.m., an angry Donald Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution …”
At that very moment, Vice President Pence and his family were hiding from a violent mob at the Capitol, having been whisked out of the Senate chamber where he had been conducting his constitutional duty of certifying the election.
Over the course of the afternoon, the crowds shouted “Hang Mike Pence,” “President Trump sent us,” “Traitors,” “Nancy Pelosi, we’re coming for you” and other frightening and direct threats to members of Congress. This violent insurrection culminated in five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer, and 140 other officers were injured protecting members. During this time, the president and his attorney called at least one senator to ask him to delay the count further.
“The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said. At a rally near the White House that morning, Trump spoke apocalyptically, warning, “If you don’t fight like hell, you aren’t going to have a country anymore.” Trump lied that he had won in a “landslide.” He had to know this was a lie because his pollster had already issued a lengthy report detailing why he lost. Donald Trump Jr. wildly shouted at the rally, “We are coming after you,” directed at members of Congress who were doing their constitutional duty of certifying the election.
Many of those arrested at the Capitol echoed Donald Trump and his lies. They said, “We were invited here by the president of the United States.” Rioters included members of the Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracy theorists and white nationalists who ripped off the helmets of officers, beat them with batons and flagpoles, and hurled racial epithets at our Capitol Police. Some came with zip ties, presumably to take hostages. At the end of the day, Trump recorded a video message, saying to those who stormed the Capitol, “You’re very special. … We love you.”
In the months and days leading to Jan. 6, these election fraud lies that Trump whipped up the crowd with had been rejected across the board:
- By dozens of conservative judges in over 60 court cases who said they were “without merit” and “not credible.”
- By Attorney General William Barr who said, “We have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome,” and reportedly called the claims of the president’s lawyer “bulls---.”
- By Republican state election officials in Georgia, whom the president belligerently attacked and asked to “find” him more votes.
- By his own White House counsel’s office.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump persisted. Even after the worst of the siege was visible for the world to see, he tweeted, “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 and unfairly treated for so long.”
We Republicans cannot avert our eyes from these violent realities. Some say we must move on. But it is clear that Trump and his mob still aren’t moving on. Trump, his family and supporters continue to threaten political revenge and have shown no remorse for their actions. Angry Trump supporters continue to make dangerous threats.
“If this isn’t impeachable, what is?” has been the question asked even by friends of Trump, such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Such blatant anti-constitutional, anti-democratic actions by a president and the violence he inspired against a coequal branch of government cannot go unpunished. They were unprecedented.
The president attempted to use his executive power to direct Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr and other Republican officials to pursue anti-constitutional actions on his behalf.
As for whether a trial can be held after the president has left office, retired federal appeals court Judge Michael McConnell, a conservative, has pointed out that impeachment in the House occurred while the president was still in office, so that point is moot. Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6 of the Constitution states: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” According to Judge McConnell, a trial is not limited to “sitting officers.” If it was, there would be no consequence to a president who engaged in impeachable conduct at the end of his term.
The Senate must convict Donald Trump and keep him from holding office ever again. This is not a close call. Trump refused to accept the results of an election. He ignored the courts and even attacked the Supreme Court with three of his own appointees. He incited a mob to stop the certification of the election in Congress. And he tried to illegally overturn an election in violation of his oath to uphold the law.
Already the House impeachment has been the most bipartisan impeachment in history. Republicans must stand up to police our own. If Republicans continue to excuse Trump’s lies and actions that they know are among the worst in history by a president, they will only further divide, not just our own party, but the entire country.
Barbara Comstock represented Virginia’s 10th District as a Republican from 2015 to 2019.
Charles Boustany Jr. represented Louisiana in the House as a Republican from 2005 to 2017. He serves as president of the Association of Former Members of Congress.