Capitol riot sets stage for historic second impeachment

by Sam Leitch, editor, and Kyle Wu, editor

As supporters of President Donald Trump breached the US Capitol, apparently with the intent to delay and overturn the certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6, it was clear that this moment would pose irreversible results for the days ahead. Soon after, the US House of Representatives impeached Trump a second time, more National Guard troops were deployed in DC than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and the FBI warned of terror attacks in all 50 capitals

What follows describes the attack on Jan. 6, the investigation into the failures of Capitol policing, the second impeachment, and the effects for the future according to US Rep. Mike Thompson of California, whose district includes Santa Rosa.

The Day of the Riot

At around 1 p.m., protestors from the Save America Rally had breached metal barricades to get to the Capitol building, and within 90 minutes, they had entered the building. Video evidence depicted them scaling the wall and breaking side windows

Thompson saw the attack unfold from his office. “I could look out my window to my right, and the Capitol is right there, so I had a ringside seat of not only the Capitol, but the rioters,” Thompson said. “They weren’t protestors; they were rioters.”

Protestors from the Save America Rally on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thompson explained that Congress had been certifying ballots placed by state electors when the attack occurred. Some Republicans had just challenged the Arizona vote, which Thompson remarked was “bizarre,” given how Arizona was a Republican state. With each challenge came two hours of debate, a House vote, and a Senate vote.

Due to a reported threat of explosives near his office, Thompson evacuated to the adjacent Longworth building, where he stayed for about an hour and a half until security cleared the threat. Although he returned to his office, it was only 10 minutes before the building had been breached and security heard gunshots, prompting representatives to evacuate again at approximately 2:30 p.m.

Police recovered a dozen guns, a crossbow, pocket knives and more, but experts say this likely made up a small fraction of the weapons that day because police did not stop and frisk the crowd. The FBI also has offered a $100,000 reward for information about an unknown individual who placed pipe bombs at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee Headquarters the night before, just blocks away. 

Trump supporters from Save America Rally overtake the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021.

Five people were reported dead, including Ashley Babbitt, a Trump supporter shot by Capitol law enforcement, and Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick, who died from blunt force trauma, a fire extinguisher blow to the head.

Thompson watched the attack transpire for several hours on his laptop from the Ways and Means Library before Congress could return to the House chambers to continue the work of certification. 

At 2:38 p.m., Trump published a Twitter video that vacillated between asserting the election’s fraudulence and urging his supporters to vacate the Capitol. “We love you,” Trump said. “You’re very special…I know how you feel.” Twitter prohibited retweets, comments, or likes for this post due to risk of “inciting violence,” and that evening, they made the decision to ban Trump’s account for 12 hours because of his claims concerning voter fraud. On Jan. 8, Twitter permanently banned his account for violating their “glorification of violence” policy.  

The mismanaged Capitol defense

Since the attack, video evidence of Capitol police opening barricades for the crowd to enter has inspired contradictory theories. An early claim from Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and other Republicans that the supporters were Antifa members in disguise has since been debunked, but there is an ongoing investigation into the motivations of the attackers and any possible connections to personnel working inside the Capitol.

“I was mystified that the cops that I saw were in their regular everyday uniforms,” Thompson said.

“I was mystified that the cops that I saw were in their regular everyday uniforms,” Thompson said. “We’d heard for weeks that this big group was planning to descend on the Capitol, we’d heard [President Trump] for weeks rallying them to come to Washington and take back the stolen election, and as it turns out, we know now there was all sorts of intel that suggested that this was going to be a mess.” 

Thompson is one of the major proponents for a third-party review on what he calls “the biggest security failure and law enforcement failure that [he is] aware of.” The night of Jan. 6, Thompson texted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to ask her to fire the chief of Capitol police, who has since stepped down voluntarily. The day after, Thompson wrote her a letter calling for independent review. As of then, Pelosi has appointed a former army general to complete the task.

“What happened yesterday was a complete failure of policing on the Capitol grounds,” Thompson said. “Now don’t mistake this with criticism of the cops that were out there. Those cops put their life on the line and worked hard to protect me, my colleagues, the other employees in the building; they tried to protect the Capitol. The failure was at the top.” 

Although Thompson does not know what the causes for the failure were, he echoed now President Joe Biden’s sentiment that the police turnout was a stark contrast from the Black Lives Matter protest on Capitol grounds.

Law enforcement response to George Floyd protests in Washington DC.

According to US Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin, law enforcement has identified 400 people and arrested 135 for breaking into the Capitol. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser enacted a 12-hour curfew on 6 p.m. Jan. 6, and officials arrested 50 individuals for breaking curfew. The TSA is also looking into putting those who took part in the event on their no-fly list.

Immediately after the attack, Pelosi called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office, and the House even approved a resolution urging Pence to do so.

Pence refused to incite the 25th, citing the law’s origin as one of his main reasons. President Eisenhower was the major proponent of the amendment after he suffered a stroke in 1957 and realized that there was no procedure in place for transferring power from a president who was incapacitated. Pence said that since the 25th Amendment is not designed for “punishment or usurpation,” invoking it would “set a terrible precedent,” according to an article published by Reuters

Following his refusal, the House moved forward with impeachment.

The historic second impeachment

The article, drafted by representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York, charged Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”

“I know some folks say, ‘Well, you know he’s only going to be here for 13 days. Why don’t you just ride it out?’” Thompson remarked at a town hall meeting before the impeachment vote. “And I just [want to] remind you that it was only one day, yesterday, that he attacked our country, our institution of representative government, and I don’t know what he’s liable to do in the next 13 days.” 

The original intent for impeachment for House Democrats was to remove Trump from office as soon as possible, but a conviction poses other post-presidency effects. The Former Presidents Act would entitle Trump to an office, staff, a maximum $1,000,000 annual security and travel budget as well as a lifetime Secret Service detail. However, if the Senate votes to impeach Trump, he would lose both these benefits and the ability to run for re-election.

Trump has suggested he will run in 2024; some allies, however, claim he will not follow through

With the House impeachment vote on Jan. 13, Trump became the only president in American history to be impeached twice, and according to Thompson, more members of Congress in the president’s party voted to impeach him than has been the case in any previous presidential impeachment. 

“In other words, it’s the most bipartisan impeachment in the history of the United States of America,” Thompson said. Although he believes the Senate should vote to convict, he says it would require 17 Republican senators to side with the Democrats, which would be very difficult. For that reason, Thompson suspects that if the Senate does not convict Trump, they will negotiate down to “a quote-unquote lesser charge.”

“In other words, it’s the most bipartisan impeachment in the history of the United States of America,” Thompson said.

As the trial approaches, it is hard to say where these 17 votes would come from, if they appear at all. Senator Rand Paul proposed a measure that would have called the impeachment unconstitutional.  The final vote was 55-45, upholding the constitutionality of the impeachment. While this measure was unsuccessful, it demonstrated how Senate Democrats will have difficulty finding the 67 votes necessary to convict Trump as his trial begins on Feb. 9, as only five Republican senators out of 50 voted to table the proposal.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has blamed Trump for the Capitol attack, has not explicitly stated how he will vote on Feb. 9.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said on the Senate floor a day before President Biden’s inauguration. “They were provoked by [President Trump] and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on.”

Since then, however, McConnell supported Paul’s measure. 

Despite the fact that Trump has since been voted out of the White House, Thompson emphasizes the importance of following through with the impeachment process.

The impenetrable Capitol

At the time of our interview with Rep. Thompson, there was still a fence surrounding the Capitol building, which Thompson said was once lined with razor wire. In the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration, all streets were closed, and troops from as far as Guam made their way to the Capitol. 

“One of the beautiful things about our government is the openness and transparency, the fact that anybody can come to the Capitol,” Thompson said. “You can walk across the ground. You can go in the building and get a tour. It’s open to everyone, and that all evaporated after the sixth.”

New Jersey National Guard Soldiers arrive at Capitol to set up security positions in DC, Jan. 12, 2021.

Jan. 17 saw more than 25,000 National Guard troops deployed in DC.  According to a December FBI report, the date was declared high risk for armed protests from far-right groups in all 50 US capitals. When the day came, armed groups protested at statehouses, but in far fewer numbers than previously anticipated. No violence was reported that night. 

“I had to drive from my house in Washington to the speaker’s house in Georgetown on the day before the inauguration, and I joke, ‘Sorry I’m late–I had to drive through West Virginia to get here!’” said Thompson, explaining that security was so high on Inauguration Day, he almost could not enter his own neighborhood. “It’s just a sad day when things have to be that way. Had they not been, there could’ve been terrible things happening.”

A message to young people

Despite what he calls the “tragic” insurrection at the Capitol, Thompson remains hopeful for the future. When asked if he had any words for the young people of today, Thompson responded, “I would say, ‘You guys are the luckiest people in the world. You should celebrate this victory.’ And when I say victory, what I’m talking about is our constitution won, our democracy won, our republic won. These people came, they tried to overturn the vote of the American people, they were stopped from doing that, and notwithstanding all of the mess and the destruction they made in that Capitol, Congress came back in, we reconvened the congress and we certified that vote, and the Constitution prevailed.

“And when I say victory, what I’m talking about is our constitution won, our democracy won, our republic won.”

“That should be an outstanding lesson for you guys, and that in itself should be enough to make every one of you aspire to do good things in public service.”

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