Updated: 8:33 p.m.
President Donald Trump appeared to excuse the violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters Wednesday, hours after they stormed the symbol of American democracy in an effort to disrupt the formalization of his electoral defeat.
Trump, who had encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol to protest lawmakers' actions, expressed empathy for the mob, which violently forced its way inside, clashed with police and forced lawmakers into hiding.
“Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” Trump wrote in a message that was later deleted by Twitter.
In an earlier video he had praised the protesters as “special” people and said he understood their pain. Twitter later locked his account for the first time as it demanded he remove the tweets and threatened “permanent suspension."
Trump's response to the violence underscored his obsession with trying to overturn the results of the election. He is spending the final days of his presidency angrily stewing and lashing out at Republicans for perceived disloyalty.
Trump spent much of Wednesday afternoon watching the insurrection on television from his private dining room off the Oval Office. But aside from sparing appeals for calm issued at the insistence of his staff, he was largely disengaged as the nation’s capital descended into unprecedented scenes of chaos as a mob of thousands tried to halt the peaceful transition of power.
Instead, a White House official said, most of Trump’s attention was consumed by his ire at Vice President Mike Pence, who said he would not overturn the will of voters in the congressional electoral count. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Trump has been single-mindedly focused on his electoral defeat since Election Day, aides said, at the expense of the other responsibilities of his office, including the fight against the raging coronavirus. Indeed, it was Pence, not Trump, who spoke with the acting defense secretary to discuss mobilizing the D.C National Guard on Wednesday afternoon.
Trump only reluctantly issued the tweets and taped a video encouraging an end to the violence. The posts came at the insistence of staff and amid mounting criticism from Republican lawmakers urging him to condemn the violence being perpetrated in his name, according to the official.
Earlier in the rally, his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had advocated what he had called “trial by combat.”
The violence, coupled with the president's tepid response, appeared to drive many Republicans to the breaking point after years of allegiance to Trump. In a sign of growing frustration, a number of White House aides were discussing a potential mass resignation, according to people familiar with the conversation, although some harbored concerns about what Trump might do in his final two weeks in office if they were not there to serve as guardrails when so few remain.
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff and a former White House press secretary, submitted her resignation Wednesday, but declined to say what has prompted her move.
Trump's tweets and video also drew the attention of the social media giants he has frequently maligned. The video was removed by Facebook, “because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence,” said the site’s head of integrity, Guy Rosen. Twitter took a more punitive approach, locking Trump's account and warning, “Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account.”
Before Trump released the video, Republican lawmakers and former administration officials had begged the president to intervene as the violence spiraled. Pence, who was ushered out of the Senate chamber to a secure location as protesters breached the building, also called for protesters to disperse.
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now,” he tweeted. “Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”
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