House Democrats introduce an article of impeachment. What should accountability look like in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol?
Olivia Troye, former homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser for Vice President Mike Pence. She left her post in August. (@OliviaTroye)
On what the insurrection at the Capitol was like
Rep. Jason Crow: “It was too close. It was a catastrophic security failure last week and a terrible situation, but it could have been much worse. I mean, we were trapped. There was about two dozen members of Congress that were trapped in that House gallery for about a half an hour. As we were surrounded by the mob, gunshots going off, tear gas flooding the Capitol. We had barricaded the doors with furniture, locked the doors. The mob had completely surrounded us at one point. We're trying to ram the doors down. You know, I've seen riots. I've seen mobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I know what they're capable of. And if they had broken through that door, it could have been very bad.”
"I've seen riots. I've seen mobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I know what they're capable of. And if they had broken through that door, it could have been very bad.”
How much was what you experienced on January 6th evocative of your experience in combat?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: “Combat is a little different, it's scarier than what I saw, but it was still very frightening. ... I felt like this was what I had seen at some times in some of the cities I was [in], where the local religious leader or family tribal leader would essentially, you know, declare some type of fatwa or just be mad about something that we did, and then would gather all his followers and family members, and then send them against whatever assets that we had. And you see that happening all over the world, whether it's religious leaders or fanatical political leaders. This is what they do.
“They gather their people, get them riled up, and then send them towards the [seat of] power. … And then as a takeover, then they try to sue for peace afterwards. That's what I saw happen. So, yes, this is an insurrection. It's a failed insurrection, but it's something that we need to be afraid of, and be counteracting. And the way you counteract insurgencies are two ways. Number one, you counteract the misinformation that's happening. And I think that's something that we actively have to work with, with social media companies, with just media in general.
"You have to actually deal with some of the underlying issues that have been caused by this, too, which can be varied. But some of it goes back to, you know, huge income inequality. And then you also have to have a punitive side to this. We know where these militias are. We know where they are all over the world. We have some of the best intelligence systems, in this country. And we need to gear them to actually tracking down and destroying all of these domestic terror networks that we've allowed to fester for the last four years.”
"You have to actually deal with some of the underlying issues that have been caused by this."
Do we have reason to believe that the intent of at least some of the members of that mob was to take members of Congress hostage, possibly even kill them?
Rep. Jason Crow: “I don't think we have to guess about that. I mean, that's what the mob was yelling. I mean, people don't show up in tactical gear with flex cuffs and yell things like ‘build the gallows’ and ‘bring out the guillotine’ without having that intent. I mean, they were pretty clear. I don't think we have to read anyone's mind. There were very, very violent people. Their correspondence online in advance of the riot indicated as much as well. So, I mean, their intent was pretty clear. I think they were trying to kill members of Congress or take us hostage. And I think they would have done so had they had the opportunity.
"But I also think we need to reflect on the fact that we are six days after an attack on the U.S. Capitol. An insurrection that was designed to derail our democracy and the democratic process. And there hasn't been one single military or law enforcement briefing by this administration. Now we know who Donald Trump is, he's a dangerous, and volatile and unstable person. But the story continues to be one of complicity by those that surround him. And there needs to be accountability for that.”
"I think they were trying to kill members of Congress or take us hostage. And I think they would have done so had they had the opportunity."
What do you think true accountability looks like?
Rep. Jason Crow: “I think there's several levels of accountability. The first is accountability for President Trump, who bears primary responsibility. We're going to move forward with impeachment very soon within the next 24 hours. It was our hope that this would be an awakening for Vice President Pence and members of the cabinet who frankly enabled this, allowed this to happen. We've known for years who Donald Trump is and the danger that he poses. The complicity and the enabling of folks around him have allowed us to get to this point. And it was my hope that they would accept responsibility, and pick up and discharge that obligation and invoke the 25th Amendment.
“I, of course, am not holding my breath that that's going to happen. So I think we're going to have to step up and lead again and impeach him. And find a way to either get him removed as quickly as possible or bar him from holding office after he leaves on the 20th. The second level of accountability has to be for the rioters, and we're going to pursue justice through the Department of Justice and FBI as vigorously as we can. And then third is for those lawmakers that were complicit and incited the riot, as well. We have to make sure we're pursuing all avenues for domestic security, for our national security and for the healing of the country.”
"We have to make sure we're pursuing all avenues for domestic security, for our national security and for the healing of the country.”
Why do you think Congress needs to take the actions that you outlined?
Rep. Jason Crow: “This is our leadership challenge. Our leadership challenge is we need to have reconciliation and we need to find a way to move forward to heal our nation. But at the same time, there can't be unity and moving forward without some level of accountability. That requires truth and accountability. So the proper balance between those two is our leadership challenge in the months and years ahead, how we decide to balance those two competing requirements. And I would talk to that gentleman and I would try to find common ground. I come from a Republican background. I grew up in a Republican family. I grew up in a working-class family, construction family that I have a lot of friends and family members that support Donald Trump. So I understand that frustration.
“We have to find a way to find the common humanity in each other, to find those things we have in common. And that's going to be extremely hard. And I say that as somebody that less than a week ago was sitting in a chamber and didn't know whether I was going to return home to my family. Whose life was in danger. That said, I love this country very deeply. I believe in it, and we have to move forward. My friend Conor Lamb summed it up last week right after the attack. He said, ‘We want to build this country and build it up more than they want to tear it down.’ And that remains true today, just like it was last week.”
"We have to find a way to find the common humanity in each other, to find those things we have in common. And that's going to be extremely hard."
Can you walk us through what Vice President Pence may be thinking right now or what his actual line would be for accountability?
Olivia Troye: “I do think that there is an element of fear here. I think what happened at the Capitol, watching the anger in his speech, that was very evident. And something that the vice president doesn't really show publicly, much emotion. He hold his cards close to his chest. And I think that's true fear for his life, for the life of his family, who I understand were with him at the Capitol, and others. And I think at this moment, the issue we have here is that I think he's weighing it carefully, he's deciding, would such an action create more violence across the country? Does this move, the 25th Amendment, or invoking something like that, would that just radicalize these people even more?
“But unfortunately, I also have to say that these radicalized individuals … are Trump supporters. These are Trump followers. And these are also the followers of many of the individuals who should be held accountable, that are Republican lawmakers who are in elected office right now, who continue to perpetuate these conspiracy theories and these lies. And so if that's the base of the party going forward, there is a part of Mike Pence that is thinking: ‘In 2024 who are the voters? Is this the base still? And am I running for president and these are my voters?’ I have no doubt that that is also part of the calculus, which is very unfortunate because we are in a very dangerous situation for his life, for President-elect Biden's life. Somebody needs to stand up and do the right thing.”
"There is a part of Mike Pence that is thinking: ‘In 2024 who are the voters? Is this the base still?'"
On the signal a ‘message of inaction’ sends
Kate Shaw: “It's so striking to hear the suggestion, and I think you've heard it echoed elsewhere, that a number of members of the president's party may be failing to step forward to seek accountability out of actual fear of the consequences, even for themselves and their families. So it's striking to hear that that might be a factor in Vice President Pence's consideration of whether to invoke the 25th Amendment. And I do think it speaks to just how precarious this moment is.
"But I think it seems as though there is potential danger, whatever path the country and its leaders go down. So I think that the possibility of the message sent by inaction, by failure to pursue some serious accountability — and whether that takes the form of the 25th Amendment, or impeachment, or an attempt to persuade the president to resign — whatever that accountability looks like, the failure to aggressively pursue it, seems to me, at least as dangerous a path as pursuing any of these options.”
"The failure to aggressively pursue it seems to me, at least as dangerous a path."
On how the 25th Amendment works
Kate Shaw: “Under the Constitution, all that is required to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment is a declaration by the vice president and a majority of the cabinet that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. And that's not a phrase that is defined in the Constitution. It is pretty clear that when the amendment was drafted, physical inability was what was contemplated. But it certainly seems to me that having fomented a violent insurrection and attack on the seat of government does represent inability to discharge the duties of the office.
“Upholding the Constitution is at the core of the president's duties. And I think there's a very strong argument that this attack on the Capitol and democracy itself is fundamentally inconsistent with the president's oath to uphold the Constitution, and suggests that he is unable to perform his job. And so I think that the speed with which the 25th Amendment could be invoked and the kind of decisiveness of the repudiation of the conduct, in that it would be the president's own self-picked, hand-picked team that would be sending the message of inability, that strikes me as a distinct advantage of the 25th Amendment.
"I think impeachment can happen fast. It hasn't typically. But I think that these are extraordinary circumstances and the House could vote very quickly. And if the Senate wanted to return early and actually hold a one day trial and take a vote, there's nothing in the Constitution preventing them from doing that. But it still would take some time, potentially drag on past January 20th. And so I think that would mean that the early days of the Biden administration would be consumed with a Senate trial. And that might be worth it. It might well. But the 25th Amendment could all happen much faster.”
"There's a very strong argument that this attack on the Capitol and democracy itself is fundamentally inconsistent with the president's oath to uphold the Constitution."
Why do you back the impeachment of President Trump?
Rep. Ruben Gallego:“I'm backing the impeachment of Trump. And at the same time, we also need every Republican to back the impeachment. And at a minimum, they need to stop spreading the lies. The problem that you have here is that there's this big lie happening by Republicans, and then it's just being repeated over and over again by these little minion Republicans and their own little network, that there was this massive voter fraud. And for some of the feeble-minded that are getting sucked into this, it's one thing when the president says it, but when you have a whole political apparatus that’s also saying it, it's hard for the truth to break through.
“So when you hear these Republicans asking for reconciliation and trying to move on, we can't move on when the underlying big lie is still there. If they continue to repeat the lie while we just kind of brush off what happened, you're only going to have more and more of these insurrections happening. Because at the end of the day, every time Vice President Biden does something, they're just going to go back to the point that, ‘Well, he's an illegitimate president and therefore we have a right to push back against that.’”
"We can't move on when the underlying big lie is still there."
On the future of democracy
Rep. Ruben Gallego: “There is no greater value than preserving democracy, and I think we'll be able to do that. And lastly, you know, this whole notion that we can't focus — we can do many things at the same time. This country has dealt with world wars and still balanced the budget, and done many other amazing things. So this idea that it can't be done is, I think, false. Now, the most important thing that we have to worry about is, what if we don't do this? What are we saying to the rest of these insurrectionists or presidents in the future that if you happen to do an unsuccessful coup 10 days before an election, Congress won't hold you accountable? Is that the message we want to send?
“Because Trump might be back four years from now. What happens again if he loses and … he again sends a mob … to attack the Capitol? Are we supposed to be forgiving then? How many more police officers have to die? So this is not a valid excuse. If Republicans want to turn over a new leaf then they actually have to stop lying. They have to distance themselves from the president and truly understand and apologize for what they encouraged on January 6th, a true attack on democracy."
Olivia Troye: “When you're called to serve, I think you are serving the American people, and you take an oath to the country first and foremost. And I think this is the moment where every single person who is in an official role or in a role where they can make a difference, needs to dig into their moral courage and step forward. And so hearing people like Lindsey Graham deflect, because that is what this is, it's deflection and trying to step away from their own personal responsibility and complicitness, to be honest, on what enabled this moment to happen.
"I think it's time for all of these people to be held accountable, hold themselves accountable and step up. Because these movements, these supporters, they need to hear it from people like Lindsey Graham, they need to hear it from the Hawley’s of the world, the Ted Cruz's, those are the people that need to be speaking out right now and telling them enough is enough.”
"These supporters, they need to hear it from people like Lindsey Graham, they need to hear it from the Hawley’s of the world, the Ted Cruz's."
From The Reading List
Washington Post: "‘I thought I’d have to fight my way out’: Combat veteran lawmakers took action after Capitol stormed" — "On Wednesday, after chemical irritants were fired in the Capitol to repel a pro-Trump mob, Rep. Ruben Gallego thought of the moment years ago when he entered a Marine Corps gas chamber."
Politico: "Democrats Are Pursuing the Wrong Impeachment Charges Against President Trump" — "Clark D. Cunningham is a professor of legal ethics, constitutional law and legal interpretation at Georgia State University College of Law."
New York Times: "Beyond Impeachment, a Push for Ethics Laws That Do Not Depend on Shame" — "As House Democrats move toward punishing President Trump with a history-making second impeachment, they are also pressing ahead with a parallel effort to try to ensure that Mr. Trump’s four-year record of violating democratic and constitutional norms cannot be repeated."
NPR: "Capitol Police Officers Suspended For Actions During Rioters' Attack On Capitol" — "Several Capitol Police officers have been suspended in connection with last week's fatal riot at the U.S. Capitol by protesters loyal to President Trump, Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman announced Monday evening."
CNN: "How Americans can hold Trump accountable if Congress won't" — "Joe Lockhart is a CNN political analyst. He was the White House press secretary from 1998 to 2000 in President Bill Clinton's administration. He cohosts the podcast "Words Matter." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN."
This program aired on January 12, 2021.