Defiant Trump rejects Congress riot responsibility ahead of impeachment

Washington (AFP) –


On the eve of his likely impeachment, President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied responsibility for the storming of Congress by a mob of his supporters, and warned of "tremendous anger" across the country.

Although Trump also urged "peace and calm" during a quick visit to his US-Mexico border wall in Alamo, Texas, his overall message was of refusal to take blame.

The House of Representatives is set Wednesday to make Trump the first president in US history impeached for a second time over his January 6 speech in which he claimed he was the real winner of the November election, then urged supporters to march on Congress.

The crowd attacked the Capitol, fighting with police, ransacking offices, and briefly forcing frightened lawmakers to abandon a ceremony certifying Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.

A defiant Trump insisted on his way to Texas that "everybody" thought his speech was "totally appropriate."

Trump dubbed his likely impeachment a "continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics."

And he warned that while "you have to always avoid violence," his supporters are furious.

"I've never seen such anger," he said.

Democrats are all but sure to pass impeachment in the House.

The Republican-controlled Senate has been considered unlikely to call an emergency session and put Trump on trial before his term runs out on January 20.

However, significant cracks are appearing in the party that Trump has held in thrall for the last four years.

According to The New York Times, the powerful Senate majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, has said privately he believes Trump did commit impeachable offenses.

And in the House, the number three Republican, Representative Liz Cheney, said she would be voting to impeach. This came after the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said members would have a free vote and not be required to toe the party line -- a significant weakening of support for Trump.

- Beyond the pale -

Barred from Twitter and Facebook -- two platforms integral to his shock rise to power in 2016 -- Trump is for the first time struggling to shape the news message, a censoring by Big Tech that he called a "catastrophic mistake."

Ever since the November 3 election, the Republican real estate tycoon has been obsessively pushing his lie that Biden stole the election.

But his speech to supporters last week and the crowd's attack on Congress, which included fatally wounding a policeman, proved beyond the pale even for some of his staunchest supporters.

Major representatives of the corporate and sporting world have subsequently turned their backs on Trump, while the Republican party is splitting between ultra-loyalists and a growing number of lawmakers who see Trump as a liability.

Trump has yet to congratulate Biden or urge his supporters to stand behind the incoming president after he is inaugurated on January 20 -- a gesture of political unity considered all but routine after US elections.

- Second impeachment -

The House of Representatives will first vote late Tuesday on a longshot bid to get Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet to invoke the US Constitution's 25th Amendment, which would declare Trump unfit to perform his duties and install Pence as acting president.

This is unlikely to happen.

Although Pence is reportedly furious about Trump's behavior last week, the two met at the White House on Monday for the first time since the Congress attack, signaling that whatever Pence and the dwindling number of White House officials feel, they are committed to keeping the presidency limping along to the end.

Still, with a string of cabinet officials quitting the government -- most recently the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Monday -- it's also clear that Trump's grip on power is tenuous.

Democrats will follow up the 25th Amendment vote with impeachment proceedings in the House on Wednesday. The single charge of "incitement of insurrection" is all but sure to get majority support.

The Republican-controlled Senate, however, is in recess until January 19 and its leadership says there is no way to rush through an impeachment trial before Biden takes over the following day.

This would mean that Trump, who was already acquitted in the Senate last year after his first impeachment trial, would not be forced out of office early.

The new president will already face the challenges of an out-of-control Covid-19 pandemic, the stumbling vaccination program, a shaky economy, and now the aftermath of violent political opposition from parts of Trump's huge voter base.