The impeachment trial of Donald Trump was thrown into chaos after a Republican congresswoman confirmed she was told of an expletive-filled telephone conversation between a top GOP official as he urged the former president to call off the rioters - even as they swept into the US Capitol. She said it was “chilling”.
For several days there had been reports that Mr Trump had been informed about the violence that had erupted at the Capitol, including the revelation that his vice president, Mike Pence, had been evacuated.
Now it has been revealed that the former president had a heated exchange with the Republican Party’s leader in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, who urged the former president to call off his supporters.
Mr Trump apparently told Mr McCarthy: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Mr McCarthy told several members of his party of the call, among them Jaime Herrera Beutler, who represents Washington’s third congressional district.
Ms Herrera Beutler, whose constituency is located in the southwest of the state, was among 10 Republican members of the House who voted to impeach Mr Trump on 9 January, for inciting an insurrection. The single article of impeachment related to to the pugilistic speech he delivered at a “Stop the Steal” rally on the morning on 6 January, during which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell”.
Like the other Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump, among them Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Ms Herrera Beutler has been facing some hostility from supporters of Mr Trump. She has been holding a series of virtual “Town Hall” style meetings with constituents, to explain her decision, including one on Monday night, the day Mr Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate started.
“Leading up to the speech there were certainly calls for violence. There were calls to overthrow the process,” Ms Herrera Beutler told her constituents, according to a report in the The Daily Chronicle, a newspaper based in the town of Centralia, 90 miles southwest of Seattle
“The president himself said things like ‘We’re never going to give up, we’ll never concede, it doesn’t happen, you don’t concede when theft’s involved’.”
She also revealed that Mr McCarthy had told of her a phone call with the president that she said was “chilling”
“He said ‘Well, Kevin, I guess they’re just more upset about this election theft than you are,’” she said. “The president was basically saying ‘Nah, I’m OK with this’.”
On Friday, CNN learned of the phone conversation and obtained a statement from the congresswoman.
In it she said: “When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol”
She added: “”McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are’.”
After Democrats learned of the details, they raised it with the members of Congress leading the prosecution of Mr Trump in the Senate. On Saturday morning, senators voted to allow witnesses, delaying a vote and throwing the situation into uncertainty. Notably, five Republicans, among them Lindsey Graham.
Rather than calling Ms Herrera Beutler to have her give testimony to the hearing, the two sides agreed to have Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin, the Democrats’s lead prosector, read her statement into the record for senators to consider.
The phone call also appears to throw light on Mr McCarthy’s shifting comments as to what responsibility may lie with Mr Trump. While he voted against impeachment, he said Mr Trump should “accept his share of responsibility”.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” Mr McCarthy said on the House floor last month. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.”
It also provides insight into Mr Trump’s mindset and the issue of what he knew and when. Earlier this week, newly-seated Republican senator Tommy Tuberville revealed Mr Trump had called him on 6 January, as the rioters surged into the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress was voting to affirm Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
Mr Tuberville this week told reporters he said by his account that Mr Trump had called him, apparently urging him to delay the certification vote, even though the former president’s lawyers described it as “hearsay”.
‘Mr President, they’ve taken the vice president out. They want me to get off the phone, I gotta go,” he said he told Mr Trump. “So, probably the only guy in the world who hung up on the President of the United States.”
On Friday evening, as both Mr Trump’s lawyers and Democrats concluded their case, two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, asked “exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol, and what specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end”.
Rather than providing an answer, lawyer Michael van der Veen sought to blame the Democratic prosecutors for failing to provide anyevidence one way or the other onto that question”.
Last month in a statement to constituents explaining her decision, Ms Herrera Beutler said Mr Trump “incited a riot aiming to halt the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. That riot led to five deaths”.
She added: “Hours went by before the president did anything meaningful to stop the attack. Instead, he and his lawyer were busy making calls to senators who were still in lockdown, seeking their support to further delay the electoral college certification.”
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