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US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the US Congress, in Washington (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the US Congress, in Washington (Reuters)

Defiant Trump tries to burnish legacy amid growing riot fury

  • Trump flew to Alamo (Texas) to stand next to a section of new border wall and deliver a 22-minute speech, in which he warned of further unrest if Congress dares to impeach him — even as the US House is about to do just that on Wednesday
  • The FBI has warned that armed protesters could take to the streets in the nation’s capital and in several states beginning in the days before the inauguration

Faced with growing anger from within his own party, a defiant Donald Trump rejects any responsibility for last week’s insurrection at the Capitol as he sought to burnish his tarnished legacy, in what may be his final public appearance as president.

Trump flew to Alamo, Texas, to stand next to a section of new border wall and deliver a 22-minute speech, in which he warned of further unrest if Congress dares to impeach him -- even as the US House is about to do just that on Wednesday.

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He also declared himself invulnerable to removal by Vice President Mike Pence and his cabinet under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. “The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration," Trump said in Texas on Tuesday. “As the expression goes, be careful of what you wish for."

Back in Washington, however, there was growing fury over Trump’s role in last Wednesday’s riot at the Capitol, which resulted in five deaths including that of a Capitol Police officer. He has shown no remorse for the violence, declaring Tuesday that his remarks at a rally outside the White House before his supporters stormed the Capitol were “totally appropriate."

Late Tuesday, Pence wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before a vote on a resolution calling for him to invoke the 25th Amendment, to tell her that he would not try to remove the president from power.

But there is nonetheless concern among the officials around Trump, some of whom scrapped international travel plans this week to remain in Washington, believing strain on the White House might invite foreign adversaries to try to exploit the historic US political crisis. At the same time, a member of the House Republican leadership, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced she would vote to impeach the president -- easily Trump’s most searing rebuke from within his party.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," she said in a statement, adding that Trump had both encouraged his supporters who marched to the Capitol, then did nothing after they stormed the building, forcing lawmakers to abandon a count of Electoral College votes and flee.

A senior Republican senator, Rob Portman of Ohio, implored the president to address the country and call off his supporters before they perpetrate further violence. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House echoed Portman’s request in a letter to Trump.

“If our nation experiences additional violence and destruction at the hands of his supporters in Washington, D.C., and state capitols around the country, and he does not directly and unambiguously speak out now when threats are known, he will bear responsibility," Portman said.

The House moved rapidly toward impeaching Trump for a historic second time, with few Republicans rising to the president’s defense. John Katko of New York became the first GOP representative to say he would vote to impeach the president, before Cheney’s announcement.

The New York Times reported that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has asked colleagues whether he should demand that Trump resign, and that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is pleased the House is moving ahead with impeachment and intends never to speak to the president again.

Trump called the proceedings “absolutely ridiculous." Taken together, though, the developments show how diminished and isolated he has become in the final days of his presidency, as the fallout from the Capitol siege has consumed the nation.

John Kelly, a former Trump chief of staff who has become a critic, said not to expect sudden contrition.

“You have to understand the man: He does not ever, ever, ever want to appear weak or that he might have been wrong," Kelly said in an appearance at the Land Investment Expo in Iowa on Tuesday.

Trump’s trip to Texas marked his first public appearance since last Wednesday, when the mob overran the Capitol. He has spent the past six days in the White House, unable to communicate to the public using Twitter after the platform permanently suspended his account out of concern he would incite more violence.

“It’s time for peace and calm," Trump said Tuesday. But he added that impeaching him would be “very dangerous for the USA, especially at this very tender time."

Some of his supporters have advocated further violence on the internet. The Justice Department on Tuesday announced the arrest of a suburban Chicago man who had allegedly threatened to kill Democrats at the Capitol.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned that armed protesters could take to the streets in the nation’s capital and in several states beginning in the days before the inauguration.

Before the Jan. 6 Electoral Vote certification in Congress, Trump urged his supporters to come to Washington for a “wild" rally in support of his false claims that the November election had been stolen and that he, not Biden, had won.

In an hour-long speech at the Ellipse, the president told a crowd of thousands that they should “fight much harder" and encouraged them to head to the Capitol in order to demand that lawmakers “show strength."

The result was a rampage of chaos and violence, undermining the peaceful transfer of power -- a bedrock principle of American democracy.

Justice Department officials said they are considering filing sedition and conspiracy charges, which carry heavy prison sentences, against some of the rioters in order to deter further violence.

“People are going to be shocked at some of the egregious contact that happened within the Capitol," Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday issued a rare, military-wide memo condemning the deadly riot and affirming that Biden would become the next president on Jan. 20. “We support and defend the Constitution. Any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values and oath; it is against the law," the top military leaders wrote.

The accelerating furor is hampering any attempt by the outgoing president to frame his legacy through any lens other than the riot.

His trip to Texas was intended to highlight progress building a wall at the southern border, the signature promise of his 2016 campaign, and curbing illegal immigration. The president warned that if his border policies were reversed, “it would trigger a tidal wave of illegal immigration," and he once again disparaged migrants, casting the people his administration had deported as “murderers" and drug lords.

Biden is poised to undo many of Trump’s directives on immigration, which Democrats and immigrant-rights groups have criticized as inhumane.

And the event illustrated how Trump had fallen short of his promises. In the 2016 campaign, he had pledged to build a wall stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and to force Mexico to pay for it. In the end, U.S. taxpayers financed the project. Roughly 450 miles of wall has been completed, but much of it replaced existing, albeit easier-to-scale, barriers.

No throng of fans

The event itself struck a discordant note, given the crisis unfolding in Washington. In his unusually short speech, Trump reserved his scorn for what he warned were “waves" of migrants, including some “really vicious people," that would soon cross illegally into the US, rather than the rioters at the Capitol.

Decades-old pop and rock hits from Trump’s political rally play list blared over loudspeakers before he appeared for his speech. But instead of a throng of adoring fans, his audience was a subdued group of Border Patrol officers who shifted in their chairs as he spoke.

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