While President Donald Trump egged on a mob of his supporters who had stormed the United States Capitol on Wednesday, several of his top aides began to scramble. Their mission, according to three sources familiar with the matter: to try to convince senior White House staffers and Cabinet secretaries to stay in the administration, if only just for the night.
The effort has not been completely successful. Stephanie Grisham, the chief of staff to the first lady and the former White House communications director, quit hours after the insurrection, as CNN first reported. So did Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews. “As someone who worked in the halls of Congress I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today,” she wrote.
Former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced that he had resigned from his diplomatic post on Thursday morning, telling CNBC: “I can’t stay.” Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger also resigned on Wednesday afternoon, an administration official confirmed to The Daily Beast and Ryan Tully quit the National Security Council.
Several other senior officials said they were considering quitting on the spot after news broke that an individual involved in Wednesday’s events at the Capitol had died as a result of a gunshot wound. Those officials include Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Liddell, two sources familiar with the situation said.
Trump aides and GOP power-brokers including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asked all three to remain in their posts until at least tomorrow.
According to those two sources, McConnell (R-KY) has been busy making calls to the White House in an effort to try and maintain cohesiveness for the next few hours at least.
And one senior administration official told The Daily Beast on Thursday that National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien was asked to stay on given the “unstable” situation in Washington, and incase more violence erupts.
The Trump diehards in the administration, however, did not want to be outdone. According to two sources familiar with the situation, on Wednesday evening, a collective of Trump loyalists in the White House and Pentagon began frantically talking about how many officials they could, or should, get to release on-the-record statements about how they’re staying in the administration until the bitter end and how proud they are to serve the increasingly authoritarian Trump. Names being kicked around include senior White House aide John McEntee, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought, and multiple Pentagon officials.
As Trump aides rushed to keep the departures to a minimum and perform some semblance of damage control, the president vented his fury that politicians and people on cable news were already starting to hold him responsible for the day’s mayhem, according to two people familiar with the situation. Predictably, Trump held the position that it wasn’t his fault and that a strong public denunciation was not necessary at the time, the sources relayed.
Trump did, however, make time to continue privately griping throughout Wednesday afternoon about how unfair his own vice president was being to him.
White House spokespeople did not immediately provide comment for this story. A McConnell spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
Trump’s only public statements of the afternoon came via his preferred medium of Twitter. As the mob stormed the Capitol Building, the president was busy lashing out at his own vice president for refusing to nullify a presidential election in order to illegally keep him in power. Twitter later locked the president of the United States’ account for inciting violence; YouTube and Facebook did the same.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Trump complained. Fifteen minutes later, he followed up with a perfunctory request for the rioters to “stay peaceful!” Only after Pence and the Senate’s most senior Republican, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, were evacuated to a secure location did the president more forcefully plead with his legions of supporters—some of whom had professed a willingness to die in the name of Trump’s re-election—to stand down.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence!” he tweeted. “Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Members of Trump’s family quickly chimed in as well. “The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful,” tweeted Ivanka Trump. Her tweet, which referred to the mob as “American Patriots,” was quickly deleted.
Ignoring those tweets, rioters pushed past police barricades surrounding the Capitol, smashed windows, and pushed through doors. They streamed into the building and some soon made their way onto the floor of the U.S. Senate. Members of the mob stood atop the dais and shouted conspiracy theories about an election they insist, falsely, was stolen from President Donald Trump. On the House side, security officers barricaded the door, drew their weapons, and faced down demonstrators trying to fight their way inside.
Meanwhile, the president’s campaign was busy raising money off the election fraud conspiracy that precipitated Wednesday’s violence. “Congress is voting to certify, or OBJECT TO, the Election results. Pres Trump needs YOU to STAND WITH HIM! 1000% IMPACT! Donate,” Trump 2020 texted supporters at 1:36 p.m. ET on Wednesday, as gatherings of furious, Trump-supported MAGA fans forced the Hill into a frenzied state of lockdown and evacuation.
But the images of the day did not seem to overly bother the outgoing president, who for weeks had been cheering on the actions of some of his most extreme, dead-ender supporters and street demonstrators. However, the images did appear to shock and disgust several of Trump’s own former and current officials, some of whom served in the most senior echelon of his administration.
“I have strong opinions about the matter,” Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence under Trump who previously served inside the very building under attack as a U.S. senator, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday afternoon. “Obviously, this has gotten out of hand, and to the extent that the president has encouraged people without taking thought that it could turn out like this is something that should have been decided upon before it happened. I think we’re in a dire situation that could have been prevented. And that’s all I have to say on that [at this time].”
Meanwhile, lower-level administration officials wondered what the hell their bosses were up to. “Where is Acting Attorney General Rosen right now? Hiding under a desk? Polishing his resume? He certainly failed to prepare for this clearly telegraphed, systematically incited mob attack on our nation's Capitol,” a currently-serving Justice Department prosecutor told The Daily Beast.
Michael Short, previously a spokesman in the Trump White House who still serves in the administration, tweeted, “Unreal. The President needs to tell the crowd he recklessly whipped up into a frenzy to stand down.” Alyssa Farah, who until recently was one of Trump’s top spokespeople and communications director, posted to Twitter, “Condemn this now, @realDonaldTrump- you are the only one they will listen to. For our country!”
But Trump had another top priority this week: condemning Farah’s former boss, Pence.
Earlier in the day, Pence’s office released an official letter emphasizing that he doesn’t have the authority to decide the 2020 election—a power that Trump has falsely insisted to the public and directly to Pence that the vice president does have. The president lost it and seethed at this supposed slight of backstabbing.
For days, the president has telegraphed to aides and advisers that he was storing up his wrath for Pence, should Pence simply formally acknowledge that he cannot unilaterally overturn the 2020 presidential election and subvert the will of the American people.
Three individuals who are close to Trump and who work for him say that in conversations with the president since this past weekend, he has made clear he doesn’t intend to let Pence off the hook if (or rather, when) his VP doesn’t attempt to subvert the American democratic system on Capitol Hill.
A person who’s been in direct contact with the president multiple times in recent days said close allies have warned Trump that Pence wouldn’t do what he wanted come Jan. 6, to which the president would respond with phrases such as, “he better not do that” and “we’ll have to see.” This source said that they, and some others, have specifically advised Trump to work against Pence’s future political ambitions, especially if the veep tries to run for president in the post-Trump era, should Pence cross the president on Wednesday. This source recounted that the president simply responded by saying he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Even after Pence’s office released his letter, some associates and diehard allies of the president refused to even believe that Joe Biden would assume the highest office in the land on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
“[Pence’s] not going to declare Biden president-elect today,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a Trump friend and a funder of several pro-Trump events and legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election, said in a brief interview shortly after 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. When asked about what was going on on Capitol Hill, Lindell, who was in Washington, D.C., this week to speak at and support rallies seeking to throw out the election results, added, “I don’t know what [those] protesters are doing” and “I suppose they came out because they were angry about the letter.”
In the lead-up to Wednesday, Trump has been devoting considerable time to taking stock of who remains in his corner and who he and his inner circle can brand a turncoat or a “coward.” The president has been going out of his way to privately thank and congratulate officials, lawmakers, and cohorts for their efforts in the past few days, and claimed that they would be rewarded for their “loyalty” and that it would not be forgotten, according to several sources with direct knowledge.
On Wednesday evening, as the mob continued to mill about the Capitol, Trump took to Twitter once more to both indulge the conspiracy theories that drove the rioters to Washington in the first place and to call on them to “go home.”
“There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election,” Trump said in a video tweeted just after 4 p.m. “But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace.”