The President Deliberately Withheld Aid to Combat the Insurrection

President-elect Donald Trump looks on during a rally at the DeltaPlex Arena on December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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January 12, 2021 1:24 p.m.

There is a simple chain of events that even news outlets doing the best work are still tiptoeing around. After President Trump gave his speech to the insurrectionists on Wednesday he returned to the White House and excitedly watched the storming of the Capitol on TV. As members of Congress were besieged and then retreated to a secure undisclosed location, Trump received numerous pleas from members of Congress to send reinforcements or call on his supporters to disperse. He refused because he liked what he was seeing.

Eventually Trump was persuaded to okay sending in federal law enforcement and the National Guard. And he half-heartedly told his insurrectionist supporters to disperse but only in a message expressing support for them and restating the grievances which were the rationale for the insurrection in the first place. Republican Senators were reportedly particularly incensed by this because they believed it encouraged them to remain in place. But it’s this initial period, which seems to have gone on for between 90 minutes and two hours that demands our attention.

Here is one example from the Post

But as senators and House members trapped inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday begged for immediate help during the siege, they struggled to get through to the president, who — safely ensconced in the West Wing — was too busy watching fiery TV images of the crisis unfolding around them to act or even bother to hear their pleas.

“He was hard to reach, and you know why? Because it was live TV,” said one close Trump adviser. “If it’s TiVo, he just hits pause and takes the calls. If it’s live TV, he watches it, and he was just watching it all unfold.”

Even as he did so, Trump did not move to act. And the message from those around him — that he needed to call off the angry mob he had egged on just hours earlier, or lives could be lost — was one to which he was not initially receptive.

Note that oblique and inverted line at the end. The President’s staffers were begging him to heed the pleas embattled members of Congress. And he said no. It was a message “to which he was not initially receptive.”

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It is a remarkably ornate and indirect construction.

I’m not going to waste time criticizing the Post on this. They’ve powered through with a wealth of reporting helping us understand what happened. Why they are so reticent on this point I don’t entirely understand. Later in the same article they refer to him as “paralyzed – more passive viewer than resolute leader, repeatedly failing to perform even the basic duties of his job.”

In any case, the point is to focus on what the reporting of the Post and numerous other outlets makes clear. After it became clear that his insurrectionist supporters had breached the Capitol entrances and were storming the Capitol complex, the President willfully refused to provide the relief only he could provide. This would have been a clear order for his insurrectionist supporters to stand down and clear the building, which only he could give, and military and law enforcement assistance that only he as Command-in-Chief could authorize.

In many ways this is the more grievous and impeachable act – much more clear cut and culpable than the initial speech. But it has remained muddled and occluded in so much reporting.

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