Convict Donald Trump in the Impeachment

To Senators Collins and King —

I hope and expect you will vote to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial. He stirred up the insurrection, then DID NOTHING while it was going on. He deliberately turned his back on his constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed and to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic.

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What Went Wrong at the Capitol? Is Bias an Explanation?

“The threat assessment, obviously, was a total failure.” And the reason for that, he and others say, goes back to the inability of law enforcement officials to see Trump supporters — a group of mostly white Americans, some of them law enforcement officers themselves — as a real threat.

That’s from a piece on Vox by Anna North titled “Police Bias Explains the Capitol Riot.” She quotes R. P. Eddy, “a counterterrorism expert and CEO of the intelligence firm Ergo.”  North is a senior Reporter for Vox, and formerly at the New York Times where (among other posts) she was a member of the editorial board.  She has some credentials, but I have my doubts about bias as an explanation here.

I don’t doubt that there are biases – significant biases – among those involved.  It’s rather that leaning on bias as an explanation clouds more than it illuminates. 

Here are North and Eddy, again: 

Many of the rioters had a lot in common with the officials in charge of doing threat assessments in the days and weeks ahead of the riot, he explained: “They probably were very similar in race, probably very similar in income, probably very similar religious beliefs.” That includes a number of rioters who are law enforcement themselves. Departments around the country have suspended officers for their involvement in the riot.

The failure to anticipate the violence of January 6 was a “failure to imagine that folks who look like you, who probably think like you, are going to come do something that’s wildly different than what you’d want to do, and they’re going to try to kill you in the process,” Eddy said.

North does name some individuals in leadership positions: Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.  Indeed these are some of the people (not all) who were responsible for seeing that adequate preparations were made.  But North shows no interest in what specific responsibilities each carried.  Do North and Eddy mean that it is bias on the part of all these individuals (and if so, which) that led to the failure?  It seems rather like she believes a kind of fog of bias infected the Capitol Hill Police and others, and not just those in leadership.  Here’s Eddy again: 

“Every event like this has a lead agency,” he explained: “one group who’s responsible, ultimately, for what’s going to happen.” In this case, it was the Capitol Police. They failed to prepare their officers — many of whom were in ordinary uniforms rather than helmets and riot gear — and they failed to prepare in advance for the federal reinforcements they would need, Eddy said. “They obviously failed to understand what the threat was going to be.”

“They?”  Who?  There were not enough police at the site of the Capitol to deal with the numbers and tactics of the rioters.  Who made that decision?  On the basis of what prior information?  Shared with what particular individuals?  An organization like the Capitol Hill Police has a command structure.  Those in command are responsible for training, for planning, for equipping and for deploying their personnel.  If those individuals with those responsibilities had done their jobs adequately, the insurrection would not have succeeded to the degree that it did. 

Perhaps Sund had adequate information but made an inadequate plan.  Perhaps Sund was denied valuable intelligence by the FBI.  Perhaps Sund requested National Guard backup that he was denied.  Each possibility puts the responsibility for the failure in a different place.  Blaming ‘bias’ among the whole group’ is shallow and sloppy.  It evades the question of responsibility. 

North also quotes Sabrina Karim, identified as a professor of government at Cornell who studies global policing. 

“There was some degree of complicitness, not among all of the police officers or law enforcement agents, but some,” [Karim said.] … Some of that likely stems from similarities in ideology between some police and some of the rioters, with “blue lives matter” signs seen alongside Confederate flags and other racist imagery during the riot. “White supremacy has really crept into police forces,” Karim said.

But “White supremacy” doesn’t tell us who failed to make adequate preparations.  Blaming bias taints with a very broad brush. It is not just “some” police officers or law enforcement officials, it was particular people who can and should be identified.  Moreover, if “bias” was involved on their part, we deserve to know whether it was consciously in play, or something of which they were unaware. 

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What Went Wrong at the Capitol – Some Answers and More Questions

[Updates below]

Despite an almost total lack of communication from the Pentagon, FBI, Justice Department or White House, we’re beginning to see some answers to the question of what went wrong at the Capitol — why there was such inadequate preparation for the mob attack on Congress on Wednesday, January 6. But many questions remain.

The New York Times this morning has a front page piece titled Inside a Deadly Siege: How a String of Failures Led to a Dark Day at the Capitol. The paper edition of the NYT I received this morning uses the phrases “flood of failures” and “cascading failures” in the headers it attaches to the story. It also says “a full reckoning will take months, or even years, and many lawmakers have called for a formal commission to investigate the debacle.” I support convening such a commission. I think we can begin to see some of the crucial elements of the failure. There’s blame to be shared but there are also unanswered questions.

We now know that Muriel Bowser, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, sent a letter the day before the mob attack to the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army that specifically asks them not to intervene: “To be clear, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD [Metropolitan Police Department] if such plans are underway.”

We can guess that Bowser sent this out of a concern that the MPD would be blindsided, as it had been this summer during Black Lives Matter protests by the sudden appearance of federal forces (in unmarked uniforms) without prior consultation. In this event, she left the Capitol without adequate protection.

There are many videos of the mob attack and they show much weaker police protection for the Capitol and members of Congress than been been provided in advance for many other demonstrations and events. We know the Capitol Hill Police Department is large and well-funded (1,879 officers; $515 million annual budget) and has well-established protocols for seeking support from others. An important unanswered question is what was the plan for protection the Capitol and the Congress? Who devised that plan? Who provided input? Who judged it adequate?

The New York Times article reports that “Federal agencies and Capitol Police issued no warnings in the days leading up to the riots that the protests could turn violent, despite countless posts on right wing social media sites pledging confrontation and even bloodshed.” We need to know what intelligence was gathered in advance of the event and with whom it was shared. What did the Capitol Hill Police leadership know about the prospects of violence and what did Mayor Bowser, the Chief of the MPD and other D.C. officials know? There appears to have been a massive failure of intelligence — but why?

We know next to nothing about the advance planning of the U.S. Capitol Police. Its leadership has resigned, and it has so far refused all requests for additional information. The USCP has made many plans for other demonstrations and public events. How was this plan different and why? What information did the USCP have about what to expect (numbers, tactics, etc.) and who provided that information.

The Pentagon has released a Timetable for December 31, 2020 – January 6, 2021 that gives some insight into federal government’s actions and non-actions in the events. Released on Friday, January 8, it refers to the events as “First Amendment Protests.” On initial reading I found that a peculiar designation, but then I note that Mayor Bowser’s January 5 letter refers to “this week’s First Amendment activities.”

The Timetable is largely focused on who in the federal government considered, and when, what support, if any, would be provided to the Capitol Hill Police and the Metropolitan Police Department by various branches of the National Guard. The Timetable is explicit in noting that “there is no request for DoD support.” And it is explicit that Mayor Bowser’s request, which was made on December 31, only calls for support from 340 members of the DC National Guard, largely to provide traffic control. These make the Timetable read very much like a bureaucratic CYA document.

Did those who were involved at the federal level, especially at the Department of Defense, think this request was adequate to the need? Have they ever in the past counseled a need for greater support?

The Timetable also makes it clear that before approving Mayor Bowser’s request, that the Acting Secretary of Defense met with various Cabinet Officers (unspecified) and then with the President. (“President concurs in activation of the DCNG to support law enforcement.”) Would the President normally be involved in such requests? Since the President himself was the prime sponsor of the rally that turned into a riot/insurrection, was it appropriate that the President be involved?

While the riot was in progress, did the White House make any request or issue any directive about what should be done to restore order?

A last set of questions to which we do not have clear answers concern when requests were made for additional support from units of the National Guard, who received these requests, were they were initially refused or delayed, and when was authorization given? There have been conflicting news accounts. There have also been suggestions that the chain of command for deployment of units of the National Guard in D.C. are overly complicated. There are reports, for example, that a request from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to mobilize that state’s National Guard unit went unanswered by DoD officials for several hours while the insurrection was in progress.

We need answers to these questions. A national commission would be the right way to gain answers. Outgoing Capitol Police chief: House, Senate security officials hamstrung efforts to call in National Guard


On Empty Wheel, Marcy Wheeler today (1/11/21) provides valuable additional context for what happened: Four Data Points on the January 6 Insurrection.

The Washington Post last night (1/10/21) provides reporting on a first interview with Steven Sund, the Capitol Hill Police Chief, who resigned immediately after the event. He recounts his frustration with trying to arrange National Guard backup in advance of the event. Carol Leonnig, Aaron Davis, Peter Hermann and Karoun Demirjian, Outgoing Capitol Police chief: House, Senate security officials hamstrung efforts to call in National Guard.

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What Went Wrong at the Capitol?

[Updates below]

Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol Building by a mob of Trump supporters quickly overran the police protection. Mob members were inside the building minutes after the assault began. What went wrong?

Poor preparation is a frequent note sounded in assessments I’ve read over the past 48 hours. “The overlapping jurisdictions and chains of command meant a haphazard response to yesterday’s threat,” wrote Heather Cox Richardson, whose daily reports on recent events I find accurate and immensely useful. David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, gives this accounting:

Some mistakes are obvious: The FBI underestimated the number of protesters, predicting a maximum of 20,000, which turned out to be less than half the number who showed up. The Capitol Police didn’t stand their ground at the perimeter or at the Capitol itself. The mayor was slow to request additional troops from the D.C. National Guard. The acting attorney general was similarly tardy in ordering elite FBI units into the Capitol. And the Pentagon brass worried more about avoiding politicization of the military than about stopping an insurrection.

This account features a cumulation of poor estimates and late responses. The suggestion is that mistakes were made, but honest ones. (“For want of a nail…”)

Many accounts call attention to the disparity between the preparations made for this most recent protest (if that’s the right word) and preparations made for other protests such as the May 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

I’m left with this question: was the ‘poor preparation’ willful? Was it a deliberate mistake to increase the chances that the protesters would gain access to the building? Was the inadequacy of preparation something that was engineered?

Certainly protests from African Americans or protests by those on the left are regularly met by a greater police presence and more extensive preparation for the use of force. But was the lesser response in this case something done deliberately? I’m not seeing that question addressed. Richardson and Ignatius and others I respect seem to be suggesting the mistake was inadvertent, but I wonder. I wonder especially because so much of the planning by the mob leaders was done online, plain to see for anyone caring to look.

We know that Trump’s hope on Wednesday was to slow down the process with the hope that in the ‘slowing down’ Joe Biden would be denied the 270 votes he needed in the Electoral College. That would have meant the election would have gone into the House of Representatives where each state has one vote only, that vote to be decided upon by its state’s Representatives. Even though Democrats have a majority in the House, more states have a majority of Republican Representatives. (It’s just that these delegations are smaller than say California’s or New York’s.) Thus would Biden’s 7 million vote plurality in the popular vote been erased.

Who made the decisions that led the Capitol Building to be so poorly protected? Who made which decisions and when? Who made recommendations that were dismissed or overruled?

We need answers to those questions.


Best things I’ve read so far, but no answers:

Paul Sonne, Peter Hermann and Missy Ryan, Pentagon Placed Limits on D.C. Guard Ahead of Pro-Trump Protests to Narrow Mission, Washington Post, January 7, 2021.

Fred Burton, Garrett Graff, Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes, Who Let the Barbarians Through the Gates? Lawfare Podcast, January 8, 2021.

Department of Defense, Planning and Execution Timeline for National Guard Involvement in January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests

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Remove Trump Now!

This morning, January 7, 2021, I called the offices of my three elected members of Congress: Senators Angus King and Susan Collins and Representative Chellie Pingree. I left this message both by phone and by e-mail:

Donald Trump is principally responsible for what happened yesterday in the nation’s capital. What happened was an act of insurrection, an act of sedition against the United States government. Donald Trump should be held responsible for this despicable effort. He should be held accountable. The first step in holding him accountable should be his immediate removal from office, either through impeachment and conviction or through exercise of the 25th Amendment. Failure to hold him accountable would be for you to fail to uphold your responsibilities as an elected official. I urge you to make this your first and only priority: to remove Donald Trump as President for his active efforts to undermine the constitutional government of the United States.

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