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US riots: Donald Trump concedes election loss, condemns siege on Capitol

Key Points:
• In a video message, President Donald Trump acknowledged his election loss after the US Congress certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory last night.
• Trump condemned the violence of his own supporters who stormed the Capitol Building as “lawlessness and mayhem”.
• Lawmakers are calling for Trump’s removal from office, either through impeachment or the 25th amendment.
• Several members of the Trump administration have quit after yesterday’s events, including ex-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. But New Zealander Chris Liddell has chosen to stay on as Deputy White House Chief of Staff.
• Trump has suggested to aides he wants to pardon himself in the final days of his presidency, the New York Times reports.

With 13 days left in his term, President Donald Trump finally conceded his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden, acknowledging he’ll peacefully leave office after Congress affirmed his defeat last night.

In a video released on Twitter, Trump admitted for the first time that his presidency would soon end, saying a “new administration will be inaugurated on January 20” and his “focus now turns to ensuring a smooth orderly and seamless transition of power”.

The President also condemned the violence of his supporters who stormed the nation’s Capitol yesterday, saying they “do not represent our country” and that they “defiled the seat of American democracy”.

He labelled the siege on the Capitol Building a “heinous attack” that left him “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem”.

The address, which appeared designed to stave off talk of a forced early eviction, came at the end of a day when the cornered president stayed out of sight in the White House.

Silenced on some of his favourite internet lines of communication, he watched the resignations of several top aides, including a Cabinet secretary. And as officials sifted through the aftermath of the pro-Trump mob’s siege of the US Capitol, there was growing discussion of impeaching him a second time or invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office.

Fallout from the siege

The invasion of the Capitol building, a powerful symbol of the nation’s democracy, rattled Republicans and Democrats alike. They struggled with how best to contain the impulses of a president deemed too dangerous to control his own social media accounts but who remains commander in chief of the world’s greatest military.

“I’m not worried about the next election, I’m worried about getting through the next 14 days,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies. He condemned the President’s role in the riots and said, “If something else happens, all options would be on the table.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that “the President of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America.” She called him “a very dangerous person who should not continue in office. This is urgent, an emergency of the highest magnitude.”

Neither option to remove Trump seemed likely, with little time left in his term to draft the Cabinet members needed to invoke the amendment or to organise the hearings and trial mandated for an impeachment. But the fact that the dramatic options were even the subject of discussion in Washington’s corridors of power served as a warning to Trump.

Fears of what a desperate president could do in his final days spread in the nation’s capital and beyond, including speculation Trump could incite more violence, make rash appointments, issue ill-conceived pardons — including for himself and his family — or even trigger a destabiliding international incident.

The President’s video — which was released upon his return to Twitter after his account was restored — was a complete reversal from the one he put out just 24 hours earlier in which he said to the violent mob, “We love you. You’re very special.” His earlier refusal to condemn the violence sparked a firestorm of criticism and, in the new video, he at last denounced the demonstrators’ “lawlessness and mayhem”.

As for his feelings on leaving office, he told the nation that “serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime” while hinting at a return to the public arena. He told supporters “that our incredible journey is only just beginning”.

Just a day earlier, Trump claimed at a Washington DC rally that he would “never concede” his electoral loss, again making baseless claims of voter fraud. His speech prompted supporters to disrupt the congressional certification of Biden’s victory by aggressively invading the Capitol Building.

Following the eventual certification of Biden’s win by members of Congress, Trump released a statement through an aide last night that merely acknowledged he would abide by a peaceful transfer of power on January 20. Trump couldn’t tweet it himself because, for the first time, the social media platform suspended his account temporarily. Facebook adopted a broader ban, saying Trump’s account would be offline until after Biden’s inauguration.

Exodus of Trump staff

Deprived of social media lifeblood, Trump today remained silent and ensconced in the executive mansion. But around him, loyalists headed for the exits, their departures — which were coming in two weeks anyway — moved up to protest the President’s handling of the riot.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao became the first Cabinet member to resign. Chao, married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a message to staff that the attack “deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside”.

Others who resigned in the wake of the riot include: Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council; first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham, a former White House press secretary; and Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff-turned-special envoy to Northern Ireland.

Mulvaney told CNBC that he had called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to let him know I was resigning… I can’t do it. I can’t stay.”

New Zealander Chris Liddell has taken a different approach, deciding to stay on at the White House to ensure a smooth transition to the Biden administration.

“The transition of power from one administration to another is essential for the continuous operation of the Federal Government and is therefore critical to the country,” Liddell told the Herald.

“The planning of the transition has been my priority for the past several months, and for the next 12 days my focus is leading the successful transition to the new administration.”

Calls to remove Trump from office

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joined Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in declaring that Trump “should not hold office one day longer” and urged Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to act.

No member of the Cabinet has publicly expressed support for the move — which would make Pence the acting president — though several were believed to be sympathetic to the notion, believing Trump is too volatile in his waning days in office.

Without invocation of the 25th amendment, Democrats may press ahead with articles of impeachment. Leadership is being urged to immediately reconvene both chambers of Congress to immediately begin impeachment proceedings, MSNBC reports.

The New York Times is also reporting that Trump has suggested to aides he wants to pardon himself in the final days of his presidency, although such a move would not prevent impeachment.

Two people with knowledge of the discussions said that in “several” conversations since the election, Trump told advisers that he is considering giving himself a pardon.

In the West Wing, shell-shocked aides were packing up, acting on a delayed directive to begin offboarding their posts ahead of the Biden team’s arrival. The slowdown before now was due to Trump’s single-minded focus on his defeat since election day at the expense of the other responsibilities of his office.

Most glaringly, that included the fight against the raging coronavirus that is killing record numbers of Americans each day. Few aides had any sense of the President’s plans, with some wondering if Trump would largely remain out of sight until he left the White House.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany read a brief statement in which she declared that the Capitol siege was “appalling, reprehensible and antithetical to the American way”.

But her words carried little weight. Trump has long made clear that only he speaks for his presidency.

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