The people closest to Donald Trump knew the risks.
For years, Trump and his most ardent supporters threatened their opponents with violence, insurrection, secession, and even civil war.
Some of his closest aides and establishment enablers gambled that such outcomes might be avoided, that they might escape the Trump administration with their reputations and career prospects enhanced. Or at least intact.
“There’s safety in numbers,” they may have told themselves. “I made the best of a bad situation and advanced causes I believe in.” “My hands are cleaner than others. I wasn’t part of the corruption, the child separation policies, the plot against democracy.”
But this was delusional because this was never a gamble. It was a Faustian bargain. And now some of them are trying to get out of it.
The day after the January 6 insurrection Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao both tendered resignations.
DeVos addressed Trump in her resignation letter, complaining that “we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protesters overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business. . . . There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”
In her resignation statement, Elaine Chao said “our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed . . . it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Former White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah agreed. Speaking to CNN’s John Berman, Farah directly tied the insurrection to Trump’s lies about his election defeat and his verbal incitement.
Farah on CNN Friday argued that the president should’ve issued a “forceful denunciation” of the riots and urged his supporters to “stand down.”
“When the moment called for leadership, he did not do the right thing and lives were lost because of it,” she said.
“It became abundantly clear we just didn’t win,” she said, adding that Trump’s repeated lies to his supporters “does a tremendous disservice to them, and it worked up this frenzy and this sort of mob that we saw at the Capitol, and it’s just unacceptable.”
Farah also said she would feel safer if Trump resigned and was replaced by Vice President Pence. “I think that [resignation is] something [Trump] should seriously consider,” she added.
Former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who resigned last week as Trump’s envoy to Northern Ireland, professed his surprise at Trump’s embrace of authoritarianism and violence. “We didn’t sign up for what you saw [January 6],” he said.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr, whose pre-Christmas departure prompted speculation that he was attempting to distance himself from a late spasm of insanity, minced no words:
“Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable,” Barr said in a statement obtained by POLITICO. “The President’s conduct yesterday was a betrayal of his office and supporters.”
Let’s dispense with the obvious:
They knew. Better than any of us, they knew.
But even if these denunciations and late conversions are more about self-preservation than conscience, they can still have value. And that value is this:
Every single one of these former officials should be forced to testify, under oath, at the Senate’s impeachment trial. Their testimonies should be part of the official government record. And their words should follow Donald Trump for all time.
In a perfect world, these people would step forward and volunteer their testimony. This world is not perfect, so they probably won’t. And in that case, the Senate should demand it.
Because it is difficult to imagine the impact of seeing former Attorney General Bill Barr swearing to Trump’s “betrayal of his office” at the impeachment trial.
We’ll be finished with President Donald Trump on January 20, at the latest. Finding our way to truth and national reconciliation will take a good deal longer.
“Unity” cannot happen until the citizenry understands the truth about Donald Trump. And the people who served under this man have a duty to tell it, again and again.