WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An increasingly isolated President Donald Trump sought on Friday to stave off a new drive to impeach him and Twitter permanently suspended his account, two days after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an assault on American democracy.
Twitter, long Trump’s favorite way to communicate with his supporters and a way to share his false claims of election fraud with his nearly 90 million followers, had been under increasing pressure to take action after Wednesday’s mayhem in Washington.
Trump exhorted thousands of followers to march on the Capitol as Congress met to certify his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden, prompting chaos in which crowds breached the building, forced the evacuation of both chambers and left a police officer and four others dead in their wake.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said.
Plans for future armed protests were proliferating on and off Twitter, the company added, including a proposed secondary attack on the Capitol on Jan. 17.
There was no immediate response from the White House to the move by Twitter. While he remains in office, Trump would still have access to the official @POTUS presidential account.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that if Trump did not resign, she had instructed the House Rules Committee to move ahead with a motion for impeachment and legislation on the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which provides for removal of a president who is unable to discharge his official duties.
Democrats, who said a House vote on impeachment could come next week, hope the impeachment threat can intensify pressure on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment before Trump’s term ends in less than two weeks.
“Impeaching President Donald Trump with 12 days remaining in his presidency would only serve to further divide the country,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Thursday and Friday found 57%of Americans want Trump to be removed immediately from office following the violence on Wednesday. Nearly 70% also disapproved of Trump’s actions in the run-up to the Capitol rampage.
Trump’s role in encouraging Wednesday’s chaos has opened a growing rift within the Republican Party.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a frequent Trump critic, told CBS News he would “definitely consider” impeachment because the president “disregarded his oath of office.”
‘I WANT HIM OUT’
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said Trump should resign immediately and that if the party cannot separate itself from him, she is not certain she has a future with it.
“I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage,” the Alaska Senator told the Anchorage Daily News.
It is unclear whether lawmakers would be able to remove Trump from office, as any impeachment would prompt a trial in the Senate, where his fellow Republicans still hold power and two-thirds of the 100 members must vote to convict for his removal.
Articles of impeachment, which are formal charges of misconduct, have been crafted by Democratic Representatives David Cicilline, Ted Lieu and Jamie Raskin.
A copy circulating among members of Congress charges Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in a bid to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
The articles also cite Trump’s hour-long phone call last week with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump asked the official to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in that state.
Lieu said on Twitter the draft had 150 co-sponsors.
The House impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden, but the Senate acquitted him in February 2020.
Law professor Brian Kalt said on Twitter that Pelosi’s call for legislation on the 25th Amendment is unlikely to happen before the end of Trump’s presidency.
For the 25th Amendment to be invoked, Pence and the majority of Trump’s Cabinet would need to declare that Trump is unable to perform the duties of the presidency and remove him. Pence is opposed to the idea of using the amendment, an adviser said.
Pelosi also said she had spoken with the nation’s top general, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, about preventing Trump from initiating military hostilities or launching a nuclear weapon.
Pelosi told members on a Democratic conference call that she had gotten assurances from Milley that there are safeguards in place, a source familiar with the situation said.
“Sadly the person that’s running executive branch is a deranged, unhinged, dangerous president of the United States,” she said in an excerpt of an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program.
REPUBLICAN DEFECTIONS FROM TRUMP
The FBI and prosecutors are investigating and criminally charging people who took part in violence at the Capitol.
A handful of Republicans, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger, have said Trump should leave office immediately.
Numerous senior Trump administration officials have resigned including two Cabinet members: Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, and Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.
But Trump allies, including Senator Lindsey Graham and the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, had urged Democrats to shelve talk of impeachment to avoid further division.
McConnell has not commented on a possible impeachment.
An uncharacteristically subdued Trump finally denounced the violence in a video on Thursday and promised to ensure a smooth transition. But a more familiar, pugilistic tone returned on Friday, as he said on Twitter that his supporters would never be “disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
He also said he would not attend Biden’s inauguration, departing from a time-honored tradition that typically sees the outgoing president escort his successor to the ceremony.
Alan Dershowitz, who helped represent Trump during his impeachment trial last year, said he would be honored to stand up for the president again, if asked. He said he did not think Trump committed an impeachable offense, and his statement to supporters was not incitement.
“Impeaching this president for making a speech would do more damage to the Constitution than the rioters, horrible as they were, did last Wednesday,” Dershowitz, a professor emeritus from Harvard Law School, told Reuters.
Biden told reporters he viewed Trump as “unfit” for office but said he would let Congress decide what to do.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Andrea Shalal, Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Susan Heavey in Washington, Yereth Rosen in Alaska; Jan Wolfe in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Joseph Ax and John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell, Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis
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