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Momentum builds to remove President Trump from office

Correction: In our piece on the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol, we reported that Richard Barnett, who posted a picture on social media that showed him sitting with his feet on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk, is from Colorado. He is from Arkansas.

The chaos that engulfed Washington, D.C. this week has taken a tragic new turn. And with it, momentum is building to oust a sitting president in the final days of his term. Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The chaos that engulfed Washington this week has taken yet another tragic turn. And, with it, momentum is building to oust a sitting president in the final days of his term.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The pressure is building on President Trump in the wake of Wednesday's assault on the U.S. Capitol, especially after a Capitol Hill police officer died of his injuries overnight.

    Law enforcement officials said Officer Brian Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. He was the fifth death overall linked to the mob attack by Trump supporters.

    Another was Ashli Babbitt, seen here in video released by "The Washington Post" confronting Capitol Police outside the House chamber. Moments later, an officer beyond the doors fired shots, fatally wounding Babbitt.

    Today it fed growing demands, largely by Democrats, to impeach Mr. Trump again in his last two weeks in office for inciting the violence.

    Congressman Al Green of Texas has brought up impeachment repeatedly in recent years.

  • Rep. Al Green:

    The president can be impeached, and this can be sent to the Senate posthaste. And the Senate can take up the articles of impeachment. The Senate but only has to have the will to move forward and have a trial.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring the president unfit and removing him from power.

    Vice President Mike Pence has so far indicated he won't support the move, something that would be required for it to happen. If so, House Democrats could introduce articles of impeachment on Monday.

    In the Senate, majority Republicans were nearly unanimous in backing Mr. Trump during his first impeachment a year ago. But Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said today he would consider voting to convict this time.

  • Sen. Ben Sasse:

    Donald Trump has acted shamefully. He has been in flagrant dereliction of his duty. And he will be remembered for having incited this and for having drawn more division into an already divided people.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In Wilmington, Delaware, president-elect Joe Biden said he will leave any impeachment process to Congress.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    If we were six months out, we should be moving everything to get him out of office, impeaching him again, invoke — trying to invoke the 25th Amendment, whatever it took to get him out of office.

    But I am focused now on us taking control, as president and vice president, on the 20th, and to get our agenda moving as quickly as we can.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Meanwhile, President Trump returned to Twitter, now that the temporary ban on his account has been lifted.

    In a video message last night, he condemned those he said had defiled the seat of American democracy. He also acknowledged his fight to stay in power is over.

  • President Donald Trump:

    To all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know that our incredible journey is only just beginning.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, he tweeted he will not be attending president-elect Biden's inauguration on January 20. The last president who refused to attend a successor's inauguration was Andrew Johnson in 1869. He, too, had been impeached and survived a Senate trial.

    In a separate tweet, Mr. Trump also declared his supporters will have — quote — "a giant voice long into the future," and he said: "They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form."

    But Speaker Pelosi warned that the president himself remains a danger in the here-and-now. She put out word that she had called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, about preventing the president from using nuclear weapons or launching other attacks.

    She reportedly told House Democrats later that Milley gave her assurances.

    There were also more arrests today, including Richard Barnett, the Colorado man scene with his feet on Speaker Pelosi's desk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now Lisa joins me, along with our Nick Schifrin.

    Hello to both of you. So much to ask you about.

    But, Lisa, first, if the 25th Amendment is not going to be invoked, what do the prospects look like for impeachment?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. This is something that is gaining momentum, as Speaker Pelosi herself put out in a statement today.

    It looks like this, Judy. They are preparing possible articles of impeachment. There are different versions of this being drafted and working groups talking about it at the U.S. Capitol. One of the charges could be incitement to insurrection.

    The schedule for that could be that those articles could be introduced as soon as Monday. If that happens, then the earliest a House vote could happen would be Wednesday. So, we need to watch that very carefully.

    At the same time, we have some interesting developments on the Senate side. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Republican, has said — is calling for the president to resign. Even more, she is saying, if he does not, she will reconsider her allegiance to the Republican Party.

    That is something that could change the balance of power in the Senate if she does it. It is a very strong threat.

    One more thing, the concept of, could the president be impeached after leaving office? I'm told by some who are working on this issue at the Capitol this has — there is precedent for this. The secretary of war under President Grant was impeached after leaving office, was not convicted, for a variety of reasons, but was impeached. There is precedent, and it's something they're talking about.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    Well, Lisa, on a somewhat different subject, you were back at the Capitol today. Tell us what the security there is like right now. And what more are you learning about what went wrong with security on Wednesday?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, I want to show you some photos I took today at the U.S. Capitol. It is a different building a different Capitol Hill.

    There is that seven-foot fence. Those are the National Guard members you see there. That fence is lining all of Constitution Avenue. And you can see the broken glass is still there at the Capitol. That's the front door that I witnessed being crashed into.

    But I want to also say — show a sign of hope. These are some workers putting up the drapery for inauguration. We don't know the security details of that yet. But that's something that's happening. The pomp and circumstance is going up.

    What went wrong? Talking to officers who I know well just say, simply, there were not enough people.

    And I want to say something else about Officer Sicknick, who was murdered by the rioters. I can tell you, from talking to police officers who knew him, he worked both outside and inside the Capitol, was well-known. They tell me not a single person disliked him. He was very popular.

    He had a girlfriend. And I don't know anything else about his family.

    So, our condolences, of course, to them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a tragedy. Such a tragedy.

    So, Nick, we heard in Lisa's reporting that Speaker Pelosi did call the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today. Tell us what that was all about.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, the speaker applied the political concerns that she's been voicing about the president and applied them to national security.

    And she told her caucus that she called Chairman Milley because — quote — "I have serious concerns that he President Trump may initiate hostilities one way another. He's so unstable. Whether we're talking about military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike, I was assured there are safeguards in place."

    Now, I asked the Joint Staff for a response to that. And Colonel Dave Butler, a spokesman for Chairman Milley, would only say — quote — "Speaker Pelosi initiated a call with the chairman. He answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority."

    It is extraordinary that the president's sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon would be raised, and that a chairman of the Joint Chiefs would acknowledge that it was discussed.

    Judy, the last time that we know senior officials had conversations like this was the end of the Nixon administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is — it is extraordinary.

    So, Nick, are there safeguards in place that would prevent President Trump from ordering a nuclear strike? I mean, are Speaker Pelosi's concerns warranted?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The president has sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon.

    But there's a debate if there's any way to prevent him from using that authority. The experts who I spoke to who say there are not safeguards describe this scenario. They say, the president decides to launch a nuclear weapon against a legitimate military target that's been pre-approved by the lawyers, and the president orders relatively low-level military officers to execute, and that the only thing preventing that launch would be the discretion of those officers who work within a system, frankly, that's built to carry out the president's orders.

    Other experts I talk to say that scenario is nearly impossible. They say, senior military, senior administration officials would be informed long before any launch, and that current senior officials would not authorize to — some kind of sudden attack initiated by the president, would find a way to argue that that kind of attack was illegal.

    And senior national security officials who work for President Trump tell me that President Trump does not want nuclear war or any kind of war. But the experts I speak to do acknowledge that the control of nuclear weapons is designed for the scenario where the president responds to attack, Judy. It is not designed to deal with a president who suddenly wants to launch.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's a relief to hear you citing what the people around the president are saying. But it is also astonishing that we're even discussing this right now.

    Nick Schifrin, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both very much.

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