Transcript

Lies, Politics and Democracy

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HILLARY CLINTON:

Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country.

MITT ROMNEY:

I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory.

JOHN McCAIN:

I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama to congratulate him. [Booing]

JOHN McCAIN:

Please.

JOHN KERRY:

I spoke to President Bush and I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory.

AL GORE:

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it.

BOB DOLE:

The president is my opponent, not my enemy. And I wish him well and I pledge my support.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH:

And America must always come first, so we will get behind this new president and wish him well.

MICHAEL DUKAKIS:

This nation faces major challenges ahead, and we must work together.

WALTER MONDALE:

He has won. We are all Americans. He is our president.

JIMMY CARTER:

—in bringing about an orderly transition of government in the weeks ahead.

BETTY FORD:

I congratulate you on your victory.

GEORGE McGOVERN:

Congratulations on your victory.

HUBERT HUMPHREY:

We’ve got a president-elect. He’s going to have my help. Cheers.

BARRY GOLDWATER:

I have no bitterness. No rancor at all.

RICHARD NIXON:

He will have my whole-hearted support.

ADLAI STEVENSON:

The people have rendered their verdict, and I gladly accept it.

THOMAS DEWEY:

I urge all Americans to unite behind you. And every good American will wholeheartedly accept the will of the people.

WENDELL WILLKIE:

I accept the result of the election with complete goodwill.

DONALD TRUMP:

This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election.

NARRATOR:

It was the lie that sparked an insurrection, an existential threat to American democracy created by decisions made over years. Partisan warfare. Moral compromise.

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

NARRATOR:

Warnings ignored.

DONALD TRUMP:

I alone can fix it.

DEMOCRACY IS FOR LOSERS

MALE VOICE:

Get the host in place, we gotta go. Thirty seconds. OK, quiet in studio.

NARRATOR:

The warnings about the threat to democracy were there from the very beginning.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

We have some breaking news for you now. Fox News can now project that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has won Iowa.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Ted Cruz wins the Republican contest here in Iowa.

TED CRUZ:

Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.

NARRATOR:

Sen. Ted Cruz had defeated Donald Trump in the first contest for the 2016 presidential nomination.

February 1, 2016

4 Years, 11 Months, 5 Days

Until January 6, 2021

MALE NEWSREADER:

Ted Cruz took on Donald Trump toe-to-toe and prevailed.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Clearly a majority of Iowans didn’t want to make a deal with Donald Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It’s going to be very interesting to see how Donald Trump will react to the fact that he’s now been beaten.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The big question now: How is Donald Trump going to handle a loss?

NARRATOR:

Trump’s response, a sign of what was to come.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

You have tweeted that Sen. Ted Cruz stole the Iowa election.

DONALD TRUMP:

Everything about it was disgraceful. It was a fraud as far as I was concerned.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

The state of Iowa should disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated—a total fraud.

TIM ALBERTA, Author, American Carnage:

Knowing what we know now, I think you would go back to Feb. 1 of 2016 as the beginning.

DONALD TRUMP:

It’s a total voter fraud when you think of it. And actually I came in probably first, if you think about it.

TIM ALBERTA:

That episode was a bright red blinking light foreshadowing everything that was to come and just what a danger to democracy that this man posed.

PETER BAKER, Co-author, The Divider:

This is a pattern for Trump. He has done this every step of the way through his career, long before politics. When The Apprentice lost an Emmy to The Amazing Race, he claimed that the Emmy contest was rigged.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Amazing Race winning an Emmy again is a total joke. The Emmys have no credibility.

The Emmys are all politics, that’s why The Apprentice never won.

DONALD TRUMP:

The public is smart. They know it’s a con game.

MITT ROMNEY:

I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory.

PETER BAKER:

He claimed that the election was rigged in 2012 when Mitt Romney, whom he had endorsed, lost to Barack Obama.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy.

More reports of voting machines switching Romney votes to Obama.

Let’s fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice!

We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington.

PETER BAKER:

Every step along the way anything he has ever lost is because somebody else has cheated and stolen it from him.

NARRATOR:

For those watching closely, it was a signal of trouble ahead.

DANIEL ZIBLATT, Co-author, How Democracies Die:

This certainly was a moment that set off alarm bells. To be a small “D” democrat means to know how to lose elections, and a democracy can’t survive if politicians and political parties don’t know how to lose. Sometimes people have even said democracy is for losers; it’s a system that allows losers to come back and fight another day. And so if the losers deny that they’ve lost, the system can’t endure.

THE WARNINGS

NARRATOR:

In Washington, some in the Republican Party were sounding the alarm about the threat Trump posed.

Bill Kristol was one of what were called the “Never Trumpers.”

BILL KRISTOL, Founder, The Weekly Standard:

I was publicly saying that Trump was unacceptable, people shouldn’t support him. They should make clear they couldn’t support him in the general election even. They should band together against him.

NARRATOR:

Kristol had been born into conservative royalty. His father, Irving, the godfather of the “neoconservative movement.” He was chief of staff for Vice President Quayle in the George H.W. Bush White House. Founded the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. Kristol saw danger in Trump’s appeal.

BILL KRISTOL:

He had a real feel for people’s anxieties and unhappiness about various things. He was willing to stoke those anxieties and hatreds, in some cases, resentments, in ways that other politicians weren’t willing to.

MALE VOICE:

Take three. Start the recording.

DONALD TRUMP:

I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about white supremacy or white supremacists—

AMNA NAWAZ, PBS NewsHour:

At the time, we used words like "unconventional" and "nontraditional."

DONALD TRUMP:

—this guy. "Aah, I don’t know what I said! Aah, I don’t remember!"

AMNA NAWAZ:

But in hindsight, yeah, looking back, there were red flags left and right about what kind of leader Donald Trump was going to be. This was not someone who supported democratic ideals. This was, in very real terms, an anti-democratic candidate, someone who had very clear authoritarian and autocratic tendencies. We see the pattern looking back now.

DONALD TRUMP:

We’re going to be so strong. We’re going to be so tough. We’re going to be so vicious. And we’re going to knock them for a loop. We have no choice.

NARRATOR:

Adding to the Never Trumpers’ alarm, a dangerous fervor among some of his supporters.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

Donald Trump liberated a certain portion of America—hypernationalist, reactionary, semi-military elements—using the language that was common in these arenas. They saw him as the best hope of translating their paranoia, their contempt, their anxiety, their anger into a political platform and into public policy.

DONALD TRUMP:

Knock the crap out of him, would you? Just knock the hell—I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.

MONA CHAREN, Conservative columnist:

There were many, many signals throughout 2016 that this was not just a showman, but no, somebody who had definite authoritarian sympathies. And there was violence at his rallies that he openly encouraged. I mean, it wasn't a joke.

February 22, 2016

4 Years, 10 Months, 21 Days

Until January 6, 2021

DONALD TRUMP:

There’s a guy. Totally disruptive, throwing punches. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you. Ah, it’s true.

DANIEL ZIBLATT:

The nastier he got, the more excited the crowd got. And rather than trying to clamp that down and sort of pull back, he egged on the crowd further. And that dynamic of the angry crowd and the demagogic leader fomenting anger and using violent rhetoric was a sign that this is somebody who had no democratic core, liberal democratic core. And it was not clear what the limits of this style of politics were. So I think that was very frightening.

THE CHOICE

NARRATOR:

With Trump’s emerging embrace of authoritarian behavior, a moment of decision for Republicans.

STEVEN LEVITSKY, Co-author, How Democracies Die:

They had a choice. They could have taken steps to prevent Trump’s nomination. Or if that seemed illegitimate because he won the primary, they could’ve renounced him. They could’ve refused to endorse him. The Republican Party was the one group of individuals with the power to isolate Trump.

NARRATOR:

Some tried.

MITT ROMNEY:

Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

BEN SASSE:

This is the party of Abraham Lincoln. This is not the party of David Duke, Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

But most Republican leaders didn’t.

MITCH McCONNELL:

I’m going to continue to avoid weighing in on the presidential contest at this point.

PAUL RYAN:

I don’t really know him. We’re going to obviously get to know each other if he gets the nomination, and we’ll cross those bridges when we get to it.

CHARLES GRASSLEY:

And he could be our nominee, but I think I don’t want to comment on something hypothetical.

MONA CHAREN:

It was vertigo-inducing, because it showed me that either I had gone crazy or everybody else had gone crazy.

NARRATOR:

Mona Charen’s conservative credentials were earned in the Reagan White House. She was surprised by what she was seeing among Republicans.

MONA CHAREN:

I didn’t know what world I was living in. It felt really Alice in Wonderland-esque. The things I thought were solid were not. And it was very disorienting.

NARRATOR:

Republican Congressman Mark Sanford, once the governor of South Carolina, was not as surprised.

REP. MARK SANFORD (R-SC), 2013-19:

At that time, a number of people were just thinking this can’t go far, therefore, I’ll just look the other way, because it doesn’t matter. And because the thing that drives 99% of the folks in politics is self-preservation, to make noise might not be good in terms of my own political interest. Therefore, I’ll stay quiet.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

This makes back to back victories for Donald Trump, dominating his third consecutive—

NARRATOR:

They expected Trump to flame out.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump is the projected winner of the—

DONALD TRUMP:

We love Nevada. We love Nevada.

NARRATOR:

But in state after state, he was racking up wins.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Marco Rubio was suspending—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Jeb Bush dropped out, ending his dream of becoming—

NARRATOR:

The last viable Republican opponent: Ted Cruz.

TED CRUZ:

Voters have a right to know—

DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, you’re the liar. You’re the lying guy up here.

TED CRUZ:

—because we’ve been lied to too many times.

MARK LEIBOVICH, Author, Thank You for Your Servitude:

It was really ugly. It got as deep into the mud as I can remember any primary contest getting. Donald Trump was implying that Ted Cruz’s wife was unattractive.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

A picture is worth a thousand words.

TED CRUZ:

I don’t get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that'll do it every time.

Donald, you’re a sniveling coward, and leave Heidi the hell alone.

TIM ALBERTA:

If Ted Cruz brought a knife to the fight, Donald Trump brought a nuclear-tipped bazooka.

DONALD TRUMP:

You know, his father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this? Right prior to—

TIM ALBERTA:

Cruz had watched as this man humiliated him, humiliated his wife, humiliated his father in the most brazen and despicable way. And he felt at that moment that if he was going to lose, he needed to get a few things off of his chest.

TED CRUZ:

The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him. If this man were to become president, think about the next five years—the boasting, the pathological lying, the bullying. Think about your kids coming back and emulating this.

MARK SANFORD:

The danger of what was unfolding between Cruz and Trump at that time was, “You’re a liar.” “No, you’re a liar.” OK, you get a lot of that in politics. But in this case, what Ted Cruz was saying was absolutely the truth. And a lot of people in political circles in D.C. knew it to be so, but weren’t saying a word.

NARRATOR:

In the end, Ted Cruz would do the one thing Donald Trump hadn’t back in Iowa: concede.

TED CRUZ:

We gave it everything we've got. But the voters chose another path. We are suspending our campaign.

JELANI COBB:

Ted Cruz was an object lesson in what the Trump movement could do, even to a fairly reputable, rock- ribbed conservative like Ted Cruz. You saw Trump sweep Cruz onto the sidelines. That was a lesson for the entire party. If that could happen to Ted Cruz, that could happen to anyone.

July 7, 2016

4 Years, 5 Months, 30 Days

Until January 6, 2021

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is celebrating—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump is promising to make a big effort to unify the GOP over his presumptive nomination.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Can the candidate who lives by slash-and-burn calm Republican jitters—

NARRATOR:

As the presumptive nominee arrived in Washington—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump meeting with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill today.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—closed-door meetings with a Republican lawmaker—

NARRATOR:

—the Republican establishment faced a decision.

MALE NEWSREADER:

He’ll try to reassure some members of Congress.

ROBERT COSTA, CBS News:

Republicans had a crossroads in 2016. You can win power, but it’s going to be with this person, who has said all of these different things over the years that are offensive, who has a spotty record on business and politics. You can win power, but it comes at this cost.

NARRATOR:

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan were both deeply skeptical even as they publicly endorsed Trump.

MONA CHAREN:

In 2016, there were countless Republicans who were very, very nervous about what a Trump presidency would mean for the country and for the party. There was a lot of concern.

NARRATOR:

One phone call would help change that.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, Fmr. Pence Press Secretary:

Mike Pence gets the phone call late one night, the familiar voice of Donald Trump saying, “Mike, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be amazing.” And Pence says, “I don’t know if there’s a question in there, but if there is, the answer is yes.” And they laugh and he goes on to join the ticket.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump making it official that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will be his running mate.

JELANI COBB:

The fact that Mike Pence joined the ticket implicitly said that if I can tolerate this man, so can you. He lent his credibility in evangelical Christian circles to the cause of Donald Trump.

MIKE PENCE:

I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.

NARRATOR:

And Pence had his own reasons for deciding to join Trump.

TIM ALBERTA:

Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, is in deep trouble politically. It's not clear that he'll be able to win a second term. And so, here is Donald Trump with the ability to offer Mike Pence a lifeline unlike any other and put him on the national ticket.

NARRATOR:

Mike Pence would grab that political lifeline—

MIKE PENCE:

For the sake of the sanctity of life—

NARRATOR:

—join Trump—

MIKE PENCE:

—for the sake of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States—

NARRATOR:

—and help win over conservative Republicans.

MIKE PENCE:

—for the sake of all the God-given liberties that are enshrined in our Constitution, Ohio, we must decide here and now that the next president to make appointments to the Supreme Court of the United States will be President Donald Trump.

DANIEL ZIBLATT:

We often see throughout history political leaders contributing to damaging situations for democracy, because what they’re doing is giving legitimacy to a political leader who actually doesn’t deserve any legitimacy. And so it’s a kind of devil’s bargain that gets made out of personal ambition. What’s so remarkable is the degree to which that repeats itself throughout history. And yet it seems as if people often don’t learn. And that’s, again, a kind of tragic thing about democratic politics.

FIRING UP THE BASE

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It’s game time for the Republican National Convention—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—the convention, expected to fire up the GOP base behind presumptive—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Where Republican delegates will soon be gathering to officially nominate Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

By the start of their convention, Republican leaders had at least publicly come to terms with Trump—

PAUL RYAN:

The next time that there’s a State of the Union address, I don’t know where Joe Biden or Barack Obama are going to be, but you’ll find me right there on the rostrum with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.

BRENDAN BUCK, Fmr. Paul Ryan adviser:

There was a lot of pressure towards the end to sort of just go along, because what’s the real harm? He’s going to lose and in the end it was still going to be a Clinton presidency.

MITCH McCONNELL:

So with Donald Trump in the White House, Senate Republicans will build on the work we’ve done and pass more bills into law than any Senate in years.

TIM ALBERTA:

There’s just one holdout, and it’s Ted Cruz.

NARRATOR:

As runner-up, Ted Cruz had a prominent speaking slot at the convention. He had to decide what to say about Trump.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

If you talk to Ted Cruz, he would say that it was a hard decision at the time. I know that he and his people struggled with how hard he was going to go after Donald Trump, whether he was going to name him at all in the speech.

NARRATOR:

His advisers were split. Most argued against legitimizing Trump.

TIM ALBERTA:

They’re saying, “Ted, not only did this man humiliate you and your family, but this man is undemocratic. This man is anti-constitutional. This man is downright un-American, the way that he talks about things. And you want to be on the right side of history here. This isn’t just about 2016 or 2020. In the long run, you will be proven right by standing firm in your convictions and your fidelity to the Constitution and to the principles that you believe in.”

NARRATOR:

Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, was on the other side.

JEFF ROE:

If you’re not going to endorse, then you probably shouldn’t give the speech. Because it’s his convention, it’s his party. And just pass on the speech. And if you want to give the speech, then you probably need to endorse.

NARRATOR:

It took days for Cruz to decide.

TIM ALBERTA:

He tells them his decision: that he’s not going to endorse Donald Trump in his speech. And they ask him why. And Cruz looks at them and he says, “History isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket.” And that’s that. His decision’s made.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER:

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

NARRATOR:

In that moment, Ted Cruz would withhold his endorsement.

TED CRUZ:

We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values.

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post:

In fact, that convention was in Donald Trump’s hip pocket, and that speech went down very, very badly.

TED CRUZ:

That is the standard we should expect from everybody. And to those listening—

NARRATOR:

The crowd, hungry for an endorsement, was restless.

KATY TUR, NBC News:

Standing on the stage in front of the Republican Party, Ted Cruz basically came out and hanged himself.

TED CRUZ:

Vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom.

CONVENTION CROWD:

Get out! Pull the plug! Endorse Trump! Endorse Trump!

KATY TUR:

The crowd turned against Ted Cruz. They were suddenly all with Trump and against Cruz, booing him, trying to get him offstage.

July 20, 2016

4 Years, 5 Months, 17 Days

Until January 6, 2021

CONVENTION CROWD:

[Booing] Get off the stage!

TED CRUZ:

God bless each and every one of you and God bless the United States of America.

NARRATOR:

To the surprise of Republican leaders, a new political base—fervent, angry MAGA Republicans—had made its voice heard.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, Fmr. Trump Comms. Director:

The biggest misunderstanding of the Trump era is that he leads the base and the base goes where he does. I actually think that he's created a monster that he doesn't even control and he is actually very much driven by the base, not the other way around.

TIM ALBERTA:

That night, immediately following the speech, Ted Cruz went into a bunker with his closest advisers. And I can tell you from talking to two of the people who were in the room with him in those moments that there was a real belief that his political career might be finished.

NARRATOR:

Cruz returned to Texas, facing an uncertain political future.

ROBERT DRAPER, Author, Weapons of Mass Delusion:

He was receiving lots of advice, imploring advice, saying to him in effect, “Ted, this is bad for the party, it’s bad for Trump, but it’s also really bad for you and for your future if you don’t get on board the Trump train.”

NARRATOR:

He made his decision. He would endorse the man he’d called "a pathological liar" and go out on the campaign trail for him.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Do you look forward to calling Mr. Trump "Mr. President"?

TED CRUZ:

Well, I’m here campaigning for Donald Trump. I’ll make a point, I’m getting ready to get on a gigantic airplane that has Donald Trump’s name painted on the side of it.

MARK SANFORD:

If a guy goes out and calls your wife these certain things and says these certain things about your father, says these certain things about you, how do you get up and say, “It’s all cool with me. You’re my buddy”? I don’t get it. That’s not real. It’s about political self-preservation and trying to somehow stay politically relevant and being blinded to one’s political ambitions. And a lot of folks will give up most anything, as they’re slaves to their own political ambition.

THE STRONGMAN

NARRATOR:

Republican leaders had backed a risky candidate.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you. Thank you very much.

NARRATOR:

Now, yet another warning, as Trump offered a vision of a president as strongman.

DONALD TRUMP:

The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end.

DAN BALZ:

He was offering himself as the strongman. He was offering himself as a leader who would do things that no other leader would do to bring order to the country.

DONALD TRUMP:

The time for action has come. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.

BILL KRISTOL:

“I alone can fix it” is a pretty striking, classic strongman statement. He was making himself the solution.

DONALD TRUMP:

—so that I can be your champion in the White House, and I will be your champion.

JELANI COBB:

In democracy, at least in American democracy, in theory, the individual is supposed to be smaller than the institution of the presidency. And here we had an individual who was blatantly casting himself as bigger than any institution in the United States. Nothing in that reflected the kind of personal or democratic humility that would be required of that office.

DONALD TRUMP:

I make this promise: We will make America strong again.

NARRATOR:

Once an outsider, Trump’s politics were now becoming the Republican Party’s.

DONALD TRUMP:

And we will make America great again. God bless you, and good night. I love you.

AMNA NAWAZ:

This was about winning an election. This was about maintaining power. That’s what this was about. It is truly remarkable now to look back and see some of the things that Republican officials were willing to overlook, were willing to enable and were willing to just kind of explain away for the sake of moving the candidate along.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

NARRATOR:

The Republican establishment hadn’t expected Donald Trump to win, and he had already signaled what he was prepared to do if he didn’t.

DONALD TRUMP:

The election is being rigged in an effort to elect Hillary Clinton president. It’s one big ugly lie.

NARRATOR:

In the end Trump didn’t need to go there. He defied the odds.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

What Donald Trump understood better than everyone else is that voters weren’t playing by any playbook at all. They didn’t care. They liked that Donald Trump was tearing up the playbook. They liked that he wasn’t following someone else’s rules.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

MALE NEWSREADER:

His journey to the White House unlike any that’s come before, and the first big step of his presidency—

January 20, 2017

3 Years, 11 Months, 17 Days

Until January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

The Republicans now had the Senate, the House and the presidency, but would they have any control over Trump?

TIM ALBERTA:

Trump really represents a lump of clay to many Republicans early in his presidency that can be formed and shaped by them. Many of them still viewed him as sort of a clown, as a buffoon, as somebody who was not to be taken terribly seriously. But if they viewed him as an idiot, they viewed him as a useful idiot at that point.

PAUL RYAN:

Hi, good morning. Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government. Feels really good to say that, actually.

BILL KRISTOL:

They thought he would be easy to manipulate. And it turned out he was the one doing the manipulating. For me, that’s really so much the bottom line of the Trump presidency and the Trump episode in terms of the Republican Party and conservative elites. They all thought they were going to manage him, to manipulate him, and he ended up being the one doing the manipulating.

THESE ARE MY PEOPLE

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The torch-wielding white nationalists coming face-to-face with—

NARRATOR:

The dangers of ignoring the warnings about Trump would become clear in Charlottesville.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a demonstration by white nationalists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

NARRATOR:

A moment that would foreshadow what was to come.

August 11, 2017

3 Years, 4 Months, 26 Days

Until January 6, 2021

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

DAN BALZ:

Charlottesville was clearly a harbinger of the future—

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTER:

This is Trump’s America!

DAN BALZ:

—because it was an expression of the white supremacist part of the Republican base and of what was stirring in the country that Trump had tapped into.

NARRATOR:

The next day, as neo-Nazis and white nationalists gathered—

DAVID DUKE:

Hi! Hello, how're y’all doing?

NARRATOR:

—former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke invoked Trump’s campaign.

DAVID DUKE:

We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Armed militiamen also showed up—

NARRATOR:

Some of the same characters and groups would participate in the insurrection on Jan. 6.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—armed militiamen, which was a very jarring image.

CHARLIE SYKES, Fmr. conservative radio host:

Charlottesville was a long time coming. When Charlottesville happened, you could easily say the same thing that you could say about Jan. 6: This was inevitable. It was always heading toward this. You have a president of the United States who is willing to give tacit approval to some of the darkest elements of American politics.

AMNA NAWAZ:

A lot of these forces have been part of the American fabric since its inception. But what candidate Trump and then President Trump and by default a number of leaders in the Republican Party did was give them space. Was give them oxygen.

FEMALE VOICE:

Holy s---! Holy s---!

WESLEY LOWERY, Author, They Can’t Kill Us All:

A man drives his vehicle into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others. This was an incident that was clearly the tail of these far-right white supremacist powers emboldened and out of control.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Panic and horror in Charlottesville. A car slams into a crowd of counterprotestors—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd, injuring 19 others.

NARRATOR:

For Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other Republicans, shock at what happened in Charlottesville.

BRENDAN BUCK:

He wasn’t in Washington at the time. We were needing to kind of track him down and discuss it. But it was very clear, obviously, right away that this needed to be condemned. That was clearly one of the fundamental moments where you have to make clear what’s right and wrong. There was no question about that.

NARRATOR:

Ryan and other Republicans were watching to see how Trump would react.

DONALD TRUMP:

So, you know, as far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it, either. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people—

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, Host, Washington Week:

I'm a reporter who has reported on race for a long time, and I never would have imagined the person in the office of the president calling people who go to a Nazi rally "very fine people."

DONALD TRUMP:

But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? Thank you all very much. Thank you.

MALE REPORTER:

What about the Nazis who support you?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

It’s probably the first time where the country realizes this is going to get bad. And it is the beginning of a time in America where people realize that America is not just a place where racist ideals can exist, but it's a place where racist ideals can be fueled by the White House.

DONALD TRUMP:

It will have a tremendously positive impact on race relations.

NARRATOR:

For Republican outlier Bob Corker it was the clearest sign yet of the threat Trump posed.

BOB CORKER:

It was very evident that it was a dog whistle to the groups who had come in and done what they did. Not unlike, by the way, the first video that was sent out after the Jan. 6 event at the House. I mean, "We love you. We"—you know. The president evidently did not want to discourage that type of activity—as a matter of fact, wanted to encourage it.

DONALD TRUMP:

—very fine people on both sides.

NARRATOR:

Troubled by Trump, Paul Ryan tried to walk a fine line.

BRENDAN BUCK:

One of Paul Ryan’s fundamental problems with him is his racism, the way that he flirts with racists. Seemingly anybody who supports him is OK in his book, no matter what they believe.

NARRATOR:

He issued a strong statement on Twitter but didn’t mention the president by name.

MALE VOICE [reading Paul Ryan tweet]:

We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.

NARRATOR:

Trump took it personally. He called Ryan.

ROBERT COSTA, Co-author, Peril:

Trump is on the phone with Paul Ryan and saying to the House Speaker, “Paul, you don’t understand me and you don’t understand my political appeal.”

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

ROBERT COSTA:

“These are my people."

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] You will not replace us!

ROBERT COSTA:

"I’m standing with my people.”

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] White lives matter! White lives matter!

ROBERT COSTA:

Ryan says, “I don’t care if they’re your so-called ‘your people,’ you have to disavow the white nationalists.”

WHITE SUPREMACIST PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] David Duke! David Duke!

ROBERT COSTA:

Trump says, “You don’t get it, Paul. These are my people.”

JELANI COBB, Author, The Substance of Hope:

When Trump says that “those are my people,” he’s not inaccurate. He knows who has been coming to his rallies and who has been lending support to him. And really more implicitly he’s saying that, “These are our people,” as in, “This is now the core of the Republican Party.” Which is something that Paul Ryan seems to be loath to admit or to recognize.

NARRATOR:

In Washington, Republicans were pressed to respond about Trump and Charlottesville.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

It’s a test. What are you going to do or say about this? Because almost all of them disagreed with him and felt, in fact, were disgusted by it.

MALE VOICE [reading Mitch McConnell tweet]:

The hate and bigotry witnessed in Charlottesville does not reflect American values.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, The Associated Press:

Mitch McConnell, some of the other Republican leaders, they would come out or tweet or release statements that talked about how much they hated racism.

MALE VOICE [reading Kevin McCarthy tweet]:

Race-based supremacy movements have no place in our melting pot culture.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

But very few, and very few top Republicans would say the president was wrong.

NARRATOR:

Vice President Mike Pence dodged the issue.

MALE REPORTER:

Do you agree with the president that there were good people among the white supremacist protesters?

MIKE PENCE:

What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and I stand with the president and I stand by those words.

OLIVIA TROYE, Fmr. Pence adviser:

He certainly was appalled at the events in Charlottesville. I have heard him say that behind closed doors. The problem is, this is a White House where if he said that it would be in direct contradiction to sort of the side-stepping that the president was doing. But by doing that, when you’re Mike Pence, you’re enabling it to happen again.

MALE NEWSREADER:

So how do we account for the limp, listless, embarrassing silence from elected Republicans?

MALE NEWSREADER:

A tweet doesn’t cut it in this situation. It just doesn’t.

NARRATOR:

In the end, Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership would move on, not confront Trump about the extremists among his supporters.

MALE NEWSREADER:

They also have to reckon with a political consequence from allowing him to define the party in the way he is doing.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Senator, do you mind stopping for just 30 seconds?

BRENDAN BUCK:

It was a constant decision we were having to make every day. Some things were pretty fundamental, like Charlottesville, where you had to speak with a moral voice about what was right and wrong. But it was also untenable to always be at war with him. You can be fully against Donald Trump, you just can’t be a Republican in Congress doing that.

CHARLIE SYKES:

When the Republican Party didn’t push back, that was the moment you realized that their surrender was complete. That they were not ever going to stand against him. If you didn’t break with Donald Trump for Charlottesville, then basically you were saying, “We’re done.” That was a—the acquiescence of Republicans after Charlottesville I think was really an inflection point.

TAKEOVER

NARRATOR:

There were a few elected Republicans who pushed back against the president, who warned about the threat he posed to democracy. One of them was Jeff Flake.

DAN BALZ:

Jeff Flake had a fundamental criticism of Donald Trump as an authoritarian leader who was prepared to trample on the constitutional norms and the pillars of democracy. And he was prepared to stand up and say that, not just once, but repeatedly, and he did a book about it.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ), 2013-19:

This is not behavior that we should condone. We shouldn't be OK with this. This is not normal.

NARRATOR:

Flake would become an example of the danger of speaking out.

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I’m thrilled to be back in Phoenix, in the great state of Arizona.

August 22, 2017

3 Years, 4 Months, 15 Days

Until January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

Flake watched as Trump attacked him in front of his own voters.

DONALD TRUMP:

They all said, "Please, Mr. President, don’t mention any names." So I won’t. I won’t!

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Fmr. Trump Campaign Manager:

It’s about going back to the base to demonstrate how popular it is to be with the president, particularly in Jeff’s own state.

DONALD TRUMP:

And nobody wants me to talk about your senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him! No, I will not mention any names.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

[Chanting] Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!

JEFF FLAKE:

I think he knew at that time that I was out of step with a lot of the Republican base, that he represented more of their feelings than I did.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you, Arizona, God bless you. Thank you, thank you.

NARRATOR:

Jeff Flake decided not to run for reelection.

FRANK LUNTZ, Longtime GOP pollster:

Every person who came up who challenged him Trump sought to destroy. Lifelong Republicans, lifelong conservatives—he wrote them out of the party. He made fun of them. He ridiculed them. He embarrassed them and he destroyed them.

NARRATOR:

Another target: South Carolina conservative Republican Mark Sanford, who had been critical of Trump and his threat to democracy.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble.

MARK SANFORD:

It's not good when you're a lowly member of Congress and the president of the United States of your party is coming out against you. I mean, it's just not a good movie. It doesn't work out well, and it didn't.

NARRATOR:

Trump endorsed Sanford’s Republican challenger.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in S.C., a state I love.

NARRATOR:

Sanford was a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus. He believed they would stand by him.

MARK SANFORD:

At that time, Justin Amash—I'll never forget this—stood before the Freedom Caucus and said, “Look, if Trump will come after Sanford like he did, then ultimately he'll come after any one of us.” And everybody is looking at their feet, looking away, looking at their toes. And these are the folks that you thought were your friends, and you're going, "Oh, my goodness, where am I?" It’s mind-blowing.

NARRATOR:

Mark Sanford lost his primary. More than three dozen Republicans decided not to run for reelection.

MONA CHAREN:

Any particular individual who popped his head out above the foxhole was going to have it shot off. What they never did was all join hands, and that would have been, on many occasions, a much better and a winning strategy. And they never did see that if they acted in concert they would have a lot more power.

NARRATOR:

As Trump cleansed the GOP of his critics, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took notice.

AMNA NAWAZ:

We know now that he did not like Donald Trump as a person. He didn’t believe that this was someone who necessarily should be in charge, should be the president of the United States. He had concerns about some of his autocratic tendencies as well.

NARRATOR:

But McConnell had other priorities.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Mitch McConnell needed Donald Trump’s signature on a tax cut. He also needed conservative nominees that Mitch McConnell could easily sort of shepherd through the Senate, and then he would have his conservative judges.

NARRATOR:

McConnell traveled to the White House to make a deal.

PETER BAKER:

McConnell comes in, sits down in the Oval Office and essentially they come to a truce. Essentially they come to an understanding. Let’s not fight because there’s no point in that. Let’s figure out what we can get done together where we actually agree.

JOSH HOLMES, Fmr. McConnell Chief of Staff:

They had decided at that point that they were going to try to shelf everything that had happened up until then and they were going to focus on two things. They were going to focus on judges, and they were going to focus on tax reform. And they did. And they did.

NARRATOR:

In return, McConnell would give Trump what he wanted most: loyalty.

SUSAN GLASSER, Co-author, The Divider:

From that October 2017 meeting on, basically, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump made their truce.

Donald Trump arguably is the winner because Mitch McConnell gets judges. Donald Trump gets the party. Donald Trump is now the owner, lock, stock and barrel, of the Republican Party. It is under new management. It’s under Trump management.

DANIEL ZIBLATT:

One of the things that I’ve discovered looking at similar situations throughout history is that the establishment politician possesses a level of hubris and sees the outsider and thinks, "Aha, this is somebody I can use for my own personal ambition." And this is a trend that repeats itself over and over. And I think we saw something analogous happen in the United States where mainstream politicians overestimate their own capacities.

December 20, 2017

3 Years, 17 Days

Until January 6, 2021

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It looks like President Trump is going to get his Christmas wish.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Trump and McConnell, they’ve actually had a pretty successful couple of months here.

NARRATOR:

The bargain was consummated in public as Republicans gathered to celebrate.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump setting a record for getting his judicial nominees—

NARRATOR:

Judges.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Neil Gorsuch plus a record number of Circuit Court judicial—

NARRATOR:

And a tax cut.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—the most sweeping rewrite of our tax code—

PETER BAKER, Co-author, The Divider:

The tax cuts are the payoff, right? The tax cuts are what you get for putting up with everything else.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Republicans cheered as they passed the most sweeping tax overhaul in three decades.

PETER BAKER:

This is what we get as part of the tradeoff. We end up living with this clownish, scandalous, racist behavior in the White House, but in trade what we get is this great freedom to write the bill as we want, to cut the taxes and to finally pass big legislation.

DONALD TRUMP:

I guess it’s very simple, when you think you haven’t heard this expression, but we are making America great again. You haven’t heard that, have you?

NARRATOR:

At the ceremony, McConnell and the other Republicans demonstrated their loyalty, praising the president.

MITCH McCONNELL:

Well, let me just say, Mr. President, you made the case for the tax bill, but this has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration. We've cemented the Supreme Court right of center for a generation. You've ended the overregulation of the American economy. Thank you, Mr. President, for all you’re doing.

MONA CHAREN:

They’re saying it because they’ve been well-trained, by Trump, that in order to get anything that they want, they have to not just praise him, but be obsequious in their praise.

PAUL RYAN:

Something this big could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr.

President, thank you for getting us over the finish line. Thank you for getting us where we are.

CHARLIE SYKES:

They were warned over and over and over again about Donald Trump, who he was and what he was capable of doing, and they looked the other way. They may have known the same thing, but they thought they could ride the tiger. They thought that the tradeoff was worth it. They thought, "Well, how bad can it possibly be? What could he possibly do?"

MIKE PENCE:

I serve with him every day. President Donald Trump is a man of his word. He’s a man of action.

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your love for this country and the people of this country. You will make America great again.

BILL KRISTOL:

Rationalization is a very powerful force, it turns out, in human psychology. It was a funny kind of choice, though, because it wasn’t—we read history books and it’s like, "This is the moment," and you choose this or that. But there are also ways in which you choose gradually, and incrementally, and the choice is more of an accommodation and a rationalization and an enabling. It’s not a sort of "I’m standing up here and choosing this path." Some did that. But an awful lot went along, and they kept on going along, and then they had to rationalize why they were going along, so they became sort of enthusiastic about going along. And you can rationalize your way into a series of choices, which becomes a very damaging and dangerous choice.

CHECKS AND BALANCES

MALE VOICE:

Starting with E-17-H. OK, we’re going to start with the tag from the previous.

CHRIS HAYES:

Good evening from New York. I’m Chris Hayes. Almost every day we see the story of the corruption of this presidency.

ILHAN OMAR:

This is a president who has overseen the most corrupt administration in our history.

NARRATOR:

On the left they were attacking the president at every turn.

JELANI COBB, Dean, Columbia Journalism School:

For Democrats, they had to figure out how to navigate this landscape in which the most vile, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist, violent, volatile elements of his rhetoric were OK with 60 million people.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

Donald Trump, again being a schmuck.

JELANI COBB:

And so where does that leave you?

RACHEL MADDOW:

What I have here is a copy of Donald Trump’s tax returns.

CHRIS HAYES:

The Trump administration’s ongoing challenges with the truth, particularly on the subject of Russia.

JELANI COBB:

And I think it was very difficult for them to figure out what their position would be outside of simply opposing Donald Trump.

JOY REID:

—what it means to have a president stained by racism.

DON LEMON:

The president of the United States is racist.

JELANI COBB:

And into that vacuum came a kind of perpetual outrage system of the hyperexamination of everything that he did.

JOY REID:

Who can stop him? He’s the president of the United States.

EVAN McMULLIN:

We can, and we have to.

MICHAEL BENNET:

Our job is making sure that Donald Trump is a one-term president.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL:

The only thing that we can do is to start that impeachment inquiry.

MADELEINE DEAN:

We must open an impeachment inquiry.

MALE VOICE:

Impeachment.

FEMALE VOICE:

Impeachment.

FEMALE VOICE:

Impeachment.

MALE VOICE:

Impeachment.

MAXINE WATERS:

Today I say, impeach 45!

RASHIDA TLAIB:

Because we’re going to go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherf-----.

NARRATOR:

It became a partisan media maelstrom.

TUCKER CARLSON:

Trump derangement syndrome. Their only remaining principle is hatred of the president.

HOGAN GIDLEY:

The Democrats in this country hate this president more than they love America.

LAURA TRUMP:

Just another example of that. It’s Trump derangement syndrome.

TIM ALBERTA:

The only thing that sort of saved Trump and restored Republican Party unity was Democrats overplaying their hand—

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:

Absolutely. I cannot tell you the amount of dysfunction that this president is advancing.

TIM ALBERTA:

—and stretching too far in their attempts to convince the American public of what the American public in many cases already knew.

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL:

Because the president of the United States is a dangerous, unstable, lying propagandist.

FEMALE MSNBC GUEST:

The racism, the egomaniac that he is—

TIM ALBERTA:

Because of this relentless, day in, day out onslaught against Trump, it got to a place where many voters who had been reluctant to support Trump in 2016 came to view an attack on Trump as an attack on them.

DON LEMON:

No matter what, you continue to make excuses for this man. Doesn’t that make you just as bad, if not worse, than him?

September 24, 2019

1 Year, 3 Months, 13 Days

Until January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

The partisan fever escalated with impeachment.

Voice of Speaker Nancy Pelosi

NANCY PELOSI:

I'm announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

NARRATOR:

The ultimate constitutional check on a president.

NANCY PELOSI:

The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

NARRATOR:

Republicans were once again at a crossroads with the president. Liz Cheney, archconservative from Wyoming, led their response.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Liz Cheney is the political daughter of Dick Cheney, the kind of Darth Vader figure in the Republican Party, despised by Democrats. And Liz Cheney is a chip off the old block. She is very much the hawk that her father was, very much the conservative that her father was.

NARRATOR:

Cheney became a staunch defender of Trump against Democrats’ charges he abused his office by pressuring the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The president pressured Ukraine’s leader about eight times. Eight times in that—

LIZ CHENEY:

Our Democratic colleagues have been working to remove this president since the day he was elected.

ROBERT DRAPER:

Cheney led the charge in defending Trump while excoriating Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats for what she believed was an unjust process and essentially a witch hunt against the president.

LIZ CHENEY:

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say if you are angry at the president or you are afraid you can’t beat him in the next election that you can just assume impeachable conduct, yet that’s what the Democrats are doing.

NARRATOR:

Cheney held the Republicans in the House together. None of them voted for impeachment.

NANCY PELOSI:

On this vote, Article One is adopted.

PETER BAKER:

It's not just that they like Trump. It's that they really don't like the people who don't like Trump. So if the Democrats are up there screaming and hollering and making a big fuss out of it, then the natural reaction among a lot of Republicans is to kind of be contrarian and say, "Well, wait a second." And they'll look for reasons to justify their vote to save Trump in office.

NARRATOR:

Cheney has said she doesn’t regret her vote. But Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger does.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL):

That’s one of my greatest regrets is not voting for the first impeachment. One of my criticisms of how the Democrats handled that was they rushed it. And I remember it gave us—frankly, it gave me an excuse to vote against impeachment. You know, when you're stuck in that kind of a polarized moment, you're always looking for kind of a way out. And that's to my shame that that happened.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump just the third American president to be impeached.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—deeply divided moment playing out in American history.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Every Democrat voted for impeachment.

NARRATOR:

In the Senate trial, Mitch McConnell was in lockstep with the president. He refused to even hear witnesses.

CHARLIE SYKES:

Donald Trump is his conduit to power, and he wasn’t going to put that at risk. It was an indication of how far they were willing to go for Donald Trump, that they would vote against even hearing witnesses at a time when there were some substantial issues being raised. But the Republican Party had become absolutely determined to look the other way and to enable Donald Trump and not hold him accountable.

JOHN ROBERTS:

In this article of impeachment, 52 senators have pronounced him not guilty. Donald John Trump, president of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the first article of impeachment.

DONALD TRUMP:

This is what the end result is.

MONA CHAREN:

It was a disgusting display. I think there was profanity used, if memory serves.

DONALD TRUMP:

It was all bulls---. We were treated unbelievably unfairly.

JOHN BOLTON, Fmr. Trump Natl. Security Adviser:

He thought he was bulletproof. It didn't constrain him. He had just beaten impeachment. And I think that did have an effect on his future conduct, and not a good one.

DONALD TRUMP:

And Mitch McConnell, I want to tell you, you did a fantastic job.

JELANI COBB:

The acquittal in the impeachment trial really just fit in to this bigger pattern in which he became more audacious and more contemptuous of the rules that other people had to abide by, and more confirmed in the belief that those normal rules did not apply to him.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much.

MONA CHAREN:

Everything that happened after the failure to convict in that first impeachment, including Trump's attempt to steal the election, his fomenting of an insurrection, a violent insurrection at the Capitol, it flowed from that permission slip that he had been given after the first impeachment.

THE SHOOTING STARTS

MALE NEWSREADER:

Our great national wound of race has opened up once again.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A new wave of grief in the form of police brutality.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The police killing of George Floyd sparked a massive wave of protests against police brutality.

MALE NEWSREADER:

People demand justice for George Floyd and call for an end to racial inequality.

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

NARRATOR:

Fresh from his acquittal, once again, Trump was called to respond to the issue of race.

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] Justice now! Justice now!

MALE NEWSREADER:

A nationwide reexamination of race and justice—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—the crossroads of race and trauma with the same question: Why does this keep happening?

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

NARRATOR:

And once again, his words and actions would tear at the fabric of democracy.

PETER BAKER:

Trump’s instinct is to fuel the fire, not to put it out.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

These thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Any difficulty and we will assume control, but when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!

PETER BAKER:

He’s not calming things down, he’s amping it up.

Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] Say his name! George Floyd!

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump making matters worse.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—adding, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—mirroring a racist phrase that was used back in the '60s.

JELANI COBB:

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts," meaning they would not hesitate to use lethal force, violence necessary to subdue these people who they disagreed with on the other part of the political spectrum.

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd!

June 1, 2020

7 Months, 5 Days

Until January 6, 2021

DONALD TRUMP:

Our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa.

DAN BALZ:

It’s Trump as reality TV star put together with Trump as strongman to send a signal of what he had said in that 2016 convention speech, that “I alone can fix it.”

DONALD TRUMP:

I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order.

NARRATOR:

Outside the White House, protesters were gathering across the street.

Also massing: law enforcement.

DONALD TRUMP:

As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property.

OLIVIA TROYE:

I saw a ton of Secret Service, law enforcement in riot gear, the attorney general parading around like some sort of dictator, to be honest with you, with rows and rows of law enforcement and I thought to myself—I just knew. My gut told me, I was like, "Something bad is about to happen."

MARK LEIBOVICH:

I was there that day. And all of a sudden it was sort of like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Just heard this chaos rumbling down the street. It was a horrific moment. It was not a scene we’ve seen in America in a long, long time.

AMNA NAWAZ:

Watching armed officers in the nation's capital forcefully clear what were largely peaceful protesters calling for racial justice in America—it was a moment I never thought I would see in this country.

NARRATOR:

It was a photo-op—and a message. Trump was in charge.

BILL KRISTOL:

Seeing that image of him walking across Lafayette Square, waving the Bible around at St. John’s Church is really unbelievable. It feels like you’re not in America at that point. And if you saw this, a clip of this on television from some other country, you’d think, "Oh, that’s one of those unstable democracies."

NARRATOR:

Most Republican leaders again would not challenge Trump’s actions.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Sen. McConnell, was what the president did last night the right thing to do?

[To Pat Roberts (R-KS)] Was clearing the protesters an abuse of power?

[To Ron Johnson] —walked across the street to the church. Was that the right thing to do?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI):

I didn’t really see it.

FEMALE REPORTER:

[To Mike Enzi] —about what happened at the White House last night?

SEN. MIKE ENZI (R-WY):

Sorry, I’m late for lunch.

FEMALE REPORTER:

[To Ted Cruz] Was it an abuse of power what we saw last night outside the White House?

TED CRUZ:

By the protesters, yes. By the violence, yes.

BRENDAN BUCK:

By that point, they had learned a lot from him. Republicans in Congress understood that if you were able to point the finger at somebody else, you never really had to apologize for anything. You could always be on offense.

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R-MT):

I was grateful to see President Trump’s leadership.

NARRATOR:

With their support, Trump turned a moment about race in America into an opportunity to project his power.

DONALD TRUMP:

I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.

CHARLIE SYKES:

Republicans weren’t going to push back because they understood this is who Donald Trump was. He was enjoying that. He loved this.

DONALD TRUMP:

Antifa, the radical left, run down your streets, riot in your streets, burn down your stores, beat you over the head—

DANIEL ZIBLATT:

This kind of talk about antifa in the streets and Black Lives Matters in the streets as being this existential threat to democracy, this is a strategy, of course, that authoritarian-minded leaders have used throughout history. The kind of threat of disorder, the threat of chaos to try to pull reasonable voters back to your side.

THE BIG LIE

November 4, 2020

2 Months, 2 Days

Until January 6, 2021

DONALD TRUMP:

Frankly, we did win this election.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Fox News Decision Desk can now project that former Vice President Joe Biden will win Pennsylvania and Nevada.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

He is President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—become the 46th president of the United States.

NARRATOR:

The greatest threat to American democracy began to take shape in the hours and days after the election.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

The West Wing was a ghost town. No one was even coming in. And the president didn’t come down from the residence for several days after it was called for Biden.

NARRATOR:

Alyssa Farah Griffin had been the communications director for Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus, press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence and was the Trump White House communications director.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

I passed into the Oval Office just to kind of see how he was doing. He seemed just kind of resigned to it. There was one moment where he was watching Joe Biden on TV and says, “Can you believe I lost to this blank guy?” So there was an acknowledgement. But then it went completely a different direction.

NARRATOR:

He had questioned elections before with the Emmys and the Iowa caucuses, and an old friend told him he’d help him do it again.

ROBERT COSTA:

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, his personal lawyer. Trump gives the keys, essentially, to Rudy Giuliani, not his campaign lawyers. He says to Rudy, “Do what you need to do to help me stay here.”

RUDY GIULIANI:

If we don’t fix this, Sean, we’ll never have a free and fair election, at least for the next 30 or 40 years.

There is strong evidence that this was an election that, in at least three or four states, and possibly 10, it was stolen.

The reality is dead people voted. Over 300,000 ballots were counted in secret.

NARRATOR:

It was a pivotal moment. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had said privately that Trump had lost. Josh Holmes was one of his key advisers.

JOSH HOLMES:

The view, at this point, initially is—look. This looks like it’s probably over, from our perspective. The margins are large enough where it’s not triggering automatic recounts in some of these places. It just—it felt off. It felt like it wasn’t going to be able to get to a victorious outcome for President Trump.

NARRATOR:

But McConnell wouldn’t say it publicly.

JONATHAN MARTIN, Co-author, This Will Not Pass:

He knows Trump has lost. But he does not want to anger Trump.

MALE REPORTER:

Mr. Leader, can you tell us, have you seen any evidence of election fraud that you think might overturn the election results?

MALE VOICE:

All right, folks, let’s wrap it up. Thank you very much. All right, guys, let’s go, come on.

JONATHAN MARTIN:

But McConnell chooses silence.

MALE VOICE:

All right, guys, come on, let’s go. All right, thank you.

JONATHAN MARTIN:

He does not acknowledge Biden’s victory because he’s trying to keep Trump happy. He’s trying to placate Trump.

ADAM KINZINGER:

I heard from a specific senator who said, “Mitch has told us to stay quiet against the president in this period.” And I think that led to a lot of what otherwise would be kind of influential senators, at least countering the voice of Donald Trump, being silent. And silence is complicity.

MONA CHAREN:

He had seen enough over the last five years of what kind of a person Trump is to know that this was a dangerous indulgence. He should have been looking for an opportunity to defang Trump while he had the chance.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

That decision keeps Mitch McConnell out of the crosshairs of Trump and Trump’s people. But more perniciously, that gives a lead time for the most fantastic and outrageous conspiratorial ideas to really just start circulating.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Most fraudulent election in history!

MICHAEL ANTON:

All we get back is, “Shut up. You’re a conspiracy theorist. You’re attacking the integrity of our democracy.”

STEVE BANNON:

You think we’re idiots? We’re not backing off this one inch. He won!

SEAN HANNITY:

It will be impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results. That’s a fact.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Fake voters and fraud that miraculously floated in from everywhere!

NARRATOR:

Right-wing media was amplifying the lies.

NEWT GINGRICH:

They’re going to try to steal North Carolina next. We believe these people are thieves.

JENNA ELLIS:

You have 138,000 votes that magically appear that are all 100% Biden votes.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

I have a lot of family who are die-hard Trump supporters. It was frustrating to me to talk to my family who would be like, “Well, listen, no, I think it was stolen. He’s going to have another four years.” And I’d be like, “Guys, that’s not true. It was not stolen. He is not going to have another four years.” But then you flip on the news and some other senior White House official is lying to the public.

PETER NAVARRO:

We have what appears in some sense to be an immaculate deception.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

There is tremendous evidence of widespread voter fraud.

JOSH HAWLEY:

Detroit, about ballots brought in there, new ballots in the middle of the night.

CHRISTINA BOBB:

They miraculously found enough ballots to call the state for Biden.

SIDNEY POWELL:

Votes being subtracted from President Trump and appearing on the Biden side of the scale.

AMNA NAWAZ:

What was incredibly shocking to me was the number of Republicans and lawmakers who, quote-unquote, should know better—

TED CRUZ:

They are setting the stage to potentially steal an election.

AMNA NAWAZ:

—who were encouraging the president, who were standing by him.

LINDSEY GRAHAM:

—but Trump has not lost. Do not concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Twenty thousand dead people on the Pennsylvania voters roll.

LOUIE GOHMERT:

You got more than 10,000 dead people confirmed in Michigan to have voted.

RAND PAUL:

—Georgia, we’ve been told 10,000 dead people voted. We've also been told—

TIM ALBERTA, The Atlantic:

You might see one of these prominent Republicans come on the air and deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech.

KEVIN McCARTHY:

And President Trump won this election, so everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this. We cannot allow—

TIM ALBERTA:

And you might ask yourself, do they really believe this? And the answer in almost every single case is no. They don’t believe it.

ADAM KINZINGER:

I never once talked to anybody that believed any of this garbage. Ninety-nine point nine percent almost of congressmen and women in the Republican Party know that the election wasn’t stolen. They’re just too cowardly to say it, and frankly, in a republic that’s frightening.

STEPHEN LEVITSKY:

The Republican Party enabled Donald Trump as he riled up his base and as he convinced his base that the election had been stolen, and there, for the first time, the Republican Party becomes unambiguously anti-democratic, right? They were breaking norms, they were tolerating authoritarian behavior. But the Republicans were not an authoritarian party until November 2020, when they, as a collective, refused to accept defeat in an election. That was incredibly decisive.

THIS MEANS WAR

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is a contested election. Many people are nervous. The president showing no signs that he’s prepared to concede this election. Instead—

NARRATOR:

As the lie spread, so did the political unrest.

ALEX JONES:

They’re trying to put us under permanent martial law. You gotta rise up now!

SEBASTIAN GORKA:

Now! Now! Now! Get out on the streets. Protest. Show them who you are and that they can’t get away with it.

November 14, 2020

1 Month, 23 Days

Until January 6, 2021

ALEX JONES:

I don’t even care if Trump concedes. I’m not conceding crap. This means revolution. This means war.

STEWART RHODES:

We have men already stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option in case they attempt to remove the president illegally.

ALEX JONES:

America is awakening!

JELANI COBB:

Everything had led to a moment wherein Trump’s people were completely unmotivated to accept anything other than unqualified victory as valid.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump flew over the crowd on his way—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Tens of thousands of Trump supporters marching on—

NARRATOR:

Over those weeks, Trump’s extremist followers were preparing for a showdown.

PROTESTERS:

We are the Proud Boys!

MALE NEWSREADER:

Supporters of the “Stop the Steal" movement—

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] F--- antifa! F--- antifa! F--- antifa! F--- antifa! F--- antifa! F--- antifa!

MALE PROTESTER:

Antifa!

FEMALE PROTESTER:

There you go!

MALE NEWSREADER:

—saying the election was being stolen from the president.

MALE PROTESTER:

When everyday American citizens get together and fight tyranny.

JELANI COBB:

By the time it becomes clear that Joe Biden has won the election, it would have been surprising had you not seen violence.

And if in fact the people who are claiming power represent an existential threat to the nation, then why wouldn’t you commit acts of violence to defend the country?

PROTESTERS:

[Chanting] Stop the steal! Stop the steal!

MALE NEWSREADER:

A very real cost and risk of the president’s lies about the election—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Election workers have received threats of death—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—threatening violence against these officials who have been honestly running the election.

GABRIEL STERLING, Election official, GA:

It has all gone too far.

NARRATOR:

The warning from one Republican in Georgia was unambiguous.

GABRIEL STERLING:

What you don’t have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed. And it's not right.

AMNA NAWAZ:

All that frustration and all that energy had to be channeled somewhere. And it’s not surprising that it ended up being focused on the people who were actually doing the jobs on the front lines of seeing through Americans’ elections every year.

GABRIEL STERLING:

Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop.

AMNA NAWAZ:

If you believe that the person who's supposed to be overseeing your election process in your county or your state is inherently corrupt, or not actually a member of the political party that you adhere to, you're not going to trust that system. And that system has now been inherently undermined, which is going to impact not just Democrats, but Republicans, too.

NARRATOR:

At the White House, chaos.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Over a dozen Trump campaign lawsuits have been dismissed already.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Yet another loss as an attempt to push back on—

NARRATOR:

They were losing lawsuits, dozens of them.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Turmoil over the next steps at the White House.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the beginnings of an exodus of staff that is bubbling behind the scenes—

NARRATOR:

Senior officials were leaving.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Attorney General William Barr is leaving the Trump administration early.

NARRATOR:

Alyssa Farah Griffin was one of them.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

I resigned when I started hearing internally much less about, you know, he’s going to come around and accept it, and started seeing very fringe figures walking into the West Wing. At that point, I knew I didn’t have really any sway over him. I wasn’t going to be able to impact outcomes. So I thought that was my time to leave.

NARRATOR:

One who stayed: Farah Griffin’s one-time mentor, Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff.

SUSAN GLASSER, The New Yorker:

Mark Meadows was very actively conducting a misinformation campaign. He was enabling some of the wild conspiracy theorists to have Donald Trump’s ear, and he was texting with them, and he was helping to promote the election lies.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

It’s hard for me to understand how myself as a 32-year-old woman could have more political courage than these men who’ve had these long careers in Washington. I’ve unfortunately seen a lot of grown men put their political ambitions ahead of their integrity in recent years. I’m still just stunned by people who weren’t even in that moment willing to do the right thing.

December 15, 2020

22 Days

Until January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

It was six weeks after the election when Mitch McConnell finally publicly conceded the reality.

JONATHAN KARL, Author, Betrayal:

McConnell waited until there was—there could be absolutely no doubt about the election results to come out to congratulate Joe Biden. It was on Dec. 15; that is the day after each state has certified its electoral votes.

MITCH McCONNELL:

The Electoral College has spoken. So today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.

JOSH HOLMES:

He knew that his relationship with President Trump would forever change at that moment. He knew that Trump had increasingly been trying to rein in any Republicans that observed reality at this point. And the significance of McConnell saying it’s over means it’s over.

ROBERT COSTA:

McConnell and Trump speak by phone. The president is furious. He lashes into McConnell. "What the heck do you think you're doing?" Expletives fly. He says to McConnell, "You've never been loyal. You've never been someone I could trust. You’ve never really been in my corner." McConnell says almost nothing. He’s done with Trump. He says one sentence to Trump: "The election is over, you have lost." And then the call ends. It’s the last time the two speak.

THE PLOT

December 21, 2020

16 Days

Until January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

Increasingly angry and desperate, Trump saw one last chance.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

The last opportunity the president saw to be able to get his way and overturn the election, overturn the will of the people, was the vote in Congress on Jan. 6, where the House and the Senate were coming together to do their constitutional duty and certify the vote of the Electoral College.

PETER BAKER:

He has a meeting on Dec. 21 with a whole bunch of his most fervent supporters in the White House, people like Louie Gohmert and Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Green, who hasn’t even yet taken office but has just been elected.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREEN:

Just finished with our meetings here at the White House this afternoon. We had a great planning session for our Jan. 6 objection.

JONATHAN KARL:

It is really, truly an effort to overturn a presidential election. This has gone way beyond, "We’re going to go out there and make noise and tell people we won and we’re going to try to challenge results in the courts and we want recounts in elections that are close." This is an effort to overturn an election that has already been certified by all 50 states.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREEN:

We aren't going to let this election be stolen by Joe Biden and the Democrats. President Trump won—

JONATHAN KARL:

Now it’s, “Can we use the blunt force of Republicans in Congress to turn over the election?”

NARRATOR:

Trump’s plot to overturn the election required the help of Republicans in Congress. He turned to longtime ally Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican. Trump called him “my Kevin.”

ALEXANDER BURNS, Co-author, This Will Not Pass:

The White House viewed Kevin McCarthy much as it had viewed him for the previous four years, which is as a totally willing accomplice and enabler of Donald Trump. At no point in the run-up to Jan. 6 did Kevin McCarthy say, “Enough is enough, folks. The time to question and challenge the election is over.”

NARRATOR:

Trump needed McCarthy to get House Republicans to agree to the plan. But McCarthy's deputy, Liz Cheney, wouldn’t go along.

ROBERT DRAPER:

Liz Cheney, being a Cheney, was a lifelong Republican, was a steward of this party and was not going to let it move in this other, crazier direction without a fight. She wasn't simply going to become part of the surrender caucus.

JELANI COBB:

Cheney recognizes how dangerous this moment is. This is really how societies find themselves enmeshed in protracted bloodshed. This is how democracies fail. And I’m not sure that other Republicans made that calculation.

NARRATOR:

Just days before Jan. 6, House Republicans debated whether to support Trump’s plan to not certify the election results.

JONATHAN KARL:

There’s a conference call with the full House Republican conference, all the Republican House members. And they’re debating this, and Liz Cheney is making an impassioned argument. “Don’t sign on. The election's over. Biden has won. This is unconstitutional, this effort. Don’t do it.”

ADAM KINZINGER:

Liz had given a really compelling narrative about why we have to certify the election. Kevin came on and said, “Liz only speaks for herself, not the conference.”

NARRATOR:

McCarthy and the majority of House Republicans would stick with Trump.

DANIEL ZIBLATT:

Totally reckless. It was totally reckless. There's sort of certain moments in the life of a democracy where it's most vulnerable. And those are moments of succession, when there's an election, when there's a change of power. And to play recklessly with this is going to get a democracy into trouble.

And none of these guys clearly knew this, or if they did they seemed not to care. Because by doing this they were laying the seeds for a crisis, which is what happened.

January 4, 2021

2 Days

Until January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

The centerpiece of Trump’s plan relied on his loyal vice president, Mike Pence.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

There were some people who were telling the president that Mike Pence could just object to electors, that he could declare Trump the winner of the election, and all would be good.

AMNA NAWAZ:

Mike Pence owed his office to Donald Trump. And here was Donald Trump basically calling in that favor, cashing in those chips and saying, “You have the power. Overturn the election results and do as I tell you to do.”

NARRATOR:

Pence was reluctant. As Trump headed out to a televised rally, he decided to pressure Pence publicly.

SEAN HANNITY:

Well, I see the president is taking to the stage, let’s check in.

DONALD TRUMP:

And I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you. I hope that our great vice president comes through for us. He’s a great guy.

ROBERT COSTA:

Pence and his advisers are watching Trump and they grow increasingly nervous.

DONALD TRUMP:

Of course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much. [Laughter]

ROBERT COSTA:

Trump makes it clear through the television screen to Pence in Washington, “You better follow the plan. You better listen to what I’m saying.”

DONALD TRUMP:

No, Mike is a great guy. He’s a, he’s a—

PETER BAKER:

For Pence this is the moment of truth.

DONALD TRUMP:

—a man that I like a lot.

PETER BAKER:

For three years and 11 months, he has done whatever he had to do to stay on Trump’s good side. And now he has reached a moment of truth. There’s no way to finesse this. Yes or no. White or black. Pick a side. What are you going to do?

BILL KRISTOL:

Pence had a clear conflict between what Trump wanted him to do and what the Constitution and the rule of law required him to do. I think he managed to navigate those conflicts in various ways over four years. Not always, in my view, in the right way. But he had turned a blind eye to an awful lot of things. But this was such a blatant transgression.

NARRATOR:

With time running out, Pence looked for a definitive legal opinion to get him off the hook. His staff knew just the judge.

A retired top conservative judge, J. Michael Luttig, was once on the short list of Republican Supreme Court justices. Pence’s lawyer called Luttig in the early morning hours, told him it was an emergency and they needed a constitutional opinion immediately.

MICHAEL LUTTIG, Fmr. U.S. Court of Appeals judge:

There I was on the morning of Jan. 5 and I had to do this. So I did the best I could. And what that meant was I copied and pasted from my iPhone an email that included the text of the tweet. "The Constitution does not empower the vice president to alter in any way the votes that have been cast. Neither the president nor the vice president has any higher loyalty than to the Constitution of the United States."

NARRATOR:

Luttig’s opinion gave Pence solid ground to defy Trump.

MICHAEL LUTTIG:

I said that he has no such authority at all and that he must accept and the Congress must count the Electoral College votes as they have been cast.

NARRATOR:

That night, on the eve of Jan. 6, Pence met with the president.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

This was a moment for Mike Pence to either stand up or buckle under the pressure.

ROBERT COSTA:

Ultimately, Pence says to the president, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.” And Trump says, “If you can’t do it, I don’t even want to be your friend anymore.”

MICHAEL LUTTIG:

You could not overstate what was at risk had the vice president gone along with the plan. It would have thrown the country into a constitutional crisis of a kind that the Constitution doesn’t contemplate. There is no way that we would’ve had a president on Inauguration Day.

January 6, 2021

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

[Chanting] Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

DAN BALZ:

The entire event was designed to intimidate Congress from doing its constitutional responsibility. Trump wanted, in whatever way he could, to empower people to disrupt that process. If that resulted in violence, he obviously was prepared to let that happen.

DONALD TRUMP:

This election was stolen from you, from me and from the country. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

This was mob rule. This was mob rule in a nutshell. Donald Trump’s last best hope, he thought, was to stir up this mob of his own supporters outside the White House, send them down to the Capitol.

DONALD TRUMP:

Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy, and after this we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give our Republicans the kind of boldness that they need to take back our country.

AMNA NAWAZ:

Looking back now, of course, you see the drumbeat. You see that there were a number of steps and a series of decisions.

DONALD TRUMP:

And we fight, we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

[Chanting] Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

AMNA NAWAZ:

A series of things that leaders were willing to look the other way on, or to enable or to enforce.

PAUL GOSAR:

I rise to object to the counting of the electoral ballots from Arizona.

MIKE PENCE:

Is the objection signed by a senator?

PAUL GOSAR:

Yes, it is.

AMNA NAWAZ:

The ultimate culmination of all of that absolutely led to that day.

MALE CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER:

Now they’re coming down to a door here, underneath.

STEVEN LEVITSKY:

The entire Republican Party is culpable for what happens on Jan. 6. When it was already clear that Donald Trump was willing to condone violence, when it was already clear that he was not willing to accept defeat, Republicans, with a couple of very honorable exceptions, humored him. They remained silent. They enabled him.

MALE TRUMP SUPPORTER 1:

Hold the line!

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

[Chanting] Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

DONALD TRUMP:

Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you.

TIM ALBERTA:

When the people came for the People’s House—

MALE TRUMP SUPPORTER 2:

If Pence caved, we’re going to drag motherf------ through the streets.

TIM ALBERTA:

—and the attackers scaled the walls—

MALE TRUMP SUPPORTER 3:

We just heard that Mike Pence has betrayed the United States of America! [Booing]

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

TIM ALBERTA:

—and the mob started beating the policemen, what did all these people do inside of Congress? All these people who had fomented this, all these people who had enabled the lies, all these people who had invited this violence, what did they do? They ran. They went looking for cover.

PROTESTER 1:

Stand down, motherf-----!

PROTESTER 2:

Break it down!

PROTESTER 3:

He’s got a gun!

PROTESTER 4:

Oh! Oh!

ALYSSA FARRAH GRIFFIN:

I think about the fact that Ashli Babbitt, who lost her life that day, was a veteran. She served our country in the Air Force. But she believed people that she thought she was supposed to trust, who she thought were supposed to tell her the truth, telling her that this country you fought for is now being stolen because somebody stole an election and your vote doesn't count. I mean, that's horrible. She would still be alive today if people did not lie to her and inspire her to be there at the Capitol.

FEMALE REPORTER:

I want to quickly bring in Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader. Do you condemn this violence?

KEVIN McCARTHY:

I want to be very clear, I condemn any of this activity. This is not anything I support. This is not anything that I would be a part of. This is not who we are!

SUSAN GLASSER:

Kevin McCarthy was desperately trying to get Donald Trump on the phone. While he was on the phone with him, Ashli Babbitt was shot. He heard the gunshot. He was furious. He had a screaming, expletive-filled, yelling phone call with Donald Trump.

PETER BAKER:

Kevin McCarthy says, “You’ve got to speak out.” And Trump says, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are just more concerned about the election than you are.” In other words, he is siding with the mob over his own Republican ally.

JONATHAN KARL:

McCarthy gets angry with Trump and says, ”Who are you to say that? I’ve been fighting for you.” And he had been, right? I mean, McCarthy hadn’t crossed Trump at all. It’s one of the most tense conversations that the two men ever had.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

[Chanting] Whose house? Our house! Whose house? Our house! Whose house? Our house! Whose house? Our house! Whose house?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), 2007-19:

The lesson in all of this is if you accommodate a demagogue, someone who is telling untruths and leading hardworking Americans to a place, if you accommodate that, it can grow into something way beyond what you ever, ever fathomed. I don't think people expected that people would actually break into the Capitol, that five people would die. But I think it does demonstrate the fragility of a democracy and how what you say matters.

AFTERMATH

January 7, 2021

1 Day

After January 6, 2021

MALE NEWSREADER:

Tensions are still high following the chaos at the Capitol.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Our nation’s capital under a state of emergency, under a citywide lockdown.

MALE NEWSREADER:

National Guard has been called in to the Capitol. The Capitol is secure now.

NARRATOR:

In the aftermath of the attack, shock, and a brief sense that things might change.

JONATHAN KARL:

Republicans, by and large, were entirely horrified by Donald Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6. The thing that really solidified it for a lot of the people who had been the president’s supporters was the fact that he did nothing to stop the riot while it was undergoing. The fact that he didn’t come out until way too late to tell people to go home. The fact that he didn’t condemn the attack on the Capitol. And there was a real sense that he was done.

MONA CHAREN:

For about 48 hours, it really seemed that this was the final straw and that the dam had broken. People were finally going to do the right thing. It was, for me, a moment where I had some hope that things were going to—the ship was going to right itself. Very late, but still better late than never.

NARRATOR:

One by one, Republican leaders rebuked the president. Mitch McConnell.

MITCH McCONNELL:

The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president—

JONATHAN MARTIN:

McConnell loathes Trump, and now he believes Trump, once and for all, is going to be gone and he can wash his hands of Donald Trump at this point.

NARRATOR:

Kevin McCarthy.

Source: This Will Not Pass

KEVIN McCARTHY:

I’ve had it with this guy. What he did was unacceptable.

ALEXANDER BURNS:

He has a phone call with a small group of Republican congressional leaders.

Source: This Will Not Pass

KEVIN McCARTHY:

Any discussion I would have with him is that it would by my recommendation that he should resign.

ALEXANDER BURNS:

What you hear on that call is that Kevin McCarthy totally understands the difference between right and wrong in that moment. And he knows that Donald Trump has done something deeply, deeply wrong.

NARRATOR:

And Trump confidant Lindsey Graham.

LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh, my God, I hate it. All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.

AMNA NAWAZ:

You heard Lindsey Graham say, “Enough is enough, I’m out.” This was someone who had stood steadfastly by Donald Trump who said, once and for all, this is a bridge too far.

ROBERT COSTA:

Sen. Graham feels the heat immediately after that speech.

FEMALE TRUMP SUPPORTER:

You traitor! You traitor! You son of a bitch!

ROBERT COSTA:

It’s visceral. There's an almost violent edge to the way Graham is criticized.

MALE TRUMP SUPPORTER:

You won’t be able to walk down the street anymore. This is the rest of your life, Lindsey. Bye, traitor!

ROBERT COSTA:

They see Graham as a traitor, traitorous. This is the kind of way Graham is cast immediately.

NARRATOR:

Anger, vitriol and threats directed at any Republican seen as disloyal. Like messages to Alyssa Farah Griffin.

MALE VOICE [reading Instagram text]:

You are a f------ traitor. You need to be raped. We know where you live, bitch.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

After I spoke out on Jan. 7, I started receiving death threats on a variety of social media channels. It was the first time in my life that I had, and I never had expected to.

MALE VOICE [reading Instagram text]:

You deserve to be killed. F------ piece of s---. I know where you live.

NARRATOR:

And there were voice messages on election officials’ phones.

MALE VOICE 1:

F------ election stealing bitch.

MALE VOICE 2:

You rigged my f------ election you f------ piece of s---.

MALE VOICE 3:

Lying, corrupt pieces of f------ s---. Your day is coming.

MONA CHAREN:

Whereas in 2016, it required political courage to stand up to Trump and to this kind of nationalist, authoritarian cult—

MALE VOICE 4:

They’re going to hang you for treason you f------ bitch. What are you going to do then?

MONA CHAREN:

—by 2020, it required physical courage, because things had gone to such a point where people did fear for their own safety and for that of their families.

MALE VOICE 5:

[Laughs] See you in hell, you f------.

NARRATOR:

And even in the Capitol building.

MALE NATIONAL GUARD MEMBER:

—do swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help me God.

NATIONAL GUARD UNIT:

[In unison] So help me God.

NARRATOR:

The specter of violence remained as Congress decided whether to impeach the president for his role in the Jan. 6 attack.

January 13, 2021

7 Days

After January 6, 2021

NANCY PELOSI:

We know that the president incited this insurrection. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.

DAN BALZ:

The second impeachment was somewhat like the first impeachment but on steroids. The revulsion over what happened on Jan. 6 and Trump’s role in that struck people as so beyond the pale that again, something had to be done to hold him accountable.

NANCY PELOSI:

On this vote the ayes are 232, the nays are 197.

NARRATOR:

But at the vote, Kevin McCarthy was among 197 House Republicans still not willing to take action against Trump.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

A lot of them didn’t do it because, quite frankly, they were afraid of their own physical well-being. They were getting death threats. Their family was being threatened. To me, this is the essence of authoritarianism. It’s actually being intimidated into voting a certain way, not by any debate, not by any political calculation, but by the threat of physical intimidation.

TIM ALBERTA:

You know, I had a member of Congress say to me, “These people were willing to come after us inside the United States Capitol building. What are they going to do to me when I’m at home with my wife and kids?” If Jan. 6 was political terrorism, I think you have to say that it worked.

EXILE

January 20, 2021

14 Days

After January 6, 2021

JOE BIDEN:

I, Joseph Robinette Biden Junior, do solemnly swear—

NARRATOR:

Refusing to attend Biden’s inauguration, Trump left Washington.

JOE BIDEN:

So help me God.

JOHN ROBERTS:

Congratulations, Mr. President.

NARRATOR:

The question: Would his hold on the party remain?

JONATHAN MARTIN:

There's this uncertainty. Everything’s up in the air in the Republican Party. What is President Trump’s role going to be? Has he now been discredited? Or does he retain his grip on the party?

NARRATOR:

On his last flight on Air Force One, he made a final threat to the party. He spoke to RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

JONATHAN KARL:

I got this account from multiple sources, including a source that directly witnessed the phone call. Trump lays into her and says, “You’ve failed to fight for me. Republicans abandoned me. The election was stolen. You did nothing about it. I’m leaving. I’m done. I’m leaving the Republican Party. I’m creating my own party.”

NARRATOR:

Amid the transition of power, Republican leaders made a critical choice.

JONATHAN KARL:

The Republican leadership is absolutely freaked out that if Trump leaves, the party will fragment. There will be no hope for the Republican Party. Republican leaders always had that in the back of their mind, that if Trump walks away he will bring millions of voters with him and you can kiss the idea of a Republican majority goodbye for a long, long time.

NARRATOR:

As Trump hunkered down at his Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida, it didn’t take long before he was visited by a special guest. They took a photograph.

January 28, 2021

22 Days

After January 6, 2021

ROBERT COSTA:

McCarthy says to Trump, “I want your help for 2022. Help me win back the majority.” It was an opportunity on the table, laid out for Donald Trump to repair himself.

ADAM KINZINGER:

It was like when somebody’s in cardiac arrest and you take the paddles and you bring them back to life. Trump’s political career was in cardiac arrest. Kevin McCarthy brought the paddles and resurrected him.

AMNA NAWAZ:

Kevin McCarthy makes a political decision, which is betting on the fact that President Trump will continue to have a hold over the base and the party, that he’s going to be one of the key fundraising leaders when it comes to future elections, and that there are midterms coming up. That’s a political decision and a calculation he makes in the moment.

NARRATOR:

As if Jan. 6 and all that came before hadn’t happened, Republicans made the pilgrimage to Mar-a- Lago. Even Lindsey Graham was back.

DAN BALZ:

We see Lindsey Graham trying to get back in Trump’s good graces. And I think that that’s symbolic of what’s happened to the Republican Party writ large.

NARRATOR:

Mitch McConnell also wasn’t done with Trump.

BRET BAIER:

There’ll be a lot of talk this weekend about 2024. If the president was the party’s nominee, would you support him?

MITCH McCONNELL:

The nominee of the party? Absolutely.

June 26, 2021

5 Months, 20 Days

After January 6, 2021

TRUMP SUPPORTERS:

[Chanting] Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!

JELANI COBB:

If there is no real consequence and there’s no exile for a political figure who has orchestrated this kind of violence, and this person remains not only within the fold, but still effectively, culturally, the leader of the party—

DONALD TRUMP:

My fellow Americans, our movement is far from over. In fact, our fight has only just begun.

JELANI COBB:

—that only means that it’s much more possible that we would have an election where a loser would be able, through political subversion and use of force, to actually gain power and become the president.

NARRATOR:

For Liz Cheney, who had voted for impeachment, Jan. 6 was a turning point.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

She crossed the Rubicon. She experienced Jan. 6 to a point where it was so traumatic she can’t come back from it. She made the decision that I’m going to fight this battle. If it costs me my job, so be it. The verdict of history is worth it to me. This is what I’m willing to do.

NARRATOR:

Kevin McCarthy and his allies voted Cheney out of the leadership.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Do you feel betrayed? Congresswoman, do you feel betrayed by today’s vote?

LIZ CHENEY:

I think that it is an indication of where the Republican Party is and I think that the party is in a place that we’ve got to bring it back from. We cannot be dragged backward by the very dangerous lies of a former president. Thank you.

MALE CHENEY AIDE:

Thank you very much.

NARRATOR:

In her primary, McCarthy and other Republicans endorsed Cheney’s opponent and ultimately helped to defeat her.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN:

The Republican Party is in a very grave place. The Republican Party is the party of Trump. And what comes with that is that you are the party of the big lie. You are the party of undermining American democracy. It’s the party that’s swiftly pivoted back to this man and it’s going to end up hurting them in the long run.

THE COMMITTEE

June 9, 2022

1 Year, 5 Months, 3 Days

After January 6, 2021

NARRATOR:

Jan. 6 has continued to overshadow Washington and American politics.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The House Jan. 6 committee set to hold its first hearing tonight in prime time, a TV spectacular. Democrats say the future of democracy is on the line.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A critical moment for our democracy after—

NARRATOR:

Democrats convened prime-time hearings detailing the assault on American democracy.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The committee is hoping to make sure the country never forgets that day and that the people responsible are held accountable.

CAROLINE EDWARDS:

What I saw was just a war scene.

JASON VAN TATENHOVE:

An armed revolution. I mean, people died that day.

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON:

We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER:

But I had to be faithful to the Constitution. And that’s what I swore an oath to do.

GREG JACOB:

—which is antithetical to everything in our democracy.

ADAM KINZINGER:

Today we’ll focus on a few officials who stood firm against President Trump's—

I don’t know if we’re going to convince anybody to change their mind. My hope is that we can just give a historical record to the American people. And so that’s what’s important to me is the legacy we’re leaving for the truth.

NARRATOR:

Adam Kinzinger—

ADAM KINZINGER:

—some of these same Republican members requested pardons—

NARRATOR:

—and Liz Cheney—

LIZ CHENEY:

You refused to defend our nation and our Constitution.

NARRATOR:

—were the only two Republicans serving on the committee.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

There were only two of them and 200-plus other Republicans who were willing to, whether for reasons of cowardice, calculation, lack of conscience, who were willing to just sort of go along because they didn’t need the hassle of defying Donald Trump. And that just shows how unique a figure Liz Cheney has become in a time like this.

LIZ CHENEY:

Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

MALE VOICE:

Ready six, take—

SEAN HANNITY:

A full-on Hollywood multimedia extravaganza.

TUCKER CARLSON:

The effect was North Korean. Every channel the same. Nothing like it has ever happened in this country.

LAURA INGRAHAM:

And the blowhard of the evening award goes to Liz Cheney.

NARRATOR:

Republicans attacked the committee despite the fact it exposed powerful evidence.

JIM BANKS:

Last night’s hearing was a prime-time dud. Nothing came out of it that we didn’t know before. It didn’t change anybody’s minds.

DAN BALZ:

The Jan. 6 committee will be seen through the same partisan lenses that so much of what we’ve seen over the last several years was seen.

PETER NAVARRO:

—partisan committee has weaponized the investigatory powers—

JIM JORDAN:

This is a partisan political committee—

DAN BALZ:

People on one side will take it as proof and hard evidence—

TOM COTTON:

They’re using it to advance their political agenda—

DAN BALZ:

—and people on the other side will say it’s just part of a continuing witch hunt on the part of Democrats to hurt Donald Trump and to hurt the Republican Party.

TUCKER CARLSON:

This is the only hour on an American news channel that will not be carrying their propaganda live. They are lying and we are not going to help them do it. What we will do instead is to try to tell you the truth.

MALE VOICE:

All right, thanks everybody. And stop the records.

NARRATOR:

Most Republican voters now believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

TIM ALBERTA:

Voters' faith in our democratic system of elections is diminishing further by the day practically. The erosion of confidence in our elections is an existential crisis for the United States of America. There's no other way to say it.

NARRATOR:

A lie that Trump and other Republicans continue to promote, with midterms looming and another presidential election two years away.

JELANI COBB:

One of the things that we have typically thought about American democracy was that it was rooted in these ironclad precepts of the Constitution and that there really isn’t that much wiggle room if you wanted to damage the machinery in a particular way.

That’s wildly untrue. A good deal of American democracy relies on simple good faith that the people who are operating the controls of the system will adhere to the norms. But there aren’t really checks for a lot of the most dangerous things that could happen in that system.

Crime Scene: Bucha
FRONTLINE, The Associated Press and SITU map the atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine, through eyewitness accounts, videos and exclusive 3D data.
December 6, 2022