Transcript

Trump’s American Carnage

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January 6, 2021

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump's supporters are gathering in D.C. to protest today’s election certification.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We will stop the steal. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol—and I’ll be there with you.

NARRATOR:

They had been summoned by the president of the United States.

DONALD TRUMP:

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

CROWD:

Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—scuffles breaking out as Trump supporters gather in support of his efforts to stay in power.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE:

Madam Speaker, members of Congress, pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, the Senate—

MALE NEWSREADER:

They have stormed the U.S. Capitol, and something else that should be noted, they have done so with ease.

LISA DESJARDINS, PBS NewsHour:

It happened very quickly that the mob ran over the first barricades, that were really just bicycle racks, and then ran up the steps.

MALE RIOTER:

Stand aside and let us in, you traitors!

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is the United States of America and we’re watching protesters try to undermine the course of an election?

CROWD [chanting]:

Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The situation is getting out of control, and it has turned insane, frankly.

LISA DESJARDINS:

I could not believe when they actually were able to shatter glass that I had assumed was bullet-proof. They were able to wedge open what I thought was the strongest door on earth.

NARRATOR:

Their goal: to overturn the presidential election.

MALE RIOTER:

F--- the GOP! F--- Mitch McConnell!

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY):

We're debating a step that has never been taken in American history. I’ve served 36 years in the Senate; this will be the most important vote I’ve ever cast.

NARRATOR:

The mob was hunting Republicans who turned on Trump.

MALE RIOTER:

You're scared now, motherf-----!

CROWD [chanting]:

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

NARRATOR:

It was the final chapter of Donald Trump's presidency.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, AP White House reporter:

It's ending pretty much the same way it began: with a lot of chaos and disarray and—just a lot of head-shaking at events that have transpired.

CHARLIE SYKES, Conservative podcaster, The Bulwark:

This is Donald Trump’s America. We were warned over and over and over about it, and we ignored all of that. So here we are.

MALE RIOTER:

He’s got a gun!

MALE RIOTER 2:

Oh, this is going to get dirty, man.

NARRATOR:

Now on FRONTLINE: Trump’s American Carnage.

MALE RIOTER 3:

Shots fired!

MALE RIOTER 4:

Shots fired! Shots fired!

MALE RIOTER 5:

Shots fired! Shots fired!

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA!

NARRATOR:

Donald Trump’s presidency ended in a violent assault on American democracy.

CROWD [chanting]:

Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

NARRATOR:

Just four years before, he stood at this very place, lighting the fires that would become an insurrection.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs.

NARRATOR:

America's elected leaders looked on—

DONALD TRUMP:

From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.

NARRATOR:

—unable to stop it, or unwilling to see it.

DONALD TRUMP:

Now arrives the hour of action.

NARRATOR:

The carnage he vowed to end was in fact just beginning.

DONALD TRUMP:

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

NARRATOR:

From his early days as a candidate, Donald Trump came out fighting—

DONALD TRUMP:

We are going to start winning big league.

NARRATOR:

—rallying distrust and anger against the government—

DONALD TRUMP:

We can’t beat ISIS. Give me a break.

NARRATOR:

—targeting Washington’s leaders.

DONALD TRUMP:

We are led by very stupid people.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Fmr. Trump campaign manager:

And it was every location. It was the same messages: "We're tired of Washington lying to us.”

DONALD TRUMP:

We’re going to drive the cars over the illegals!

Build a wall!

CROWD [chanting]:

Build a wall! Build a wall! Build a wall!

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

The American people were angry, and they have a right to be. And what they see in Donald Trump is someone who is willing to fight for them for a change.

NARRATOR:

And as Trump’s appeal grew, his rivals in the Republican Party tried to fight back.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):

He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. And you know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NewsHour:

In 2016, President Trump is seen as an outlier in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is in some ways shunning him. The loudest voices in the Republican Party are not getting behind Trump.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):

Guys, we have a con artist as the front-runner in the Republican Party. A guy who has made a career out of telling people lies.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

It was a shock to the Republican establishment, and they did everything they could, for the most part, to prevent him.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX):

This man is a pathological liar. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

Tonight, live from the Peace Center in—

NARRATOR:

On the debate stage, Trump spared nothing to destroy his political opponents.

DONALD TRUMP:

You are the single biggest liar. You probably are worse than Jeb Bush. You are the single biggest liar.

This little guy has lied so much about my record.

MARCO RUBIO:

Here we go!

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), Fmr. House Majority Leader:

The way that Donald Trump rose was one very much of a pit bull, very much of a fighter. And I think that was largely his appeal from very early on.

NARRATOR:

And he was willing to enlist a type of support others would not.

MALE TRUMP SUPPORTER:

Made in f------ USA! Go f------ cook my burrito, b----!

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

What Trump exploited was that most Americans carry some level of prejudice.

MALE TRUMP SUPPORTER:

Go f------ make my tortilla, motherf----! And build that f------ wall for me! Trump! I love Trump!

WESLEY LOWREY:

Most Americans carry some fear of people who are different than them. The power of that message, I think, was deeply underestimated.

ROGER STONE, Fmr. Trump political adviser:

The campaign is continually dogged by a small and vocal number of white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis. This isn’t a very large group of people, but they're very vocal. And they attach themselves to Trump.

NARRATOR:

As anti-Trump protesters showed up at his rallies—

DONALD TRUMP:

There’s a guy. Totally disruptive, throwing punches.

NARRATOR:

—he stirred chaos and violence.

DONALD TRUMP:

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.

ALEC MacGILLIS, ProPublica:

You start seeing these really ugly moments at the rallies with protesters, some of whom are nonwhite protesters, getting treated very violently by his supporters, Trump himself seeming to incite his supporters to go after protesters.

DONALD TRUMP:

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

NARRATOR:

It worked in state after state.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump is the projected winner of the New Hampshire primary—

MALE NEWSREADER:

He regains his front-runner status in a crowded field—

MALE NEWSREADER:

He’s pulling ahead in virtually every Super Tuesday state.

NARRATOR:

Trump had marshaled a powerful base of support in America.

ERIC CANTOR:

Trump, unlike any other political figure, has been able to channel the real anger and dissatisfaction on the part of half of the country, if not more.

DONALD TRUMP:

We are going to make America great again.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

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

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump is a professional political wrecking ball.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER:

Donald J. Trump!

NARRATOR:

By July 2016, Donald Trump headed to the Republican convention after crushing the establishment candidates.

ROGER STONE:

Let’s face it, he was larger than the Republican Party. In fact, his nomination was the hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

NARRATOR:

In their defeat, the GOP leaders lined up behind the man who had ridiculed and attacked them.

EVAN OSNOS, The New Yorker:

They ceded the reins to somebody who was pulling together this enormous movement on the far-right fringe that was swamping the party. The GOP thought they were in control. But by that point they were already losing control.

NARRATOR:

They even gave him one of their own as his running mate.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI):

The next vice president of the United States, Gov. Mike Pence.

OLIVIA TROYE, Fmr. Pence adviser:

It was a shock to the staff when they found out that Mike Pence had been chosen. Given Trump’s rhetoric and how extreme he was, I don’t think that they expected him to be the one chosen as the running mate.

MIKE PENCE:

And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, together we will make America great again!

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

Mike Pence was added to the ticket to give Donald Trump a measure of legitimacy in the Republican Party. That somebody like Mike Pence would agree to join the ticket and be the running mate for somebody like Donald Trump, then maybe he wasn't that bad.

NARRATOR:

It was an unlikely partnership.

MALE NEWSREADER:

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

NARRATOR:

On election night, it paid off. He had the party, a powerful base and now the presidency.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

Most people who have assumed the office of the presidency believed that they had a responsibility to bring the country together. That’s not the way President Trump came to office.

FEMALE REPORTER:

We are just passing Trump Hotel. We did pass protesters, so you—

STEVE BANNON, Fmr. Trump chief strategist:

We didn’t win an election to bring the country together. It’s time to take on the elites in this country, take the torch to 'em. Hit 'em with a blowtorch.

FEMALE PROTESTER:

Trump and Pence are fascists!

NARRATOR:

Day One, the divisiveness was on full display. A few blocks from the White House, peaceful protests against Trump morphed to standoffs, to violence.

MALE NEWSREADER:

There’s a brand new team in charge of the White House, a brand new staff to keep the wheels turning—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

This is just the beginning of what is going to be a very busy day for Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

And in his first week, Trump leaned in, alienating and angering huge swathes of the public with an executive order aimed at blocking people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

DONALD TRUMP:

"Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States." It’s big stuff.

NARRATOR:

The tensions were rising on both sides of the divide.

CROWD [chanting]:

Free them now! Free them now!

MALE NEWSREADER:

Swift reactions from around the country.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now protests, outrage and backlash from President Trump’s refugee ban.

WESLEY LOWERY:

These actions that Trump does to appease his base and to excite his base have incited the resistance against.

CROWD [chanting]:

No ban! No wall! Sanctuary for all!

WESLEY LOWERY:

The travel ban is one of the most important days in the Trump presidency. Not just because of the policy itself and what it says about us as Americans, much less the people themselves who are now imperiled, unclear if they could come to the United States, but it was the thousands of people rushing the airports.

CROWD [chanting]:

No ban! No wall! Sanctuary for all!

WESLEY LOWERY:

It was the day when it felt like democracy may be crumbling at its seams.

CROWD [chanting]:

Right now! Let them go! Right now! Let them go! Right now!

NARRATOR:

In those first weeks—

MALE ANNOUNCER:

The president and vice president of the United States.

NARRATOR:

—Trump reveled in the imagery of the job.

DONALD TRUMP:

How am I doing? Am I doing OK? I’m president. Hey, I’m president! Can you believe it, right?

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

We know this president to be the kind of president who was not very steeped in details of legislation or policy or just the nitty-gritty aspects of governing. So he was very happy, I think, to let others take the lead, and he would just be the person to sign the legislation.

NARRATOR:

What he wanted were wins, and he expected Republicans on Capitol Hill to deliver.

The highest priority: repealing Obamacare.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the latest version of the bill to replace Obamacare.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—much-anticipated vote on health care, a vote that’s too close to call at this point.

NARRATOR:

It came down to one vote and one senator: Republican John McCain, a longtime Trump adversary.

MALE NEWSREADER:

He is expected to return to Capitol Hill today to cast what is expected to be a "yes" vote on health care.

NARRATOR:

Mike Pence, representing Trump at the Senate, tried to convince McCain to vote for the bill and give Trump a win.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME):

The vice president stood toe-to-toe with John McCain, and he was in his space; it was very close. They went on for, I don’t know, it seemed like 15 or 20 minutes, back and forth, back and forth.

Vice President Pence turned on his heel and walked away.

MALE PRESIDING OFFICER:

The clerk will call the roll.

ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post, 2005-18:

It was the most dramatic night on the Senate floor I had seen in all my years up there.

MALE CLERK:

Mr. Durbin.

SUSAN DAVIS, NPR:

John McCain walks up to where the vote clerks are and he lifts his hand very dramatically.

NARRATOR:

McCain, with a thumbs-down gesture, shocked the chamber.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):

No.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME):

You could hear audible gasps in the chamber. And those gasps of surprise came from both sides of the aisle.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

In the Senate chambers you could hear the shock—first gasps, then applause.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—another devastating blow to Republican senators as Obamacare—

NARRATOR:

The president had been watching on television.

SEAN SPICER, Fmr. Trump press secretary:

We were in the dining room off the Oval Office. There was profound disappointment that we were that close and that had spent a lot of effort really believing that we could finally do something when it comes to health care. So it was just a huge disappointment.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A blow to the president's agenda.

NARRATOR:

In response, President Trump would deal with his party much as he had his opponents on the campaign trail: He'd attack.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us H-care!

NARRATOR:

He targeted congressional Republicans, especially the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Sen. Mitch McConnell said I had "excessive expectations," but I don’t think so. After seven years of hearing repeal and replace, why not done?

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

There’s a lashing out when things don’t go his way. John McCain was the deciding vote and so it was hard to understand how Mitch McConnell would be the blame of it. But that’s the president’s nature, as we all know.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed repeal and replace for seven years, couldn’t get it done.

JOSHUA GREEN, Author, Devil's Bargain:

Trump was using the most powerful weapon he has, which is Twitter, to humiliate him repeatedly, to rake him over the coals, to let his followers know, "This is Mitch McConnell’s fault. He’s failed you, not me."

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Mitch, get back to work and put repeal and replace, tax reform and cuts and a great infrastructure bill on my desk for signing.

NARRATOR:

Mitch McConnell learned a lesson: He had to keep Donald Trump on his side.

LISA DESJARDINS:

Mitch McConnell's a very smart politician. I think he understood the Trump base, perhaps better than most. And he understood that the Trump base was probably not loyal to him, but was loyal to Trump, and he needed them. So what Mitch McConnell did was to try and patch things up with the president, to try and say supportive things as much as he could and say nothing any other time.

CROWD [chanting]:

Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

Charlottesville, VA

NARRATOR:

Then, an ominous harbinger of things to come.

CROWD [chanting]:

Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—universities. The torch-wielding white nationalists coming face-to-face—

MALE NEWSREADER:

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

CROWD [chanting]:

White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

JOSHUA GREEN:

What you had in Charlottesville was these alt-right people, many of them marching in Trump’s name.

MALE VOICE:

This is Trump's America!

JOSHUA GREEN:

We could see them marching with torches and it looked like something out of Nazi Germany.

NARRATOR:

Neo-nazis and white nationalist protesters were forming, protesting plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.

DAVID DUKE:

Hello, how are y’all doin’?

NARRATOR:

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised President Trump.

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.

CHARLIE SYKES:

Charlottesville was a long time coming. Even during the campaign, Donald Trump's flirtation with white supremacist organizations and the alt-right was a real problem. Those folks were being brought back into the political mainstream by Donald Trump, and Charlottesville was the moment.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters broke out earlier today.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Charlottesville under siege—

NARRATOR:

And then the unthinkable.

FEMALE VOICE:

Holy s---! Holy—

WESLEY LOWERY:

A man drives his vehicle into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others. This was an incident that was clearly the tale 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 counterprotesters at a white supremacy protest.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

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

MALE NEWSREADER:

—when a driver plowed into the crowd, killing a young woman—

NARRATOR:

In the face of that horror, Donald Trump would send a message.

DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

ANNIE KARNI, Politico, 2015-18:

He’s so fiery and he’s so angry and he’s really getting in personal back-and-forth with members of the press.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Sir, are you—

DONALD TRUMP:

So as far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute! I’m not finished! I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day—

CHARLIE SYKES:

You have a president of the United States who is willing to give tacit approval to some of the darkest elements of American politics. And even when it goes wrong, even when it turns ugly, he's unwilling to denounce it because these were allies that were useful, and you didn't want to alienate them.

DONALD TRUMP:

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. And—and—and if you reported it accurately, you would say.

Excuse me, they didn't put themselves down as neo-Nazis. And you had some very bad people in that group. You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group—excuse me. Excuse me!

BOB CORKER:

The president evidently did not want to discourage that type of activity—as a matter of fact, wanted to encourage it. And as we’ve seen over the course of his four years of service, the strength among those organizations, their place and what is happening around the country has continued to increase.

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.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump is being criticized by fellow Republicans.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump had faced criticism when he initially didn't respond—

NARRATOR:

Some Republicans broke ranks and came out against him.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—explicitly condemning white supremacy.

MALE VOICE [reading Sen. Jerry Moran tweet]:

White supremacy, bigotry and racism have absolutely no place in our society, and no one, especially POTUS, should ever tolerate it.

MALE VOICE [reading Marco Rubio tweet]:

Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.

MALE VOICE [reading John McCain tweet]:

There’s no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry.

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

I reacted in a way that most of my colleagues did, as well, that this was not where a president should be. This was a layup. This was easy. If there’s white supremacy in any form, you condemn it. I mean, that’s the easy thing to do, and he didn’t. And I thought, "Oh, man. That’s really drilling down on the base."

NARRATOR:

While Vice President Pence condemned white supremacists, he also stepped up to defend the president.

MIKE PENCE:

Many in the media have spent an awful lot of time focusing on what the president said and criticisms of what the president said instead of criticizing those who brought that hatred and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

OLIVIA TROYE:

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 the side-stepping that the president was doing. But by doing that, when you're Mike Pence, you're enabling it to happen again.

NARRATOR:

But Trump showed no regret. He went after his critics, especially Republicans who had spoken up.

DONALD TRUMP:

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

NARRATOR:

He rallied his base against their own senator, Jeff Flake.

DONALD TRUMP:

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

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

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. Very presidential, isn’t it? Very presidential.

CROWD [chanting]:

Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!

BOB CORKER:

When the president criticizes you, people back home are upset. They think that he's the supreme "it," if you will, in the Republican Party. And therefore, if y'all are at odds or you're disagreeing, then it's not good for your health.

NARRATOR:

Trump put an end to Flake's political career.

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:

We will make America great again. Thank you, Arizona. God bless you.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

He wielded enormous power over Republicans. A lot of that power instilled in them a certain level of fear, which then led them, many of them, to refrain from calling out the president when he did something that they disagreed with.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Breaking news: Two more GOP congressmen announcing that they will not seek reelection in the 2018—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—President Trump from two Republican senators calling it quits.

NARRATOR:

In time, dozens of Republicans would be run out by Trump.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—of more than a dozen Republicans who've decided that they aren't going to seek reelection—

NARRATOR:

Sen. Bob Corker was one of them.

BOB CORKER:

To me, we're the party of Lincoln. To be race baiting, to be demeaning people because of their color or their background, I mean, that's—I'm sorry. That's just not the Republican Party that I grew up in. But instead, ours became the party of grievances, right?

NARRATOR:

In the wreckage of Charlottesville, Trump emerged even stronger.

SUSAN GLASSER, The New Yorker:

Charlottesville was shocking at the time but actually the template for much that followed. He understood that there were no practical limits or constraints except for norms that he was willing to violate; except for public opprobrium, which he didn't care about.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

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

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The most sweeping rewrite of our tax code—

NARRATOR:

It culminated in front of the cameras at the White House—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

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

MALE NEWSREADER:

Republicans edge closer and closer to victory on taxes.

NARRATOR:

—at a ceremony for the passage of his first major piece of legislation: a tax cut.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—soon to be a major victory for President Donald Trump and—

DONALD TRUMP:

—and it's really—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:

One by one, congressional leaders, including those he'd attacked—

DONALD TRUMP:

Mitch? How about you start it.

NARRATOR:

—came forward to praise 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. Thank you, Mr. President, for all you’re doing.

DONALD TRUMP:

A very special guy and great friend of mine, Vice President Mike Pence.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

What the Republican establishment now know is Donald Trump is unequivocally the leader of the Republican Party. He is the one who sets the tone of what takes place in Washington. He is the leader of our country, both politically and from a legislative side of things.

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.

SUSAN GLASSER:

Their bottom line was, "Give us what we want." The tax cuts were what they wanted. The judges were what they wanted. And I think Donald Trump thought, "This is a good deal for me. In return, I get ownership, lock, stock and barrel, of the Republican Party."

DONALD TRUMP:

Orrin, say a few words please?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT):

Mr. President, I have to say that you’re living up to everything I thought you would. You’re one heck of a leader and we’re all benefiting from it. We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever. God bless all of you.

CHARLIE SYKES:

This was a fight for the soul of the Republican Party and Trump won. There’s no question about it. And it’s not so much that Trump took over the Republican Party, it’s that the Republican Party completely capitulated to him. They’re all united in believing that in order to survive politically and not lose in a primary, they have to stick as close to him as possible. Even when he puts out racist tweets, you cannot criticize him in public. Even when he engages in the most reckless behavior, you cannot break with him in public.

NARRATOR:

With his party behind him, Trump was emboldened.

CROWD [chanting]:

Build the wall! Build the wall!

NARRATOR:

He seized an issue that would continue appealing to the extreme elements of his base: immigration.

DONALD TRUMP:

We want our country to be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens. We’re not playing games.

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post:

The closer we get to 2020, the more this president and his advisers are saying, "Immigration is our fire. That’s the fire we put in our torch."

CROWD [chanting]:

Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!

CROWD [chanting]:

Where are the children? Where are the children?

NARRATOR:

The shocking centerpiece: ”zero tolerance,” separating children from their parents.

CROWD [chanting]:

Where are the children?

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now Democratic lawmakers are voicing their anger over the family separations.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Young children are pulled from the arms of their mothers.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the growing outrage over families being separated at the border when they arrive illegally—

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

It ushers in a part of America and a history of America that people are going to look at for years to come as the defining moments of the Trump presidency.

CROWD [chanting]:

Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!

NARRATOR:

Trump kept raising the stakes—

DONALD TRUMP:

If we’re going to have a great country we have to have a great, strong, powerful border.

NARRATOR:

—and his followers were right there with him, ready to fight.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Tonight, American civilians on our side of the border preparing to take matters into their very own hands.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A militia group called the Texas Minutemen, they're headed to the Mexican border—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—to stop what President Trump calls the migrant invasion.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—far-right activists—

NARRATOR:

Now, with the base behind him and the 2020 election looming, Trump would see just how far he could go.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER:

We’re following breaking news on President Trump’s contacts with Ukraine—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—about the phone call that inspired a whistleblower complaint about—

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Host, Conspiracyland podcast:

He has his phone call with President Zelensky, the new president of Ukraine.

MALE VOICE [reading phone transcript]:

I would like you to do us a favor, though—

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

There’s the brazen request to open up an investigation relating to the Bidens.

MALE VOICE [reading phone transcript]:

There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

Clearly driven by a very narrow political purpose, which was to neutralize a Biden candidacy that looked like it was about to be a real threat to his reelection.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The president pressured Ukraine's leader about eight times—eight times!

NARRATOR:

It created a firestorm on Capitol Hill.

CROWD [chanting]:

Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump!

NARRATOR:

Impeachment.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), House Majority Leader:

The question is on adoption of Article 2. Those in favor say “Aye.”

REPRESENTATIVES [in unison]:

Aye!

NANCY PELOSI:

Those opposed, “Nay.”

REPRESENTATIVES [in unison]:

No!

NANCY PELOSI:

The “ayes” have it. The “ayes” have it.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump is waking up as the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Now the process moves forward—

NARRATOR:

As the Democrats marched to the Senate to present the case against the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell had made clear he would stand by Trump.

PETER BAKER:

He had decided that he was going to marry his fortunes to Trump, no matter how unpleasant or painful that might be to him. And that meant that he was going to steer Trump through this trial successfully.

NARRATOR:

Frustrated, the Democrat leading the prosecution of Trump, Congressman Adam Schiff, issued a warning.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):

The daily attacks on the guardrails of our democracy, so relentlessly assailed, have made us numb and blind to the consequences. Does none of that matter anymore if he’s the president of our party?

SUSAN GLASSER:

Over and over again, that speech has echoed in my head over the last couple months. He said, "By letting Donald Trump off, you are enabling his attack on our election."

ADAM SCHIFF:

The scheming persists and the danger will never recede. He has done it before. He will do it again.

What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100%. If you have found him guilty and you do not remove him from office, he will continue trying to cheat in the election until he succeeds.

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 thought that the trade-off was worth it. They thought, "Well, how bad can it possibly be? What could he possibly do?"

JOHN ROBERTS, Supreme Court Chief Justice:

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.

NARRATOR:

He would use the moment to tighten his grip on the party—

DONALD TRUMP:

This is what the end result is. [applause]

NARRATOR:

—and continue rallying his base.

EVAN OSNOS:

The impeachment process acted as a slingshot for Donald Trump, because he came out of that suddenly convinced not only that he had total impunity—he could more or less do what he wanted and could get away with it—but that he also had the support of almost every Republican leader in Congress behind him.

DONALD TRUMP:

We can take that home, honey, maybe we’ll frame it. It’s the only good headline I’ve ever had in The Washington Post. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

EVAN OSNOS:

It was a kind of moment of permission. And then at that point, all the guardrails fell away. He had nothing to be afraid of at that point. He could do whatever he wanted.

CROWD [chanting]:

You are the threat! You are the threat! You are the threat!

NARRATOR:

And that's exactly what he did. As the country was reeling in protest over racial injustice—

CROWD [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

NARRATOR:

—he exercised his power, violently.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I’m sitting on the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th Street.

CROWD [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

And I start coughing and choking, and I start wondering what’s going on. And I look up and it’s—it’s clouds of smoke and it’s officers throwing some sort of chemical gas that's making my throat and my eyes burn. And I see people running and this line of police officers coming and they’re clearing the streets. And I’m completely confused because I’m wondering, "Why is the White House doing this?"

NARRATOR:

It was a photo-op—the president marching from the White House with staff in tow.

OLIVIA TROYE:

The fact that the president and his inner circle celebrated that moment I think says everything about the type of people that they truly are. That should have been a major warning to these Republican leaders that there was no line he wouldn't cross.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Empty streets lead to packed emergency rooms across New York City.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Paralysis in this typically vibrant city in just a matter of weeks.

NARRATOR:

Across America, desolation and despair—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

FEMA sent 85 refrigerated trucks to New York City to hold the people who’ve perished.

NARRATOR:

—as Trump's handling of the pandemic cost lives and threatened his reelection.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The true cost of COVID, measured not by numbers, but families.

NARRATOR:

In the crisis, Trump attacked opponents—

DONALD TRUMP:

Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it.

NARRATOR:

—and incited supporters to rise up against governors who ordered pandemic lockdowns.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Liberate Virginia!

Liberate Minnesota!

Liberate Michigan!

CROWD [chanting]:

Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

He went on Twitter and tweeted "liberate Michigan." You saw a lot of them stream to the state Capitol with weapons and roam the halls of the state Capitol there.

NARRATOR:

The far-right forces and militias heeded his call.

MALE MILITIA MEMBER:

Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!

NARRATOR:

Some went even further.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A stunning domestic terror plot to storm the Michigan statehouse and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been foiled tonight—

NARRATOR:

Trump stoked the uprising.

DONALD TRUMP:

You got to get your governor to open up your state, OK? [cheering]

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

There were chants of "lock them up, lock them up." And the president didn't say to the crowd, "Well, no, we don't want to lock anybody up." He kind of joined in with them.

DONALD TRUMP:

Lock 'em all up.

CROWD [chanting]:

Lock her up! Lock her up!

NARRATOR:

And all over the country, anger was boiling over.

DONALD TRUMP:

To the violent, socialist mob: We will not be silenced.

MALE MILITIA MEMBER 1:

Get out of here, you fag!

MALE MILITIA MEMBER 2:

Get out of here!

BRENDAN BUCK, Fmr. Paul Ryan adviser:

We know that there are people out there who can be radicalized. What was different here was you had a president who, for however he was communicating, gave those people the idea that he was on their side. They feel like they have the ultimate cover: The president of the United States, they believe, is fighting for them.

NARRATOR:

With the election nearing, the president courted extremists like the Proud Boys—

DONALD TRUMP:

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.

NARRATOR:

—casting his struggle as their struggle.

LISA DESJARDINS:

You can’t underestimate the fervor from that base.

DONALD TRUMP:

—but you sometimes have to meet force with force. You can’t just stand back, sit back and watch it take it place.

FEMALE VOICE:

That’s for everything you f------ did to me, b----!

MALE ASSAULT VICTIM:

I’m sorry!

FEMALE VOICE:

I told you I’d get you!

LISA DESJARDINS:

Him telling those people who believe in him and who have made him a part of their lives and their hopes that he’s under attack, they all feel under attack. And I think that’s when we saw things really get haywire.

MALE VOICE:

Get his ass!

NARRATOR:

Despite the violence, Republican leaders stood by Trump.

MITCH McCONNELL:

Like President Trump, we won’t be bullied by a liberal media intent on destroying America’s institutions.

MIKE PENCE:

President Donald Trump has been fighting for you, and now it’s our turn to fight for him.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

Decision 2020, election night.

NARRATOR:

But on election night—

MALE NEWSREADER:

It’s 192-114.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Biden picking up Arizona changes the math.

NARRATOR:

The presidency began slipping away.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Right now Biden has 220, Trump has 213. We’re watching this very, very—

NARRATOR:

Just before 2:30 in the morning, Trump went before the cameras.

DONALD TRUMP:

This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. [cheering] We did win this election.

FRANK LUNTZ, Conservative pollster:

What Trump said to them on election night, "We’re going to win. Unless they steal it from us, we’re going to win."

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump is set to speak for the first time since—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

We have not seen the president since the early hours of Wednesday morning when he falsely claimed victory—

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you very much. Thank you.

NARRATOR:

He would not let go.

DONALD TRUMP:

If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us—

NARRATOR:

Now Trump's final assault on democracy would begin.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

We are up big, but they are trying to steal the election.

NARRATOR:

He took to Twitter—

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

They are finding Biden votes all over the place.

NARRATOR:

—to promote baseless conspiracy theories.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Surprise ballot dumps were counted. Very strange.

PETER BAKER:

That’s when it got out of control.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Stop the count!

PETER BAKER:

Rather than just being a sore loser who’s complaining that he didn’t get what he thought he deserved, he becomes the fomenter of a whole new reality.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Where are the missing military ballots in Georgia?

Watch for massive ballot counting abuse.

CHARLIE SYKES:

We saw the annihilation of truth aggressively in the weeks after the election, where the president pushed one bizarre conspiracy theory after another, one lie after another.

NARRATOR:

One by one, congressional Republicans jumped on board.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX):

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

NARRATOR:

They ramped up the disinformation, inciting the pro-Trump base.

LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake.

TED CRUZ:

They are setting the stage to potentially steal an election. It is lawless, and they need to follow the law.

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY (R-CA):

President Trump won this election, so everyone who's listening, do not be quiet.

FRANK LUNTZ:

Trump people believe to this day that the election was rigged.

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the count! Stop the count! Stop the count!

FRANK LUNTZ:

They believe to this day that Donald Trump is duly-elected president of the United States. They believe that. They are wrong, but they believe it.

CROWD [chanting]:

We want justice! We want justice! We want justice!

NARRATOR:

At vote-counting centers, the anger was growing.

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the count! Stop the count!

BOB CORKER:

The president perpetrates this total untruth about the election—

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the count! Stop the count!

BOB CORKER:

—and intelligent, hardworking Americans follow him, lock, stock and barrel. And it demonstrated to me the tremendous fragility of our democracy.

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the count! Stop the count! Stop the count!

EVAN OSNOS:

Threats were beginning to pour in. Election officials were being accosted near their homes. It was—this was becoming something that was about much more than just politics or elections. It was beginning to take on the aroma of a physical conflict.

MALE NEWSREADER:

And now some of those folks who have been misled are threatening violence.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—but death threats have targeted the secretary of state and other state officials.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—and one election official even had a noose hanging outside their home.

GABRIEL STERLING, Election official, GA:

It has all gone too far.

NARRATOR:

In Georgia, a Republican election official had a warning to the president and Mitch McConnell.

GABRIEL STERLING:

Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed. And it's not right.

CHARLIE SYKES:

This was the warning, and Donald Trump was unmoved by it. It was building and building and building, and there were—there was one warning after another.

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.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump has accused Georgia and its leaders of voter fraud.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—fiery rebuke from Republican officials in Georgia—

NARRATOR:

Undeterred, the president pushed even harder, calling Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

DONALD TRUMP [on phone]:

OK, thank you very much. Hello, Brad and Ryan and everybody. We appreciate—

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

It was very blatant. The conversation was more than an hour long, with the president of the United States continually pressing these officials to find votes, to find enough votes to be able to declare him the winner of a state that he clearly lost.

DONALD TRUMP [on phone]:

So look. All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes. So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—stunning phone call where President Trump is heard pressuring officials to overturn the election that he lost.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—this remarkable phone call, the president does vaguely threaten the state election officials—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Some legal experts say this could actually be criminal behavior.

NARRATOR:

Desperate, Trump was running out of time and out of options.

CHARLIE SYKES:

Donald Trump tried to get the courts to overturn the election. They refused. He tried to get Republican legislators to overturn the election. They refused. He tried to bully governors into overturning the elections. They refused. He went after the secretaries of state, one after another.

NARRATOR:

He turned to Vice President Mike Pence with a stunning demand.

SCOTT JENNINGS, Fmr. McConnell adviser:

Trump had come to be convinced that Pence could actually do something about it, and his team adopted the belief that the vice president of the United States could unilaterally choose the president.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

He continually turned the screws on Mike Pence. And so this was a moment for Mike Pence to either stand up or buckle under the pressure.

PETER BAKER:

There is this remarkable confrontation between President Trump and Vice President Pence that goes on for hours in the White House. And Trump is just haranguing him and berating him. "You have to do this. After all the things I’ve done for you, how can you not do this? You were a loser until I came along and saved you."

CROWD [chanting]:

Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

NARRATOR:

Then, with Congress meeting to ratify the election, Trump unleashed the insurrection.

DONALD TRUMP:

We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.

LISA DESJARDINS:

This was specifically a rally to stop normal democratic process of U.S. government. It was a rally, Stop the Steal, that was intended to oppose the peaceful transition of power.

DONALD TRUMP:

Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that's what this is all about.

OLIVIA TROYE:

He incites this sort of rhetoric. He incites anger. He gets these people fired up. You have a whole group of supporters out there who think that’s their call to action.

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.

FRANK LUNTZ:

He may not have said, "Man the barricades. Storm the Capitol." But that’s what they heard. And he should have known better. After five years in politics, he should have known better.

NARRATOR:

Inside the Capitol, Mike Pence would disobey the president.

MIKE PENCE:

Madam Speaker, members of Congress, pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, the Senate and House of Representatives are meeting in joint session.

NARRATOR:

Mitch McConnell would also break with the president that day.

MITCH McCONNELL:

If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.

PETER BAKER:

Mitch McConnell finally says, "That’s it. No more. We are done." We never heard Mitch McConnell say anything like that in the last four years. He had finally had enough.

NARRATOR:

As the angry crowd ransacked the Capitol, Trump gave them a target.

SUSAN GLASSER:

Trump, in the middle of it, he sends out a tweet attacking Mike Pence.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution.

SUSAN GLASSER:

I still can’t get over that. I imagine that Mike Pence can’t get over that.

CROWD [chanting]:

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

NARRATOR:

The mob began hunting for Pence.

CROWD [chanting]:

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

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

When ever, in the recent history of this country, have we ever heard regular people calling for the vice president of the United States to be hanged for doing his job?

NARRATOR:

He was whisked away only seconds before the mob arrived.

CHARLIE SYKES:

Mike Pence must have thought, It has come to this: that the one moment as vice president where I have stood on principle, I am being treated as the enemy, and they've come for me. And the president is attacking me. Not only is he not calling and saying, "Are you OK?" He’s egging it on.

NARRATOR:

They also seized the Senate chamber where McConnell presided.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA!

LISA DESJARDINS:

Mitch McConnell achieved so much with President Trump, but on that day it was clear how much it had cost, to him and to his party.

NARRATOR:

A few hours later, after the deadly riot was quelled, Congress returned.

MIKE PENCE:

The Senate will come to order.

NARRATOR:

But the battle over the election was not over.

REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA):

Mr. President, sadly but resolutely I object to the electoral votes of my beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

NARRATOR:

Even after the attack that would leave five people dead and many injured, 147 Republican members of Congress stood with the president, voting to overturn the election results.

SCOTT JENNINGS:

They may think they did it for short-term political gain, but the videos of people beating cops with American flags, running around, "Where’s Mike Pence? Hang Mike Pence!" Is that who you want your political base to be? Is that—do you feel the need to pander to those folks? I would hope the answer to that would be "no." But that’s exactly what that vote was: It was a pandering vote to people who were resorting to violence with the tools and the intent to really hurt people.

NARRATOR:

Donald Trump had brought carnage to the nation's capital. In his wake, a fractured Republican party and a bitterly divided America.

CHARLIE SYKES:

It is not over. This is an ongoing attack on democracy. The Big Lie is still out there. This is now prologue to what I think is going to be a feature in American politics for some time: that if lies and conspiracy theories will be embraced by this many people, if one of the two major political parties is not willing to push back against it, this becomes part of the reality. And we’re going to be living with that, I’m afraid, for a very, very long time.

27m
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February 9, 2021