Efforts to remove Donald Trump from the White House gathered pace on Saturday, as Democrats announced that at least 180 members of Congress would co-sponsor an article of impeachment they intend to introduce in the House of Representatives on Monday.
The show of force by the president’s opponents comes amid continuing revulsion at Trump’s incitement of Wednesday’s deadly US Capitol riot and his attempts to overturn electoral defeat by Joe Biden.
One of the authors of the impeachment resolution, the California congressman Ted Lieu, repeated demands for Trump to resign or face the ignominy of being the first president to be impeached twice.
On Twitter, Lieu announced that the vast majority of the 222 Democratic House members were onboard for impeachment, and revealed a letter to the New York state bar demanding the disbarment of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who advocated “trial by combat” at a rally preceding the violent invasion of the US Capitol building by a mob of Trump supporters.
“We will hold responsible everyone involved with the attempted coup,” Lieu wrote.
Trump’s grip on the presidency appeared increasingly tenuous as impeachment plans advanced, allies continued to abandon him and Twitter banned him, removing his most powerful way to spread lies and incite violence.
Late on Saturday it was reported that a group of House Republicans had sought to dissuade Democrats from moving forward with impeachment. But some have voiced support for Trump’s removal, and on Saturday senior Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said he believed Trump had committed “impeachable offences”.
Toomey stopped short of saying whether he would vote to remove the president from office at the conclusion of a Senate trial if the House sent over articles of impeachment, however.
“I don’t know what they are going to send over and one of the things that I’m concerned about, frankly, is whether the House would completely politicise something,” Toomey told Fox News on Saturday. “I do think the president committed impeachable offences, but I don’t know what is going to land on the Senate floor, if anything.”
Toomey’s comments came after Republican senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called for the president to go on Friday night.
“I want him to resign,” she said. “I want him out. He has caused enough damage.”
Five people died around the chaos at the Capitol, including a police officer who confronted rioters and a rioter shot by law enforcement. Multiple arrests have been made, among them a Florida resident photographed walking off with the lectern of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Also arrested was a man from Arizona who styles himself as the QAnon shaman and who sat in the Vice-President’s chair in the Senate, dressed in horns and animal skins.
Amid reports the FBI was investigating whether some rioters intended to take lawmakers hostage, the Washington US attorney said a 70-year-old Alabama man was charged after his truck was discovered packed with homemade bombs and guns. Another man was alleged to have threatened to kill Pelosi and to have been heavily armed.
The article of impeachment, which charges Trump with inciting an insurrection and having “gravely endangered the security of the United States” and its institutions, prompted a flurry of legal activity at the White House, according to Maggie Haberman, a New York Times reporter. She tweeted that a defence team was beginning to take shape, including Giuliani and possibly Alan Dershowitz, a celebrity lawyer who has defended Trump before.
Significantly, current White House counsel, including Jay Sekulow, Marty and Jane Raskins, Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin, were reportedly unlikely to be involved in any Senate trial, which according to indications from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is almost certain to take place after Trump leaves office on 20 January.
The impeachment move is part of a multi-pronged approach by Democrats pressing for Trump’s removal ahead of Biden’s inauguration. Pelosi, who spoke to the leader of the US military, seeking to ensure Trump cannot launch a nuclear attack, has also called for Trump’s removal via the 25th amendment, which provides for the ejection of a president deemed unable to fulfil his duties.
The treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was reportedly among officials to discuss such a course but it seems unlikely, particularly as cabinet members who might participate have resigned.
White House sources have asserted Trump will not resign or turn over power to Vice-President Mike Pence in order to seek a pardon, so a second and high-speed impeachment looms. In his first impeachment, over approaches to Ukraine for dirt on political rivals, Trump was acquitted by a Republican-held Senate.
This time, more Republican senators are indicating support. Murkowski became the first in the open, telling the Anchorage Daily News: “I think he should leave.
“He’s not going to appear at the inauguration. He hasn’t been focused on what is going on with Covid. He’s either been golfing or he’s been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful to him under the bus, starting with the vice-president.
“He only wants to stay there for the title. He only wants to stay there for his ego. He needs to get out. He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing.”
Murkowski’s intervention was dramatic, echoing the delegation of Republicans who told Richard Nixon to resign before he was impeached over Watergate in 1974. Ben Sasse, from Nebraska, was also critical, accusing Trump of a “dereliction of duty” and indicating he was open to impeachment.
But many more would have to turn for the president to be convicted. Several have said they will not. Jeff Flake, a Trump critic and former senator for Arizona, told CNN on Saturday it would be better if Trump “just went away”.
Trump will be vulnerable to prosecution, either state or federal, after leaving the White House. If successfully impeached he will also lose benefits of life after the Oval Office, including pension and the option of running for office again.
Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Trump separated the president from a megaphone he has used to spread lies and misinformation. Since Wednesday, he has called for calm and promised to respect the transfer of power but he has also continued to falsely claim the election was stolen by massive electoral fraud.
Twitter cited repeated rule violations and risks including the “further incitement of violence”. It said two tweets sent on Friday were “highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the US Capitol”. Plans for “future armed protests” were spreading, the company warned, “including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on 17 January”.
In Washington, a 7ft “non-scalable” fence was being erected around the Capitol, set to remain for at least 30 days. A state of emergency was declared until the day after Biden’s inauguration. More than 6,200 national guard personnel would be in the city over the weekend, mayor Muriel Bowser said.
The backlash against Trump extended to two rightwing senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who led failed efforts to object to Biden’s election on the same day as the riot.
Cruz’s hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, said his lies had cost lives and called for his resignation. Publisher Simon and Schuster cancelled Hawley’s book deal, accusing him of “a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom”.
With Democratic victories in Senate races in Georgia, the Republicans have lost the White House and Congress. Murkowski said she was considering leaving.
“If the Republican party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me,” she said.