Top White House officials weigh exits after Trump incites mayhem

Protesters breached security and entered the Capitol building in Washington on Jan 6, 2021.
Protesters breached security and entered the Capitol building in Washington on Jan 6, 2021.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser resigned and other White House officials are weighing departures after the president encouraged protests that led to his supporters storming the US Capitol on Wednesday (Jan 6), according to people familiar with the matter.

The deputy, Matt Pottinger, was dismayed by the attack on the Capitol and Trump’s incitement of protesters, the people said. His boss, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, also considered leaving but was persuaded to stay on by allies on Wednesday, the people said. Also weighing a resignation is Chris Liddell, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy coordination. A handful of aides already quit, including first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, resigned, as well as the White House social secretary, Anna Cristina “Rickie” Niceta Lloyd, according to people familiar with the matter.

A deputy White House press secretary, Sarah Matthews, said she had resigned over Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol, in which one unidentified woman was killed by a gunshot. 

"As someone who worked in the halls of Congress I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today," she said in a statement. "I’ll be stepping down from my role, effective immediately. Our nation needs a peaceful transfer of power."

Inside Trump’s White House, there is anger and consternation over the unprecedented violence that unfolded as Congress began counting Electoral College votes to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Before Trump held a rally with thousands of supporters outside the White House in the morning, he spoke with vice-president Mike Pence by phone, urging him to reject some of Biden’s votes while presiding over the count in a joint session of Congress. Trump told Pence that he could either be courageous or not, using a vulgarity, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr Trump’s decision to urge his supporters to gather in Washington while Congress certified the election, then direct them to march on the Capitol, has caused turmoil in the White House.

It took aides about 45 minutes to persuade Trump to issue a tweet urging protesters against violence after they entered the building, according to people familiar with the matter. Those who tried to reason with the president included his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the people said, asking not to be identified.

Meadows and the president’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, later persuaded Trump to film a short video he posted on Twitter, in which he repeated his unfounded claims of election fraud and held the protesters blameless for the violence while urging them to go home.

Trump walked back and forth between the Oval Office and White House dining room watching the events at the Capitol and was initially pleased by the disturbance, the people said – a reaction that alarmed many of his aides.

Some of Trump’s loyalists were angry that O’Brien signalled his displeasure with the president in several tweets on Wednesday, including one that openly praised vice-president Mike Pence after he defied Trump’s demands that he unilaterally reject Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden during the joint session of Congress. 

The post was interpreted within the White House as criticism of Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

CNN reported earlier that O’Brien, Pottinger and Lidell are considering resigning. NBC News earlier reported Matthews’ resignation.

The White House declined to comment.

Also Wednesday, the president told aides not to allow Vice-President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, into the White House, the people said.

Trump was angered by a New York Times report that Pence had told him he would not seek to halt the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory and blamed Short for the story, one person said.

Short was at the building on Wednesday anyway, according to one person familiar with the matter.