8 Jan 2021

Surrounded by shrinking circle of aides, a brooding Trump lays into Pence

6:23 pm on 8 January 2021

By Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason

US President Donald Trump has increasingly isolated himself in the White House, relying on a small group of diehard loyalists and lashing out at those who dare to cross him, including Vice President Mike Pence, four sources familiar with the matter said.

The White House Press is seen in Washington, DC on January 7, 2021.

Photo: AFP

Some longtime advisers are steering clear of talking to Trump after he fired up hundreds of supporters who swarmed the US Capitol in what even fellow Republicans called a deep stain on Trump's legacy.

The unprecedented breach of the Capitol building on Wednesday US local time forced Pence and members of Congress to be evacuated just as they had convened to certify the 2020 election victory of President-elect Joe Biden over Trump.

Five people died in the mayhem, including a woman shot by police.

Among them was police officer named Brian Sicknick who died due to injuries sustained in response to the riot.

"Don't want to," said one adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, when asked if there had been any recent contact with the president.

Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump cut short their holiday in Florida to return to the White House on New Year's Eve.

US President Donald Trump with his wife Melania. Photo: AFP / 2020 Getty Images

Trump has repeatedly lambasted Pence, publicly and privately, for refusing to try to prevent Congress from certifying Biden's win, and has been seething at Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, for stating that Pence would perform his constitutional duty, the sources said.

This week Trump berated Pence to his face, one source said. The vice president's office declined to comment.

But Republican Senator Jim Inhofe told the Tulsa World newspaper he spoke to Pence on Wednesday night.

"I've known Mike Pence forever," he said. "I've never seen Pence as angry as he was today."

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing.

US Vice President Mike Pence Photo: AFP

A former senior administration official said the rift between the two men was deep and they may never speak to each other again.

Pence, a former Indiana governor and former Republican lawmaker who harbours presidential ambitions, has been loyal to Trump throughout the president's four years in office.

A Pence adviser said "everyone around him is very proud of him" for how he performed his constitutional duty and that he had told Trump ahead of time what he planned to do.

"Mike Pence does not surprise the president. He was honest about what he was going to do," the adviser said.

Loyalists 'egging him on'

Trump has surrounded himself with an ever-smaller group of loyalists who cater to his whims, including digital director Dan Scavino, personal aide John McEntee, trade adviser Peter Navarro, speechwriter Stephen Miller, and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, one source said.

"It's sad. These are the people around him and egging him on," said the source, who also asked not to be identified.

The White House declined to comment.

Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani

Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: AFP

A source familiar with the matter said it took an intervention by Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump to help persuade him to change his tune a day after the president told supporters who ransacked the Capitol to "go home, we love you, you're very special".

Trump had initially been reluctant to criticise his supporters at all, the source said, but under pressure, he released a new video on Thursday night criticising those who defiled the Capitol, and calling for calm.

He also came closer than he ever has to a formal concession, vowing to ensure a "smooth transition" to a new administration on 20 January.

"Serving as your president has been the honour of my lifetime," he said in the video.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump storm the US Capitol during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 US presidential election results.

Trump supporters storming the US Capitol building on 6 January. Photo: AFP

Earlier on Thursday it was Scavino who, after Congress certified Biden's victory, tweeted out a statement from Trump to say the president would go along with an orderly transition of power to Biden. Trump was suspended from Twitter at the time and could not send the tweet himself.

In that statement, Trump clung to the notion that the 3 November election was rigged against him but acknowledged he would be leaving the White House on Biden's Inauguration Day.

"Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on 20 January," he said.

The statement was seen by some close to the White House as an attempt to forestall a wave of resignations.

One former Trump White House official said the president had shown a failure of leadership for not immediately going on television to tell his supporters at the Capitol to stand down and leave.

"He has blood on his hands from yesterday. A woman died," he said.

There has been some talk among Cabinet members such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and allies about invoking the 25th amendment to the US Constitution as a way to remove Trump from office, but a source familiar with that effort doubted it would take place given the little time left in his term.

A pro-Trump protester carries the lectern of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi through the Rotunda of the US Capitol Building after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.

A pro-Trump protester carries the lectern of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi through the rotunda of the Capitol building. Photo: Getty Images via AFP

Some White House officials, stunned by Trump's downward spiral in recent days, were debating whether to resign in protest or to stay for the last two weeks to ensure a proper transition to the Biden team, one aide said.

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, on Thursday became the first Trump Cabinet member to quit since the Capitol siege. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos followed her.

Four more senior advisers in the White House National Security Council joined the exodus, according to a senior administration official and a person familiar with the matter.

They include: African affairs senior director Erin Walsh; defense policy senior director Mark Vandroff; weapons of mass destruction senior director Anthony Rugierro; Middle Eastern and North African affairs senior director Rob Greenway.

Meanwhile, New Zealander Chris Liddell is staying on at the White House for the transition of power. Liddell is assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff.

Yesterday there was a string of resignations including Stephanie Grisham who was chief of staff to the first lady.

Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg said Trump's temperament reflected his aversion to losing.

"This is him at the end, when he loses something. This is the way it is, the end," Nunberg said.

- Reuters

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