ALAMO, Texas — President Donald Trump on Tuesday took no responsibility for his part in fomenting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praise for them while they were still carrying out the assault.
"People thought that what I said was totally appropriate," Trump said.
He made the comments during his first appearance in public since the Capitol siege, which came as lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes affirming President-elect Joe Biden's victory. Trump arrived in Texas on Tuesday to trumpet his campaign against illegal immigration in an attempt to burnish his legacy with eight days remaining in his term, as lawmakers in Congress appeared set to impeach him this week for the second time.
In Alamo, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexican border — the site of the 450th mile of the border wall his administration is building, Trump brushed off Democratic calls on his Cabinet to declare him unfit from office and remove him from power using the 25th Amendment.
"The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration," Trump said. "As the expression goes, be careful of what you wish for."
Reports Tuesday night indicated Vice President Mike Pence has rejected calls to use the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, setting the stage for impeachment efforts.
At least five people died in the rampage last week through the halls of the Capitol, including one Capitol Police officer.
"It's time for peace and for calm," Trump said Tuesday, less than a week after egging on the mob that descended on the Capitol. He added, "Respect for law enforcement is the foundation of the MAGA agenda," referencing his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."
Trump said the "real problem" leading to the Capitol riot was not his rhetoric, but the rhetoric that Democrats used to describe Black Lives Matter protests and violence in Seattle and Portland this summer.
"Everybody to the 't' thought it was totally appropriate," Trump said of his own comments.
Trump angrily lashed out at lawmakers' push for his second impeachment this week, claiming, "It's causing tremendous anger and division and pain far greater than most people will ever understand, which is very dangerous for the USA, especially at this very tender time."
Meanwhile, in Washington, reports Tuesday showed that the FBI warned law enforcement agencies ahead of last week's breach of the U.S. Capitol about the potential for extremist-driven violence, and federal officials said prosecutors are now weighing sedition charges against at least some of the Trump loyalists who stormed the building.
Misdemeanor counts, including trespassing, against some of the dozens arrested so far may still be upgraded to sedition charges that are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, said acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin in Washington. Sedition charges would effectively accuse rioters of attempting to overthrow or defeat the government, with House Democrats saying after an FBI briefing on the siege that the rioters had engaged in an "attempted coup."
"This is only the beginning," Sherwin said of the initial round of charges against more than 70 people. "We're going to focus on the most significant charges as a deterrent because, regardless of it was just a trespass in the Capitol or if someone planted a pipe bomb, you will be charged and you will be found."
Even for those who have left Washington, "agents from our local field offices will be knocking on your door," said Steven D'Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office in highlighting the nationwide effort to track down participants in the rioting.
The Justice Department has created a specialized strike force to examine the possibility of sedition charges. Officials said they were utilizing some of the same techniques in the riot probe as they use in international counterterrorism investigations, examining the money flow and movement of defendants leading up to the breach. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called for the rioters to be added to a no-fly list, a tool most commonly applied in foreign terror cases.
The Washington Post reported on the existence of a Jan. 5 report from the FBI's field office in Norfolk, Virginia, that forecast, in detail, the chances for "war" in Washington the following day. The existence of such a stark warning appeared to contradict the FBI's earlier assertions that "there was no indication that there was anything other than first amendment protected activity."
D'Antuono defended the handling of the information, saying it was shared in 40 minutes with other law enforcement agencies.
A U.S, defense official familiar with the discussions said Tuesday that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was not notified about the FBI warning.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that it is unclear whether any defense or military officials heard about the notification from the FBI, but that statements in recent days from all the leaders indicate they weren't aware that violence of that level was expected at the Capitol.