Trump mum as Senate debates his role in inciting Capitol mob

Former President Donald Trump gets on Air Force One for the final time as President.
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Former President Trump has been completely mum as the Senate debates whether to convict him for inciting the deadly riot that overtook the Capitol on Jan. 6.

After four years of Trump driving the news with his public score-settling and political commentary, the silence is conspicuous. 

The former president declined an invitation to testify at the trial, deciding instead to watch the proceedings from his home at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., where a handful of junior aides have been brought on to handle his administrative work. It appears unlikely that the House managers will attempt to call Trump as a witness.

Trump is not phoning in to his favorite television or radio programs, where top allies like Fox News host Sean Hannity are venting frustration about his legal defense team.

And perhaps most significantly, Trump no longer has a Twitter account, depriving him of his favorite platform to lob threats and voice complaints.

A source who is in contact with the president’s team said the silence during the trial is strategic. Trump has been advised that Senate Republicans are certain to acquit him — as long as he doesn’t rock the boat.

That’s gnawing at Trump, the source said, but he’s stuck to it so far — likely aided by his lack of access to social media. 

“It’s a concerted effort to be silent for the time being,” the source said. “He’s been told to let the process play out because he’ll be acquitted, and that the outcome of the vote count won’t change unless he makes waves. So that’s why you’re not seeing him on Hannity or calling into these shows. I’m sure once impeachment is over, he’ll have a field day and get his pound of flesh.”

The circumstances are notably different than those of Trump’s first impeachment, when he was able to fire off immediate missives over Twitter and spent much of that investigation and trial doing so. And at that time, he was still in the Oval Office, with a robust team of lawyers and spokespeople to support him, including the muscle of the White House counsel’s office. 

“Much like last time, I think the real effort is to just keep Republican senators on the president’s side while keeping public opinion kind of even around the idea of impeachment,” said a former senior Trump administration official with knowledge of the response to Trump’s first impeachment. 

“Without the same resources that the White House provides, it’s clear that the challenge for the president’s team now is to wage as effective a public relations campaign and with the limited resources, they’re doing the right things,” the person said.

Trump has not given an interview since leaving office on Jan. 20. He spent the final weeks of his presidency largely out of view and hunkered down in the White House, stripped of his Twitter account following the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol.

There is enormous interest in how Trump views the charges against him and his legal defense. All of the information about Trump’s thinking so far is coming second hand.

One source told The Hill that Trump was “frustrated” by his legal defense following the first day of his impeachment trial. 

Attorney Bruce Castor was roundly criticized by Senate Republicans and other Trump allies for what they described as a weak and unfocused effort, raising questions about whether he might be fired.

The source said David Schoen is expected to be the most visible public-facing attorney going forward. Schoen is expected to step aside later in the week, however, in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

Castor said he hadn’t heard from Trump or anyone in the former president’s orbit that they were disappointed by his performance. The attorney said Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows told him “everything is going fine” and to “continue doing what you’re doing.”

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, said Wednesday on Fox News that there is room for improvement.

“The [former] president thinks that David Schoen did a very excellent job. Also there are some good points that Bruce Castor made. There are a few things that we need to tighten up,” Miller said.

Trump is unlikely to order major changes to his legal team at this point, one person in the former president’s orbit said, noting both that the trial is not expected to last much longer than a week and that Trump had difficulty assembling a legal team to represent him.

But they also noted that Trump is not especially familiar with his legal team this time around, having hired them roughly one week before trial briefs were due. Castor has said he’s never met Trump in person.

There used to be no shortage of ways to know Trump’s thinking, either through his own interviews and press gaggles or the scores of aides in Washington eager to dish on his state of mind.

Now Trump is almost invisible and his inner circle has shrunk to only a handful of aides who are handling his post-presidency office from Mar-a-Lago. 

Miller on Wednesday said Trump was in a “great mood” and enjoying the Florida sun.

Miller, who has worked for Trump on and off since the 2016 campaign, is the primary point person for the impeachment team and is dealing with an avalanche of press requests from reporters eager for insight into how Trump is handling the trial.

Others on the team include Margo Martin, a former junior communications person at the White House who is now the lead press secretary for the office of the 45th president. Dan Scavino, Nick Luna and Cassidy Hutchinson are also in Trump’s orbit in South Florida.

Many of Trump’s former aides in Washington are distant from the process, either not tuning in because they think the outcome is certain, the trial is a sham, or because they’ve moved on with their post-Trump lives and are seeking distance from the former president. 

Meadows, the president’s fourth and final chief of staff, was spotted on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and told reporters he was meeting with Trump’s defense team. He has also been on television defending Trump from the impeachment charges, after remaining largely silent in the weeks following the Capitol attack on Jan. 6. 

“A lot of people I know aren’t watching it because they know the outcome,” said the former Trump adviser. “Obviously, his circle is a lot smaller now in Florida, but everyone down there and around him is dialed in to what’s going on.”

Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags Capitol breach Donald Trump Impeachment impeachment trial Mark Meadows Sean Hannity Senate trial Trump impeachment

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