Open letter to U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming):
There are two visuals of the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 that I will never forget. In both, police officers who helped save your lives are casualties of the violence.
In the first video, rioters crush Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police officer Daniel Hodges in a doorway; he is bleeding from his mouth and screaming in agony. The second shows rioters pulling an officer from a window, beating him with the pole of an American flag and stomping on him while shouting “USA, USA!”
As jurors, did you look away as Democrats presented these and countless other atrocities at former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial?
Of course, you have your own memories of the riot. Security officers instructed you to get your gas masks and ushered you from the Senate chamber to safety as terrorists overwhelmed law enforcement. You must have feared for your lives.
Last week, you had the opportunity to bring justice to the man who set this madness in motion. But on the impeachment charge of inciting insurrection, you and 41 of your fellow Republican senators voted “not guilty.” Ten more “guilty” votes could have prevented Trump from repeating the atrocity — or doing far worse — by barring him from future public office.
Instead, the Senate delivered a clear message to the domestic-terrorist-in-chief: Lying, political violence and even murder will be tolerated as long as you are sufficiently popular to be politically dangerous. Your militia thugs can lower the American flag from the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a Trump flag and we will not protest. We are cowed, impotent and, like beaten dogs trembling in a puddle of our own making, no threat to you. Do as you will to the Constitution just, please, don’t hurt us. We won’t make trouble.
Your votes were cowardly. I would say you showed blind allegiance to a man hell-bent on overturning his overwhelming election loss — and with it our once proud history of peaceful transfers of power — but you were far from blind. You had a front-row seat to the violence Trump unleashed on the Capitol’s hallowed halls. For months you enabled him at every turn, including this horrendous final act of his presidency, one that threatened our democracy.
Fortunately, democracy prevailed. The effects, however, will linger.
Count me as one of the millions of disillusioned Americans who view the presidency as torn, tattered and forever stained by a man who will never be held accountable. Trump will hide behind the acquittal that you bestowed upon him.
The House impeachment managers presented clear and convincing evidence of the former president’s guilt. Perhaps you don’t believe me, but maybe you give more credence to Rep. Liz Cheney, your Wyoming Republican colleague, who courageously voted to impeach Trump.
“The president summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing,” she said in a statement. “None of this would have happened without the president.”
Trump “could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” Cheney continued. “He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Cheney is exactly right. And she’s received plenty of backlash. As one of 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, she was loudly censured by Wyoming Republican Party officials. Hundreds of people gathered for an anti-Cheney protest at the Wyoming Capitol led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), a rabble-rousing extremist who knows nothing about our state.
Several far-right candidates immediately announced plans to run against her in the 2022 GOP primary, including State Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne). I fully expect her to weather this storm, but Cheney — who survived a vote to remove her as leader of the House Republican Conference — has paid a political price in Wyoming for telling the truth.
“The notion that the election had been stolen or that the election was rigged was a lie, and people need to understand that,” Cheney boldly told Fox News.
Both of you will be rewarded by your GOP constituents, because it’s pretty much a given you can remain in the Senate for as long as you like. In November, 70% of Wyoming voters cast their ballots for Trump, and many fervently believe Democrats stole the election from him.
In Trump’s Republican Party, his supporters believe his two impeachments were “witch hunts.” Anything else is blasphemy.
But even your Senate minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), knows better.
On Saturday, he said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the attack, sounding more like a Democratic official than a Republican leader.
“[The mob] did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election,” McConnell said.
You know McConnell extremely well, Sen. Barrasso, having stood by him at news conferences for so many years that you began to look like an appendage to his right shoulder. Will you now put some distance between yourself and the political ally who lambasted Trump?
McConnell is the body’s biggest hypocrite. His hollow words came mere minutes after he voted to acquit Trump. His excuse? The Senate cannot convict an impeached former president, only a sitting one.
The House impeached Trump before he left office, but McConnell delayed his chamber’s trial until after President-elect Joe Biden was sworn in.
After the mob Trump stirred into a frenzy breached the Capitol, he headed back to the White House to watch it all unfold on TV. According to his own aides, he rebuffed pleas from his family and advisers to stop the attack. He refused calls from officials to send in the National Guard.
Senators, did you feel nothing when you heard the crowd chanting, “Hang Mike Pence”? This was Trump’s own vice president and a member of your party.
Pence, steadfastly loyal until the bitter end, earned his boss’ wrath for refusing to help stop certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory. Trump reportedly didn’t speak to him until five days after he knowingly put Pence in harm’s way.
Late in the Senate trial, a Republican representative said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) told her that as his office windows were being smashed, the president said on the phone, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
How can you witness such disdain for McCarthy’s life, and still vote to acquit? I guess it’s for the same reason McCarthy later flew to Florida and licked Trump’s boots, begging forgiveness for speaking out: You’re afraid you will wind up like Cheney.
If I was in your shoes, I’d probably be frightened too. But you chose that footwear, and now you’re forced to walk in lockstep with Trump or be thrown under his bus.
For the record, as a life-long Democrat, I’m not thrilled with my own party’s decision to not call witnesses who might have provided more damning evidence that Trump left everyone in the Capitol vulnerable to violence in his shameful attempt to retain power.
“The jury is ready to vote,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) allegedly told House managers. “People want to get home for Valentine’s Day.”
Well, I hope everyone had a nice holiday, and that everyone who shares Coons’ sentiment also enjoyed Presidents’ Day. Neither were likely any comfort to the family of Brian Sicknick, who died defending the Capitol, nor the 140 officers who were injured.
I began this letter telling you about the televised images seared into my brain from the assault, and I’ll close with the words of our ex-president that are still ringing in my ears:
In a video released more than three hours after rioters laid waste to the Capitol, Trump finally told them to peacefully leave. “We love you,” he said with a smile. “You’re very special.”
History will judge your votes to let Trump off the hook. I hope you can live with that verdict, too.