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Trump grows defiant as the White House becomes a ghost town

As he becomes the first president to be impeached twice, Trump lacks a robust response for the first time.
President Donald Trump speaks to the media outside the White House on Tuesday before traveling to Alamo, Texas.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was impeached again on Wednesday, but this time he lacks the megaphone of Twitter to respond and will be without a robust and aggressive defense from his White House and allies.

Stripped of the ability to fire off real-time responses, Trump must rely on a White House staff that has largely been replaced with moving boxes as aides head for the exits and allies fail to offer a defense of him in public.

The House voted 232 to 197 Wednesday afternoon to impeach Trump for a second time, with 10 Republicans breaking ranks to support impeaching the president for his role in inciting a deadly riot by his supporters at the Capitol.

After the vote, Trump, banned from Twitter and other social media platforms, released a video condemning the attack on the Capitol. He did not mention impeachment.

As impeachment proceedings were underway, the president was taking part in a ceremony awarding the National Medal of Arts to country musicians Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs, an administration official told NBC News. Earlier, Trump issued a press release on Wednesday urging calm amid reports of more violent protests being planned in the next week.

“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”

Full story: House impeaches Trump for second time, Senate must now weigh conviction

But the relative silence from the president shouldn't be interpreted as submission, those close to him say. Instead, Trump continues to cling to his false assertion that he won the election and is refusing pleas that he leave office days before his term expires because of his role in the deadly attack.

Trump, who became the first president to be impeached twice, remains both defiant and sullen, said one former White House official who is familiar with his current discussions. Trump monitored the impeachment proceedings Wednesday mostly from the Oval Office, according to an administration official.

Trump has refused calls to resign, including those from a growing number of Republicans, according to people close to the president.

“He is not the resigning type,” said one person familiar with Trump’s thinking. Instead, the person said, “I think he’d rather go out fighting.”

The staff in White House normally thins in the final days of an administration as people secure new jobs, but Trump's West Wing has become a ghost town after resignations following last week's riot. Some aides have opted to just avoid the building, which has been a Covid-19 hot spot for months.

Meanwhile, outside allies say they have grown deeply concerned that there are so few people left at the White House to do the critical jobs in the final days when White House staff would typically be focused on handing off operations to the incoming administration.

“As much as we can, we are focusing on the transition, highlighting success of the last four years, and continuing the work of government until the next administration takes over,” said an administration official.

Trump has remained focused on issuing a wave of pardons in the coming days, including to family members, according to sources familiar with his plans. He has continued this week to discuss a pardon for himself, even though he has been advised against it, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Trump aides continue to discuss having him deliver one or two speeches in a final attempt to promote what he sees as his key accomplishments and criticize social media companies for banning him, according to sources. The speech team has started working on draft sections but no final decisions have been made.

Unlike his previous impeachment, Trump has few public defenders and the White House hasn’t been making efforts to marshal them. There have been no White House talking points distributed to surrogates to respond to the Capitol riot.

Trump has also not assembled a defense team for a possible impeachment trial. The team would likely feature Rudy Giuliani, Alan Dershowitz and possibly others, said a person familiar with the matter. Dershowitz said he hasn’t yet been contacted by anyone in the Trump administration.

An administration official said there hasn't been a clear legal and communications strategy this time around because the proceedings developed much more quickly. When asked if the White House is worried the Senate could actually convict the president, the official said they have “minor concerns,” but still feel that scenario is unlikely.

With less than a week left in the White House, it is still unclear where Trump will be on Inauguration Day. Trump said he will not attend Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and some advisers have said they expect him to leave the White House before Inauguration Day.

Trump's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump is not expected to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week, according to a White House official. Ivanka Trump is the first adult child of a president to serve as a White House advisor in modern history. The officials said that while she respects his transition to power, children of outgoing presidents do not traditionally attend.

However, the adult daughters of George W. Bush attended the Inauguration of Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton attended Bush's inauguration when her father was leaving office.

There is a growing sense among advisers that Trump has accepted the fact that he will be leaving the White House, said a person familiar with the president’s thinking.

“I think everyone thinks he’s becoming a lot more accepting of that,” the person said.