And history’s 10,000-troop award goes to …
By MARTIN SCHRAM | Tribune News Service | Published: March 9, 2021
For weeks, the famous faces of the U.S. Congress have been showing up in your living rooms, home offices and on your smartphones. They have been making a great show of seeming to pursue, yet again, that time-worn Watergate question:
What did the president know and when did he know it?
But you never got the clear answers you deserve. Until today.
As a longtime investigative journalist, I’m pleased to be able to share with you today the best evidence I’ve come across about what former President Donald Trump really knew – and knew before all hell erupted at the U.S. Capitol. Also, we know a lot more about what all the other top officials with clout and constitutional duty knew but failed to act on with bold leadership to protect the cradle of our democracy from that day and night of insurrection terror.
But I must begin by telling you it’s not my big scoop at all. It’s the result of outstanding reporting by Vanity Fair’s Adam Ciralsky, an enterprising correspondent who was smart enough to think outside Washington’s journalistic box. (It’s a rare concept that I’ve always considered the only way Washington should be covered.)
Ciralsky’s Vanity Fair reporting produced evidence showing Trump knew on Jan. 5 that all hell would be erupting on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.
Also: Trump warned his acting secretary of defense that he’d need to deploy a massive force of 10,000 National Guard troops to protect the Capitol the next day.
Alas, Trump’s top Defense officials failed to take the quick protective action that could have saved five lives and prevented more than 140 injuries in the most flagrant assault on the cradle of American democracy since the War of 1812. They apparently thought Trump was just being Trump.
Although that Vanity Fair piece was published back on Jan. 22, just two days after Joe Biden’s inauguration, I hadn’t read it until just the other day. But the facts that Ciralsky uncovered and pieced together reveal a big-picture reality that should have reshaped those frustratingly pedestrian congressional hearings we’ve been watching ever since.
Timing is all: It is Jan. 5, and Trump is meeting with his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, a formerly obscure national security official who was given a caretaker appointment after the November election. Miller’s chief of staff, Kash Patel, is also there in the Oval Office. Just a day earlier, Vanity Fair’s Ciralsky had come to Miller with an idea — he wanted to go everywhere with the acting secretary and chronicle his fast fleeting final days, all on the record and recorded. Miller agreed.
They were in the Oval Office to talk about Iran. But Trump had something else on his mind, so out it came. Trump asked how many troops the Pentagon was going to deploy in Washington for the next day’s event.
And the acting secretary recounted it for his chronicler, who then shared it with us:
“We’re like, ‘We’re going to provide any National Guard support that the District requests,’” Miller responded. “And [Trump] goes, ‘You’re going to need 10,000 people.’ No, I’m not talking bullshit. He said that. And we’re like, ‘Maybe. But you know, someone’s going to have to ask for it.’” At that point Miller remembered the president telling him, “‘You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do.’ He said, ‘You’re going to need 10,000.’ That’s what he said. Swear to God.”
And when the Vanity Fair reporter asked why Trump used a number that was absolutely enormous by Washington crowd control standards, the acting defense secretary replied: “The president’s sometimes hyperbolic, as you’ve noticed. There were gonna be a million people in the street, I think was his expectation.”
But in the run-up to Jan. 6, Trump was playing no expectations game.
The big reveal in that Vanity Fair piece was that Trump — even as tightly wound as he was in his final daze — clearly knew the big plan that had been carefully masterminded for Jan. 6.
Trump especially knew his mega-rally behind his backyard fence was just the incitement foreplay for the real big event — a massive mega-eruption insurrection at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Congress would have to shut down — unable to certify his defeat. It would be YUGE. History would give it the ultimate 10,000-troop rating! Joe Biden would be trumped.
And Donald J. Trump could finally ride his golden Escalator One down to Mar-a-Lago in total triumph.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.