Trump's American Carnage
From his first days as president to his last, how Trump stoked division, violence, and insurrection. FRONTLINE investigates Trump’s siege on his enemies, the media, and even the leaders of his own party, who for years ignored the warning signs of what was to come.
>> President Trump's supporters
are gathering in D.C. to protest...
>> We will stop the steal. We're going to walk down to the
Capitol, and I'll be there with you.
>> NARRATOR: They had been summoned by the president of
the United States. >> We fight, we fight like hell.
And if you don't fight like hell, we're not going to have
a country any more. >> Scuffles breaking out as
Trump supporters gather in support of his efforts to stay
in power. >> Madam Speaker, members
of Congress, pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of
the United States... >> They have stormed the U.S.
Capitol, and something else that should be noted, they have done
so with ease. >> It happened very quickly,
that the mob ran over the first barricades, that were
really just bicycle racks, and then ran up the steps.
>> Stand aside and let us in, you traitors!
>> This is the United States of America and we're watching
protesters try to undermine the course of an election?
>> The situation is getting out of control, but it is, has
turned insane, frankly. >> I could not believe when they
actually were able to shatter glass that I had assumed was
bulletproof. They were able to wedge open
what I thought was the strongest door on Earth.
>> NARRATOR: Their goal: to overturn the presidential
election. >> (bleep) the G.O.P.!
(bleep) Mitch McConnell! >> We are debating a step that
has never been taken in American history.
I've served 36 years in the Senate.
This will be the most important vote I've ever cast.
>> NARRATOR: The mob was hunting Republicans who turned on Trump.
>> You're scared now, mother (bleep)!
>> (chanting): Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
Hang Mike Pence! >> NARRATOR: It was the final
chapter of Donald Trump's presidency.
>> It's ending pretty much the same way it began-- with a lot
of chaos and disarray and... Just a lot of head-shaking at
events that have transpired. >> Get off of him.
Get off, get off of him! Get the (bleep) off!
>> This is Donald Trump's America.
We were warned, over and over and over about it, and we
ignored all of that. So here we are.
>> He's got a gun! >> This is going to get dirty,
man. >> NARRATOR: Now on
"Frontline," "Trump's American Carnage."
(gun fires) >> Shots fired!
Shots fired! >> Shots fired!
>> U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! >> NARRATOR: Donald Trump's
presidency ended in a violent assault on American democracy.
>> Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!
Fight for Trump! >> NARRATOR: Just four years
before, he stood at this very place, lighting the fires that
would become an insurrection. >> The establishment protected
itself, but not the citizens of our country.
Their victories have not been your victories.
Their triumphs have not been your triumphs.
>> NARRATOR: America's elected leaders looked on...
>> From this day forward, it's going to be only America first.
America first. >> NARRATOR: ...unable to stop
it or unwilling to see it. >> Now arrives the hour of
action. >> NARRATOR: The carnage he
vowed to end was in fact just beginning.
>> This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
(siren wailing) >> NARRATOR: From his early
days as a candidate, Donald Trump came out fighting.
>> We are going to start winning big league.
>> NARRATOR: Rallying distrust and anger against the
government. >> We can't beat ISIS-- give me
a break. >> NARRATOR: Targeting
Washington's leaders. >> We are led by very stupid
people. >> And it was every location.
It was the same messages: "We're tired of Washington lying
to us." >> We're going to drive the cars
over the illegals. Build a wall!
>> (chanting): Build a wall! Build a wall!
>> The American people were angry, and they have a right to
be, and what they see in Donald Trump is someone who's willing
to fight for them for a change. >> NARRATOR: And as Trump's
appeal grew, his rivals in the Republican Party tried to fight
back. >> He's a race-baiting,
xenophobic, religious bigot. And you know how you make
America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.
>> In 2016, President Trump is seen as an outlier in the
Republican Party. The Republican Party is
in some ways shunning him. The loudest voices in the
Republican Party are not getting behind Trump.
>> Guys, we have a con artist as the front-runner in the
Republican Party, a guy who has made a career out of telling
people lies. >> He was a shock to the
Republican establishment, and they did everything they could,
for the most part, to prevent him.
>> This man is a pathological liar.
He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.
>> Tonight, live from the Peace Center in...
>> NARRATOR: On the debate stage, Trump spared nothing to
destroy his political opponents. >> You are the single biggest
liar, you probably are worse than Jeb Bush.
You are the single biggest liar. This little guy has lied so much
about my record. >> The way that Donald Trump
rose was one very much of a pit bull.
I mean, very much of a fighter. And I think that was largely
his appeal from very early on. >> NARRATOR: And he was willing
to enlist a type of support others would not.
>> Made in (bleep) U.S.A. >> What Trump exploited was
that most Americans carry some level of prejudice.
>> Most Americans carry some fear of people who are different
than them. The power of that message, I
think, was deeply underestimated.
>> The campaign is continually dogged by a small and vocal
number of white supremacists, Klansmen, neo- Nazis.
This isn't a very large group of people, but they are very vocal.
And they attach themselves to Trump.
>> NARRATOR: As anti-Trump protesters showed up at his
rallies... >> There's a guy.
Totally disruptive, throwing punches.
>> NARRATOR: ...he stirred chaos and violence.
>> I love the old days. You know what they used to do
to guys like that when they were in a place like this?
They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks.
I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell ya.
Ah, it's true. >> You start seeing these really
ugly moments at the rallies, um, with protesters, some of whom
are non-white protesters, getting treated very violently
by, by his supporters. Trump himself seeming to incite
his supporters to go after protesters.
>> Knock the crap out of him, would you?
Just knock the hell... I promise you I will pay
for the legal fees, I promise. I promise.
>> NARRATOR: It worked in state after state.
>> Donald Trump is the projected winner...
>> He regains his front-runner status in a crowded field.
>> He's pulling ahead in virtually every Super Tuesday...
>> NARRATOR: Trump had marshaled a powerful base of support
in America. >> Trump, unlike any other
political figure, has been able to channel the real anger and
dissatisfaction on the part of half of the country, if not
more. >> We are going to make...
>> This makes back-to-back victories for Donald Trump,
dominating his third consecutive...
>> Donald Trump is a professional political wrecking
ball. >> Donald J. Trump!
(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: By July 2016,
Donald Trump headed to the Republican Convention after
crushing the establishment candidates.
>> Let's face it, he was larger than the Republican Party.
In fact, his nomination was the hostile takeover
of the Republican Party. >> NARRATOR: In their defeat,
the G.O.P. leaders lined up behind the man who had
ridiculed and attacked them. >> They ceded the reins
to somebody who was pulling together this enormous movement
on the far-right fringe that was swamping the party.
They thought-- the G.O.P. thought they were in control.
But by that point, they were already losing control.
>> NARRATOR: They even gave him one of their own as his running
mate. >> The next vice president of
the United States, Governor Mike Pence.
>> It was a shock to the staff when they found out that Mike
Pence had been chosen, given Trump's rhetoric and how
extreme he was. I don't think that they expected
him to be the one chosen as the running mate.
>> And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the
United States, together we will make America great again.
(crowd cheering) >> Mike Pence was added to the
ticket to give Donald Trump a measure of legitimacy in the
Republican Party. If somebody like Mike Pence
would agree to join the ticket and be the running mate for
somebody like Donald Trump, then maybe he wasn't that bad.
>> NARRATOR: It was an unlikely partnership.
>> Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.
>> NARRATOR: On election night, it paid off.
He had the party, a powerful base, and now the presidency.
(crowd calling and cheering) >> Most people who have assumed
the office of the presidency believed that they had a
responsibility to bring the country together.
That's not the way President Trump came to office.
>> We are just passing Trump Hotel.
We did pass protesters, so... >> We didn't win an election
to bring the country together. It's time to take on the elites
in this country, take the torch to 'em.
Hit 'em with a blowtorch. >> NARRATOR: Day one, the
divisiveness was on full display.
A few blocks from the White House, peaceful protests against
Trump morphed to standoffs... (indistinct yelling)
...to violence. (yelling)
(sirens wailing) (crowd roaring)
>> There's a brand-new team in charge of the White House,
a brand-new staff to keep the wheels turning.
>> This is just the beginning of what is going to be a very
busy day... >> NARRATOR: And in his first
week, Trump leaned in, alienating and angering huge
swaths of the public with an executive order aimed at
blocking people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
>> "Protection of the nation from foreign terrorists entering
into the United States." It's big stuff.
>> NARRATOR: The tensions were rising on both sides of the
divide. >> Swift reactions from around
the country... >> Now protests, outrage, and
backlash from President Trump's...
>> These actions that Trump does to appease his base and to
excite his base have incited the resistance against him.
>> No ban! No wall!
>> The travel ban is one of the most important days of the Trump
presidency. Not just because of the policy
itself and what it says about us as Americans, much less the
people themselves who are now imperiled, unclear if they could
come to the United States. But it was the thousands of
people rushing the airports. (indistinct chanting)
>> No ban! No wall! >> It was the day when it felt
like democracy may be crumbling at its seams.
>> Let them go! >> Right now!
>> Let them go! >> Right now!
(applause) >> NARRATOR: In those first
weeks... >> The president and vice
president... >> NARRATOR: ..Trump reveled
in the imagery of the job. >> How am I doing?
Am I doing okay? I'm president.
Hey, I'm president! Do you believe it, right?
>> We know this president to be the kind of president who was
not very steeped in details of legislation or policy or
just the nitty-gritty aspects of governing.
So he was very happy, I think, to let others take the lead, and
he would just be the person to sign the legislation.
>> NARRATOR: What he wanted were "wins," and he expected
Republicans on Capitol Hill to deliver.
The highest priority: repealing Obamacare.
>> The Senate is scheduled to vote on the latest version of
the bill to replace Obamacare. >> Much anticipated vote on
healthcare, a vote that's too close to call.
>> NARRATOR: It came down to one vote and one senator--
Republican John McCain, a longtime Trump adversary.
>> ...at Capitol Hill today to cast what is expected to be a
yes vote on... >> NARRATOR: Mike Pence,
representing Trump at the Senate, tried to convince McCain
to vote for the bill and give Trump a win.
>> The vice president stood toe- to-toe with John McCain.
And he was in his space, it was very close.
They went on for, I don't know, it seemed like 15 or 20 minutes,
back and forth, back and forth. Vice President Pence turned
on his heel and walked away. (gavel pounding)
>> The clerk will call the roll. >> It was the most dramatic
night on the Senate floor I had seen in all my years up there.
>> Mr. Durbin... >> John McCain walks up to where
the vote clerks are and he lifts his hand very dramatically.
>> NARRATOR: McCain, with a thumbs down gesture, shocked
the chamber. >> No.
(gasps, light applause) >> You could hear audible gasps
in the chamber. And those gasps of surprise came
from both sides of the aisle. >> In the Senate chambers, you
could hear the shock, first gasps, then applause.
>> Another devastating blow to Republican...
>> NARRATOR: The president had been watching on television.
>> We were in the dining room off the Oval Office.
There was profound disappointment that we were that
close, and that had spent a lot of effort really believing that
we could finally do something when it comes to healthcare.
So it was just a huge disappointment.
>> NARRATOR: In response, President Trump would deal with
his party much as he had his opponents on the campaign
trail-- he'd attack. >> You can thank Congress, the
same people that can't even give us HCare!
>> NARRATOR: He targeted congressional Republicans,
especially the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.
>> Senator Mitch McConnell said I had "excessive expectations,"
but I don't think so. After seven years of hearing
Repeal and Replace, why not done?
>> There's a lashing out when things don't go his way.
John McCain was the deciding vote, and so, you know, it was
hard to understand how Mitch McConnell would be the blame
of it, but, you know, that's the president's nature,
as we all know. >> Can you believe that Mitch
McConnell, who has screamed Repeal and Replace for seven
years, couldn't get it done. >> Trump was using the most
powerful weapon he has, which is Twitter, to humiliate him
repeatedly, to rake him over the coals, to let his followers
know, "This is Mitch McConnell's fault.
He's failed you, not me." >> Mitch, get back to work and
put Repeal and Replace, Tax Reform and Cuts, and a great
Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing.
>> NARRATOR: Mitch McConnell learned a lesson-- he had to
keep Donald Trump on his side. >> Mitch McConnell is a very
smart politician. I think he understood the Trump
base, perhaps better than most. And he understood that the Trump
base was probably not loyal to him, but was loyal to Trump,
and he needed them. So what Mitch McConnell did
was to try and patch things up with the president, to try and
say supportive things as much as he could, and say nothing any
other time. >> ...will not replace us!
You will not replace us! >> NARRATOR: Then, an ominous
harbinger of things to come. >> ...the torch-wielding white
nationalists coming face to face...
>> ...a demonstration by white nationalists at the University
of Virginia in Charlottesville. >> What you had in
Charlottesville was the alt-right people, many of them
marching in Trump's name. >> This is Trump's America!
>> We could see them marching with torches, and it looked like
something out of Nazi Germany. >> NARRATOR: Neo-Nazis and white
nationalist protesters were forming, protesting plans
to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.
>> Hello, how y'all doin'? >> NARRATOR: Former Ku Klux Klan
leader David Duke praised President Trump.
>> We are determined to take our country back, we're going to
fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, that's what we believed
in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump.
>> Charlottesville was a long time coming.
Even during the campaign, Donald Trump's flirtation with white
supremacist organizations and the alt-right was a real
problem. (crowd yelling)
Those folks were being brought back into the political
mainstream by Donald Trump, and Charlottesville was the moment.
(indistinct yelling) >> Violent clashes between white
supremacists and counter-protesters broke out...
>> Charlottesville under siege...
>> NARRATOR: And then, the unthinkable.
(crowd screaming) >> Holy (bleep)! Holy...
(crowd screaming) >> A man drives his vehicle
into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others.
(metal scraping) This was an incident that was
clearly the tale of these far right, white supremacist powers
emboldened and out of control. >> Panic and horror in
Charlottesville: a car slams into a crowd of counter-
protesters at a white supremacy protest...
>> ...woman was killed when a man drove his car into a
crowd, injuring 19 others. >> ...when a driver plowed into
the crowd, killing a young woman...
>> NARRATOR: In the face of that horror, Donald Trump would send
a message. >> Excuse me, what about the
alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the
alt-right? Do they have any semblance
of guilt? >> He's so fiery, he's so
angry, and he's really getting a personal back and forth
with members of the press. >> So, you know, as far as I'm
concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.
Wait a minute! I'm not finished!
I'm not finished, fake news. >> You have a president of the
United States who is willing to give tacit approval to some of
the darkest elements of American politics.
And even when it goes wrong, even when it turns ugly, he's
unwilling to denounce it. Because these were allies that
were useful, and you didn't want to alienate them.
>> I think there's blame on both sides.
And I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt
about it, either. (crowd clamors)
And, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say it.
(cross-talking) And you had some very bad people
in that group; you also had people that were very fine
people, on both sides. You had people...
>> The president evidently, I mean, you know, did not want
to discourage that type of activity; as a matter of fact,
wanted to encourage it. And as we've seen over the
course of his four years of service, the strength among
those organizations, their place in what is happening around the
country, has, has continued to increase.
>> But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis
and white nationalists, okay? Thank you all very much.
Thank you. >> What about the Nazis
who support you? >> It's probably the first
time where the country realizes this is gonna get bad.
And it is the beginning of a time in America where people
realize that America is not just a place where racist ideals can
exist, but it's a place where racist ideals can be fueled
by the White House. >> President Trump is being
criticized by fellow Republicans...
>> Trump had faced criticism... >> NARRATOR: Some Republicans
broke ranks and came out against him.
>> White supremacy, bigotry, and racism have absolutely no place
in our society, and no one, especially POTUS, should ever
tolerate it. >> Mr. President, you can't
allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.
>> There's no moral equivalency between racists and Americans
standing up to defy hate and bigotry.
>> I reacted in a way that most of my colleagues did, as well.
This was not where a president should be.
This was a layup. This was easy, you know?
If there's white supremacy in any form, you condemn it.
I mean, that's, that's the easy thing to do.
And he, and he didn't. And I thought, "Oh, man.
That's really drilling down on the base."
>> NARRATOR: While Vice President Pence condemned white
supremacists, he also stepped up to defend the president.
>> Many in the media have spent an awful lot of time focusing
on what the president said and criticisms of what the president
said, instead of criticizing those who brought that hatred
and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.
>> He certainly was appalled at the events in Charlottesville.
I heard him say that behind closed doors.
The problem is, this is a White House where, if he said
that, it would be in direct contradiction to sort of the
side-stepping that the president was doing.
But by doing that, when you're Mike Pence, you're enabling it
to happen again. >> President Trump is holding
a Make America Great Again rally in Phoenix...
>> NARRATOR: But Trump showed no regret.
>> ...campaign-style event tonight...
>> NARRATOR: He went after his critics, especially Republicans
who had spoken up. >> Well, I'm thrilled to be back
in Phoenix, in the great state of Arizona.
(crowd cheering) >> NARRATOR: He rallied his base
against their own senator Jeff Flake.
>> They all said, "Please, Mr. President, don't mention any
names." So I won't.
I won't! >> It's about going back to the
base, to demonstrate how popular it is to be with the president,
particularly in Jeff's own state.
>> And nobody wants me to talk about your senator, who's weak
on borders, weak on crime, so I won't talk about him.
(crowd cheering) No, I will not mention any
names. Very presidential, isn't it?
Very presidential. >> When the president criticizes
you, people back home are upset. They think that he's the
supreme it, if you will, in the Republican Party.
And therefore, if you're, if y'all are at odds or you're
disagreeing, then, then it's not good for your health.
>> NARRATOR: Trump put an end to Flake's political career.
>> I think he knew at that time that I was out of step with
a lot of the Republican base, that, that he represented more
of their feelings than I did. >> We will make America great
again. Thank you, Arizona, God bless
you... >> He wielded enormous power
over Republicans. A lot of that power instilled
in them a certain level of fear, which then led them,
many of them, to refrain from calling out the president when
he did something that they disagreed with.
>> Breaking news-- two more G.O.P. congressmen announcing
that they will not seek reelection in the 2018...
>> President Trump from two Republican senators calling it
quits. >> NARRATOR: In time, dozens of
Republicans would be run out by Trump.
>> ...of more than a dozen Republicans who've decided...
>> NARRATOR: Senator Bob Corker was one of them.
>> To me, we're the party of Lincoln.
To be race-baiting, to be demeaning people because of
their color or their background, I mean, that's... I'm sorry,
that's just not the Republican Party that I grew up in.
But instead, ours became the party of grievances, right?
>> NARRATOR: In the wreckage of Charlottesville, Trump emerged
even stronger. >> Charlottesville was shocking
at the time, but actually the template for much that followed.
He understood that there were no practical limits or constraints
except for norms that he was willing to violate; except for
public opprobrium, which he didn't care about.
>> It looks like President Trump is going to get his Christmas
wish. >> The most sweeping rewrite of
our tax code... >> NARRATOR: It culminated in
front of the cameras at the White House...
>> Republicans cheered as they passed the most sweeping tax
overhaul in three decades. >> NARRATOR: ...at a ceremony
for the passage of his first major piece of legislation-- a
tax cut. >> A major victory for President
Donald Trump. >> I guess it's very simple.
When you think you haven't heard this expression, but we
are making America great again. You haven't heard that, have
you? >> (cheering)
>> NARRATOR: One by one, congressional leaders,
including those he'd attacked... >> Mitch, how about you start
it? >> NARRATOR: ...came forward
to praise the president. (applause)
>> Let me just say, Mr. President, you made the case
for the tax bill, but this has been a year of extraordinary
accomplishment for the Trump administration.
Thank you, Mr. President, for all you're doing.
>> A very special guy, and great friend of mine, Vice President
Mike Pence. >> What the Republican
establishment now know is Donald Trump is unequivocally the
leader of the Republican Party. He is the one who sets the tone
for what takes place in Washington.
He is the leader of our country, both politically and from
a legislative side of things. >> I serve with him every day.
President Donald Trump is a man of his word.
He's a man of action. Thank you, Mr. President.
Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your love for this
country and the people of this country.
You will make America great again.
(applause) >> Their bottom line was, "Give
us what we want." The tax cuts were what they
wanted. The judges were what they
wanted. And I think Donald Trump
thought, "This is a good deal for me.
In return, I get ownership, lock, stock and barrel,
of the Republican Party." >> Orrin, say a few words,
please. >> Mr. President, I have to say
that you're living up to every-- everything I thought you would.
You're one heck of a leader, and we're all benefiting from it.
And we're going to make this the greatest presidency that we've
seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.
God bless all of you. (cheers and applause)
>> This was a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and
Trump won. There's no question about it.
And it's not so much that Trump took over the Republican Party,
it's that the Republican Party completely capitulated to him.
They're all united in believing that in order to survive
politically, and not lose in a primary, they have to stick
as close to him as possible. Even when he puts out racist
tweets, you cannot criticize him in public.
Even when he engages in the most reckless behavior, you cannot
break with him in public. >> NARRATOR: With his party
behind him, Trump was emboldened.
He seized an issue that would continue appealing to the
extreme elements of his base: immigration.
>> We want our country to be a sanctuary for law-abiding
Americans, not criminal aliens. >> The closer we get to 2020,
the more this president and his advisers are saying immigration
is our fire. That's the fire we put in our
torch. >> NARRATOR: The shocking
centerpiece: "zero tolerance," separating children from their
parents. >> Now Democratic lawmakers are
voicing their anger over the family separation...
>> Young children are pulled from the arms of their mothers.
>> The growing outrage over families being separated at the
border... >> It ushers in a part of
America and a history of America that people are going to look at
for years to come as the defining moments of the Trump
presidency. >> NARRATOR: Trump kept raising
the stakes. >> If we're going to have a
great country, we have to have a great, strong powerful border.
>> NARRATOR: And his followers were right there with him, ready
to fight. >> Tonight, American civilians
on our side of the border preparing to take matters
into their very own hands. Militia group called the Texas
Minutemen are headed to the Mexican border...
>> To stop what President Trump calls the migrant invasion.
>> NARRATOR: Now with the base behind him, and the 2020
election looming, Trump would see just how far he could go.
>> This is CNN breaking news. >> We're following breaking news
on President Trump's contacts with Ukraine.
>> About the phone call that inspired a whistleblower
complaint. >> He has his phone call with
President Zelensky, the new president of Ukraine.
>> I would like you to do us a favor though...
>> There's the, you know, brazen request to open an investigation
relating to the Bidens. >> There's a lot of talk about
Biden's son and a lot of people want to find out about that, so
whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.
>> Clearly driven by a very narrow political purpose,
which was to neutralize a Biden candidacy that looked like it
was about to be a real threat to his reelection.
>> The president pressured Ukraine's leader about eight
times-- eight times! >> NARRATOR: It created a
firestorm on Capitol Hill. >> (chanting): Impeach Trump!
>> NARRATOR: Impeachment. >> The question is on adoption
of article two. Those in favor say "aye."
>> Aye. >> Those opposed, "nay."
>> No! >> The "ayes" have it.
>> Trump is waking up as the third president in U.S.
history to be impeached. >> NARRATOR: As the Democrats
marched to the Senate to present the case against the president,
Republican leader Mitch McConnell had made clear he
would stand by Trump. >> He had decided that he was
going to marry his fortunes to Trump, no matter how unpleasant
or painful that might be to him. And that meant that he was going
to steer Trump through this trial successfully.
>> NARRATOR: Frustrated, the Democrat leading the prosecution
of Trump, Congressman Adam Schiff, issued a warning.
>> The daily attacks on the guardrails of our democracy, so
relentlessly assailed, have made us numb and blind to the
consequences. Does none of that matter anymore
if he's the president of our party?
>> Over and over again, that speech has echoed in my head
over the last couple months. He said, "By letting Donald
Trump off, you are enabling his attack on our election.
>> The scheming persists and the danger will never recede.
He has done it before, he will do it again.
What are the odds if left in office that he will continue
trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 percent.
If you have found him guilty and you do not remove him from
office, he will continue trying to cheat in the election until
he succeeds. >> They were warned over and
over and over again about Donald Trump, who he was, and what he
was capable of doing. And they looked the other way.
They thought that the tradeoff was worth it.
They thought, well, how bad can it possibly be?
What could he possibly do? >> In this article of
impeachment, 52 senators have pronounced him not guilty.
Donald John Trump, president of the United States, is not guilty
as charged in the first article of impeachment.
(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: He would use the
moment to tighten his grip on the party.
>> This is what the end result is.
(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: And continue
rallying his base. >> The impeachment process acted
as a slingshot for Donald Trump, because he came out of that
suddenly convinced, not only that he had total impunity, he
could more or less do what he wanted and could get away
with it... But that he also had the
support of almost every Republican leader in Congress
behind him. (cheers and applause)
>> We can take that home, honey, maybe we'll frame it.
It's the only good headline I've ever had in the "Washington
Post." Thank you very much, everybody.
Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you.
(cheers and applause) >> It was a kind of moment of
permission. (cheers and applause)
And then, at that point, all the guardrails fell away.
He had nothing to be afraid of at that point.
He could do whatever he wanted. (protestors shouting)
>> NARRATOR: And that's exactly what he did.
As the country was reeling in protest over racial injustice...
>> (chanting): I can't breathe! >> NARRATOR: ...he exercised his
power violently. >> I'm sitting on the corner
of Pennsylvania and 17th street. And I start coughing, and
choking, and I start wondering what's going on?
(people screaming, panicking) And I look up and it's, it's
clouds of smoke and it's officers throwing some sort of
chemical gas that is making my throat and my eyes burn.
And I see people running. (explosions)
And this line of police officers coming and they're clearing
the streets. And I'm completely confused
because I'm wondering, why is the White House doing this?
>> NARRATOR: It was a photo op, the president marching from the
White House with staff in tow. >> The fact that the president
and his inner circle celebrated that moment, I think, says
everything about the type of people that they truly are.
That should have been a major warning to these Republican
leaders that, you know, there was no line he wouldn't cross.
>> Empty streets lead to packed emergency rooms across New York
City. >> Paralysis in this typically
vibrant city in just a matter of weeks.
>> NARRATOR: Across America, desolation and despair.
>> FEMA sent 85 refrigerated trucks to New York City to hold
the people who've perished. >> NARRATOR: As Trump's handling
of the pandemic cost lives and threatened his reelection.
>> True cost of COVID, measured not by numbers, but families.
>> NARRATOR: In the crisis, Trump attacked opponents.
>> Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,
you know that, right? (crowd boos)
Coronavirus... they're politicizing it.
>> NARRATOR: And incited supporters to rise up against
governors who ordered pandemic lockdowns.
>> Liberate Virginia! Liberate Minnesota!
Liberate Michigan! >> (chanting): Lock her up!
>> He went on Twitter and tweeted "liberate Michigan."
You saw a lot of them stream to the state capital with weapons
and roam the halls of the state capitol there.
>> NARRATOR: The far right forces and militias heeded his
call. >> Heil Hitler!
>> NARRATOR: Some went even further.
>> A stunning domestic terror plot to storm the Michigan state
house and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been
foiled tonight. >> NARRATOR: Trump stoked the
uprising. >> You got to get your governor
to open up your state, okay? >> There were chants of "lock
them up, lock them up." And the president didn't say
to the crowd, "Well, no, we don't want to lock anybody up,"
he kind of joined in with them. >> Lock...
>> (chanting): Lock them up! >> Lock 'em all up.
>> NARRATOR: And all over the country, anger was boiling over.
(shouting, whistling) >> To the violent socialist
mob, we will not be silenced. >> Get outta here you (bleep)!
>> We know that there are people out there who can be
radicalized. What was different here was you
had a president who, for however he was communicating, gave those
people the idea that he was on their side.
They feel like they have the ultimate cover-- the president
of the United States, they believe, is fighting for them.
>> NARRATOR: With the election nearing, the president courted
extremists like the Proud Boys. >> Proud Boys, stand back and
stand by. >> NARRATOR: Casting his
struggle as their struggle. >> You can't underestimate the
fervor from that base. >> But you sometimes you have
to meet force with force; you can't just stand back, sit back
and watch it take it place. >> That's for everything that
you (bleep) did to me, bitch! I told you I'd get you!
>> Him telling those people who believe in him and who have
made him a part of their lives and their hopes, that he's under
attack, they all feel under attack.
And I think that's when we saw things really get haywire.
>> Get his ass! (gunshots)
>> NARRATOR: Despite the violence, Republican leaders
stood by Trump. >> Like President Trump, we
won't be bullied by a liberal media intent on destroying
America's institutions. >> President Donald Trump has
been fighting for you, and now it's our turn to fight for him.
(cheers and applause) >> Decision 2020.
Election night. >> NARRATOR: But on election
night... >> It's 192, 114.
>> Biden picking up Arizona changes the math...
>> NARRATOR: The presidency began slipping away.
>> Right now Biden has 220, Trump has 213; we're watching...
>> NARRATOR: Just before 2:30 in the morning, Trump went
before the cameras. >> This is a fraud on the
American public. This is an embarrassment to
our country. We were getting ready to win
this election. Frankly, we did win this
election. (cheers and applause)
>> What Trump said to them on election night, "We're going
to win-- unless they steal it from us, we're going to win."
>> Trump is set to speak for the first time...
>> We have not seen the president since the early hours
of Wednesday morning... >> Thank you very much...
>> NARRATOR: He would not let go.
>> If you count the legal votes, I easily win.
If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the
election from us. >> NARRATOR: Now Trump's final
assault on democracy would begin.
>> We are up big but they are trying to steal the election.
>> NARRATOR: He took to Twitter. >> They are finding Biden votes
all over the place. >> NARRATOR: To promote
baseless conspiracy theories. >> Surprise ballot dumps were
counted, very strange. >> That's when it got out of
control. >> Stop the count!
>> Rather than just being a sore loser who's complaining that he
didn't get what he thought he deserved, he becomes the
fomenter of a whole new reality. >> Where are the missing
military ballots in Georgia? Watch for massive ballot
counting abuse. >> We saw the annihilation of
truth aggressively in the weeks after the election, where the
president pushed one bizarre conspiracy theory after another,
one lie after another. >> NARRATOR: One by one,
congressional Republicans jumped on board.
>> You got more than 10,000 dead people confirmed in Michigan
to have voted. That is outrageous!
>> NARRATOR: They ramped up the disinformation, inciting
the pro-Trump base. >> Philadelphia elections are
crooked as a snake. >> They are setting the stage to
potentially steal an election. It is lawless and they need
to follow the law. >> President Trump won this
election, so everyone who's listening, do not be quiet.
>> Trump people believe, to this day, that the election was
rigged. >> (chanting): Stop the count!
>> They believe, to this day, that Donald Trump is duly
elected president of the United States, they believe that.
They are wrong, but they believe it.
>> (chanting): We want justice! >> NARRATOR: At vote counting
centers, the anger was growing. >> The president perpetrates
this total untruth about the election.
>> Stop the count! >> And intelligent, hardworking
Americans follow him, lock, stock and barrel.
And it demonstrated to me the tremendous fragility
of our democracy. >> Stop the count!
>> Threats were beginning to pour in-- election officials
were being accosted near their homes, it was... this was
becoming something that was about much more than just
politics or elections. It was beginning to take on the
aroma of a physical conflict. >> And now some of those folks
that have been misled are threatening violence.
>> Death threats have targeted the secretary of state and other
state officials. >> One election official even
had a noose hanging outside their home.
>> It has all gone too far! >> NARRATOR: In Georgia, a
Republican election official had a warning to the president and
Mitch McConnell. >> Someone's going to get hurt.
Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed.
And it's not right. >> This was the warning, and
Donald Trump was unmoved by it. It was building and building
and building, and there were... there was one warning after
another. >> Mr. President, you have not
condemned these actions or this language.
Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions.
This has to stop. >> President Trump has accused
Georgia and its leaders of voter fraud.
>> Fiery rebuke from Republican officials in Georgia.
>> NARRATOR: Undeterred, the president pushed even harder,
calling Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad
Raffensperger. >> Okay, thank you very much.
Hello, Brad, and Ryan, and everybody...
>> It was very blatant. The conversation was more than
an hour long with the president of the United States continually
pressing these officials to find votes, to find enough votes
to be able to declare him the winner of a state that he
clearly lost. >> So look, all I want to do is
this, I just want to find 11,780 votes, so what are we going to
do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes.
Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.
>> Startling phone call where President Trump is heard
pressuring officials to overturn the election...
>> This remarkable phone call the president does vaguely
threaten the state election officials.
>> Some legal experts say this could actually be criminal
behavior. >> NARRATOR: Desperate, Trump
was running out of time and out of options.
>> Donald Trump tried to get the courts to overturn the election.
They refused. He tried to get Republican
legislators to overturn the election-- they refused.
He tried to bully governors into overturning the elections.
They refused. He went after the secretaries of
state, one after another. >> NARRATOR: He turned to Vice
President Mike Pence with a stunning demand.
>> Trump had come to be convinced that Pence could
actually do something about it. And his team adopted the belief
that the vice president of the United States could unilaterally
choose the president. >> He continually turned the
screws on Mike Pence. And so this was a moment for
Mike Pence to either stand up or buckle under the pressure.
>> There is this remarkable confrontation between President
Trump and Vice President Pence that goes on for hours in the
White House. And Trump is just haranguing him
and berating him. "You have to do this, after all
the things I've done for you, how can you not do this?
You were a loser until I came along and saved you."
>> (chanting): Fight for Trump! >> NARRATOR: Then with Congress
meeting to ratify the election, Trump unleashed the
insurrection. >> We will never give up, we
will never concede, it doesn't happen-- you don't concede when
there's theft involved. >> This was specifically a rally
to stop normal democratic process of U.S. government.
It was a rally, stop the steal, that was intended to oppose the
peaceful transition of power. >> Our country has had enough.
We will not take it anymore, and that's what this is all about.
>> He incites this sort of rhetoric.
He incites angers, he gets these people fired up.
You have a whole group of supporters out there who thinks
that's their call to action. >> Now it is up to Congress to
confront this egregious assault on our democracy.
And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there
with you. We're gonna walk down to the
Capitol. >> He may not have said, "Man
the barricades, storm the Capitol," but that's what
they heard. And he should have known better.
(crowd screaming) After five years in politics,
he should have known better. >> NARRATOR: Inside the Capitol,
Mike Pence would disobey the president.
>> Madame Speaker, members of Congress, pursuant to the
Constitution and the laws of the United States, the Senate and
House of Representatives are meeting in joint session.
>> NARRATOR: Mitch McConnell would also break with the
president that day. >> If this election were
overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our
democracy would enter a death spiral.
>> Mitch McConnell finally says, "That's it, no more, we are
done." We never heard Mitch McConnell
say anything like that in the last four years-- he had
finally had enough. >> NARRATOR: As the angry crowd
ransacked the Capitol, Trump gave them a target.
>> Trump in the middle of it, he sends out a tweet attacking Mike
Pence. >> Mike Pence didn't have the
courage to do what should have been done to protect our country
and our constitution. >> I still can't get over that.
I imagine that Mike Pence can't get over that.
>> (chanting): Hang Mike Pence! >> NARRATOR: The mob began
hunting for Pence. >> Whenever in the recent
history of this country have we ever heard regular people
calling for the vice president of the United States to be
hanged for doing his job? >> NARRATOR: He was whisked away
only seconds before the mob arrived.
>> Mike Pence must have thought, "It has come to this, that
the one moment as vice president where I have stood on principle,
I am being treated as the enemy. And they come for me.
And the president is attacking me, he's not... not only is he
not calling to say, 'Are you okay?'
He's egging it on." >> NARRATOR: They also seized
the Senate chamber where McConnell presided.
>> Mitch McConnell achieved so much with President Trump, but
on that day it was clear how much it had cost, to him and
to his party. >> NARRATOR: A few hours later,
after the deadly riot was quelled, Congress returned.
>> The Senate will come to order.
>> NARRATOR: But the battle over the election was not over.
>> Mr. President, sadly but resolutely, I object to the
electoral votes of my beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
>> NARRATOR: Even after the attack that would leave five
people dead and many injured, 147 Republican members of
Congress stood with the president, voting to overturn
the election results. >> They may think they did it
for short-term political gain, but the videos of people
beating cops with American flags, running around, "Where's
Mike Pence? Hang Mike Pence!"
Is that who you want your political base to be?
Is that... do you feel the need to pander to those folks?
I would hope the answer to that would be no.
But that's exactly what that vote was-- it was a pandering
vote to people who were resorting to violence with
the tools and the intent to really hurt people.
>> NARRATOR: Donald Trump had brought carnage to the nation's
capital. In his wake, a fractured
Republican Party and a bitterly divided America.
>> It is not over. This is an ongoing attack on
democracy. The big lie is still out there.
This is now prologue to what I think is going to be a feature
in American politics for some time, that if lies and
conspiracy theories will be embraced by this many people, if
one of the two major political parties is not willing to push
back against it, this becomes part of the reality.
And we're going to be living with that, I'm afraid, for a
very, very long time.
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline for the latest FRONTLINE
transparency project. Explore interviews from the
film. >> Chaos and disarray...
>> Ran over the first barricades...
>> Ours became the party of grievances, right?
>> And listen to our podcast with director Michael Kirk.
>> And it wasn’t until the very end that you it, finally, see it
all culminate in what happens at the Capitol Building.
>> Connect with FRONTLINE on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,
and stream anytime on the PBS App or pbs.org/frontline.
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH
access.wgbh.org >> For more on this and other
"Frontline" programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
♪ ♪ FRONTLINE's,
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