Rep. Al Green of Texas — the first Democrat in Congress to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment — said that Congress not impeaching the president years ago enabled last week’s violent insurrection at the Capitol.
The Democrat first called for impeachment four months after Trump took office, in May 2017, after Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into whether the president colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Green didn’t get what he pushed for until late 2019, when Congress voted to impeach Trump for the first time. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Green’s wish was granted twofold, when every Democrat in Congress and 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump for the second time, this time for inciting the violent and deadly mob attack on the Capitol.
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While he strongly supported the action, it was in some ways too little too late.
“I knew in 2017 that if you allow the president to do this” — meaning, fire the FBI director investigating him — “you're saying to the president, ‘You can do whatever you want, we won't be able to investigate you’,” Green said, speaking on the phone from his office in the Capitol hours ahead of the second impeachment vote.
“As fate would have it, the president realized this and he started doing just whatever he wanted to, assuming he was above the law,” Green continued. “All of what he did after that moment when we failed to take corrective action, brought us to Jan. 6.”
On that day, as pro-Trump rioters wandered the halls of Congress with guns, knives, and white supremacist apparel, Green, who is Black, said he and his staff were sheltering in place in his office, phones on silent and speaking quietly in the hopes that none of the mob would find them.
Green’s early and frequent advocacy for impeachment has made him a target for some Trump supporters, who have given him the label “Mr. Impeachment,” he said, and made serious enough threats against him that he had to hire armed security to protect him even before the Capitol riot.
On Thursday, Jan. 7, after Green was told it was safe to leave the Capitol and return home to Houston, this notoriety among Trump supporters caused him to fear for his safety.
Green’s plane home was filled with Trump supporters returning from the protests and riots in Washington, DC. A woman on the plane recognized him, Green said, and told the others that “Mr. Impeachment” was on the plane. They began yelling at him and heckling him, calling him a traitor and chanting “Four more years!”
When asked if he feared for his life at any moment, Green paused, took a breath, and began speaking slightly more softly.
“I had the most concern when I was seated on the plane and I could hear people behind me talking, and I heard someone behind me say, in a sort of quiet voice, ‘Something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna happen,'” the 73-year-old Democrat said.
He became very aware of the top of his head sticking up from above the seat, he felt vulnerable and exposed, but unable to see what was behind him.
“Thirty-five thousand feet in the air at 500 miles an hour is no place to have a protest,” he said.
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Trump’s supporters followed him off the plane, and he had to have someone escort him for protection, then that escort called the police, Green said, to protect both of them.
“But I refuse to become a recluse, I refuse to go into hiding, and I refuse to allow people to put me in a position where it will be assumed that I am cowering, where they assume that they somehow can change my principles with their hate,” Green said.
Wednesday’s vote to impeach Trump a second time was an exercise of those principles (he warned that Congress could impeach Trump again back when the first impeachment occurred in 2019) and sent Trump and his supporters the message that their insurrection and violence would not be tolerated.
Ever the optimist, Green added that he was hopeful the Senate would vote to convict Trump, even after he leaves office, which could result in the president losing his benefits and being unable to run for office again.
Trump, Green said, is a bully, “and if there's one thing that I've learned is that if a bully is down, people don't help the bully up,” he continued. “There's a good chance that a good many Republicans who have had to live in fear of the president, in terms of how he can activate the base against them, many of them may decide not to let him up.”