Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Trump’s Enablers Face Violent Reckoning

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Trump will “deservedly be left a man without a country.”

By , Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter, and , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief.

What’s on tap today: Trump administration veterans grapple with a dark day in U.S. history as former Trump cabinet members turn on the president for inciting insurrection—and how the violence at the U.S. Capitol will damage America’s global reputation.

If you would like to receive Security Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief.

What’s on tap today: Trump administration veterans grapple with a dark day in U.S. history as former Trump cabinet members turn on the president for inciting insurrection—and how the violence at the U.S. Capitol will damage America’s global reputation.

If you would like to receive Security Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


Trump Veterans Reckon with American Carnage

In his first words as president four years ago, Donald Trump warned of “American carnage” in the nation’s streets, schools, and factories. Facing the final certification of his electoral defeat in Congress this week, Trump brought that carnage to the doorstep of democracy. At the president’s urging, a mob of his supporters marched to the U.S. Capitol and then broke into the complex, holding the proceedings hostage for hours before the National Guard and backup law enforcement officials showed up.

Congress reconvened hours later, with Vice President Mike Pence certifying Biden’s victory early Thursday morning. By then, the president’s refusal to condemn Wednesday’s attack, in which one woman was killed inside the Capitol, had already pushed several administration officials already contemplating resignation over the edge.

Trump, whose Twitter account was muzzled last night after he continued to baselessly question the Nov. 3 election results, released a statement promising an “orderly transition on January 20th” just after the certification.

Abandon ship? Trump’s statement has done little to stanch the bloodletting inside the White House. The highest-level departure so far is Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, a former journalist and U.S. Marine and an architect of the administration’s hard-line strategy on China. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who has previously been loyal to Trump, is also said to be considering leaving over Wednesday’s scene. So is Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Liddell, the main White House interlocutor with the Biden transition team.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting chief of staff who spent much of Wednesday urging the president to speak out on Twitter, also resigned as special envoy to Northern Ireland, as has Ryan Tully, the senior director for European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council, Bloomberg reports.

Also out: Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff and former White House press secretary, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews, and White House social secretary Anna Cristina Niceta. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intelligence and Security John Costello also resigned on Thursday, tweeting that Trump had “long disregarded and diminished the rule of law and the constitution.”

Mattis unloads. Unlike some other Trump alumni, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hasn’t frequently stepped into the spotlight to disavow his former boss—until now. Late Wednesday, Mattis issued a scathing rebuke of the president and his enablers, seething with venom even by today’s standards.

The full statement: “Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo-political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.

“Our Constitution and our Republic will overcome this stain and We the People will come together again in our never-ending effort to form a more perfect Union, while Mr. Trump will deservedly be left a man without a country.”


What We’re Watching

Back to talk of removing Trump from office. Nearly all Democratic lawmakers and a sizeable number of Republicans blamed Trump for Wednesday’s violence, but several House Democrats went a big step further and called for Trump to be impeached again in the final days of his presidency. The announcement was largely symbolic: The House isn’t set to come back into session until after the inauguration.

Meanwhile, reports emerged, citing anonymous administration sources, that cabinet members were discussing invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president from office—though those discussions might have been stamped out by the message the president sent Thursday morning, pledging for an “orderly transition on January 20th.”

Casualty of the president’s conspiracies. The woman fatally shot in the U.S. Capitol after the pro-Trump mob stormed the complex on Wednesday was identified as 35-year old Ashli Elizabeth Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, as Military.com reports. Videos show a woman being shot in a Capitol hallway as people attempt to break through the doors and windows of the House Speaker’s lobby, which looked to be barricaded by police with chairs and tables.

In recent months, Babbitt had frequently posted on Twitter in support of conspiracy theories linked to QAnon.

Allies abroad react with shock and horror. German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a chorus of U.S. allies condemning the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol—and the president himself for stoking the violence. Meanwhile, some U.S. adversaries such as Russia were gleefully reveling in the chaos.


Movers and Shakers

Biden builds out national security team. Biden is appointing more Obama administration veterans to join his team, with Politico reporting that former Iran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman had been tapped as deputy secretary of state and that Victoria Nuland, a former State Department spokesperson and veteran diplomat, would serve as undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Biden also is moving to fill out his National Security Council (NSC), with former State Department director of policy planning Jon Finer set to become National Security Advisor nominee Jake Sullivan’s deputy. Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy to the counter-Islamic State coalition, will take a senior NSC role covering the Middle East and North Africa.

Also set for big NSC roles: Former State Department official Amanda Sloat, who will manage the Europe portfolio, and Kurt Campbell, the State Department’s former top Asia official under President Barack Obama, who will oversee the same region at the NSC.

Landing spot. Passed over as Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court by the Republican-controlled Senate in 2016, U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Merrick Garland has been tapped by Biden to serve as the incoming administration’s attorney general. Garland will be joined by deputy Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security advisor to Obama, associate attorney general-designate Vanita Gupta, and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights-designate Kristen Clarke.

The picks are set to be officially unveiled this afternoon in Wilmington, Del.


Quote of the Week

“The White House is quiet and rather empty this morning, the door to the press office is locked. The press secretary hasn’t responded to calls, emails or texts as the extraordinary events of the past 24 hours unfolded.”

—ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl reports on the scene at the White House this morning


Foreign Policy Recommends

First draft of history. Over a dozen Washington Post reporters on the ground recreated a blow-by-blow account of how hundreds of pro-Trump rioters ended up storming the U.S. Capitol building. It’s the definitive account of how the pro-Trump protests spiraled into a violent mob, egged on by the president, resulting in the first breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812.


The Week Ahead

The members of the Islamic State known as the Beatles, accused of murdering U.S. hostages, are set for a hearing in U.S. court on Friday, Jan. 15. The United States is also meant to reduce troop levels in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia by this date.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party is expected to select a new leader at a congress that ends on Saturday, Jan. 16.


Odds and Ends

Didn’t age well. A throwback to Mulvaney’s Wall Street Journal op-ed days after the election, which isn’t standing up to the test of time: “If He Loses, Trump Will Concede Gracefully.”


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, subscribe here or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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