Asked whether Trump bore responsibility, Miller initially said, “I don’t know, but it seems cause-and-effect, yeah.”
He added: “The question is, would anybody have marched on the Capitol, and overrun the Capitol without the president’s speech? I think it’s pretty much definitive that wouldn’t have happened. So, yes. The question is, did he know that he was enraging the crowd to do that. I don’t know.”
Miller, as other top officials have, seemed to be drawing a line between whether Trump deliberately incited the riot and whether his actions caused it. That’s a line many former Trump officials have sought to walk.
But to date, six high-ranking officials who have held either Cabinet jobs or jobs generally understood to be Cabinet-level have offered rebukes, linking Trump to what happened that day and/or directly connecting it to their resignations. That accounts for about one-quarter of such jobs.
Both former education secretary Betsy DeVos and former transportation secretary Elaine Chao quickly resigned after Jan. 6, making clear they were doing so because of the riot.
“There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” DeVos said. “Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgment and model the behavior we hope they would emulate. They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday.”
Chao didn’t directly say “Trump did this,” but her resignation made clear his actions led to her resignation: “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, [the riot] has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Former acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf also walked this fine line. He said in his resignation letter that his decision was “warranted by recent events.” He explicitly mentioned court cases challenging his authority to hold that job, but elsewhere he connected Trump to the riots.
Wolf has said repeatedly that Trump wasn’t strong enough in admonishing the rioters in real time, and he said before resigning that “any appearance of inciting violence by an elected official goes against who we are as Americans.” After resigning, he said more directly that while the rioters entered the building of their own volition, “the president’s words matter, and they do. He certainly has some level of responsibility for at least the words that he said.”
Former Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar was less explicit in his resignation letter, but his criticism of the “actions and rhetoric following the election” seemed clearly meant for his boss, and he suggested Trump needed to do more to rein in his supporters and his baseless claims of a stolen election.
“Unfortunately, the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during this past week, threaten to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this Administration,” Azar said, adding: “I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere, and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021.”
(Azar did say “continue to,” but there’s no reason to include such a plea if you aren’t concerned about Trump’s conduct.)
A lower-profile resignation came from another top official who held a job generally considered to be Cabinet-level, the acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Tyler Goodspeed.
Goodspeed told the New York Times, “The events of yesterday made my position no longer tenable.”
Another former member of Trump’s Cabinet who was no longer serving in it, former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, also resigned from his position as envoy to Northern Ireland, saying on CNBC: “I can’t stay here. Not after yesterday. You can’t look at that yesterday and think I want to be a part of that in any way, shape or form.”
Several other top administration and White House officials also resigned, with many invoking the Capitol riot.
The tale of Trump’s relationship with his Cabinet officials was long a tortured one, with many leaving following Trump’s various controversies and some emerging as sharp critics later on. But the volume of criticisms of Trump at the very end, particularly from his highest-ranking advisers — even if it’s perhaps self-serving to distance yourself once the guy is leaving the White House — remains remarkable.
And combined with the lack of an actual defense that Republican senators provided for Trump’s conduct during his impeachment trial, it has to be a significant part of his legacy.