On Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah announced that he would not be running for reelection to the Senate in 2024. Well-known bus owner and patriarch of his own micro-state, Romney is now garnering praise for his willingness to bring down the “demagogue” axe on Donald Trump as he heads for the door.
In an Atlantic excerpt from an upcoming biography, released following Romney’s declaration of no mas, there is a story that takes place in the days just before Jan. 6, 2021. Romney was contacted by independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who had a warning about “online chatter among right-wing extremists.” King was mostly giving Romney a heads-up because Romney’s lack of vocal support for Trump had placed him closer to the Nancy Pelosi/Mike Pence threat territory than to the Jim Jordan/Matt Gaetz safe zone. Romney’s name was “popping up in some frightening corners of the internet,” according to McKay Coppins, who authored the biography.
So Romney wrote a note to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, warning him that there could be violence on Jan. 6, that Trump was the instigator, and that there were plans to storm the Capitol. McConnell did not reply. And when it came down to it, Romney did nothing else.
Here’s the text that Romney reportedly sent to McConnell on Jan. 2, 2021.
“In case you have not heard this, I just got a call from Angus King, who said that he had spoken with a senior official at the Pentagon who reports that they are seeing very disturbing social media traffic regarding the protests planned on the 6th. There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol. I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.”
Romney gets full marks both for outlining the scope of the threat and for predicting, accurately, that Trump would both encourage the insurgents and fail to provide resources to the police.
But no one is a hero in this story. McConnell never responds to Romney and, as far as we are aware, never makes a move to ensure that additional security is in place. It also doesn’t seem that McConnell took any of these concerns to Trump or brought this information to others who were endangered by the violence Trump was summoning.
Romney doesn’t appear to have done anything more. He didn’t confront Trump. He didn’t step in front of a camera to give a warning. He kept what knowledge he had to himself and—very notably—doesn’t seem to have provided the text he sent McConnell to either the Jan. 6 investigation committee or the representatives conducting Trump’s second impeachment trial.
It’s also worth noting that King doesn’t seem to have taken action beyond warning Romney. That’s in spite of telling Romney that he had heard rumors about “gun smuggling, of bombs and arson, of targeting the traitors in Congress.” Maybe King called others. If so, those others have not spoken out. He certainly didn’t make any kind of public statement, and he also doesn’t seem to have taken this information to investigators, because his communications with Romney were unrevealed until the fragment of the biography was published.
Likewise, King’s Pentagon sources appear to have been content to sit on their discovery of plots to assault the Capitol and threaten the lives of lawmakers. Those sources may have a better following-the-chain-of-command excuse than either McConnell, Romney, or King. But if they were content to merely report a coming insurrection among Trump supporters to Trump, that excuse isn’t a good one.
There aren’t any heroes in this story. There are just a lot of Washington insiders who knew the storm was coming but whose concerns seemed to be limited to whispering about these threats among themselves. When the chips were down, Romney had a chance to go public with his concerns, to warn the nation of what was about to happen and express his disdain for Trump’s role in instigating violence. He didn’t do that.
So don’t hand him any accolades now.
What do you do if you’re associated with one of the biggest election fraud scandals in recent memory? If you’re Republican Mark Harris, you try running for office again! On this week’s episode of “The Downballot,” we revisit the absolutely wild story of Harris’ 2018 campaign for Congress, when one of his consultants orchestrated a conspiracy to illegally collect blank absentee ballots from voters and then had his team fill them out before “casting” them. Officials wound up tossing the results of this almost-stolen election, but now Harris is back with a new bid for the House—and he won’t shut up about his last race, even blaming Democrats for the debacle.