They resigned in protest over Jan. 6 — then never went after Trump again

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In the hours after a mob of angry Donald Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, a number of prominent Trump administration officials and Republicans decided that they’d had enough.

With a mix of anger and outrage, they condemned Trump for either stoking the riots or doing next-to-nothing to stop them. Cabinet officials submitted letters of resignation. Golf buddies and top donors broke their alliances. Top advisers said they’d been let down by Trump.

It was a notable moment of public dissent after four years marked mostly by fidelity. But its impact has proved minimal.

One year after the Jan. 6 riot, the voices of those who broke with Trump over that day have mostly been muted, moved on, or, in certain instances, come to embrace Trump all over again. POLITICO contacted eighteen Trump administration officials who stepped down as a result of Jan. 6 or whose resignation seemed timed to it. Only one agreed to speak on the record about their decision that day.

“I think it’s about survival,” said Stephanie Grisham, who resigned on Jan. 6 as chief of staff to first lady Melania Trump and recently published a book that criticized the president’s and first lady’s handling of the riots. “If you stand up then you’re going to be out there alone.”

Twelve months ago, the outgoing president’s political future appeared to be in serious jeopardy. Not only had he lost his reelection bid, but his post-election conduct — including the peddling of baseless lies about the integrity of Joe Biden’s victory— and his encouragement of a D.C. gathering timed with Congress’ certification of the vote, had created the kindling that led to the riots.

When those rioters stormed the capitol and Trump offered only a milquetoast response, the condemnation was swift.

On the House floor that day, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for the “attack on Congress by mob rioters” and advised Congress to censure the president. “Count me out,” said Trump’s closest confidante in the Senate and favorite golf partner, Sen. Lindsay Graham. “Enough is enough.”

Former attorney general William Barr called Trump’s behavior “a betrayal of his office and supporters.” Republicans in Congress encouraged articles of impeachment brought against the president. Twitter and Facebook suspended Trump.

Some TV talking heads speculated that Trump might fade away into a retired life of buffets and golf at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. It appeared, at least for a moment, that Trump could become persona non grata in national politics.

Yet over the course of the past year, Trump’s grip on the party hasn’t diminished. Instead, in critical ways, it remains firm.

Trump holds court in Palm Beach where a steady stream of Republican candidates and operatives travel to gain his approval and, they hope, endorsement. Lawmakers still answer phone calls from the former president and some, like McCarthy and Graham, have flocked to his compound for a meeting and to pose for a photo, too. Trump has held MAGA rallies, does interviews with conservative media, and went on tour with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. His 2021 Christmas picture book sold thousands of copies. It is considered a fait accompli in certain corners that Trump won’t just run again for office but that he will easily become the Republican Party’s nominee.

“You’ve got two camps right now of people who should speak out and haven’t. The first camp knows Trump is a dangerous and vindictive man but doesn’t want to upend their lives by provoking his ire. The second camp is more nakedly transactional,” said Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration who was revealed to be the author of “Anonymous,” an anti-Trump tell-all. “They see that the GOP is still drunk on the MAGA Kool Aid, and they don’t want to get left behind.”

A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

As Trump has sought to reclaim his throne, those who resigned in protest have scampered from public view — rarely, if ever, talking about that day. David Shulkin, who was fired by tweet by Trump as the secretary of Veterans Affairs, said he was not surprised. “We have seen countless times of people who have spoken out” against the former president have “paid the price with personal attacks against them,” he noted. He said his philosophy was to speak out against Trump only on matters of substance.

But even the substantive criticisms have been muted. Instead, some Jan. 6 defectors have come to dispute the idea that they ever resigned in protest at all, while others seem content to simply concede that their former boss remains the de facto ringleader of their party. Most, mainly, have resorted to silence.

Here are their stories.

ELAINE CHAO

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