Sununu calls Capitol rioters "domestic terrorists,” says Trump contributed to violence

  • President Donald Trump is greeted by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, left, as he arrives for a campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Friday Aug. 28, 2020 in Londonderry, N.H. President Trump easily won the February New Hampshire Republican primary. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) Charles Krupa

  • Supporters of President Donald Trump climb on an inauguration platform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Jose Luis Magana

  • Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

Monitor staff
Published: 1/11/2021 3:41:10 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu partly blamed President Donald Trump for the behavior of hundreds of supporters who broke into the U.S. Capitol during riots, and called the actors “domestic terrorists,” escalating his condemnation of behavior he had previously called “un-American.”

In a statement Monday afternoon, Sununu said Trump’s words both that day and earlier “contributed” to the violence.

“Our priorities must be the healing of our nation and an orderly transition of power on January 20,” Sununu said Monday. “As elected officials, our words are held to a higher standard, and it is clear that President Trump’s rhetoric and actions contributed to the insurrection at the United States Capitol Building.”

Sununu first used the terrorist label on Sunday while honoring a Capitol Hill police officer who died during last week’s violent uprising. That officer, Brian Sicknick, was one of two law enforcement officers to die; the second, Howard Liebengood, died afterward while off duty. Flags across the state will fly at half-staff honoring the two.

“Officer Sicknick is an American hero who gave his life defending democracy at the the U.S. Capitol,” Sununu wrote. “America will never forget 1/6/21 – a day when domestic terrorists attacked our Capitol. The sacrifice and bravery of Officer Sicknick and his fellow officers will not be forgotten.”

Still, the governor continued to duck questions over whether he would support efforts to remove President Donald Trump from office after his comments and speeches leading up to the takeover of the federal building on Wednesday.

“If they’re talking about impeachment, that’s Congress, and if they’re talking about the 25th Amendment, that’s the cabinet,” Sununu told radio host Mike Pomp on WTSN on Jan. 7, a day after the unrest. “I don’t know if either of those will come to fruition. Again, I’ll let those bodies decide the path to take there. We have a couple weeks to go.”

On Monday, Sununu reiterated the same point, invoking the response of the incoming president. “President-elect Biden has said impeachment is a matter for Congress to weigh, and I agree,” he wrote.

The governor’s reaction to the violence in the halls of Congress has evolved slightly in recent days. But from the outset, he condemned the behavior. In a tweet on Jan. 6, as the insurrection was unfolding, Sununu wrote: “What is going on at the United States Capitol Building is not Democracy, it is chaos and violence. It is un-American, and must stop immediately.”

The governor also devoted portions of his inaugural speech Jan. 7 to the violence the day before.

“Holding people accountable to their actions is fine,” he said. “It’s an important feedback response system to getting better results. But to do it in a way where we’re tearing each other down, belittling and devaluing other views and having a complete lack of empathy for our neighbors, well, that is not acceptable.”

He also spoke to what he called the over-obsession with political figures, a potentially oblique reference to Trump.

“There is a tendency to show too much deference and wrongly believe those individuals are infallible,” Sununu said. “Almost as if they aren’t people, but deities.”

The governor has faced his own tensions with members of the far right. In late December, he announced he would be canceling his planned outdoor inaugural speech at the State House grounds, opting to instead be filmed delivering the speech live on a remote stage. That decision was made because of threats that had been made against Sununu and his family, as well as protests outside the governor’s private home involving individuals carrying firearms, Sununu said.

At a press conference last week, Sununu praised New Hampshire’s history of access to public officials, pointing to the ease at which citizens can reach lawmakers and speak to the governor’s staff. But he argued there were limits.

“That accessibility is a great thing,” Sununu said. “It’s a great thing for the citizens to have. But it also has always come – whether it’s myself, or my father, or Gov. Lynch, or Gov. Hassan – but it always comes with I think a respect of privacy. And I think that’s unfortunately where the line has just been crossed when it comes to families.”

The governor’s relationship with Trump has been trickier to nail down. Since 2016, Sununu has been broadly supportive of the president, telling reporters he supported him at multiple points ahead of the November election, even after a moment in a debate with President-elect Joe Biden in which Trump refused to directly condemn white supremacists.

Sununu has also condemned the president’s remarks, even while saying he would continue supporting him. Since the November election, the governor has firmly pushed back on Trump’s claims that the election results that showed Joe Biden winning were fraudulent.

But he’s been criticized by the Democratic Party, who has attacked Sununu for not speaking out enough against Trump since the violence.

“Chris Sununu owes Granite Staters an answer to this simple question: Did Trump commit an impeachable offense,” Democrats wrote in a press release sent Monday.

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