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Maine’s members of Congress had different perspectives of the Jan. 6 riot. They still do

The U.S. Capitol just before sunrise Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Washington on the one year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Carolyn Kaster
The U.S. Capitol just before sunrise Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Washington on the one year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

When a mob of pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol one year ago with the intent of stopping the certification of the presidential election, Maine's four members of Congress were scattered throughout the capitol complex with different vantage points on the attack.

One year after the Jan. 6 riot, those same members have divergent perspectives about its lasting impact on the country.

Before the pro-Trump mob overwhelmed Capitol Police, burst through doors and windows, and went on the hunt for ballots, members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree was in her office at the nearby Rayburn building.

Ed Morin
Maine Public

She remembers feeling uneasy about the rhetoric in the demonstrations by Trump and his allies that preceded the riot.

"But I don't think anyone could ever picture what was about to happen," Pingree said.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins was on the Senate floor, preparing to deliver a floor speech supporting the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

Independent Sen. Angus King was the doing the same from a one-room office inside the capitol.

King says he had no reason to believe violence was imminent, but he was worried about Trump's refusal to concede and his repeated lies to his crestfallen supporters that the election was stolen.

"If people don't trust election results then what are your options? And violence, which we saw on Jan. 6, was not an illogical outcome," King said.

King's floor speech was scheduled for 3 p.m, but shortly after 1 p.m., the mob was at the Capitol perimeter.

"We can take that place!" said one demonstrator, who was filmed by Insider News.

"And then do what?" asked a companion.

"Heads on pikes!" the first demonstrator responded.

By 2 p.m. the mob was entering the Capitol.

Democratic Congressman Jared Golden was alone in his office at the nearby Longworth Building in D.C.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, visits Acadia National Park, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Winter Harbor, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, visits Acadia National Park, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Winter Harbor, Maine.

Describing what he witnessed during an event at the Lewiston Public Library last April, the U.S. Marine and combat veteran said he could hear flashbang grenades going off from his office.

Less than a block away, police had found a pipe bomb at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, a discovery that Golden viewed as a diversion for law enforcement.

"I believed it was distraction to draw manpower away from the defenses of the Capitol. I recognized that almost immediately as a military tactic," he said.

Sen. Collins was the only member of the Maine delegation inside either the House or Senate when the attack occurred.

She was watching Republican Sen. James Lankford, of Oklahoma, object to the election certification.

But Lankford's speech was abruptly cut short as the mob approached the Senate chamber and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy gaveled the Senate into recess.

As the Trump rioters began marauding through the Capitol, Collins and other members were escorted through a system of tunnels to a secure location.

A Capitol Police escort was sent to get King, who had been watching it all unfold from a one-room office.

Jacquelyn Martin
Associated Press
Sen. Angus King

This was before members of Congress were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so when King, a cancer survivor, arrived at the location, he immediately wanted to leave after noticing that about half of the people weren't wearing masks.

"I turned around and said, 'I'm not coming in here.' And the Capitol Police guy said, 'Well, yes sir, you have to.' And I said, 'The hell I do,'" he recalled.

King retreated to his office at the Hart building where he remembers trying to find a place to sit without being seen through the windows.

By 6 p.m., law enforcement began to clear the Capitol and the House and Senate resumed certifying the election.

Upon returning, Pingree remembers seeing the detritus of the riot and what she described as "sacred items of democracy" strewn about the building.

She huddled in an office with other members, including Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, who began drafting articles of impeachment against Trump for inciting the insurrection.

"It was already in our minds that this was so far beyond the pale that we were going to have to take action on it," she said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., arrive as senators go to the chamber for votes ahead of the approaching Memorial Day recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., arrive as senators go to the chamber for votes ahead of the approaching Memorial Day recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Collins warned her GOP colleagues that objecting to the certification and breaking with precedent going forward would give the political party in power the ability to unilaterally overturn the will of voters.

She said Trump's attorneys had their chance to contest results in court.

"Every one of nearly 60 lawsuits that they brought forward have been rejected," she said on Jan. 6.

Shortly after the riot, King addressed the attack and the reason for it.

Trump, he said, had misled his supporters with falsehoods for two months after the election.

"The answer to this problem is to tell people the truth, is to tell them what happened," he said. "It's easy to confront your opponents. It's hard to confront your friends."

More than a month later, Sen. Collins outlined her case during the Senate impeachment trial for convicting Trump, a 16-minute overview of his stolen election falsehoods and efforts to pressure various state officials not to certify the results.

"President Trump's falsehoods convinced a large number of Americans that he had won and that they were being cheated," she said.

But by then, what's become known as the Big Lie was fast becoming the prevailing dogma of Republican voters and activists.

Collins managed to beat back a censure by the Trump faction of Maine Republican Party incensed at her impeachment vote.

But she was later censured by two GOP county committees, including the Aroostook County Republicans who operate in her home town of Caribou.

Collins was not available for an interview, but her office released a statement focusing on the security improvements since the Jan. 6 riot and what she described as her "profound sense of sadness" when thinking about that day and the "harsh divisions" that it represents.

"I know this country can and will do better.  I hope that we use this anniversary as an opportunity for all of us to consider what we can do to lessen the divisions and bring our country together," she said.

Golden, who voted for impeachment and represents a district that has twice voted decisively for Trump, was also not available for an interview.

His office released a statement calling for accountability for those who committed crimes during the attack and support for the ongoing investigation of the riots by a special House committee.

"I stand with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who are working hard to bring the events of the attack into the light of day, and support the men and women in law enforcement and our judicial system who are investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law," he said.

Collins initially opposed a Democratic proposal for a joint commission, arguing that it was too slanted toward the Democrats who would pick some of the members. Her amendment to fix what she saw as shortcomings failed when the bill was blocked by the Senate GOP.

A year after Jan. 6, Congresswoman Pingree continues to worry about the perversion of facts that led to the riots.

"You cannot live with people making up the story. You can't live unless we all agree that the truth is the truth," she said.

Yet the false narrative that led to the Capitol riot lives on, transforming into a midterm election organizing tool and the impetus for GOP voting law changes that, in some instances, could handover state certification of elections to partisans.

In Maine, some Republican state lawmakers have pursued so-called audits of the 2020 election and giving voter data to the same Trump activiststhat pursued a similar effort in Arizona.

And a day before the 1-year anniversary of the insurrection, nearly 50 Maine House Republicans voted against a resolutioncalling the riot an act of domestic terrorism and honoring the 140 cops who were injured.

Sen. King remains deeply worried that what he described on Jan. 6 — and ever since — represents the erosion of public faith in elections.

"Democracy as we have practiced it is fragile," he said. "It's fragile and it rests upon trust."

And a year after the Jan. 6 riot, he says, there isn’t much of it.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.