Donald Trump conceded that Joe Biden would become US president this month and condemned the “heinous” mob attack on Congress, putting an end to his unprecedented campaign to overturn the results of November’s election.
In an abrupt change of tone on Thursday evening, the president accused violent demonstrators of “defiling the seat of American democracy” and said those who broke the law “will pay”.
His comments in a video posted to Twitter came as Democrats mounted a push to forcibly remove him from office after he came under intense criticism for inciting the assault. The previous day he described rioters as “very special”.
Mr Trump conceded that Congress had completed the certification of the election results and that “a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20”. But he stopped short of congratulating Mr Biden, who he did not mention by name.
“My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power,” said Mr Trump, reading from a teleprompter. “This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
He added: “Serving as your president has been the honour of my lifetime.”
The video message followed a day of violent unrest in Washington that interrupted the certification of the election. US Capitol Police said that one of its officers died on Thursday night from injuries sustained “while physically engaging with protesters”, the fifth death resulting from the assault.
“To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction: you do not represent our country,” Mr Trump said. “And to those who broke the law: you will pay.”
His words stood in sharp contrast with a fiery speech he delivered on Wednesday in which he said: “We will never give up. We will never concede . . . You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
Following the attack on the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Trump posted a video on his social media pages in which he told the agitators that he “loved” them and urged them to “go home” and reiterated claims that the election was “stolen” and “fraudulent”.
It is unclear whether Mr Trump will stand by his concession, given that he has regularly made commitments while reading from prepared remarks only to reverse course under questioning from reporters or with a post on Twitter.
Despite coming under intense fire from across the political aisle for undermining democracy and encouraging violent insurrection, Mr Trump sought on Thursday to portray his extraordinary push to cling to power as a defence of civic freedom.
He said that while his campaign had “vigorously” pursued legal challenges to the election results, his “only goal” was “to ensure the integrity of the vote”.
“In doing so I was fighting to defend American democracy,” said Mr Trump. “I continue to strongly believe that we must reform our election laws to verify the identity and eligibility of all voters and to ensure faith and confidence in all future elections.”
In a call for restored calm, Mr Trump said defeating the coronavirus pandemic and “rebuilding the greatest economy on earth” would require a “renewed emphasis on the civic values of patriotism, faith, charity, community and family”.
“We have just been through an intense election and emotions are high, but now tempers must be cool and calm restored,” said Mr Trump. “We must get on with the business of America.”
His concession of defeat — 65 days after the election — came amid a vigorous effort by Democratic leaders to remove Mr Trump from office as he faces increasing isolation over his alleged role in the assault on the Capitol.
Several members of his administration have resigned in protest over his conduct and lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns about the potential for continued violence in the coming days.
Mr Trump’s video was his first address to the nation for more than 24 hours after Twitter suspended his account on Wednesday, citing “repeated and severe” violations of its civic integrity policies. Facebook has said it would close his account “indefinitely”.
The address from Mr Trump follows a statement posted on Twitter by Dan Scavino, White House deputy chief of staff for communications, in the early hours of Thursday morning in which Mr Trump committed to an “orderly transition”.
US presidential election 2020: You tell us
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