Trump insurgents came within seconds of capturing ‘nuclear football’ on Jan. 6

During Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, video footage of events on Jan. 6 revealed just how close Mike Pence came to falling into the hands of the people who were chanting for his execution. Fourteen minutes after the mob of Trump supporters first breached the Capitol, Secret Service agents led Pence from the Senate chamber and down a flight of stairs. He entered that stairwell just seconds ahead of the arrival of insurgents, some of whom were carrying rope or zip ties. Had those insurgents not been delayed through the actions of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, they could easily have been there to capture Pence and take him to the gallows waiting on the lawn outside.

But in addition to Pence, they might have captured something else that would have been especially problematic. For most of us, our electronic devices—phones, tablets, and laptops—are regularly trusted with our most confidential information. That’s one of the things that helps to make these devices our constant companions and among the most vital objects that we own. However, there is still information that’s considered too valuable, too sensitive, to be trusted to any electronic device, and one prime example was in the hands of a military aide who was with Mike Pence as he fled from the Senate. 

That aide was carrying a small satchel, and inside that satchel was a book listing the locations of classified military sites, a description of how to activate and use the Emergency Broadcast System, a “black book” of pre-planned military actions, and a small card that contains the codes necessary to authorize a nuclear strike. That aide was with Pence at the top of the stairs in the video that was shown during the Senate trial.

The Jan. 6 insurgents didn’t just almost get Mike Pence. They almost got the backup copy of the president’s Emergency Satchel. Better know as the “nuclear football.”

As Reuters reports, concern over how close the satchel came to being captured by the Trump horde is calling for a review of just how the vital information is carried and secured. Some form of the football goes back to President Dwight Eisenhower, but it was concerns from President John Kennedy that created the system that’s still followed today. Both the president and vice president are closely pursued by aides who have the current information necessary to respond if the nation were to fall under sudden attack. 

Following the events of Jan. 6, in which one of the footballs almost went into the hands of insurgents calling for the overthrow of the elected government, there’s a concern that this 60-year-old program may be due for some review. This wasn’t the only occasion in the last four years in which the vital information came under threat. An aide carrying the information on a trip to China got into what was described as a “tussle” with a Chinese official while Trump was having lunch with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. That situation apparently required then chief of staff John Kelly to get into a “physical altercation” to secure the satchel.

Neither situation is particularly reassuring.

Exactly what the Trump mob might have done with the satchel had they taken it and opened it isn’t clear. There are procedures for changing the authorizations codes in the case a football is lost or stolen. However, the book of secure sites and the book of military actions—primarily military actions that the U.S. intends to take in case of an attack on the nation—are extremely sensitive and any data released from those sources could cause serious damage to national security. Had that information been captured, it would have been considered compromised even if the military wasn’t aware of any leaks of the contents. 

Just what changes are being considered to better secure the information are not clear. But just as a start, securing the Capitol against future assaults by ravening mobs of Trump supporters out for blood is a good first step.

Military officials got an ugly surprise from impeachment video of Pence being rushed to safety

Donald Trump made his supporters angry, called them to Washington, D.C., on the day Mike Pence was presiding as Congress certified Trump’s election loss, whipped them up into a vicious mob, and sent them to the U.S. Capitol, enraged at Congress and at Pence. We’ve known that.

This week, thanks to the House impeachment managers, we’ve learned just how close the mob came to Pence—and thanks to Sen. Mike Lee’s bumbling outrage, we’ve learned that Trump knowingly targeted Pence with another tweet immediately after he was moved for his safety. The mob responded to Trump’s effort to aim it at Pence, with his tweet saying “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution” being read through a bullhorn by one of the insurrectionists.

Pence wasn’t rushed to safety alone, though. He was with his family, his security detail … and a military officer carrying the vice president's backup nuclear football. CNN reports that, according to an unnamed defense official, U.S. Strategic Command learned how close the football came to the mob when the impeachment managers played that new video showing Pence’s group rushing down a flight of stairs to a more secure location within the Capitol.

To be clear, the vice president’s nuclear football is a backup, and Trump’s football was secure at the White House, and the officer carrying Pence’s football never lost control of it, and there are a ton of safeguards built in to prevent an accidental nuclear strike. In the actual-nuclear-strike department, having it close to but not in the hands of the mob was not necessarily more dangerous than having it in the hands of Donald Trump for four years.

That said, there were other dangers, the Arms Control Association’s Kingston Reif told CNN: “The risk associated with the insurrectionists getting their hands on Pence's football wasn't that they could have initiated an unauthorized launch. But had they stolen the football and acquired its contents, which include pre-planned nuclear strike options, they could have shared the contents with the world.”

Trump’s malice was such that when he aimed that mob at Pence in his effort to overturn the election results and remain in the White House against the will of the voters, he not only tried to threaten the man who had obsequiously flattered him and done his bidding for four years, he threatened Pence’s family, his Secret Service detail, and both the nuclear football and the officer carrying it. Trump’s only thought was to try to stay in office or, failing that, radically undermine U.S. democracy and delegitimize the new president. He did not care who he put in danger to that end. It’s a lot for Republican senators to ignore. By doing so, they show us who they are.