Sen. Angus King at the U.S. Capitol last January. Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Sen. Angus King said Thursday that he is exasperated with Republican politicians who argue that Congress shouldn’t hold President Trump accountable for last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol in the name of healing, saying those same people are the ones who created the need for such healing.

“That’s what’s bothering me about this whole discussion is that the people who divided the country are telling us that, ‘No, you can’t hold anyone accountable for these actions because it would divide the country,’” Maine’s junior senator told the Press Herald. “That’s my frustration, because it ill behooves one who has created a crisis to then say you have to ignore what happened.”

King, speaking the day after the U.S. House impeached President Trump for a second time, said that while he disagreed with the actions of the people who attacked the Capitol, he understood their anger given what they had been told to believe by people they trusted.

“Millions of people had been told over and over and day after day by their president and by many of their representatives and the media outlets they listen to that the election was stolen, that it was illegitimate, that there was massive fraud,” said King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “If you tell people that repeatedly and you also tell them that they can’t trust the courts, elected representatives, election officials and the media, then violence is the logical alternative because you are telling people they have no options.”

He was especially upset with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri “because they had to know intellectually that what they were pushing was untrue.” Both men – graduates of Harvard and Yale law schools, respectively – pushed the unfounded and thoroughly debunked stories that the election had been stolen from Trump and announced they would raise objections to the Electoral College results on the Senate floor Jan. 6, an event that set the stage for the insurrection that day.

King isn’t settled on what form the accountability should take for Cruz, Hawley and the six other Republican senators and 139 House members who attempted to overturn the results of the election Jan. 6. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine has joined more than 50 House Democrats in sponsoring a resolution calling for an investigation of the members of what’s been called the “sedition caucus” and their possible removal under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars anyone from serving in Congress if they have supported insurrection against the United States. But King demurred on whether he would support a similar resolution in the Senate.

“I don’t have firm conclusion on that, but I think the Senate should be able to respond to those members in an appropriate way, but I don’t think it’s necessarily that way,” King said.

How to undo the profound damage their actions have done to the country is even more of a conundrum. King said he’s tried to reason with Maine supporters of the president that there was not widespread fraud in the election, a fact confirmed by dozens of judges, thousands of election officials, and the governors and secretaries of state of all 50 states. “There’s no way to break through to them,” he said. “The only person who could break through is the president and he totally refuses to do so.”

“A third of Americans believe these elections are invalid, and that’s incredibly dangerous for our system, because it is based on trust, and if you don’t trust elections as the way to chose our leaders, what’s the alternative?” he continued. “What the president has done since the election to delegitimize the entire democratic process is the worst, most reprehensible action of a U.S. president in American history.”

“It will take years to heal what has happened here,” he said.

King said Tuesday that he favored the immediate removal of the president, calling him “a danger to the republic.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has said he will not reconvene the Senate until Tuesday, the day before Trump leaves office.

When the rioters breached the Capitol around 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, King was alone in an obscure office of the building working on remarks he was to give in the nearby Senate chamber at 3 p.m. He learned of the breach by text message from an aide but, not having a television on, he said he wasn’t really aware of how serious things were. As details trickled in he decided to stay where he was.

Over the next hour and a half he stayed in the locked office but didn’t encounter any of the insurrectionists, who apparently didn’t reach the area he was in. Thereafter he was escorted to an undisclosed location in another part of the Capitol complex to which other members of Congress had been evacuated, but he turned around immediately.

“I literally walked in the door and there were several hundred senators and staff in this one large room, and I said, ‘No, I’m not staying here. This is a petri dish for COVID,’” he said. “I went to another office by myself and waited until we reconvened.”

King is confident in the security measures now in place at the Capitol and for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, but is saddened by the symbolic and psychological price being paid.

“I’ve been to four or five inaugurations and have always thought of it as a celebration of democracy. What a shame it is to see those pictures of the Capitol surrounded by fences and the (National) Mall being closed so such a limited number of people will be able to attend,” he said. “There’s an emotional and a societal cost to turning our public buildings into fortresses. It’s a tragedy for the country.”

Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, who also was in the Capitol when the breach occurred, declined an interview request.

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