What he saw: Q&A with Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan on the Capitol riot and what happens next

On Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., the three Republican members of Alaska’s congressional delegation began voting to certify the 2020 election victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

Before U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and the other members of the delegation finished their work, rioters supporting President Donald Trump broke into the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings.

After insurgents occupied the building for several hours, Sullivan and Alaska’s other national legislators returned to work and finished the certification.

On Thursday, he answered questions both about what happened then and what will happen next. The following interview has been edited and condensed.

“You know, I’m still processing. I think a lot of people are. What exactly transpired was a pretty emotional day. My emotions were very mixed between anger at what was happening and, to be perfectly honest, sadness,” Sullivan said.

“But I will tell you this — and I put a statement out last night — but I think it’s the most powerful thing that actually happened yesterday and into this morning, is that we were very motivated to get back to work, to let our fellow Alaskans, fellow Americans, even people around the world, know that we weren’t going to let the mob stop a constitutional vote,” he said.

[Murkowski: Capitol riot was ‘incited from the highest level’]


Q: Should the president be impeached or removed through the constitutional process?

“My own view is that would be an extreme remedy, given where we are, and I think the key thing — and given where we are is 12 days to inauguration — the key thing is the country needs to heal. And both for the outgoing president and the incoming president, a smooth transition, a peaceful transition, is critical.

“I just read that the president, President Trump — belatedly, certainly, in my view — has acknowledged the congressionally certified election results and has committed to a smooth and orderly and seamless transition of power. And I think that, given how soon that is, that would be my preference, not just for America, not just for the incoming administration, but to show the world: We’re going to do what we’ve been doing for over 200 years, which is a smooth, peaceful transition of power.”

Q: I want to ask you something that came in an email from a reader: “It’s difficult to swallow coverage of both Dan Sullivan and Mike Dunleavy denouncing yesterday’s riots at the Capitol without the context that they both played an enabling role by denying the results of the election.” Do you wish you had handled things differently?

“No, I never denied the results of the election. What I did was I said — and I think I even put it in the press release I just put out — was that I supported the right of the Trump campaign to pursue legal challenges, in the request for recounts through the courts. By the way ... that happens almost every single election. And in our constitutional system of government, that’s how electoral disputes and allegations of fraud are resolved.

“They weren’t resolved in the favor of the Trump administration, which is why when the Electoral College system kicked in ... that’s when the president-elect is actually constitutionally recognized. And that’s when I recognize them. So I guess I would just disagree with the premise of the question.”

Q: Who do you think bears responsibility for what happened at the Capitol yesterday?

“Rioters number one, first and foremost.”

“I think most Trump supporters in Alaska certainly were aghast at the violence. So the rioters, first and foremost, and they need to be fully prosecuted to the extent of the law. I think had the president accepted the election results earlier and repudiated the mob violence earlier and more forcefully, it could have had an impact yesterday.”

Q: Some Republicans say antifa is to blame for the riots. Is that something you believe?

“There’s obviously going to be a very big investigation here. And I won’t comment on that until I see people dig into the investigation.”

Q: When did you decide that you were not going to object to the certification of the results? How did you come to that?

“I had dug into that for quite some time.”

“I wasn’t making comments, but I had decided a number of days ago and been writing up my response that I completed today.”

Q: What happened in the chamber yesterday?

“It was a little chaotic because they had initially locked down the Senate, and then the protesters were right outside, and then they whisked the vice president away.

“And they kept us in the Senate chambers. It was clear there were people outside and then (staff) said, ‘We got to get out of here. You guys got to get out of here and try to move in an orderly fashion.’”


“As we were getting people out of the Senate, downstairs, and when we were going out the door, Senator Murkowski grabbed my arm. I think she made a comment on being a Marine, me being a Marine, and I said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’”

“And we were directed to meet at a big conference room in one of the Senate office buildings. So a number of senators and staff were being directed by the Capitol Police to go down the stairs and hustle out through the tunnels and went to the building. So yeah, it was linked arms with my senior senator the whole way.”

“We ran, we were running for part of it. And then … when we were in the tunnel, we started to just walk fast.”

Q: Anything you’d like to add?

“In many ways, it was a very sad, dispiriting day in American history to witness it being overrun by a mob during a very important element of our constitutional duties. But at the end of the day, which is a hallmark of our democracy, the resilience and perseverance of the American democratic system prevailed. We went back to work, rioters were expelled; they need to be prosecuted.”

“On Jan. 20, we’re going to have a peaceful transition of power. Something we’ve been doing, which is a mini miracle, because most countries haven’t had that history. We’ve been doing it since the founding of the republic. And I think that’s the most important thing is going to come out of this.”

Q: What’s keeping this from happening again, at the inauguration or some other time?

“I think sometimes Americans just assume that the frailties of democracy that other countries struggle with aren’t something that we have to deal with. And I think that’s not always the case if you look at our history.”

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.