Even in a Dark Week for Democracy, There Are Some Bright Spots
Foot soldiers, flukes, and the rule of law.
LAST WEEK WAS DARK. REALLY DARK. There was a torrent of warnings—from Robert Kagan and JVL and Charlie and me that are all necessary to digest. And there are new ones this week that you should read, here and here, about Donald Trump’s plans for a dictatorship should he win a second term.
Yet amid bad polls and Trump’s threats, we saw new developments last week that illustrated there are Americans all around this country who are not numb, and are scrambling—collectively and individually—to secure our vote and to protect democracy from the onslaught of attacks and lies coming from Trump, his lieutenants in elected office, his acolytes in “conservative” media, and his minions online.
So here, then, is some good news:
1) Election deniers in a critical swing state were indicted.
Republicans Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, two supervisors in Cochise County, Arizona, were indicted last week in Maricopa County Superior Court on charges of conspiracy and interference with an election officer after delaying certification of the 2022 elections past the November 28 deadline. The two were charged with felonies after intentionally citing bogus claims about their ballot tabulators and putting at risk all the votes in the county, not to mention hampering the ability of the Arizona to complete its statewide certification by December 5—all because Republicans had lost major statewide races for governor, secretary of state, and U.S. senator. This is exactly the kind of thing Republicans in elections offices all across the country will be pressured into attempting next year, so this accountability for election subversion is essential.
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2) Alleged architect of Trump’s phony electors scheme is finally talking.
Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who tried to help Trump steal the 2020 election and who pleaded guilty in the Fulton County, Georgia election subversion case, is now cooperating with prosecutors in Nevada who are investigating the fake electors plot in that state. He may end up cooperating with prosecutors in Arizona as well. Special Counsel Jack Smith could still seek Chesebro’s testimony in his federal election subversion case as well. There are a lot of secrets Chesebro could spill.
3) Alleged Trump coup plotter was booted from a federal elections board.
Cleta Mitchell, who was on the notorious December 2020 phone call with Trump and Brad Raffensperger when the president demanded the Georgia secretary of state “find” enough votes to steal the vote from Joe Biden, was forced off of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission’s Board of Advisors, thanks to the pressure campaign of Free Speech for People and Generation Vote. At one point on the call Trump said “All we have to do, Cleta, is find 11,000-plus votes.” Mitchell, who continues to undermine elections to this day, was responsible for recruiting lawyer John Eastman to the effort to steal the 2020 election but—unlike Trump and Eastman—was not among the nineteen indicted in the Fulton County case.
4) Bogus Trump defense in the federal election case is demolished.
On Friday, Trump’s claim of executive immunity from prosecution for attempting to overturn the 2020 election was resoundingly rejected. Federal judge Tanya S. Chutkan denied the Trump team’s motion to dismiss the case, and wrote in her ruling that presidential immunity doesn’t “confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass” and that “former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability.” The case was always going to go to the Supreme Court on appeal, so the sooner the better.
5) The same bogus defense was rejected in civil cases pending against Trump.
Also on Friday, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court ruled Trump may face civil liability for the violence at the Capitol after telling his supporters to “fight like hell.” The court ruled that three civil cases against Trump relating to that day, cases that Trump’s legal team had tried to get dismissed, can move forward. “President Trump will have the opportunity,” the court ruled, “to show that his alleged actions in the runup to and on January 6 were taken in his official capacity as president rather than in his unofficial capacity as presidential candidate.”
6) Liz Cheney is coming out swinging.
The former congresswoman’s new book, Oath and Honor, hits stores today. Cheney is naming names. Her challenge to her fellow Americans: “You can’t both be for Donald Trump and for the Constitution. You have to choose.” Throughout the book, Cheney is explicit that House Republicans are complicit. Their new House speaker, she said, is a collaborator and “someone who knew then and knows now that what he’s doing and saying is wrong but he’s willing to do it in an effort to please Donald Trump.”
Cheney’s book tour will end long before election day next year, but she isn’t going quietly. Her commitment to stopping Trump, and to our democracy, is exemplary, and her message will travel far.
7) Mike Johnson has changed his mind about Ukraine.
Speaking of the new speaker, while he has voted against aid to Ukraine as recently as September 28, he said last week: “We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to march through Europe, and we understand the necessity of assisting there,” adding that there was a “sense of urgency” over the nation running out of funds to defend itself.
This new commitment comes after Johnson has received intelligence briefings that he had not been privy to a few weeks ago when he was a rank-and-file member. His former House colleague, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, said “when you get informed on Ukraine you get a different opinion on it,” adding “knowledge is key.”
Johnson’s turnaround earned him a headline in the Wall Street Journal—“Mike Johnson Becomes Surprise Champion of More Ukraine Aid”—which will likely burn him with the members of his conference who will continue to adamantly oppose such funds. But what matters is that when presented with real facts Johnson didn’t reject them, distort them, or mischaracterize them. He believed them. Ukraine is a vulnerable democracy that will fail without our help, and Johnson’s acceptance of this intelligence is critical. After all, we were also reminded last week just how much the new speaker loves conspiracies.
8) The House GOP is shrinking.
Thanks to a bold 105 Republicans, who joined with Democrats to buck their leadership (including the speaker) to expel former Rep. George Santos, Republicans currently control the House by three seats. When Rep. Bill Johnson leaves early next year, and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy bolts likely before the end of his term, that majority will exist with one seat. The less control he has, the less crazy Johnson and his fellow Republicans can inflict on the nation.
As we like to say here at The Bulwark, it will take all of us to fend off this attack against the Constitution. With some dumb luck, GOP self-destruction, and so many Americans hard at work right now making critical progress, we might succeed.