Donald Trump's Insane Criminal Conspiracy
What we learned at Thursday's 1/6 hearing
On Thursday we got a stark reminder that farcical fascism is still fascism.
Yes, Jeffrey Clark was a clownish Iago; the theories about Italian satellites were certifiably insane; Trump’s election lies were absurd and easily debunked; and the smoking guns are right there in plain sight.
But even so, it was a damned close run thing.
The President of the United States was moments away from installing a seditionist crony as the nation’s top law enforcement officer and using the Department of Justice to execute his coup.
The line held. Thank God.
But that line was thin, and it might not be there the next time around.
It was a criminal conspiracy. In today’s Bulwark, Amanda Carpenter connects the dots:
(1) The only man at the Department of Justice willing to carry out Trump’s schemes—environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark—had his home searched on Wednesday by the feds. Law enforcement won’t confirm the reason for the raid, but it is almost certainly connected to his efforts to alter the election results.
(2) The Jan. 6th Committee revealed yesterday that Republican members of Congress secretly sought pardons from Trump for their actions to help him overturn the election. As committee member Adam Kinzinger pointed out, “The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime.”
This was a smoking gun:
Trump was told repeatedly that there was no evidence of fraud in the election. He didn’t care. “Just say the election was corrupt,” he told Justice Department officials, “and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
Former acting deputy AG Richard Donoghue’s handwritten notes about a December 2020 conversation with Trump. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty)
“Coupled with other testimony,” former AG Eric Holder wrote, this comment “demonstrates both Trump’s substantive involvement and corrupt intent, requisite state of mind.”
The insanity came from the top.
Trump’s former AG, Bill Barr, described Trump as “detached from reality,” and yesterday we got more details about the depth of the president’s derangement, and the lengths he went to pursue his unhinged obsessions.
Donoghue testified Thursday about how Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows repeatedly insisted that DOJ investigate a YouTube-driven conspiracy theory claiming the CIA and MI6 worked with an Italian satellite company to erase Trump votes.
Donoghue called it “pure insanity,” “patently absurd” and “debunked.” Not satisfied with that answer, Trump’s White House secured the help of Pentagon official Kash Patel and acting defense secretary Christopher Miller, who reached out to an official in Italy to probe the bogus claim.
Jeffrey Clark is a fuqqing nut. (And everyone hated him.)
Herschmann said in a video clip: “I thought Jeff’s proposal was nuts. I said, at a certain point, ‘Listen, the best I can tell is the only thing you know about environmental and elections challenges is they both start with E. And based on your answers tonight, I’m not even sure if you know that.’ ”
Donoghue recalled a meeting that involved both Trump and Clark:
And so I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re talking about putting a man in that seat who has never tried a criminal case, who’s never conducted a criminal investigation. He’s telling you that he’s going to take charge of the department — 115,000 employees, including the entire FBI, and turn the place on a dime and conduct a nationwide criminal investigations that will produce results in a matter of days? It’s impossible. It’s absurd. It’s not going to happen. It’s going to fail. He has never been in front of a trial jury, a grand jury. He’s never even been to [FBI Director Christopher] Wray’s office.’ … ‘It’s not going to happen. He’s not competent.’
Donoghue was asked whether anyone in the room thought Clark had the appropriate background or supported Clark as acting attorney general. He responded: “No one.”
Trump only backed off on his plan to install Clark as acting AG when he was (1) told that there would be mass resignations, and (2) that he wouldn’t get the story he wanted if he fired the DOJ leadership.
Donoghue said Trump asked him what he would do if he replaced Rosen with Clark.
"I said, 'Mr. President, I would resign immediately. I'm not working one minute for this guy,'" he replied.
Engel echoed that: "'I've been with you through four attorneys general, including two acting attorneys general, but I couldn't be part of this," he said he told Trump.
Donoghue told Trump he would lose his "entire department" if he moved ahead.
"Within 24-48-72 hours, you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations of the leadership of your entire Justice Department because of your actions. What's that going to say about you?" Donoghue remembers asking.
According to Donoghue, Cipollone was supportive of the DOJ and said Clark's plan to send a letter to states about election fraud was a "murder-suicide" pact.
Donoghue said Clark would be "left leading a graveyard," a statement he said had an impact on Trump, who ultimately decided not to fire Rosen.
Everyone who testified was a Trump loyalist.
This really can’t be over-emphasized. This was Trump’s team, his guys, his appointees. Every one of them — Jeffrey Rosen, Richard Donoghue, and Steven Engel — were Trumpists who had stuck with him through the entire shit show of his presidency.
But Trump’s attempted coup was their red line.
Their testimony continued the committee’s pattern of featuring conservatives, Republicans, and Trump’s own appointees blowing the whistle on his attempt to overturn the election.
Thursday was a bad day for the congressmen who asked for pardons… and then lied about it.
The list comprised Trump's closest congressional allies: Republican Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Perry and Biggs denied asking for a pardon.
(But remember that they all remain Republicans in good standing, while Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are pariahs.)
BFD alert: The timing of the raid on Jeffrey Clark’s house was not a coincidence. And it is an indication that the DOJ’s criminal investigation is getting close to Trump himself. Here’s former acting solicitor Neal Katyal:
Exit take: As you know, Morning Shots has strong immunity against irrational exuberance. But after Thursday’s hearing, we are willing to entertain the idea that Donald J. Trump will actually face criminal charges.
Will Saletan: Trump Did It Again
My colleague Will Saletan sends this note to Morning Shots:
One of Donald Trump’s favorite tricks is arm-twisting officials into announcing an investigation of his political opponent. He doesn’t really care about the investigation, because investigations are about facts. All he cares about is the announcement, which he can use to smear his opponent.
In the Jan. 6 plot, he did it again.
Trump learned the power of a timely announcement in 2016. Just before that election, FBI Director James Comey issued a letter declaring that he was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton. The reopened investigation found nothing, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that after Comey issued his letter, Clinton sank in the polls and lost.
In 2019, Trump tried to engineer a similar takedown of his next opponent, Joe Biden. In exchange for helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia, Trump demanded that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.” In negotiations with a Zelensky aide, Trump’s emissaries drafted a statement in which Zelensky would specifically name Burisma, a company that had hired Biden’s son. Trump’s ambassador to the European Union later testified that Rudy Giuliani, who was running Trump’s pressure campaign against Zelensky, had stipulated that Zelensky “had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”
The Trump-Giuliani Ukraine plot was foiled by a whistleblower, and in November 2020, Biden defeated Trump. But at Thursday’s hearing of the Jan. 6th committee, we learned that a month after losing to Biden, Trump tried to overturn the election by running the same play.
In a phone call on Dec. 27, 2020, Trump pressed Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Rich Donoghue to declare that the election was fraudulent. Rosen told Trump that DOJ couldn’t “snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election.” But according to Donoghue’s testimony to the committee, Trump responded to Rosen by saying, “essentially, ‘That’s not what I’m asking you to do. What I’m just asking you to do is just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.’”
On a screen, the committee showed Donoghue’s handwritten notes from the phone call: “just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.” Donoghue told the committee, “That’s an exact quote from the president.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of the committee, explained the significance of Trump’s response: “The president didn’t care about actually investigating the facts. He just wanted the Department of Justice to put its stamp of approval on the lies.”
It’s the same play, again and again. Trump never cares about the facts. All he wants is a useful narrative. And for that, he just needs a statement. Leave the rest to him.
It keeps getting worse for Ronjon
1. The Supreme Court Gives Another Boost to Gun Culture
Dennis Aftergut in today’s Bulwark:
Yesterday’s decision sends yet another signal of approval for an armed society and raises new hurdles for lawmakers who wish to do something about the problem.
Don’t blame us, Thomas’s majority opinion suggests. It’s the Constitution, stupid! “When the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct.”
2. The Big Factors in the Ukraine War Now: Endurance and Time
Shay Khatiri in this morning’s Bulwark:
In this new phase of the war—or, one could argue, this fundamentally new war—resilience and endurance are the factors that will make the biggest difference for each side. With the arrival of HIMARS—a U.S. artillery system—and Russia’s reversion to artillery fire, the land war is shaping up to be one of competing artillery. This type of engagement is extremely taxing on man and matériel, even by war standards.
As retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling mentioned yesterday (on Thursday Night Bulwark), the Russians have a lot of low-quality artillery—heavy, inaccurate, and comparatively immobile—while the Ukrainians have limited artillery fire of excellent quality—light, accurate, and highly mobile. It remains to be seen which side of this asymmetry will prove more advantageous in the current conflict.
Not to rain on the irrational exuberance parade. But I can't stop thinking about the quote from this week's secret podcast, that people will accept any evil if they're convinced it will protect them from a larger evil. In the minds of so many R's, even deeply principled ones like Rusty Bowers, somehow the Democrats are that larger evil--more evil than someone who brags about sexual assault, uses the power of his office to sic violent mobs on private citizens, and pressures public officials to break the law on his behalf. That fear and loathing, and even hatred of Democrats is what greases the wheels of a movement like Trump's, and it's still as powerful as ever.
For his entire tenure, Trump ignored his presidential duties, instead prioritizing (1) holding on to power, (2) enriching himself, (3) fixing his hair and makeup, and (4) sending mean tweets. After he lost the election, #1 took up most of his attention.