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Somebody Else Had a Lousy Week
Trump still wriggling
Earlier this week, the Wapo’s Philip Bump reminded us of this enduring and evergreen meme of the Trump era:
“That trailing comma plays the key role, of course, serving as a transition back to the top of the tweet,” Bump noted. “Over and over, Trump’s opponents think they’ve got him. Over and over, ah, well, nevertheless.”
And, before you are tempted to say that recent developments suggest that the “walls are closing in” on Trump, it may be worth revisiting this sobering and humbling supercut from 2018:
And please hold off on the “this-is-the-tipping-point” hot takes.
We’ve had a series of interesting developments this week, haven’t we?
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is requesting a special grand jury to aid in her investigation of former President Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
NEW YORK — The New York attorney general says her investigators have uncovered evidence that former President Donald Trump’s company used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of its golf clubs, skyscrapers and other property to get loans and tax benefits.
The court’s decision was a brutal, and personally stinging, loss for Trump. And the arguments his own lawyers advanced may have made the defeat worse.
Trump lost the case in virtually record time. He sued the committee and the National Archives on Oct. 18, lost in the district court on Nov. 9, lost in the court of appeals on Dec. 9 and lost in the Supreme Court on Jan. 19. And so, today, the Jan. 6 committee has hundreds of documents Trump desperately wanted kept under wraps.
It’s hard to lose in so many courts so quickly — unless, I suppose, you’re Donald Trump contesting election results. So much losing, you almost have to feel sorry for the former guy.
As Capitol attack investigators dig into efforts by state-level Republicans to send Congress “alternative” slates of 2020 presidential electors, they're zeroing in on the involvement of Donald Trump's White House and campaign operations.
Trump campaign officials, led by Rudy Giuliani, oversaw efforts in December 2020 to put forward illegitimate electors from seven states that Trump lost, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the scheme.
The sources said members of former President Donald Trump's campaign team were far more involved than previously known in the plan, a core tenet of the broader plot to overturn President Joe Biden's victory when Congress counted the electoral votes on January 6.
The Democratic-led House select committee looking into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is seeking Ivanka Trump's voluntary cooperation with its investigation.
Jonathan Karl explains…
Highly recommended: Bill Kristol sits down with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, whose new book lays out all the ways that Trump tried to subvert the 2020 election.
On Trump’s reaction to January 6 and security threats to Mike Pence
KARL: [When I interviewed him in March 2021], the thing that really blew me away was how positively he looked back at January 6. I wanted to ask him about that tweet he did, at the end of January 6, where he said, “remember this day forever.” I asked why. What do you want people to remember about it? He has said some of this stuff elsewhere, that this was the biggest crowd he ever spoke to in his entire life, that they all came there for him from all across the country. And it was just the best, most loving. And yeah, it got marred a little bit later. That was the only hint that he gave that there was something wrong with January 6.
I’ve interviewed him a lot. I spent a lot of time around him, but this was the most shocking thing that he had ever said to me. “Was he worried about Mike Pence?” I asked. And he said “no, no. I heard he was just fine.” And I said “but you heard those chants. That was terrible.” And he says, “well, they were angry.” And when I said, “they were chanting hang Mike Pence!” Literally the next words out of his mouth were: “it’s common sense, Jon.” He's not saying that Pence should have been executed, I don’t think. But the fact that I’m bringing up this [outrageous] thing, and he’s not taking a beat to say “well, that’s crazy.” [Actually] there’s no hint [from what he said] that there's even a problem with that.
On Trump’s sustained efforts to delegitimize the election beginning in early 2020
KARL: [Once the pandemic hit Trump’s advisors told him] reelection was going to be an uphill battle. Brad Parscale, the way he put it to him was, “look, you were going to win. A landslide….And then COVID happened, it’s really bad.” So Trump knew that there was a real chance he was going to lose the election. He was being told this by his political team. And if they’re telling him bad news, the news has to be really bad. And so sometimes Trump really does just say it out loud. And so he said “the only way we can lose is if they steal it from us.” This is stuff he said in his rallies. He said a variation of that more than once.
On Trump’s purge of non-loyalists in the months leading up to the election
KARL: Trump laid the groundwork for everything he did far in advance of Election Day. I try to show how this was really building up to the culmination that we saw for nearly a year. My book starts right as he is acquitted in the first impeachment trial. And he brings in Johnny McEntee, his loyal, former personal assistant, and puts him in charge of presidential personnel. And the first order of business is to fire everybody who had anything to do with helping in the investigation related to Ukraine. McEntee had just turned 29. And as Mick Mulvaney remarked to me later, we were putting somebody in charge of presidential personnel and all the hiring and firing of political appointees in the entire executive branch of the U.S. government who had never hired a person in his life…. He had been the “body guy,” the guy who carries the bags. But he was unflinchingly loyal. And he would often tell Trump about people that he felt in the White House that were not sufficiently loyal. And so originally you have the Sandilands and the Vindmans and the people directly associated with that first impeachment trial—these are fired immediately. But then there’s this effort to cull the executive branch of anybody who has insufficient exuberance in their loyalty for the great Donald Trump.
On efforts by Trump officials to “manage” Trump in the waning days of his presidency
KARL: There is a famous meeting, which the New York Times first reported about and then I got much more detail on, on November 12 about Iran. Trump is asking for military options to take out the nuclear program. This is November 12. This is right after the election, right after the results are out and after he’s brought in his new leadership. And I recount how the new acting Defense Secretary, Chris Miller, is telling him how it can be done and saying it very much can be done. After that meeting, I report the Secretary of State, Pompeo, who had been the ultimate Trump loyalist for really the entire time, called up Bill Barr, the Attorney General, who was not in that meeting, to say that he was really concerned about developments at the Pentagon. And the concern was that Trump could do something dramatic just to try to [throw things in chaos.]
So it’s really astonishing that Pompeo is calling Barr and saying “we might have a problem on our hands.” Just as an aside, it’s amazing that Pompeo is still out there pretending like he’s the ultimate Trump loyalist and speaking of the great successes of the Trump administration, which he was so central to in his telling. He never hints at this. I also talk about how he was very much involved in the 25th amendment consideration after January 6. Still out there pretending like he’s the ultimate Trumpist. But he saw the danger firsthand and was quite alarmed by it.
On how things might have gone differently
KARL: If McEntee had had his way and had completed his work by the time we got to this transition period, maybe there wouldn’t have been a transition, because the people that were there would’ve been totally and completely loyal. So Chad Wolf over at the Department of Homeland Security is being asked to examine his voting machines because Barr has refused. So now we got this other “so you do it, Chad,” and he refuses. Pence refused, obviously, on January 6 to do what Trump wanted. Barr, Pence, Wolf, to a degree Pompeo. But what if there had been total and complete loyalists in each of those jobs?
What could have happened? These people did ultimately stand up to Trump, even though they don’t necessarily want to advertise it much after the fact. One of the first interviews I did for the book was with somebody I can’t name, but he was a very prominent and important official in the national security space during the Trump administration, very thoughtful and not in any way considered a ‘deep state guy.’ He was loyal to Trump. But he said to me at the end of the interview: “I’m just horrified at the thought of what a second term would’ve looked like, who would’ve been in the cabinet.”
1. What Liz Cheney Can Teach American Evangelicals
Whatever you think of Cheney (as you can imagine, I am a fan), there’s a larger point here—one that applies to many evangelical Christians in a thousand different situations in their churches and communities: At what point will you stop conserving your influence?
I thought about this conundrum last week while reading the transcripts of a New York Times podcast debate between Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark and Rich Lowry of National Review, both of whom are conservatives that admire Congresswoman Cheney’s integrity and conviction.
Where they disagree is on whether Cheney has squandered her influence within her party in ways that will prevent her from solving these problems in the future.
“As a politician, you have to be aware of where your voters are,” Lowry said. “Doesn’t mean that you pander to them or play to their worst instincts or always say yes to anything they want. But to live is to maneuver. Especially if you’re a politician.” Lowry said that Cheney’s refusal to back down on these matters wouldn’t be helpful. After all, if you’re not at the table, you can’t have influence.
Sykes noted that this idea is a common rationalization and that it’s circular. People who want others to remain silent or to go along with any sort of craziness often “tell themselves that they need to stay in the room so they can sound the alarm, but they refuse to sound the alarm so they can stay in the room.”
When I read this, I immediately thought of how often I have sat in the surreal situation of a television debate where the person I was debating gave a sad shrug and agreed with me off camera but went right back to saying the opposite as soon as the lights and cameras came back on.
I can think of people I’ve known in Christian ministry who told me, behind closed doors, how disgusted they were with a politician they deemed to be immoral but then, in public, praised the same politician as a man of integrity. The same thing is true all through the government.
2. The Limitations of “Norm” Talk
First things first: My opposition to Trump is based on the fact that he is an incompetent, racist, dangerous, perfidious, megalomaniacal, degenerate corned beef face syrup wearing wankstain. It is not because he looked askance at the parliamentarian’s rulings or declined to adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order, for which I maintain no special attachment. It is unclear why my opposition to that witless cocksplat means I have to give full-throated support to the current Senate cloture rules lest I run afoul of the pundit-consistency mandate.