Reportedly talking about martial law and seizing voting machines, I should say. Trump denies it, which is a good sign inasmuch as it means he grasps how taboo this subject is even if he’s inquiring about it in hushed tones behind the scenes.
The problem with alleging “fake news” in this case is that many different reporters had anxious sources whispering to them yesterday about his Friday meeting with Sidney Powell and Mike Flynn. It wasn’t some random left-wing blog alleging to have heard something through the grapevine. It was the Times and Axios and CNN and the Daily Beast, among others. More than one reporter made a point of noting on Twitter that their sources in this case weren’t the typical anti-Trump establishment Republicans inside the White House known to complain about him off the record to journalists. These were Trump insiders who were wringing their hands. Evidently the things he’s saying in private have begun to freak out even true blue MAGA loyalists:
What is different is these are NOT the Never Trumper types. These are people who have fully thrown their lot in with Trump but are legitimately worried about his receptivity to Flynn and Powell’s ideas and conspiracy theories. One month seems like an eternity in this context. https://t.co/7t5oWkg1ht
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) December 19, 2020
Sources who have gotten used to Trump’s eruptions over four years sound scared by what’s transpired in the past week when I’ve talked to them. https://t.co/oICndCsXIw
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 19, 2020
The country’s going to spend the next 31 days wondering whether the president is having a bona fide mental breakdown because his narcissism simply can’t cope with the idea that he lost the election and has to make way for Biden. What he’s capable of doing during that period may be limited only by what the people around him are willing to condone.
The Times’s account of the meeting:
President Trump on Friday discussed naming Sidney Powell, who as a lawyer for his campaign team unleashed conspiracy theories about a Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines in the United States, to be a special counsel overseeing an investigation of voter fraud, according to two people briefed on the discussion…
Ms. Powell’s client, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser whom the president recently pardoned, was also there, two of the people briefed on the meeting said…
The White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, and the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, repeatedly and aggressively pushed back on the ideas being proposed, which went beyond the special counsel idea, those briefed on the meeting said…
Part of the White House meeting on Friday night was a discussion about an executive order to take control of voting machines to examine them, according to one of the people briefed on the discussion.
A few nights ago Flynn went on Newsmax to declare the upcoming Georgia runoffs a “fake election” and to propose that Trump use “military capabilities” to re-run the presidential election in swing states, an insane, illegal idea that he’s pushed before. According to Times reporter Maggie Haberman, Trump brought up that idea in the meeting with Powell and Flynn:
During the meeting, the president asked about Flynn’s suggestion of deploying the military, those briefed said. That was also shot down.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 19, 2020
Whatever was said spooked enough people in attendance that they went running to the press afterwards to raise the alarm.
A senior administration official said that when Trump is “retweeting threats of putting politicians in jail, and spends his time talking to conspiracy nuts who openly say declaring martial law is no big deal, it’s impossible not to start getting anxious about how this ends.”
“People who are concerned and nervous aren’t the weak-kneed bureaucrats that we loathe,” the official added. “These are people who have endured arguably more insanity and mayhem than any administration officials in history.”
Trump sounds crazy behind closed doors right now even by Trump standards, according to people whose tolerance for craziness is exceedingly high. The idea of appointing Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud for the DOJ was so outlandish that reportedly even Rudy Giuliani objected to it. And Rudy himself is so far gone that he allegedly dialed up Ken Cuccinelli at DHS on Thursday night and asked him about having the department seize states’ voting machines for inspection, only to be told by Cuccinelli that DHS has no authority to do that. In other words, even the voices of *relative* sanity close to Trump right now are somewhere on the spectrum of insanity.
“It’s basically Sidney versus everybody,” said a source to Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “That is why voices were raised [at the meeting]. There is literally not one motherf—r in the president’s entire orbit — his staunchest group of supporters and allies — who doesn’t think that Sidney Powell should be on that first rocket to Mars.” Everyone still attached to this circus recognizes Powell as a crank among cranks — except the president, apparently, who’s considering handing her a position of federal authority. The Times claims that when Trump talked about making her a “special counsel,” he didn’t necessarily mean a special counsel deputized by the DOJ a la Robert Mueller to investigate a sensitive matter free from political pressure. He meant “a special counsel within the White House, appointed by the president,” replete with security clearances(!). That’s … an odd idea, though, since it would mean Powell will be out on her ass just 31 days from now. Making her a DOJ-appointed special counsel would ensure that her work would carry on through the Biden administration — unless Biden fired her.
Jonathan Turley writes today that there’s no chance Powell will end up as a DOJ special counsel for the simple reasons that (1) neither acting AG Jeffrey Rosen nor any of his deputies would comply with Trump’s demand to hand that kind of power to her and (2) Powell would have a glaring conflict of interest in that she served as a lawyer investigating voter fraud for Trump’s own campaign before departing last month. But as to the first point, there’s a strong constitutional argument that Trump can appoint the special counsel himself. And as to the second, no ethical qualms are going to stop him from doing what he wants to do, needless to say. If he appointed Powell it would become a mess for Biden to sort out. Presumably he’d fire her, citing the point about her conflict of interest, but it would be a bad look for President Norms to terminate a special counsel so soon after taking office. And of course it would deepen suspicions among MAGA fans that Biden feared Powell would discover “the truth” about The Big Steal and had to stop her from doing so.
Biden would probably have to keep the position of special counsel that Trump created intact and simply replace Powell with a more respectable lawyer who’s acceptable to establishment Republicans. That might even work out for him politically in the end. Having some GOP-affiliated prosecutor conclude that there was no voter fraud in the election would add a little extra legitimacy to Biden’s victory.
Here’s all you need to know to grasp how absurd the idea of Trump appointing Powell to an official position is. Less than a day after the president’s meeting with her and Flynn in the White House, the general counsel of Trump’s presidential campaign sent a memo to staffers warning them to preserve all documents related to Powell in case they’re sought during discovery by Dominion Voting Systems in suing her for defamation. Trump’s own campaign could potentially become a defendant in an election-related defamation case because of its association with Powell. Imagine her purporting to investigate voter fraud on behalf of the United States government while Dominion is taking her and Team Trump to the cleaners in court for allegedly libeling the company relentlessly over the past month.
As for Romney’s point below about this episode being “sad” and “embarrassing,” I’d guess that it’ll end up being a supreme example of the phenomenon in which Trump is accused of doing something outrageous behind the scenes and MAGA Nation instantly splits into two camps about it. The first camp insists that he would never do such a terrible thing and we’re once again being suckered by lies from Trump-hating fake news. The second camp says, “I hope it’s true! He should do it!” There are some prominent members in that second camp:
Mr. President @realDonaldTrump – we are with you in #Arizona. We are working every avenue to stop this coup & to stop our Republic from crumbing. Patriots are united. Those who are against us are exposing themselves. #Liberty & #freedom are on the line. #CrossTheRubicon @GenFlynn pic.twitter.com/wbzjqkQJv7
— Dr. Kelli Ward 🇺🇸 (@kelliwardaz) December 20, 2020
The #CrossTheRubicon hashtag circulating today on Twitter will give you a solid idea of who among the “conservative” base is ready for all-out fascism. Here’s Romney, who’s hopefully right that this is an instance in which we needn’t take the most powerful man in the world either literally or seriously.
GOP Sen. Mitt Romney on Pres. Trump's latest efforts to overturn the election: “It’s really sad in a lot of respects and embarrassing … the President could, right now, be writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap with regards to the vaccine.” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/dJdBMOZneW
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) December 20, 2020