This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.
Steve Bannon goes on trial Monday for snubbing his January 6 committee subpoenas in favor of a cover-up. But before we get to the people trying to destroy democracy, let us hail the spider crabs who may well save it. This fine fellow is the creation of 14-year-old Hudson Rowan of Marbletown, New York. When Ulster County officials opened up a contest for the design of their “I voted” sticker, this was Rowan’s submission. Obviously it won, and obviously it needs to spread to all corners of the vote-loving, democracy-loving world. Go viral and help us, manic skull-crab. You’re our only hope.
The cess’d defense
“What Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner. He’s just gonna say he’s a winner,” former Trump adviser and all-the-time Trump strategist Steve Bannon told a group of supporters on Oct. 31, 2020, four days before the presidential election.
Bannon went on to describe how President Trump would exploit the lag time between counting in-person ballots, where Republicans tended to vote, and mail-in ballots, where Democrats tended to vote. “You’re going to have antifa, crazy. The media, crazy. The courts are crazy. And Trump’s gonna be sitting there mocking, tweeting shit out: ‘You lose. I’m the winner. I’m the king.’”
Bannon's prediction, of course, was completely right, just as he was right on Jan. 5, 2021, when he announced to his War Room podcast audience that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow." Thanks to this week’s January 6 hearing, we now know Bannon spoke to Trump three times on Jan. 5, and that his “all hell” statement predicting the violence came between two calls indicated in White House call records.
Bannon goes on trial Monday for refusing to answer subpoenas from the January 6 committee, and, as VICE News’ Greg Walters describes here, he’s probably going to get convicted.
But as you can see just from Bannon’s statements above, he’s very close to the center of Trump’s plan to use disinformation as a means to steal the election, and the ultimate use of a crowd-turned-mob to enable the coup with violence. There’s a whole lot more the committee could ask Bannon. For instance, what exactly did Trump tell Bannon during their Jan. 5 phone calls? Given Bannon’s saber-rattling, it goes directly to what Trump’s plans were for that day. Was Bannon part of the chain that spread plans for a march to the Capitol to outside allies? And we heard very little about the Willard Hotel “war room” where Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, and other Trump lieutenants plotted their coup strategy in the days leading up to Jan. 6.
Bannon chose to not only hide this information from the committee but also not even appear so he could exert a (nonexistent, it turns out) claim of privilege, or plead the Fifth to avoid implicating himself in crimes. And now the judge in Bannon’s case has closed the door to several lines of defense Bannon was hoping to use.
As Greg points out, even if Bannon is convicted, he’s unlikely to get anything close to the maximum two years in prison available for his two misdemeanor contempt counts. But the judge has deprived Bannon of something just as precious as a few weeks or months of lost freedom: his ability to turn the hearings into a disinformation circus tailored to his, and Trump’s advantage.
Bannon had hoped to subpoena Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with every member and several staffers of the January 6 committee. He wanted to use his hearing to put the committee itself on trial, much like the Chicago Seven did after the unrest at the 1969 Democratic Convention. “The prosecution thought it was doing law; the defense countered with politics,” wrote David Frum shortly after Bannon was charged. Bannon also wanted to rest his defense on the idea that the committee is illegitimately constituted, an idea several courts have already rejected.
None of these sideshows will be Bannon’s to direct, however. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols severely limited Bannon’s bag of tricks, including claims of prejudiced juries and waived executive privileges that never really existed. Instead, Bannon is left, with a few narrow exceptions, to argue that he didn’t understand the dates of his subpoena or that his lawyer didn’t tell him the correct deadline.
Bannon offered to appear before the committee in a last-minute gambit to delay his trial and curry favor with potential jurors. Committee members aren’t taking the bait, and say they’ll let Bannon appear for a deposition after–and only after–he produces the documents they subpoenaed.
Bannon’s lawyers had predicted a trial lasting more than a week, what Bannon himself promised would be “the misdemeanor from hell.” But that was before Judge Nichols denied nearly all of Bannon’s plot lines. Now the trial is expected to take a day.
You’re only as good as your next coup
A bunch of senators said this week they’re close to a deal on reforming the Electoral Count Act. That’s the dusty old law that Donald Trump, John Eastman, and their pals tried to exploit when they pressured Mike Pence to reject electors and help them steal the 2020 election. Plugging the Trump-shaped holes in law has been one of the quiet priorities ever since lawmakers of good faith realized how the plan operated. Watch this space for news on an actual deal–and watch your back, because it’s clear reforming the ECA doesn’t erase the blueprint for stealing 2024.
—Graham to Fulton County: Count me out
When Sen. Lindsey Graham says “Count me out,” he really means it! The South Carolina Republican has no intention of being part of all the This Week in Subpoenas fun. Graham is asking a federal judge to quash his subpoena to testify in front of the grand jury investigating Trump and his associates in Fulton County, Georgia. The panel is interested in Graham because of two known phone calls he made to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger just as Trump was operating on multiple fronts to overturn Georgia’s election results (more on that below).
In one call, Graham asked Raffensperger about throwing out mail-in ballots from several counties. Raffensperger said he took Graham to be nudging him to improperly disqualify legal votes. An Atlanta judge signed off on the subpoena earlier this week, but now Graham’s going federal, arguing that he was acting not as a staunch Trump ally during the call but as a U.S. senator doing U.S. senator things, and is thus protected from testifying under the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause.
Former Attorney General William Barr’s been getting a lot of face time in the January 6 hearings, laundering hisTrump-enabling reputation and also describing the ways he told Trump and his minions that their election fraud conspiracy theories were “bullshit.” And the tort lawyers have been watching! Barr’s been subpoenaed to testify in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion (with a “b”) defamation lawsuit against Fox News, where Dominion contends that Fox hosts’ relentless trafficking in baseless post-election conspiracies harmed its business.
—Not an impressionable child
One thing Tuesday’s January 6 hearing established is that Donald Trump likely had access to more information proving the 2020 election was not stolen than any other American, but he continued to direct and press those around him to overturn it for him anyway. “Donald Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child,” Rep. Liz Cheney said at the opening of the committee’s seventh hearing.
What Cheney was doing there, other than dry irony, was stamping out the idea that really, really believing a stolen-election fantasy can protect Trump from accountability for trying to steal it for himself. More broadly, it goes to the committee’s sharpening focus on what it wants the Justice Department to see as Trump’s criminality.
This week the committee started sharing documents and other information with DOJ prosecutors. We already know that a federal grand jury is exploring the fake electors part of the coup attempt, but for now it’s unclear whether the committee’s sharing goes beyond that.
On Tuesday the committee established for the public that after a very sweary six-hour meeting where Trump’s White House lawyers wouldn’t let his feral advisors do a bunch of crazy and illegal things, Trump, in the dead of night, decided to summon the mob himself. Trump’s right-wing supporters were in on his plans to send protesters to the Capitol for days before Jan. 6. Then, having convened the crowd for that purpose, and knowing they were armed, Trump sicced them on the Capitol.
This was pretty huge: The committee proved once and for all that the march on the Capitol was Trump’s deliberate strategy and not in any way spontaneous.
It’s been obvious for more than a year and a half that Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet–telling supporters that the election was stolen and urging them to come to Washington for events that “will be wild”--was a starting gun for average Trumpists and now-indicted paramilitaries alike. The committee established that too, laying directly at Trump’s feet the responsibility for bringing the violent mob to the Capitol. Now we know that once Jan. 6 arrived, he’d planned for days to unleash them on Congress.
The panel is also in possession of encrypted chats between friend-of-Trump and notorious ratfucker Roger Stone. The messaging group, called F.O.S., or “Friends of Stone”, included leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers militia groups, who are now charged with seditious conspiracy. Recall that Cassidy Hutchinson testified last month that she heard Trump order Mark Meadows to call Stone on the night of Jan. 5. Some evidence of ties between extremist groups and Trump allies was left on the cutting room floor for Tuesday’s hearing, so we’ll have to wait to see how the committee pushes out what they have.
The committee appears to be planning one more hearing for this hot evidentiary summer, next Thursday in prime time. We expect that one to focus on Jan. 6, when family, advisors and allies all begged Trump to put a stop to the violence he unleashed. For more than three hours, he refused. It should be said that the committee has been very flexible with its timing, willing to call audibles and schedule (or cancel) hearings as events change.
For now, it appears that next Thursday may be Trump’s last chance to try to tamper with committee witnesses until at least the end of summer. About that…
‘It could have been a butt-dial’
Donald Trump has made a habit of contacting January 6 committee witnesses who could damage him, while his allies try to influence others to “do the right thing” and “stay loyal.” So what about the tamper-bomb Liz Cheney dropped on Tuesday, when she said Trump tried to call another committee witness, and that the call was referred to DOJ? The identity of that witness is still a mystery, but it has been narrowed down a bit.
VICE News’ Greg Walters talked to a bunch of lawyers, who made it clear Trump is damn lucky that the witness didn’t pick up his call. But did the call go to voicemail? If so, did Trump say anything? If he did, to borrow from another Trump intimidation target, Lordy… there are tapes!
Every con man has his Mark
If Steve Bannon is going on trial for contempt of Congress, then why wasn’t Mark Meadows charged? After all, Meadows, like Bannon, refused to comply with subpoenas from the January 6 committee and was referred to DOJ for it.
Meadows may be in a whole heap of legal trouble since he seems to have been at Trump’s side in nearly every facet of the coup plot. The committee has been asking lots of questions about Meadows’ finances. Trumpworld knows it, and is reportedly gaming out ways to repay Meadows’ undying fealty by making him Mr. Trump’s patsy when and if the feds finally come.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Meadows is willing to be the fall guy. The fact that he initially cooperated with the committee before re-engaging in a cover-up may have moved DOJ lawyers to conclude he’d be harder to convict for contempt. Or maybe the fact that Meadows, unlike Bannon, was an actual high-ranking White House official made his privilege claims stronger. OR… it’s possible Meadows could soon cooperate (or is already cooperating) with federal prosecutors in hopes of reducing his substantial criminal exposure.
“A sitting president asking for civil war. This week I feel guilty for helping him win.” — former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, Jan. 6, 2021.
“You need to run again… I’m in, are you?” — Parscale, to Trump, exactly one month later.
K, RICO — Lindsey Graham may be fighting his subpoena. But if Trump ever gets charged, the smart money says it’ll come from Georgia, where Fulton County DA Fani Willis is running a grand jury investigation of possible criminal election interference. As I’ve mentioned before, Willis specializes in racketeering prosecutions under Georgia’s RICO statute, which makes it a crime to run a criminal conspiracy.
Greg Walters explored what a RICO prosecution of Trump might look like and how Willis could use it to exact accountability for his attempt to disenfranchise Georgia voters.
MAGA moving on? — Both President Joe Biden and Donald Trump are giving heavy hints they’ll try to run for reelection in 2024. Biden has deep (deep) political problems, to be sure. But there are also signs that Trump’s obsession with political payback and a nonexistent stolen election are hurting his standing among GOP voters. Less than half name Trump as their first choice, and close to two-thirds of those with a college degree say they want someone else. Just for good measure, here’s another poll concluding Trump’s GOP support is much stronger, even though large majorities say he tried to overturn the election.
The Tina effect — Tina Peters will not be Colorado’s next secretary of state.
And the people who worked for her seem to keep getting arrested. But the indicted Mesa County clerk is still helping set a disturbing trend, as election interference is increasingly an inside job. Local election officials in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio have all been involved in election security breaches, leading state officials to worry about a nightmare scenario: What happens when enough conspiracy-driven local officials refuse to certify results, and Trumpist election deniers back them up at the state level. It’s why we’re watching secretary of state races so closely. (BTW, Arizona’s and Michigan’s primaries are on Aug. 2.)
What happened to Michael Flynn? THE ATLANTIC
Raskin brings expertise on right-wing extremism to Jan. 6 inquiry. THE NEW YORK TIMES
Donald Trump on 2024: “I’ve already made that decision.” The only question is when he’ll announce. NY MAG INTELLIGENCER