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.
Ricky Shiffer attended the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, and frequently posted about it on social media. After the FBI served a warrant and searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence this past Monday, Schiffer posted about killing FBI agents on Trump’s Truth Social. Yesterday, he died after apparently trying to assault the FBI field office in Cincinnati and then engaging police in a shootout.
It’s been obvious since the evening of Jan. 6 that the rioting, violence, and lawlessness of that day was a mere dress rehearsal, and worrisome to think the real performance could be in 2024, if Donald Trump runs and loses.
But it’s right now, when Trump is faced with a whiff of accountability from an institution that—like elections—he’s worked so hard to destroy. Like on Jan. 6, accountability, through losses or law, means revenge. And if revenge means literal war to some of Trump’s supporters, so be it.
We now know that the DOJ’s unprecedented search of Mar-a-Lago was the result of Trump’s own unprecedented refusal to return classified documents he had no business possessing in the first place. DOJ counterintelligence officials were acutely aware they were dealing with a former president. So they first tried negotiation to get the documents, then a subpoena, then more yet negotiation. Once investigators came to believe Trump was still withholding classified information, they asked a judge to allow a search.
And that search didn’t happen in a void. It happened against a backdrop of years of Trump demonstrating his drive for self-preservation and hostility to due process. In addition to being an ex-president, Trump is also a person who fired James Comey to obstruct the Mueller investigation; called for the prosecution of dozens of political enemies; lied about wiretaps and the legal process of “unmasking”; disclosed classified information, multiple times; pardoned cronies who kept their mouths shut about his activities; tried to leverage the entire DOJ to lie in aid of his attempted coup; and so on.
The question isn’t why the DOJ would seek a search warrant to get classified documents back. It appears to be: How could they not, and what took so long?
It’s important to remember that we might know very little about the search but for Trump’s wailing about it. The DOJ didn’t announce it, their warrant was under seal, and their agents entered the property largely in plain clothes and unarmed at a time when guests and most staff were gone. Trump chose to publicize it, and of course to lie about it. And his machinery of lawlessness cranked into higher gear.
Back on Jan. 6, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy dithered. He reacted first with revulsion to the violence, then demanded answers from Trump, and privately even called for his resignation. It took several days for him to come to heel.
This time, McCarthy and Republicans have learned: Instead of hesitating, go all-in early on political threats. Instead of recoiling at the dismantling of law enforcement, amplify it. Instead of pushing back on Trump’s obvious lies about the legal process, cynically capitalize on them.
Meanwhile, just off-stage from this recital of GOP fealty, Trump’s feral supporters lurch against their chains and threaten FBI officials, judges, and the attorney general with violence. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, keeps the eyeballs on screens and the attention rapt by mirroring back conspiratorial fantasies from the internet and Capitol Hill.
But if the last 72 hours were ugly, now imagine the months between some future criminal charges against Donald Trump and his trial (or trials).
You’re now free to envision the terrifying spectacle that Jan. 6 rioters and their director rehearsed, only this time with GOP officials who’ve learned all the steps and have them down-pat. It includes full-blown conspiracies of woke FBI henchmen using the awesome power of the state to stop Trump and destroy liberty. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill providing the fodder for daily coverage of the injustice. And a fully frothed base primed to believe any legal accountability for Trump is mortal tyranny against them, spurred on by their leader’s assurances that just like on Jan. 6, violence in his name is patriotic and just.
GOP officials, ever pragmatic, may yet hedge a little. This week proved it won’t matter. Trump has promised his people that elections are theirs, that the law only applies to others, and that whoever wants to talk about it is taking huge risks.
It’s important to learn why federal law enforcement searched the home of a former president and probable future candidate. It’s even more important to learn why Donald Trump went so far to avoid returning documents that prosecutors and counterintelligence officials had to get a warrant. What we know already doesn’t… look good.
So far MAGA supporters have suffered an (admittedly jarring) search of Trump’s home that included a valid warrant, no arrests, no accusations, and no charges. But Mr. Trump would also like law enforcement, and you, to know what awaits, should that ever change.
Editorial notice: In light of recent developments, we’re thrilled to announce that “This Week in Subpoenas” is temporarily rebranding as “Talkin’ Warrants, Investigations, and Subpoenas.” It’s the same T.W.I.S.™ Notes coverage you love, updated for a new era of prosecutorial urgency!
- A Tish served cold
Donald Trump’s potentially fraudulent business practices aren’t by themselves a democracy-critical issue. But, per above, accountability and equal justice under the law definitely are! And nothing is quite so Trumpian as claiming for your own the very constitutional protections you ridicule for others. After months of delays, Trump was finally dragged in for a sworn deposition in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation looking at whether Trump and his business manipulated real estate valuations for gain. And, at the very moment when bluster, trolling, and lying give way to the penalty of perjury, Trump did what, according to him, guilty people and mobsters do: He took the Fifth.
Of course, it’s Trump’s constitutional right not to incriminate himself. He blamed the witch hunts and search warrants for forcing him to refuse to answer questions. More likely, though, it’s the stalled but very much revivable criminal investigation of Trump’s business. Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg declined to charge Trump (and lost a couple of prosecutors in protest because of it) but also made clear he’d be closely monitoring Trump’s sworn statements for actionable evidence, including lies. Apparently, it was best for Trump to say nothing at all, 440 times.
- Raidy Perry
If searching the home of a former president is high-stakes stuff, so is seizing the phone of a sitting member of Congress. But Attorney General Merrick Garland, his prosecutors, and the federal judge who signed the warrant all thought Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry had evidence important enough to the Jan. 6 investigation to seize.
Perry leads the House GOP’s pro-coup Freedom Caucus, the right-wing group once led by Mark Meadows. He was also the guy who introduced Jeffrey Clark to Donald Trump before Clark made his bid to take over the DOJ in the coup plot; helped push the plan for DOJ to lie to state officials that the election had been tainted; then, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, sought presidential pardon for it. Perry denies he ever sought a pardon.
It appears the FBI’s warrant is connected to the DOJ’s criminal investigation of the fake elector scheme, though it doesn't necessarily mean Perry’s a target, or even a subject (Perry says he’s been told he’s not.). He also communicated extensively with Meadows, who is up to his neck in DOJ investigations. Perry says he would have gladly handed over the phone if the feds had just asked, though the amount of cooperation he’s given the January 6 committee leaves reason to doubt it!
Meanwhile, federal agents paid a visit to Pennsylvania’s Capitol in Harrisburg and served subpoenas on several lawmakers. As of this writing, it’s unclear exactly what the subpoenas were requesting or which lawmakers got them. What is clear is that the walls are significantly closer in PA than they were at the beginning of this week.
- So I Married a Facts Murderer
Of all the things Infowars founder Alex Jones has assaulted—decency, shame, the truth—let’s add his wife’s privacy to the list. This part of the sorry tale started when Alex-Jones-finds-out-his-texts-are-in-open-court memes added a gigglesnort to the otherwise horrific defamation trial for his relentless lying-for-profit about the murder of children.
Jones’ texts reportedly contained “intimate” communications with Trump confidant and Oath Keepers/Proud Boys associate Roger Stone. At least some of the speculation about what an “intimate” text chain between Jones and Stone could include died the moment Jones’ wife found out—from a reporter—that it included a nude picture of her. Erika Wulff-Jones said she was upset about the disclosure but noted “that’s really the least of my problems right now.”
The January 6 committee surely has no use for a photo of Jones’ wife. But Jones and his Jan. 6–related communications with Stone and anyone else are under subpoena, and now his phone data from the trial, have been turned over.
- That Midnight Train to Georgia
…is the only way Rudy Giuliani will make it from New York to Atlanta in time to answer his subpoena. Rudy’s lawyers told a judge presiding over the election-interference grand jury investigation in Fulton County his client couldn’t honor a subpoena to testify this week because he’s not healthy enough to fly. That prompted prosecutors to produce evidence that Rudy’s been traveling to New Hampshire (by car, his lawyers said) and that he recently bought plane tickets to Europe.
Judge Robert McBurney told Rudy’s lawyers there are lots of ways to travel from NYC to Atlanta, and that Rudy has to find one in order to appear on Aug. 17.
Oh, and Lindsey Graham didn’t show up either.
Like a Vos
For nearly two years, Wisconsin and Arizona have been in a fierce showdown for whose state GOP was the most Trump-drunk on election conspiracies. Arizona had Cyber Ninjas, death oaths, and Mark Finchem. Wisconsin answers with Michael Gableman’s seemingly endless investigation, Sen. Ron Johnson, and a governors primary super-focused on who will answer Trump’s call to rescind 2020.
This week former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch’s attempt to titrate just enough conspiracy to survive–along with Mike Pence’s endorsement—proved fruitless. Businessman Tim Michels rode a Trump endorsement and a promise to consider the totally-not-a-legal-thing of signing legislation to overturn 2020 and rescind Wisconsin’s Biden electors. Michels will face off against incumbent Dem Gov. Tony Evers in November for a race where democracy, and a whole lot more, are in the balance.
BTW, check out this weirdness about how deep a Wisconsin teen’s high school tweet cuts in Donald Trump’s never-ending quest for revenge.
Meanwhile, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos managed to hang onto his party’s nomination, despite spending the last week of the campaign at war with Trump. Vos had tried hard to appease Trumpists since 2020, hiring Gableman to conduct a taxpayer-funded election investigation that turned into a sideshow. All that just for Gableman to turn on Vos and endorse his Trumpist opponent. After his victory, Vos declared his charge “an embarrassment to the state.”
The Law and Order Candidate
A former Trump campaign lawyer is facing possible criminal charges in Michigan for leading an alleged conspiracy that illegally tampered with voting machines. Naturally, he’s also the Trump-backed GOP nominee for state attorney general.
Matt DePerno was accused of participating with eight others in the election-tampering scheme, after pumping out false election allegations in the 2020 aftermath. Michigan’s current AG, Democrat Dana Nessel, asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed, since DePerno is her opponent in the 2022 election.
Just after Nessel’s office released its findings, Reuters dropped this report, which places DePerno’s team right in the middle of a vote-tabulator security breach in Roscommon County in northern Michigan. Then there was DePerno in May 2021, acknowledging in an interview that “we got access to a tabulator.”
“He’s going to make sure that you are going to have law and order and fair elections,” Donald Trump said of DePerno at last weekend’s CPAC conference in Dallas.
“Just do it in three legs. You know folks in DC? Spend the night there. Work your way down.” —Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, telling Rudy Giuliani’s lawyers that he must answer a subpoena on Aug. 17, despite a one-line doctor’s note saying Rudy can’t fly.
Sweet summer arraign — Time to catch up with BtV muse Tina Peters, who Friday finally pleaded not guilty on six felony charges and four misdemeanors, including fraud, election interference, and more. For now it looks like Peters is facing trial in January 2023.
Peters also alleged massive voter fraud after her 14-point loss in the Colorado GOP secretary of state primary, then raised more than $250,000 to fund a recount. That recount netted precisely zero votes against the winner, Pam Anderson. Never daunted, Peters is now demanding a second recount. I hear this guy is looking for work.
As a palate cleanser, Peters has been telling audiences and interviewers that the Mesa County, Colorado, DA took away her husband by forcing him to divorce her from his nursing-home bed? A local blogger in western Colorado says it’s all bullshit. (H/t VICE’s David Gilbert.)
Ku Klux Kash — Not only does Facebook continue to host white supremacist groups after claiming to have banned hate speech two years ago, it’s running ads and profiting from them.
Climate of fear — It will probably come as no surprise that the polarized environment plagued by increasing threats of violence is making Americans more afraid to participate in democracy. After all, that’s precisely the aim. Just 41 percent of Americans now say they feel safe at a polling or voting place. And Black and Hispanic voters feel the least safe of all, with just 28 percent and 37 percent, respectively, saying they feel safe voting. And those numbers are dropping. Say what you want about threats and intimidation. Unchecked, they have the desired effect.
2 Cheneyz — Wyoming GOP Rep. and January 6 committee vice-chair Liz Cheney says she’s ready to lose her primary this coming Tuesday if it’s the price for standing up for truth and the Constitution. Cheney’s definitely in trouble, but she’s not going down quietly. She’s spending big to run that ad featuring her father, former Veep Dick Cheney, denouncing Trump as a “coward,” a mortal threat to the republic, and a liar who tried to steal the 2020 election.
Even if Cheney loses Tuesday, it’s likely not the last we’ll hear from her in her avowed mission to keep Donald Trump from the Oval Office. A run for president is possible. This fall, more Jan. 6 hearings are assured.
Donald Trump has been preparing for this moment for a long time. WASHINGTON POST
State legislatures are torching democracy. THE NEW YORKER
What kind of criminal case is the Justice Department building against Donald Trump? MCCLATCHY