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.
Whether or not Donald Trump ever gets prosecuted for trying to overthrow an election he lost, a critical takeaway of this hot hearings summer is that the biggest threats to our democracy lie ahead, not in the past.
Short of a criminal indictment from a grand jury in D.C. or Georgia, this Tuesday, Aug. 2, is probably the most important day between now and November for the health of the Republic. Or, the voting part of it, anyway.
So far, Trump's chaos agents have had mixed luck in the 2022 primaries where they're seeking the power to implement what conservative retired Appeals Court Judge J. Michel Luttig warns is the "blueprint' for stealing 2024. Trumpist GOP Rep. Jody Hice lost his bid to unseat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, as did former Sen. David Purdue, who ran for Georgia governor on a dedicated Trump revenge ticket.
But Tuesday is primary day in Arizona, where Trumpist authoritarians and QAnon conspiracists are running for GOP nominations that will have a direct impact on elections in the swing state. Former TV anchor Kari Lake is in the running for the GOP nomination for governor, in a race she uses regularly to stoke lies about Trump's 2020 Arizona loss. Lake differentiates herself from her top GOP rival almost solely on her unabashed support for Trump's election lies.
Lake's also a prime example of how candidates can have no direct QAnon ties but still capitalize because the cult's bizarre belief system is now the common denominator of the GOP base.
There's Mark Finchem, a state representative running to control Arizona elections as secretary of state after launching his campaign at a QAnon conference last year. Finchem's buddies Jim Marchant and Kristina Karamo already won their GOP secretary of state nominating contests for the swing states of Nevada and Michigan, respectively.
So now you can imagine a 2024 scenario where Trump has once again spent months lying about a rigged vote only to lose the election in key swing states. Only this time loyalist officials in counties like these in Pennsylvania and New Mexico refuse to certify their results because of complaints of fraud. Now, instead of state officials who force the counties to follow the law, loyalist election officials likewise refuse to certify, and you've got a full-blown crisis.
Michigan has its primaries for governor Tuesday, where one of the leading candidates is facing four federal charges for his alleged role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Ryan Kelly has pleaded not guilty to four counts and has lately slipped in the polls. But all of his opponents, except for one, have said Trump was the rightful winner in Michigan in 2020. Trump lost by more than 154,000 votes.
Whoever wins Tuesday will challenge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for governor in a swing state where Republicans have already nominated Karamo for secretary of state. The stakes for Michigan's ability to hold credible elections in 2024 could scarcely be higher.
We'll see if disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' violent and menacing campaign draws voters in his GOP Senate bid Tuesday. And in Washington State, two Republican members of Congress who voted for Trump's impeachment face primaries, including Rep. Jamie Herrera-Beutler. Her main rival, Joe Kent, is all-in for bullshit, including claiming that 2020 was stolen and Jan. 6 was an inside job. But that still isn't enough for some in the GOP, who accuse the former Green Beret and Gold Star husband of being a deep-state stooge.
Meanwhile, Trump is stoking speculation about an early announcement to run again. It's important to remember that announcing a candidacy and officially filing for it and following through are two different things. That aside, two big factors appear to be driving that decision: The first is whether declaring his candidacy can shield him from accountability for his attempted coup (Merrick Garland, for what it's worth, said this week that it won't.)
The second big factor for 2024 is whether Trump thinks he can steal it. Tuesday's swing-state races will go a long way in helping him decide.
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It’s summer break for the January 6 committee. So Liz Landers and yours truly joined VICE News Tonight to check in on what the committee has accomplished so far, and how they’re doing in trying to prevent the next coup. Check it out:
Federal prosecutors are looking at at least two wings of Donald Trump’s coup plot beyond what hundreds of rioters (convicted and alleged) did on Jan. 6: the fake electors scheme and very likely the effort to leverage the Justice Department to lie about voter fraud and disenfranchise voters. But with This Week in Subpoenas came news that there could be… a whole lot more to the story.
Federal prosecutors running grand jury proceedings have reportedly been asking witnesses direct questions about Trump. How much did he know about the fake elector plan? Did he order it? What did he tell his lawyers to do? Does he throw his lunch underhand or fast-pitch? (jk). All this opens up for the first time the prospect that prosecutors are actually interested in Trump and his direct connections to possible criminal activity.
And prosecutors are definitely reaching into the West Wing. Two former top aides to Veep Mike Pence were questioned under subpoena in front of the grand jury in recent weeks. Former chief of staff Marc Short and former chief counsel Greg Jacobs both testified, presumably about events including Oval Office meetings where Trump, lawyer John Eastman, and others tried to convince Pence to go along with delaying or rejecting Biden electors.
It’s probably not a coincidence that reporters asking about a secretive grand jury are now getting their calls returned. AG Garland spent his week “no one is above the law”-ing on TV, trying to reassure antsy democracy enthusiasts, and also Democrats, that DOJ isn’t giving Trump a pass.
Caveats galore here: There’s no public indication that Trump is now a target of any of these investigations, even if prosecutors are asking about him. And investigations proceed all the time without charges ever being filed.
Still, there’s really, REALLY good reasons to ask witnesses about Trump in front of the grand jury. We also learned this week how a group of Trump campaign aides, lawyers, and outside advisers coordinated the fake electors scheme, reporting up through Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows to the former president. Stacks of emails show the gang knew that their electors were fakes (duh). In one, Trump adviser and propagandist Boris Epshteyn wrote that Trump “liked” the team’s plans.
Former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appeared before the January 6 committee this week. He stopped working in the White House in March 2020. He left Trump’s service altogether the day after Jan. 6. Since then he’s become a Trump critic in the media, boosting the cred of witnesses like Cassidy Hutchinson and branding Trump’s Jan. 6 narrative “manifestly false.”
It’s unclear what Mulvaney knows about the coup attempt, but the committee has lately been reaching further into Trump’s Cabinet, looking to talk to officials about invoking the 25th Amendment and other issues.
If Georgia state senator and fake elector Burt Jones ever gets prosecuted in Fulton County, Fani Willis won’t be doing it. A judge ruled that the Fulton County DA can’t include Jones in her ongoing criminal investigation of Trump’s effort to overturn Georgia’s election. That’s because Willis hosted a June fundraiser for Jones’ Democratic opponent for lieutenant governor, and that’s an unacceptable conflict of interest, the judge said.
Willis sent Jones and 15 other fake electors target letters, informing them that they could be indicted for their part in the plot to overturn Georgia’s election. Now a separate team of prosecutors from Willis will have to determine if Jones is to be investigated further or prosecuted.
Last March, former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller told VICE News’ Seb Walker that he believed Trump’s rally speech on Jan. 6 was responsible for the violent attack on the Capitol that followed. He said he fully prepared himself for how to deal with immoral or illegal orders from Trump before taking over as SecDef just after the 2020 election.
Since then, Miller has taken to Fox News, helping prop up a key piece of propaganda seeking to absolve Trump of sitting idle while the violence raged. To hear Miller and others tell Trump operative Sean Hannity, the former president did all he could to protect the Capitol on Jan. 6, by doing things like ordering 10,000 National Guard troops for security. Meadows and Trump have both peddled this story on TV.
Only when Miller was asked by the January 6 committee–under oath–he said precisely the opposite! Reminder, this committee is very fond of showing the cravenness of Trump and his acolytes, along with the evidence.
Lost in Q
Just one week to go until Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters’ Aug. 5 arraignment on 10 election tampering and fraud charges in Colorado. In the meantime, Peters and several other state and local candidates are claiming fraud and demanding recounts in last month’s primary, which they all lost badly.
At least five candidates filed for recounts despite losing in most cases by more than 30 points. The secretary of state put the cost of a statewide recount at more than $236,000. So naturally, Peters and friends tried to get donors to cough up the money. A handful of candidates in El Paso County boosted their money efforts with a QAnon chant.
Rampant voter fraud unlike we’ve ever seen
Yet more of our ongoing coverage of runaway voter fraud by the folks who just want to Protect Our Elections. “I figured all those other guys are cheating. I know she was going to vote for Trump anyway,” Colorado’s Barry Morphew said of his attempt to vote for Trump in the name of his wife, Suzanne. Morphew pleaded guilty this week to voter fraud.
Here’s a twist: Suzanne disappeared in May of 2020, after which Barry was charged with her murder. The charges were dropped after a botched prosecution, but it’s still possible Barry could get charged again.
“In war, you must make a stand. For that, we need strong men…Trump is a manly man. In present time, when manhood is being stripped of its masculinity, traditional manhood, even when flawed, is absolutely essential.” - Claremont Institute Chair Tom Klingenstein, giving his strongest intellectual backing for America’s strongman.
An inconvenience truth — Here’s how you do meaningful, targeted voter suppression in Georgia: 1. Listen to relentless lying about election irregularities. 2. Vilify methods of expanding voter access as just too risky. 3. Redress the fear your party manufactured by taking those conveniences away, slashing ballot drop boxes by more than 75% in areas where your opponents vote. 4. End up with a map like this.
Coups blues — Nine January 6 hearings don’t seem to have changed many minds about whether democracy is in crisis in America. But the hearings could be eating into Republicans’ support for Trump. Fifty-five percent of Republicans now say they want someone in the GOP other than Trump to run for president. That’s up from 49 percent at the beginning of the year. Republican strategist and Bulwark publisher Sarah Longwell has conducted tons of GOP voter focus groups. She told me there’s a surprising but unmistakable trend of voters wanting to move on from Trump.
“It’s not that they don’t like Trump; they do. And they don’t feel that he did anything wrong,”, Longwell says. Instead, the hearings, and Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election, turn off GOP voters who think they’re damaging their chances of winning. “The hearings have elevated the ambient noise around the conversation they don’t want and want to move on from,” Longwell says.
Of course, all of this could change. If Trump declares a 2024 candidacy soon and crowds out other candidates, his standing could improve. Especially if he manages to stop talking about 2020. If past performance is any guide, he can’t do that.
Mastriano of his domain — Check out this ad from Pennsylvania, where Democratic governor candidate Josh Shapiro goes after Republican Doug Mastriano for his Jan. 6 attendance, voting conspiracy, and for being, in Shapiro’s view, a dangerous threat to democracy. Meanwhile, Mastriano is getting a lot of press for doing business with far-right social network Gab, whose founder loves to traffic in antisemitism and refers to all non-Christian journalists as “vipers.” My home state of PA!
What in the world happened to Elise Stefanik? — Like, seriously.
Will ‘dereliction of duty’ be what finally gets Donald Trump indicted? THE NEW YORKER
The Claremont Institute triumphed in the Trump years. Then came Jan. 6. WASHINGTON POST
How ‘Stop the steal’ captured the American right. THE NEW YORK TIMES