Here’s the lineup from the latest installment of our Breaking the Vote newsletter, a weekly run-down by VICE News’ Deputy D.C. Bureau Chief Todd Zwillich. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.
There won’t be any new federal protections against voter suppression in time for the 2022 midterms. That much was obvious from Senate Republicans’ filibuster and Democrats’ failure to circumvent it this week. A lot of the details are buried in arcane Senate rules, but there’s nothing obscuring the threat.
Voter suppression, as Republicans are promoting in several key states, is bad public policy and bad morally. It’s grave. But folks, it gets graver.
“I worry much more about election subversion,” says David Becker, a former Justice Department official and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. In other words, secretly tinkering with the results to change the outcome.
If there’s anything fortunate about Donald Trump’s election subversion, it’s that it isn't secret at all. The relentless lies about 2020 have been extremely public, designed to trick Trump’s supporters into believing their rights were stolen. The parts of the coup plot Trump’s allies do their best to cover up are increasingly the subject of subpoenas and press reporting.
The White House records Trump tried to keep away from the January 6 committee are now headed there. The Jan. 2, 2021, call where Trump is heard strong-arming the Georgia secretary of state to “find 11,780” votes could now be the subject of a special grand jury with subpoena power, and eventual criminal charges.
But Trump himself is being open and honest about his plans for 2022 and 2024. Just last week he explained to Pennsylvania Republicans why it was so vital to install the right local election officials in the 2022 midterms: “We have to be a lot sharper the next time when it comes to counting the vote. There’s a famous saying, ‘Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate.’ And we can’t let that ever, ever happen again. They have to get tougher and smarter,” Trump said.
A lot of people misattributed the quote to Josef Stalin. Stalin never said it, but he definitely agreed. OK, it wasn’t full Stalin, but how much is a safe amount?
Anyway, like most strongmen, Trump is loud and proud about his contempt for democracy and his intent to subvert it. My friend Brian Beutler at Crooked Media caught this quote, 17 paragraphs down in a piece in Roll Call. “The former president encouraged Republicans to tinker with elections to ensure their candidates win: ‘I say if it’s good for [Democrats], why aren’t the Republicans doing the same kind of thing with the ballots?’”
On one hand, this direct appeal to stealing the election is buried deep inside an article read mostly by political insiders. On the other, Trump said it on stage in front of thousands of people and dozens of network TV cameras at his Arizona rally.
We did media criticism with Jay Rosen last week, so I won’t dwell on why that quote wasn’t the lede of the story instead of its bowels, or why it didn’t lead every cable newscast that evening, or why the press rushed for the fainting couch when current-president-who-believes-in-basic-democracy Joe Biden suggested the 2022 election might be undermined.
But Trump has a long habit of doing this kind of “honesty.” He eventually admitted to firing James Comey to obstruct Robert Mueller, and to trying to bribe Ukraine’s president with military aid in exchange for election help. (Incidentally: The “11,780 votes” call to Brad Raffensperger? Perfect.)
The 2024 plot is only different insofar as it’s in advance.
But huge parts of the 2020 coup plot were right there in plain sight. The parts that weren’t are being well-ventilated with subpoenas and press reports. We’re bound to find out far more than we already know, through the committee, lawsuits, and criminal charges. And Trump is proudly drawing a map for anyone who cares to see how he plans to try to steal 2024 by installing “stolen election” loyalists in 2022.
“The really troubling thing is that tens of millions Americans have no problem with that right now because they've been fed a steady diet of lies about the election,” Becker said. "These are the kinds of things that cripple a democracy and leave a vacuum for autocracies to fill.”
Congress may yet come up with some fixes to Trump’s attempted hijacking of the electoral count procedure on Jan. 6, and could do something to protect election workers from the types of harassment and intimidation VICE News has been covering.
In the meantime, there’s no need to wonder what could happen in 2024. Trump is loudly and publicly telling the truth about his plans.
Last week we learned that Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes and Ed Vallejo had been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection to the Jan. 6 attack. That’s a serious charge, and on Thursday we learned part of the reason why. Check out federal prosecutors’ filing seeking pretrial detention for Vallejo.
Remember how Trumpist Republicans branded Jan. 6 a “peaceful protest”? According to prosecutors, the Oath Keepers crew amassed an arsenal of weapons and ammo just outside D.C. Y’know… in case the peaceful protest needed to be more peaceful.
The Supreme Court rejected Donald Trump’s bid to keep some 800 pages of White House records away from the January 6 committee, saying he hadn’t come close to meeting the bar of invoking executive privilege he probably doesn’t have in the first place. That’s the last word on months of cover-up tactics, meaning the committee as of Wednesday got its hands on phone records, visitor logs, draft speeches, handwritten notes, and other stuff that could shed more light on what Trump knew, when he knew it, who he directed, and what he said during the coup attempt.
The January 6 committee says it's already going through the materials. While they’re at it, they might want to talk to Trump’s former White House usher. Hugo Lowell at the Guardian had this scoop yesterday (follow him for his stellar January 6 committee reporting, btw): Trump held a bunch of secret meetings in the White House residence in the run-up to Jan. 6, as he was increasingly wary of orchestrating his attempted coup from the Oval Office.
That comes from what former White House press secretary and Melania Trump chief of staff Stephanie Grisham reportedly told the committee. Grisham didn’t know who exactly was ushered to private meetings with Trump, but the usher might! Perhaps Timothy Harleth will get a committee invitation soon.
I’m election workering!
The internet has democratized so many things, it’s hard to remember a time when we relied on people who actually train for their jobs. (What does an epidemiologist really KNOW about pandemics, anyway?) So it is with a heavy heart and a face to my palm that I announce the singularity of digital democratizing dumbness: actual democracy.
VICE News’ David Gilbert: “Once you had to sit in an empty auditorium for weeks counting millions of paper ballots to take part in a sham ‘audit’ of the 2020 election. Now, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection.” What David’s heralding there is the rise of Polaris Recount, an online platform designed to let ordinary doofuses like you and me become the online sleuth corps of the Big Lie.
A few weeks ago I told you about Cyber Ninja–inspired, QAnon-linked groups training volunteers to go door to door looking to manufacture evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Think of this as the online version.
Polaris Recount, founded by a pro-Trump election conspiracist who just wants to defend democracy, lets crowdsourced gumshoes inspect thousands of ballots looking for irregularities. They can even compete in their search to prove what Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell never could. You’ll be shocked to learn that actual election experts find the whole thing genuinely damaging.
Speaking of Rudy and Sydney, welcome to This Week in Subpoenas: Your weekly digest of invites from the January 6 House Select Committee.
• Adult son Eric Trump and other adult son fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle got their phone records subpoenaed and obtained, it was reported this week. The committee wants to know about their connections to the “Stop the Steal” organization. Guilfoyle has come up before, boasting to other Trump loyalists about her rally fundraising before Jan. 6. By the way, this is the first time the committee has directly touched a Trump family member.
• And it won’t be the last! The committee is turning to Ivanka: “The Select Committee wishes to discuss the part of the conversation you observed between President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the morning of January 6th,” her invitation letter reads.
• It was only a matter of time before the crew of Kraken lawyers who fomented election conspiracies then laundered them through the justice system and Congress would be called in. Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell all got calling cards this week. The committee would like to talk Giuliani and Powell about how they “actively promoted” election fraud conspiracies, and in Rudy’s case, how he tried to convince state legislatures to overturn the election. (Rudy and Powell have both been sanctioned by judges for bringing BS election fraud cases to court and both are being sued for billions by voting machine manufacturers.)
• Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis got a subpoena too. She famously beamed behind Rudy while his hair-dye leaked at that bizarre November 2020 RNC press conference. But that was before she reportedly drew up two memos trying to road-map for Veep Mike Pence how to overturn the election in states where Trumpist loyalists sent fake slates of electors to Washington (more on that below).
• That guy to the right is Boris Epshteyn, who attended coup HQ at the Willard Hotel and, according to the committee, spoke to Trump about delaying the elector count on the morning of Jan. 6. Also subpoenaed this week.
• Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey will want to get their stories straight, so their message isn’t… you know… Goebbeled. The subpoenaed pair are white supremacist, antisemitic “America First” propagandists who helped coordinate and promote “Stop the Steal” events up to and including Jan. 6. Fuentes first came on the scene when he attended the tiki-torched “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Today he consorts with Trumpist lawmakers. The committee says both Fuentes and Casey are under FBI scrutiny for $25,000 in Bitcoin they received from a French computer programmer before the Jan. 6 riot.
“If POTUS allows this to occur… we’re driving a stake in the heart of the federal republic.” - A text from an unnamed member of the Republican House Freedom Caucus to Mark Meadows, warning of Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 plans.
A Sorry Slate of Affairs — Remember that thing where Republicans in five states submitted bogus slates of electors in the hopes of providing cover for lawmakers in Donald Trump’s coup attempt via Mike Pence (who ultimately refused)? VICE News Tonight’s Liz Landers was at Trump’s Arizona rally last weekend and caught up with one of the bogus signers. He’s AZ GOP Senate candidate Jim Lamon, and he has no regrets.
Watch the video of Liz’s Q&A with Lamon here.
Of course, the key question now is who organized and coordinated Republicans in these five states to use the same template for their fake elector slates? (Hint: It was Rudy.) In other Jim Lamon news, his primary campaign ads suggest he, and the base, are having a normal one.
Dirty Lizness — Liz Cheney’s vote for impeachment and unalloyed condemnation of Donald Trump and his anti-democratic enablers has made her Trumpist enemy #1 in 2022. Just this week fellow House Republicans in the coup-backing Freedom Caucus were plotting her removal from the GOP. Usually state party officials stay neutral when primaries blow up, but it turns out the chair of the Wyoming GOP, Frank Eathorne, attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington and is a member of the Oath Keepers. Yup, the militia guys whose founder just got indicted for seditious conspiracy. Eathorne was apparently too much for even Steve Bannon at one point when he suggested Wyoming’s secession from the United States.
‘Noble purpose’ — Voting-machine makers SmartMatic and Dominion have been churning out the lawsuits against all the Trumpist lawyers and right-wing propaganda outlets they allege ruined their businesses with election lies. Ten torts have been filed so far, seeking billions against people like Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Newsmax, One America News Network, etc.
This week SmartMatic hit pillow tycoon and messianic fabulist Mike Lindell with #11, seeking unspecified federal damages from his conspiracy theories. The company says Lindell robbed it of $2 billion of its $3 billion value, all to further election “lies” and for “the noble purpose of selling his pillows.” Here’s the complaint.
Cough It Epps — Each week in Breaking the Vote we find more evidence of just how deeply myth-based Trumpism has metastasized into the GOP. This week came a fundraising appeal from one-time Trump critic Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s leveraging the lie that Jan. 6 was an inside job fomented by the FBI to raise campaign cash. Cruz is banking on the debunked story that rallygoer Ray Epps was actually an undercover FBI agent.
But hang on, is that the same Ted Cruz who repeatedly called Jan. 6 an act of terrorism, only to grovel for foregivenss from Tucker Carlson earlier this month? Yeah, that’s him.
More Like Griftcoin — If you invested in Steve Bannon’s fraudulent We Built the Wall effort, have I got a cryptocurrency opportunity for you! Featuring a guest appearance from Boris Epshteyn.