Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
July 13, 2021
Today’s news all centered around the Big Lie that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
Yesterday, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where the audience cheered through his meandering speech, in which he insisted that he won the 2020 election. “The entire system was rigged against the American people and rigged against a fair, decent and honest election,” he said. CNN’s Daniel Dale, who has fact-checked Trump’s speeches for years, called the speech “untethered to reality.”
But Trump was not alone: the whole three-day event featured speakers, including Representatives Ronny Jackson and Louie Gohmert, both Texas Republicans, focused on that Big Lie.
Just how untethered from reality this argument is became clear today when U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker held a hearing on whether the lawyers who tried to overturn the 2020 election results in Michigan should face sanctions. Those lawyers, dubbed the “Kraken” by one of their leaders, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell, produced close to 1000 pages of affidavits intending to cast doubt on the election results. Michigan and the city of Detroit filed complaints with the bar after the lawsuits failed, calling for punishment for the lawyers who had signed on to the effort.
As today’s hearing proceeded, it became clear that the so-called Kraken lawyers had made no effort to verify much of anything they presented to the court. Repeatedly, Parker asked if anyone had tried to verify any of the affidavits they had filed; repeatedly, they indicated they had not. At one point, Parker said, “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an affidavit” like this. “This is really fantastical,” Parker said. “How can any of you, as officers of the court, present this type of an affidavit?”
Parker suggested that the whole point of the lawsuits in the first place was to spread lies to make people think the election wasn’t legitimate. “My concern is that counsel here has submitted affidavits to suggest and make the public believe that there was something wrong with the election…that’s what these average affidavits are designed to do, to show there was something wrong in Michigan….”
Although Kraken lawyer Juli Haller began to cry during the hearing, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell made it clear that, far from backing down, she wanted to move forward. Repeatedly, she and other lawyers demanded a trial or at least an evidentiary hearing, clearly trying to legitimize their claims by presenting them in an official setting. Like other Trump supporters, Powell is hoping to use official procedures to legitimize lies. We saw this in the hearings before Trump’s first impeachment, when lawmakers such as Jim Jordan (R-OH) used the official proceedings to construct a narrative for rightwing media.
David Fink, an attorney representing Detroit, called that pattern out: “Because of the lies spread in this courtroom, not only did people die on January 6, but many people throughout the world…came to doubt the strength of our democratic institutions in this country.”
Also today, news broke that, back in November, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, Justin Riemer, called claims that Trump had won the election “a joke.” Speaking of the lawyer pushing such claims, Riemer said, “They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing.”
And yet, the Republican Party itself is tethering itself to Trump.
In Oklahoma and Alaska, state Republican Party leaders have backed Trump-supporting challengers to James Lankford (R-OK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Lankford was actually speaking on the floor of the Senate on January 6, preparing to object to some of the certified ballots, when the rioters broke into the Capitol. After the insurrection riot, Lankford chose not to continue his objection to the counting. He now faces a primary challenger.
So does Murkowski, who, when party leaders similarly primaried her with someone backed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010, won a write-in campaign. Shortly after the insurrection, Murkowski said to a reporter: “I will tell you, if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”
In Pennsylvania, the chair of the state senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Trump-ally state senator Doug Mastriano, is demanding an Arizona-type recount of the 2020 vote in his state. Blocked by Democratic governor Tom Wolf and the state’s attorney general, Mastriano today issued a statement saying he would continue to fight for what he called a “forensic investigation.”
Meanwhile, in Texas, at least 51 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers are leaving the state to block Republicans from passing voter restriction laws. By fleeing the state, they will deprive the legislatures of enough lawmakers to do business, a number called a “quorum.” The Texas legislature is in special session this summer in part because the Democrats blocked these laws in the same way in May. In response, Texas governor Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the legislature. Today, once again, he accused them of abandoning the duties for which voters elected them.
And yet, the Republicans’ argument for further restricting the vote is based on the Big Lie that the state needs to be protected from voter fraud after the 2020 election.
Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to make a speech on voting rights. He is expected to call out the Big Lie and to talk about “actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote.”