GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
Meet the patriots of the Gaslit Nation 2020 Save Democracy Challenge! We speak to superheroes who organized, stayed engaged, and did what they could wherever they were, often facing threats and other pressures, to help save our democracy in 2020. Their efforts matter, made a difference, and planted powerful seeds for protecting their communities, and therefore our country.
Yesterday, Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo reported that the Trump allies who organized the rally at the Ellipse at 9:00 a.m. on January 6 also planned a second rally that day on the steps of the Supreme Court. To get from one to the other, rally-goers would have to walk past the Capitol building down Constitution Avenue, although neither had a permit for a march.
The rally at the Supreme Court fell apart as rally-goers stormed the Capitol.
Trump’s team appeared to be trying to keep pressure on Congress during the counting of the certified electoral votes from the states, perhaps with the intent of slowing down the count enough to throw it into the House of Representatives or to the Supreme Court. In either of those cases, Trump expected to win because in a presidential election that takes place in the House, each state gets one vote, and there were more Republican-dominated states than Democratic-dominated states. Thanks to then–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) removal of the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments, Trump had been able to put three justices on the Supreme Court, and he had said publicly that he expected they would rule in his favor if the election went in front of the court.
This story is an important backdrop of another story that is getting oxygen: Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro’s claim that he, Trump, and Trump loyalist Steve Bannon had a peaceful plan to overturn the election and that the three of them were “the last three people on God’s good Earth who wanted to see violence erupt on Capitol Hill.”
According to these stories, their plan—which Navarro dubs the Green Bay Sweep—was to get more than 100 senators and representatives to object to the counting of the certified ballots. They hoped this would pressure Vice President Mike Pence to send certified votes back to the six contested states, where Republicans in the state legislatures could send in new counts for Trump. There was, he insists, no plan for violence; indeed, the riot interrupted the plan by making congress members determined to certify the ballots.
Their plan, he writes, was to force journalists to cover the Trump team’s insistence that the election had been characterized by fraud, accusations that had been repeatedly debunked by state election officials and courts of law. The plan “was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings…. But we thought we could bypass the corporate media by getting this stuff televised.” Televised hearings in which Trump Republicans lied about election fraud would cement that idea in the public mind.
Maybe. It is notable that the only evidence for this entire story so far is Navarro’s own book, and there’s an awful lot about this that doesn’t add up (not least that if Trump deplored the violence, why did it take him more than three hours to tell his supporters to go home?). What does add up, though, in this version of events is that there is a long-standing feud between Bannon and Trump advisor Roger Stone, who recently blamed Bannon for the violence at the Capitol. This story exonerates Trump and Bannon and throws responsibility for the violence to others, notably Stone.
Although Navarro’s story is iffy, it does identify an important pattern. Since the 1990s, Republicans have used violence and the news coverage it gets to gain through pressure what they could not gain through votes.
Stone engineered a crucial moment for that dynamic when he helped to drive the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot that shut down the recounting of ballots in Miami-Dade County, Florida, during the 2000 election. That recount would decide whether Florida’s electoral votes would go to Democrat Al Gore or Republican George W. Bush. As the recount showed the count swinging to Gore, Republican operatives stormed the station where the recount was taking place, insisting that the Democrats were trying to steal the election.
“The idea we were putting out there was that this was a left-wing power grab by Gore, the same way Fidel Castro did it in Cuba,” Stone later told legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “We were very explicitly drawing that analogy.” “It had to be a three-legged stool. We had to fight in the courts, in the recount centers and in the streets—in public opinion,” Bush campaign operative Brad Blakeman said.
As the media covered the riot, the canvassing board voted to shut down the recount because of the public perception that the recount was not transparent, and because the interference meant the recount could not be completed before the deadline the court had established. “We scared the crap out of them when we descended on them,” Blakeman later told Michael E. Miller of the Washington Post. The chair of the county’s Democratic Party noted, “Violence, fear and physical intimidation affected the outcome of a lawful elections process.” Blakeman’s response? “We got some blowback afterwards, but so what? We won.”
That Stone and other Republican operatives would have fallen back on a violent mob to slow down an election proceeding twenty years after it had worked so well is not a stretch.
Still, Navarro seems eager to distance himself, Trump, and Bannon from any such plan. That eagerness might reflect a hope of shielding themselves from the idea they were part of a conspiracy to interfere with an official government proceeding. Such interference is a federal offense, thanks to a law passed initially during Reconstruction after the Civil War, when members of the Ku Klux Klan were preventing Black legislators and their white Republican allies from holding office or discharging their official duties once elected.
Prosecutors have charged a number of January 6 defendants with committing such interference, and judges—including judges appointed by Trump—have rejected defendants’ arguments that they were simply exercising their right to free speech when they attacked the Capitol. Investigators are exploring the connections among the rioters before January 6 and on that day itself, establishing that the attack was not a group of individual protesters who randomly attacked at the same time, but rather was coordinated.
The vice-chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, Liz Cheney (R-WY), has said that the committee is looking to see if Trump was part of that coordination and seeking to determine: “Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceedings to count electoral votes?”
Meanwhile, the former president continues to try to hamper that investigation. Today, Trump’s lawyers added a supplemental brief to his executive privilege case before the Supreme Court. The brief claims that since the committee is looking at making criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, it is not engaged in the process of writing new legislation, and thus it is exceeding its powers and has no legitimate reason to see the documents Trump is trying to shield.
But also today, a group of former Department of Justice and executive branch lawyers, including ones who worked for presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to deny Trump’s request that the court block the committee’s subpoena for Trump’s records from the National Archives and Records Administration. The brief’s authors established that administrations have often allowed Congress to see executive branch documents during investigations and that there is clearly a need for legislation to make sure another attack on our democratic process never happens again.
The committee must see the materials, they wrote, because “[i]t is difficult to imagine a more compelling interest than the House’s interest in determining what legislation might be necessary to respond to the most significant attack on the Capitol in 200 years and the effort to undermine our basic form of government that that attack represented.”
GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
Welcome to month ten of post-Capitol attack America in which no elite operatives have been punished for the worst attack on the Capitol since 1812! This includes fascist felon Steve Bannon, who turned his surrender for subpoena dodging into a reality TV show starring himself. We discuss Bannon’s brazen criminality and why the lack of urgency from agencies tasked with accountability is so dangerous. In times of extreme threat, complacency is complicity. 18. This is part of a long and destructive pattern.
One of President Trump’s most loyal propagandists is predicting that Trump will claim victory on election night as soon as he is ahead among Election Day voters. But that scenario is based on a misconception of how all ballots are counted and the early returns are compiled, according to election and legal experts.
“At 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock… on November 3, Donald J. Trump is going to walk into the Oval Office, and he may hit a tweet before he goes in there… and he’s going to sit there, having won Ohio, and being up in Pennsylvania and Florida, and he’s going to say, ‘Hey, game’s over,’” said Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s 2016 campaign CEO and former White House adviser, during a defiant speech on October 10 forum hosted by the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.
“The elites are traumatized. They do not want to go stand in line and vote. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a game-changer,” Bannon said. “It [the decisive factor] is what electorate shows up to vote on a vote that can be certified. That’s a vote that counts. And right now, what they [Trump critics] don’t want to talk about, is Donald J. Trump leads on people who are actually going to show up and vote on November 3, by 21 percent.”
Bannon’s prediction that Trump would defy norms by asserting that he won before indisputable victory margins were reported was not just another sign that Trump would not heed the rules governing 2020’s election. Bannon’s fiery speech was a glimpse into a propagandist’s mindset that drew on smears and distortions to fan partisan ill will. But his prediction of how Trump could claim an early victory was based on a flawed premise, because no early returns on election night were only going to contain the in-person votes cast on Election Day.
“The first reports are the county totals,” said Chris Sautter, an attorney who has specialized in post-election challenges and recounts for decades. “You don’t get the breakdowns [of votes cast in different categories such as early voting, mail-in votes, Election Day votes, and overseas votes] until after election night. It depends on the state.”
Other election administration experts confirmed that the election night returns would be a mix of all of the earliest votes cast—from early in-person voting sites, from absentee ballots that had been returned and processed, and from in-person voting on Election Day. (As of October 15, more than 16 million absentee ballots had been returned or cast in early voting, the U.S. Elections Project said.)
“There’s literally not a single credible journalist or analyst who would look at early returns in a close race with many ballots left to count and declare victory,” said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “If counting of all ballots magically ended at midnight on election night, we would have had a President Gore, and Donald Trump wouldn’t have won the presidency.”