‘Detached From Reality’ Is Trump’s Best Defense at This Point

“Attorney General Bill Barr..said former President Donald Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election had been stolen from him indicated he was “detached from reality.” Ironically, that seemingly damning assessment of Trump’s state of mind might be his best defense against a possible criminal prosecution.

The Jan. 6 Committee has spent a great deal of time during its first two hearings trying to prove that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election fair and square. On Monday, they effectively used the testimony of Trump’s former staff and lawyers to hammer home that Trump was repeatedly told the vote totals went against him, that allegations of election fraud were bogus and that he continued to spread them to his followers anyway.”

“as several former Trump insiders testified, the former president clung to implausible conspiracy theories advanced by a handful of legal advisers such as Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell.”

“prosecutors would have to overcome the likely defense that Trump sincerely believed the election had been stolen because he had been told so by people he believed were knowledgeable. Defendants usually don’t go to prison for following legal advice. While Eastman, Giuliani and Powell were conspiracy theorists whose claims were thrown out of multiple courts, they also were lawyers with, at one time, good credentials. Trump’s defense team would argue that he trusted them and relied on their advice. Poor judgment might disqualify someone for public office, but it is not, in and of itself, a crime.”

” That would also be a defense to another potential charge — that Trump obstructed an official proceeding, which requires proof that Trump had corrupt intent. A federal judge recently found that it was “more likely than not” that Trump had corrupt intent, relying on the fact that Pence and others told Trump that Eastman’s plan to set aside valid slates of electors and send the process back to the states was illegal. But in the context of a federal jury trial, Trump would only need to convince one juror that there was reasonable doubt that he believed a plan proposed to him by a prominent lawyer (who had once been a former Supreme Court clerk) was lawful.”

“Garland has been dealt a difficult hand. Many who view the committee hearings will assume that the mountain of evidence amassed by the committee would be more than sufficient to convict Trump. But Garland and his team must know that such a case would be a coin flip at best, and federal prosecutors don’t win over 95 percent of their cases by rolling the dice. They charge defendants when they know they have the goods, and based on what we’ve seen so far, they don’t have an airtight case against Trump.”

The January 6 hearings showed why it’s reasonable to call Trump a fascist

“Amid the many extraordinary revelations at the January 6 committee’s first primetime hearing Thursday, one stood out for its sheer depravity: that during the assault, when rioters chanted “hang Mike Pence” in the halls of the Capitol, President Donald Trump suggested that the mob really ought to execute his vice president.

“Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” he said, per a committee source. “[Mike Pence] deserves it.”

Endorsing violence is hardly new for Trump; it’s something he’s done repeatedly, often in an allegedly joking tone. But the reported comment from January 6 is qualitatively worse given the context: coming both amid an actual violent attack he helped stoke and one he did little to halt. The committee found that the president took no steps to defend the Capitol building, failing to call in the National Guard, or even speak to his secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security.

While he was de facto permitting the mob’s rampage, he was privately cheering the most violent stated objective of people he acknowledged as “our supporters.””

“when a leader whips up a mob to attack democracy with the goal of maintaining his grip on power in defiance of democratic order, then privately refuses to stop them while endorsing the murderous aims of people he claims as his own supporters, it’s hard to see him as anything but a leader of a violent anti-democratic movement with important parallels to interwar fascism.

This doesn’t prove that fascism is, in all respects, a perfect analogy for the Trump presidency. Yet when it comes to analyzing January 6, both Trump’s behavior and the broader GOP response to the event, [the] hearing proved that the analogy can be not only apt but illuminating.”

“Events like the 1922 March on Rome or 1923 Beer Hall Putsch help us understand the way in which attempts to forcefully seize power — even failed ones like the Putsch — can play a role in the rise of radical far-right movements. They help us understand the clarifying and organizing power of violence, the way in which banding together to hurt others can help solidify dangerous political tendencies.

And it helps us understand the potential for violence to recur, especially given the mainstream Republican Party’s continued whitewashing of January 6.

One of the defining elements of the interwar fascist ascendancy is the complicity of conservative elites — their belief that they could manipulate fascist movements for their own ends, empowering these movements while remaining in the driver’s seat. This is precisely how the mainstream Republican Party has approached Trump, even after a violent attempt to seize power exposed just how far he’s willing to go to hold power.”

4 things we learned from Monday’s January 6 hearing

“Barr, along with other administration officials, described playing “whack-a-mole” with Trump’s false claims of fraud.

Every time one false claim was dispelled, they said, the former president would bring up another. Aides repeatedly intervened to tell Trump that he had lost the election, and described taking each claim seriously, investigating it until they had the facts and reporting back to Trump. Former acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue described one meeting during which Trump seemed to accept the gathered evidence, but for each conspiracy theory aides were able to explain away, he had another he’d latch onto.

Barr described one popular conspiracy theory around the 2020 election, that it had been rigged by voting machine malfeasance, as “idiotic.” Other Justice Department officials testified that they repeatedly insisted to Trump that other conspiracy theories around the election were simply “not true,” including viral claims of ballot box stuffing in Georgia promoted by Giuliani or Trump’s false claims of “big massive dumps” of illegal votes.

Essentially, the committee suggested, Trump knew or should have known that his lies about the election were, as Barr put it, “bullshit.” But he repeated them anyway, which helped lead to the violence on January 6.”

The January 6 committee calls Trump out for his scams

“In the second January 6 hearing, House lawmakers argued Monday that former President Donald Trump not only engaged in the “big lie” — promoting the false narrative that the election was stolen from him — but also what they dubbed the “big ripoff.” Effectively, they said, Trump conned his supporters into giving him $250 million to contest the election results, while actually funneling many of those funds elsewhere, including to a nonprofit led by former chief of staff Mark Meadows and to Trump’s own hotels.

“We found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said in a closing statement for the hearing. “So not only was there the big lie, there was the big ripoff.”

As video testimony from former Trump campaign officials revealed, small-dollar donors were bombarded with emails to donate to an official “Election Defense Fund” in the wake of the 2020 election. Those donors were told that fund was aimed at combating (nonexistent) election fraud. In reality, however, no such fund existed, according to the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

“I don’t believe there was actually a fund called the Election Defense Fund,” Hanna Allred, a former Trump campaign staffer, testified to the committee. Ultimately, the fund was what another staffer categorized as a “marketing tactic” to bring in more money, most of which did not go to election-related litigation.

Instead, many of the funds were directed to a newly created Save America PAC, which has contributed millions to other pro-Trump groups. That includes $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, a charity foundation helmed by Meadows, $5 million to Event Strategies Inc., the vendor that put on Trump’s January 6 rally, and $204,857 to the Trump Hotel Collection.”

The January 6 committee is seemingly moving toward recommending charges for Trump

“The House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack seems to be building toward a conclusion that former President Donald Trump broke the law, and developments in recent days have intensified questions about his potential criminal exposure.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that White House records of Trump’s calls on the day of the attack, which had been turned over to the January 6 committee, had a gap of seven hours and 37 minutes in which no calls were listed. Speculation abounded from investigators and commentators that Trump used unofficial “burner phones” on that day to avoid leaving a paper trail with the federal government records. (Trump denied knowing what a burner phone is.)

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, a federal judge took stock of the January 6 committee’s argument that Trump had committed crimes connected to that day’s events — and found them persuasive. As part of a ruling in a civil lawsuit over whether Trump’s lawyer had to turn over some records to the committee, the judge wrote that Trump “more likely than not” committed both obstruction and conspiracy as he tried to impede Congress’s count of the electoral votes, and harshly condemned his actions. This is just one judge’s opinion, but it was a vote of confidence in the case the committee seems to be building.”

“Given that there are multiple reports about Trump making or receiving calls during this time span, it seems obvious the official records are incomplete. Trump may have used his aides’ phones to speak to others. But Woodward and Costa also report that the committee is investigating whether Trump deliberately used cheap “burner phones” that could be used temporarily and then disposed of, therefore avoiding an easily documentable paper trail.

Trump responded with a statement claiming he had “no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.”

But former national security adviser John Bolton told Costa he had heard Trump use the term “burner phones” several times and that Trump fully understood what they were used for. And Hunter Walker wrote for Rolling Stone back in November that some organizers of the pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC, on January 6 had obtained burner phones to contact Trump’s team and even members of the Trump family.”

The debate dividing the January 6 committee

“The committee can’t actually file charges against anyone, but they can recommend that the Justice Department do so, with a criminal referral. The House has already approved four such referrals from the committee — of Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Peter Navarro — for contempt of Congress. (All four aides refused to turn over some or all records to the committee.)

Panel leaders have been open that they’re assessing whether Trump violated the law, too, and they’ve argued he may have done so in court. Many anticipated that the committee would eventually put forward a referral for the former president.

But committee members like Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) downplayed the importance of such a move in these recent stories. “A referral doesn’t mean anything,” Lofgren told Politico.

In practical terms, Lofgren has a point. Once receiving a referral recommending charges against someone, the DOJ is under no obligation to follow through and charge them, and often the agency doesn’t.

Yet the question of whether Trump should be referred for prosecution does touch on broader questions of what exactly the committee is trying to achieve, and how Democrats (and Trump’s few Republican critics) are struggling to ensure the former president faces consequences for his attempted election theft.

Should the committee’s top priority be to make a maximal political splash, discrediting Trump in the eyes of the public? Or should they focus on trying to help a criminal indictment against Trump actually happen, and to make that case as strong as possible?

Is their audience the public, or is it Attorney General Merrick Garland?

And which strategy will best achieve those aims — if achieving them is even possible?”

The Sedition Indictment Against 11 Oath Keepers Describes a Plot That Was Pitifully Inept and Ineffectual

“The FBI has arrested more than 700 Donald Trump supporters who unlawfully entered the Capitol grounds or the Capitol itself that day, many of whom incriminated themselves by recording and/or livestreaming their activities. On the anniversary of the riot, The New York Times reported that “a little over 300” had been charged with petty crimes such as trespassing and disorderly conduct, while “more than 225 people” were “accused of attacking or interfering with the police” and “about 275” were charged with obstructing the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election.

Against this backdrop, last week’s indictment of 11 Oath Keepers stands out. It was the first time that any of the rioters had been charged with sedition—specifically, using force to “prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” The conspiracy described in the indictment is notably different from the spontaneous, heat-of-the-moment crimes committed by most of the people who stormed the Capitol. Unlike the riot as a whole, which looked more like a temper tantrum than an incipient coup, the “operation” mounted by the Oath Keepers was planned well in advance. Although it is the closest thing we have seen so far to an “insurrection” (the label that Democrats routinely apply to the riot), it was still half-baked and pitifully ineffectual.”

” The preparations for January 6 allegedly included gathering Oath Keepers from around the country; paramilitary training; “reconnaissance” of the Capitol area; multiple purchases of guns, ammunition, and firearm accessories; a stash of weapons at a hotel in Arlington; and a “quick reaction force” (QRF) that waited at the hotel, ready to act “if SHTF.” The indictment says “the QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.””

“The Oath Keepers who went to the Capitol on January 6 evidently did not bring any firearms, although they did have “hard-knuckle tactical gloves, tactical vests, ballistic goggles, radios, chemical sprays, a paracord attachment, fatigues, goggles, scissors, a large stick,” and a German Shepherd named Warrior.”

“According to the indictment, however, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers celebrated the riot and talked about following it up with further acts of resistance. “Thousands of ticked off patriots spontaneously marched on the Capitol,” Rhodes said that night in a Signal group chat. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Between January 10 and January 14, the indictment says, Rhodes spent about $18,000 on firearm parts, accessories, and ammunition. But apparently nothing came of whatever Rhodes might have been planning. He was not arrested until.. a year after the spending spree described in the indictment.”

“On Election Day, Rhodes publicly advised Oath Keepers to “stock up on ammo” and prepare for a “full-on war in the streets” if Biden were declared the winner. A week later, Rhodes posted a “call to action” under the headline “WHAT WE THE PEOPLE MUST DO.” It described elements of the revolt against Milosevic, which included not only “peaceful protests” and “complete civil disobedience” but also “swarm[ing] the streets,” “confronting the opponents,” “storm[ing] the Parliament,” and “burn[ing] down fake state Television.”

In a December 23, 2020, message on the Oath Keepers website, Rhodes said “tens of thousands of patriot Americans, both veterans and non-veterans, will already be in Washington D.C., and many of us will have our mission-critical gear stowed nearby just outside D.C.” He warned that he and likeminded patriots might have to “take to arms in defense of our God given liberty.”

So much for staying below the radar. Rhodes’ lack of discretion was not his only problem. It remains unclear exactly how he hoped to keep Trump in power.”

“The plan, evidently, was to “scare the shit” out of Congress with a show of force that would persuade legislators to reject electoral votes for Biden. But in the end, the Oath Keepers merely joined a riot that was already in progress, and the riot itself accomplished nothing but an interruption that delayed ratification of Biden’s victory until that night.”

“The sedition charges do not require that the defendants had any realistic hope of success. Assuming the allegations are true, Rhodes et al. did indeed conspire to use force to “prevent, hinder, or delay” the execution of Congress’ constitutional and statutory obligations to certify the election results. And in addition to the sedition counts, which are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, the defendants face various other charges, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, assault, destruction of government property, interference with law enforcement, and tampering with evidence (mainly by erasing incriminating data on their cellphones).

The Justice Department estimates that as many as 2,500 people may ultimately face charges in connection with the Capitol riot. Most of them will be more like Gonzalez, the “Capitol Doobie Smoker,” than Rhodes and his followers, who had ambitious but inept plans that ultimately amounted to little more than a sideshow in a much broader spasm of vandalism and violence that was itself utterly futile.”

How seditious conspiracy charges change the January 6 narrative

“the first seditious conspiracy charges in the investigation so far, and the first the Justice Department has brought in more than a decade. Seditious conspiracy isn’t the same as treason, but it’s also not terribly far off; as former federal prosecutor Laurence Tribe wrote for NBC News on Saturday, the “crime is, in effect, treason’s sibling.”
Specifically, seditious conspiracy occurs when two or more people work together to plan to overthrow the government or prevent the execution of its laws.

In the case against Rhodes and his alleged co-conspirators, the government presented evidence in the charging documents that shortly after the November 3, 2020, election, Rhodes told his followers, “Prepare your mind, body, and spirit” because, “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war.” In December, Rhodes promised a “bloody, massively bloody revolution” should a peaceful transfer of power occur, and in the lead-up to the Capitol riot purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of weapons, ammunition, and related tactical gear.

Other defendants in the case are alleged to have set up paramilitary training groups and created private Signal groups to discuss their operations, including procuring weapons and establishing a quick reaction force outside the DC area to bring in additional insurrectionists and weapons.”

We’re Misunderstanding What Caused Jan. 6

“A team of researchers found in a 2021 paper that an anti-establishment dimension would explain some of the more worrying extremes in American politics — things like support for conspiracy theories, endorsement of anti-expertise opinions and seeing politics as a battle between good and evil — better than the left-right dimension of our politics. One of those researchers, University of Miami political science professor Joseph Uscinski, found no difference in the prevalence of anti-establishment beliefs between Democrats and Republicans, using survey data collected in October 2020. What’s more, Uscinski found that anti-establishment ideologies better predicted belief in the conspiracies of QAnon and Trump’s claims of voter fraud than did left-right orientations.
What happened on Jan. 6 aimed to put a Republican president back in power — but Republican ideology might not be the best way to understand where the fear and anger on display at the Capitol came from.

So what do we lose if our polling and research analyses aren’t set up to see that?

Plenty, according to Wilson. Political parties benefit from stoking and promoting partisan polarization because it sparks more activism on their behalf. And an academia and a media that buy into that division as a primary explanation for American political violence risk creating the sort of false partisan polarization that leads us to believe the other side wants things they don’t really want.

But even more concerning is the fact that anti-establishment ideologies don’t vanish or become irrelevant when we don’t look at them. The beliefs are there, waiting for someone to pick up and use. A politician could come along and harness anti-establishment ideologues into his or her political caucus. That politician could then convince those Americans that they are the only trustworthy part of the political world. And that politician could convince Americans with an anti-establishment ideology to fight for him or her. You could argue this is exactly what Trump did, and the Republican Party has more politicians who have gone this route — but it’s an option open to either party. Ignoring anti-establishment ideologies means ignoring how political partisans might turn them into weapons, just as they did on the steps of the Capitol.”

The Big Lie’s Long Shadow

“The evolution of the Big Lie was the product of a vast catalog of politicians, pundits, true believers and benefactors financing and promoting claims of voter fraud and efforts to overturn the election. This includes lawyers like Lin Wood and Sidney Powell who filed pro-Trump lawsuits, Republican politicians who actively embraced the Big Lie like Georgia Rep. Jody Hice (whom Trump has endorsed in the race for Georgia secretary of state) and others who, while not embracing the Big Lie, refused to condemn it. It included political action committees and conservative groups that financed these efforts. And it included alt-right personalities like Steve Bannon and Mike Lindell, who have amassed huge audiences as they continue to promote the Big Lie.”