Deadly Disinformation – The Underreported Scandal at the New York Times

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on March 16, 2023.

Today’s assignment:

You write for the most influential newspaper in America. Your recent column about COVID relied on dubious sourcing, specifically, Person A, who agreed with your personal views on the issue.

Your opening “hook” for readers was Person A’s inaccurate and misleading statements. He characterized a medical review in which he participated (along with 11 others) as supporting your position, although the review itself stated that it didn’t.

Your column went viral. The medical community condemned Person A’s false characterization of the review and highlighted the review’s methodological limitations and failings that your column ignored.

Two weeks later, you doubled down on your position.

Shortly thereafter, the review’s editor-in-chief issued a statement that Person A and many commentators had misrepresented the review’s conclusions.

What do you do now?

What if you’re the newspaper’s editor?

Bret Stephens’ February 21 column on mask mandates created this scandal at the New York Times.

How It Began

When the next airborne pandemic strikes, the disinformation currently surrounding COVID will paralyze policymakers and the public. Both-sidesing critical mitigation measures such as masks – even when one side lacks serious factual support – has undermined science and created mass confusion.

Over the past three weeks, Stephens and the New York Times have added to that confusion.

The fact is that masks and mask mandates limited the spread of COVID. But Stephens claimed to have “unambiguous” proof from a recent Cochrane Library review that mandates didn’t work at all. A cursory reading of the Cochrane review abstract and authors’ summary revealed that it expressly – and repeatedly – declined to support Stephens’ position:

  • “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.”
  • “There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect.”
  • “We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed.”

Likewise before Stephens published his column, the medical community had warned that anti-maskers were misusing the Cochrane review to support their broader agenda.

Throwing caution – and facts – to the wind, Stephens turned to Tom Jefferson, one of the review’s 12 authors. Jefferson is a senior associate tutor in the department of continuing education at the University of Oxford. He has a history of being wrong about COVID.

As more than 50,000 Americans were dying during the month of April 2020 alone, Jefferson questioned whether the outbreak was really a pandemic or just a prolonged respiratory flu season. He continues to claim that there is no basis for saying that COVID spreads through airborne transmission, despite the fact that major public health agencies have long said otherwise. The “Declarations of interest” relating to the Cochrane mask review noted that Jefferson had voiced “an opinion on the topic of the review in articles for popular media…[and] was not involved in the editorial process for this review.”

Ignoring the red flags, Stephens opened his column by quoting Jefferson’s inaccurate and misleading statements, starting with: “‘There is just no evidence that they’ — masks — “‘make any difference. Full stop.’”

Then Stephens blasted CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for acknowledging the limitations in Cochrane’s review, accused her of turning the CDC into an “accomplice to the genuine enemies of reason and science,” and called for her resignation. He closed by saying that the review had vindicated those who fought mandates.

The Stephens/Jefferson misleading characterization of the Cochrane review provoked widespread condemnation from the medical community and others. Two days after Stephens’ column appeared, former CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote on Twitter:

“Community-wide masking is associated with 10-80% reductions in infections and deaths, with higher numbers associated with higher levels of mask wearing in high-risk areas.”

How It Proliferated

As anti-maskers weaponized Stephens’ column and it went viral, the New York Times failed to correct it:

  • The Times published four brief online letters to the editor accurately challenging Stephens’ false assertions and unsupportable conclusions.
  • The following Sunday’s print edition (February 26) boasted that Stephens’ column was one of “Last Week’s Top Trending Headlines” and noted that it “cited an analysis of Oxford studies by an Oxford epidemiologist, drew nearly 3,800 comments from readers, not all of them agreeing with him.”
  • In the February 27 installment of “The Conversation” – a weekly dialogue between Stephens and the Times’ Gail Collins – neither mentioned Stephens’ misleading column.
  • In Stephens’ next weekly column for the Times on February 28, he moved on to a new subject – Ukraine.

The Times March 6 episode of “The Conversation” finally raised the issue. Reaffirming his incorrect position, Stephens ignored the medical community’s criticism of the Cochrane review and his column, denied relying solely on the review (even though his column cited nothing else), and dragged his fellow Times mask-mandate critic, David Leonhardt, into the fray.

How It Unraveled

Four days later, on March 10, Times opinion columnist Zenyep Tufekci, a journalism professor at Columbia University, published yet another detailed critique of the Cochrane review: “Here’s Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work.” She didn’t name Stephens, but she detailed facts and evidence that demolished Jefferson’s misleading claims in his column.

Some of that evidence came from Cochrane Library’s editor-in-chief, Karla Soares-Weiser. She told Tufekci that Jefferson had seriously misinterpreted its finding on masks when he said that it proved that “there is just no evidence that they make any difference.”

“[T]hat statement is not an accurate representation of what the review found,” Soares-Weiser said.

Hours later, Soares-Weiser issued Cochrane’s statement repeating the cautionary caveats in the review itself, which “has been widely misinterpreted… Given the limitations in the primary evidence, the review is not able to address the question of whether mask-wearing itself reduces people’s risk of contracting or spreading respiratory viruses.” (Italics in original)

Cochrane’s statement also called out the purveyors of disinformation: “Many commentators have claimed that a recently-updated Cochrane Review shows that ‘masks don’t work’, which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation.” (Italics in original)

How the Times Made It Worse

The Tufekci article suggested that the Times had come down on the side of fact-based science demonstrating that masks and mandates had been effective. But on Sunday, March 12, its online edition presented mask mandates as a debatable proposition: Should we use them in the next pandemic?

Using a “Yes” or “No” format, the Times relied on Dr. Anders Tegnell, former state epidemiologist for Sweden, to defend the “No Mask Mandate” position. Given the parameters of the hypothetical pandemic that the Times posed (only five cases of a deadly respiratory virus in a single jurisdiction and 10 cases nationwide), Tegnell said that masks should be used in health and elder care settings. He said that it was too soon for a mandate, but the decision would depend on how the situation unfolded.

So even the “No” wasn’t really a no. The Times failed to mention that Tegnell had presided over his country’s disastrous “do-nothing” response during the first year of COVID-19, when Sweden’s COVID death rate far exceeded neighboring Nordic countries.

How It Will Haunt Us

Stephens moved on without remorse, but the incalculable damage left in his wake endures. Mask mandates are disappearing and won’t return any time soon, but not because they were ineffective when needed. The catastrophic consequences of Stephens’ disinformation will arrive when the next airborne virus (or COVID variant) strikes, pandemic victims overwhelm hospitals, policymakers and the public disregard science, and a proven mitigation tool remains on the shelf.

The Times is complicit. After failing to issue a correction to Stephens’ column, it then regressed to both-sidesism. Presenting both sides of an issue as if they stand on equal, fact-based footing when they don’t is not journalism. It’s an insidious form of disinformation.

When it involves public health, it can be deadly.

The GOP’s “Weaponization” Subcommittee Leads to…. Kash Patel!

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on March 8, 2023

Worse than a bust, it’s a boomerang.

As part of the deal to become Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promised far-right extremists a new committee to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government. Its first chairperson, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), claims that “dozens” of “whistleblowers” have come forward with evidence that the Department of Justice – including the FBI – has been targeting conservatives.

So far, Jordan has surfaced with only three disgruntled former FBI employees who have little first-hand knowledge and a lot of baggage.

But behind two of them lies the real story. 

The Roster and the Real Story

Jordan’s first “star witness” is George Hill, a former FBI analyst in Boston’s field office. On Twitter, Hill claimed that the Jan. 6 attack was a “set up” and that there was “a larger #Democrat plan using their enforcement arm, the #FBI.” He also described the FBI as “the Brown Shirt enforcers of the @DNC” – a reference to Hitler’s Nazi storm troopers.

The other two are Stephen Friend and Garrett O’Boyle. Friend resigned as a special agent in the FBI’s Daytona Beach office after refusing to take part in a S.W.A.T. raid of a suspect in the January 6 insurrection. The suspect was an alleged member of the right-wing Three Percenter militia who posted a video of himself carrying an AR-15-style rifle outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Garrett O’Boyle is an FBI special agent from the Wichita office. The FBI suspended him, but he refuses to say why.

But the real story is that Friend and O’Boyle have a common benefactor – Kash Patel, who has provided them with financial support. Patel sent Friend $5,000 almost immediately after they connected in November 2022 and has helped to promote Friend’s forthcoming book. Patel also got Friend his new job at the Center for Renewing America (CRA), a far-right organization where Patel is a fellow.

Another CRA fellow is former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, who pushed Trump to overturn the 2020 election. Appearing before the House’s January 6 committee, Clark asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.

But the person to watch is 43-year-old Kash Patel, formerly a top Jordan aide. In his meteoric rise to the upper echelon of Trump advisers, he has been the Forrest Gump of Trump’s biggest scandals.


In the spring of 2017, Patel joined Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staff on the House Intelligence Committee and became an active participant in the effort to undermine the Trump-Russia investigation. As senior committee counsel, Patel became a key contributor to the Nunes memo attacking the FBI and the Justice Department.

In early 2019, Patel became senior counsel to Jim Jordan on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Trump’s First Impeachment

By the time Trump tried to shake down Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019, Patel had moved to the president’s National Security Council. Ukraine was outside Patel’s portfolio of official responsibilities, but Trump referred to him as one of his top Ukraine policy specialists. The NSC specialists actually in charge of Ukraine policy feared that Patel was a backchannel to Trump – fueling the false narrative that Ukraine had interfered on behalf of Democrats in the 2016 election.

The Election, the Insurrection, and Trump’s Second Impeachment

In February 2020, Trump named Patel as principal deputy to Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, another fierce Trump loyalist. A month later, Patel met with intelligence officials and imposed limits on what they could tell congressional leaders during closed-door sessions about Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 presidential election.

Patel got another promotion on November 10, shortly after every news outlet had confirmed that Trump had lost the election. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and appointed Patel – who had no military background – as chief of staff for Esper’s replacement, Christopher Miller.

A month later, Trump planned to name Patel deputy director of the CIA, but fierce resistance at the 11th hour from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House counsel Pat Cipollone caused Trump to reverse course.

After the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Patel was among the top Defense Department officials whose phones were “wiped” – deleting all text messages before, during, and after the insurrection.

The Mar-a-Lago Documents

By early 2022, the controversy between Trump and the National Archives over Trump’s refusal to return presidential records, including classified material, was intensifying. In April, Trump named Patel to the board of his social media company. In May, Patel began claiming publicly and without evidence that Trump had declassified the documents. By then, the Archives had already referred the matter to the Justice Department. Shortly thereafter, a grand jury issued a subpoena to recover the material.

During Patel’s October 13, 2022 appearance before the federal grand jury investigating Trump’s handling of the Mar-a-Lago documents, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Three weeks later, Patel testified under a Justice Department grant of immunity from prosecution.

The Next Chapter

In July 2022, Axios reported that Trump and his allies were preparing a plan for Trump’s second term that would empower him to fire 50,000 federal workers throughout the bureaucracy and replace them with sycophants. At the top of his would-be administration, Trump wants people with “courage,” such as Jeffrey Clark – a potential Trump attorney general – and Kash Patel.

Citing sources close to Trump, the Axios article concluded, “If Patel could survive Senate confirmation, there is a good chance Trump would make him CIA or FBI director. If not, Patel would likely serve in a senior role in the White House.”

When it comes to “weaponizing” the federal government for partisan gain, Trump still has no equal – and no shortage of loyalists like Jim Jordan’s former aide, Kash Patel, waiting to pull the trigger.

Whatever Happened to the New York Times Fact-Checker?

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on February 25, 2023.

Labeling a newspaper column an “opinion” doesn’t create a license to play fast and loose with facts.

All of my op-eds for the New York Times have gone through rigorous fact-checking with a conscientious Times editor. Apparently, columnist Bret Stephens is exempt from any such requirement. The Times should alert its readers to his special status so they can protect themselves.

Masks Work

For years, the science of masking to minimize the spread of airborne viruses, including COVID, has been settled. But Stephens’ February 21 column mischaracterized a recent review of other researchers’ studies to push his anti-masking views. In the process, he made the Times a megaphone for broadcasting incomplete, misleading, and dangerous assertions as if they were facts.

Stephens began his column by describing the Cochrane Library’s January 30, 2023 review as the “most rigorous and comprehensive analysis of scientific studies on the efficacy of masks for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses — including Covid-19.” Then he wrote that one of the study’s 11 authors, Tom Jefferson, said its conclusions “were unambiguous.”

We’ll return to that one.

Quoting Jefferson, Stephens continued, “‘There’s just no evidence that they’ – masks – ‘make any difference.’”

How about high-quality N-95 masks?

Again, quoting Jefferson, Stephens wrote, “‘Makes no difference – none of it.’”

Stephens then quoted Jefferson on the futility of using masks in conjunction with many other accepted medical precautions – hand hygiene, physical distancing, or air filtration: “‘There’s no evidence that many of these things make any difference.’”

Stunning statements – and flat-out wrong. Even Cochrane’s review undermined Jefferson’s draconian certainty. The “plain language summary” accompanying the published review began with this “Key message” about its findings: “We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed.”

“Uncertain” is a far cry from “unambiguous.”

Then again, Jefferson has been wrong before. In March 2020, he said of COVID, “[T]here does not seem to be anything special about this particular epidemic of influenza-like illness.” In July 2020, he asserted that COVID may have been lying dormant around the world, rather than originating in China. And for years, he has been hostile toward masking.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Stephens used Jefferson’s comments to introduce his larger argument: “Mask mandates were a bust.” As he attacked the CDC’s “mindless adherence to its masking guidance,” Stephens failed to mention the growing body of medical and scientific literature lambasting those misusing Cochrane’s review to undermine masking generally.

First, Cochrane’s was not a new scientific study. It retrieved and combined data from separate trials that varied greatly in “quality, design, populations, and outcomes” in what scientists call a “meta-analysis.” But combining such apples, oranges, grapes, peaches, and pears can create problems.

That’s why the 11 Cochrane authors themselves warned: “The variable quality of the studies hampers drawing any firm conclusions.”

Second, most of the actual trials in Cochrane’s review tested only mask effectiveness at preventing infection in the wearer. They ignored the potential benefits of face masks in preventing the spread of infection to others. In fact, buried in Stephens’ op-ed is his telling admission:

“[T]he analysis does not prove that proper masks, properly worn, had no benefit on an individual level.”

Third, Cochrane’s authors acknowledged that in their assessment of community-wide masking effectiveness, “Relatively low numbers of people followed the guidance about wearing masks or about hand hygiene, which may have affected the results of the studies.” 

How can anyone conclude from clinical trials that masks don’t work when most people in the trials didn’t wear them, much less wear them correctly?

Likewise, some of the studies in Cochrane’s review relied on participants to self-report their mask usage. That’s a big problem. In a study of masking in Kenya, 76% of participants self-reported masking in public, but the actual observed masking rate was only 5%.

The Cochrane Review Itself Repeatedly Acknowledged Its Limitations

As a group, Cochrane’s authors themselves listed the many limitations of their review that accounted for “the observed lack of effect of mask-wearing”: poor study design, lower adherence to mask-wearing (especially among children), the quality of the masks used, and more.

Commenting on Cochrane’s review, one medical fact-checker observed, “Each of these factors increases the risk of bias, reducing the reliability of [Cochrane’s] conclusions. In addition, while some studies confirmed the type of [COVID] infection by a laboratory test, many others relied on self-reporting to assess both mask-wearing and infection, further increasing the risk of bias.” 

All of which explains why Cochrane’s authors collectively expressly discounted their own conclusions about the effectiveness of population-level masking: “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.”

Again, the authors’ “plain language summary” accompanying the review noted: “Our confidence in these results is generally low to moderate for the subjective outcomes related to respiratory illness….”

In less technical terms: “garbage in, garbage out.”

Tragedy Ahead

The New York Times’ failure to fact-check Stephens on this critical public health issue has real-world consequences. It prolongs needless controversy over whether wearing masks protects individuals from COVID when the proven fact is that they do. As a result of Stephens’ rant, some people will decide not to wear a mask, even in high-risk settings. Some people will become ill. Some people will be hospitalized. Some people will die.

For me and the millions of immunocompromised households in America, this is especially personal. To a great degree, our health depends upon others wearing masks to protect us, as well as them, in high-risk settings. We’re on the front lines of a war that Americans can win. But Bret Stephens and the New York Times have erected another misinformation obstacle to victory over the pandemic.

Waiting for Stephens’ Next Epiphany

Maybe someday Stephens will change his mind, as he did with climate change. For more than a decade, he was a leading climate-change denier. While still at the Wall Street Journal, he wrote in 2008 that global warming was “a mass hysteria phenomenon.” A year later, he said that the intellectual methods of “global warming true believers” were “instructively similar” to Stalin’s. 

But in August 2022, Stephens’ trip to Greenland’s melting glaciers resulted in “fresh thinking” that produced a lengthy op-ed for the Times. He opened his eyes and changed his mind:

“I always said to myself, that I should never be afraid to change my mind in public, even on subjects where I’ve taken, you know, I’ve really put a stake in the ground. So that was, that was how that long 6,000-word giant piece came to life….”

Using the thin reed of the latest Cochrane Library review, Stephens has put another bad stake in the ground. Someday he might change his mind. But the country can’t afford to wait the years that it took for his epiphany on global warming.

Visiting COVID patients in an ICU might accelerate his awakening. Perhaps Stephens could bring along another New York Times columnist without public health qualifications who has downplayed COVID repeatedly – David Leonhardt.

If they believe what Stephens led his readers to conclude on February 21, they won’t wear masks. And they’ll encourage the doctors and nurses in attendance to remove theirs.

HELP WANTED: Five Rational Republicans Willing to Save the U.S. Economy

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on February 8, 2023.

The immediate task is simple: Raise the nation’s debt limit and thereby avert a U.S. recession and worldwide economic disaster.


Five is a magic number. A mere five Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives must step up—and soon.

They must join all House Democrats to prevent a massive, self-inflicted national wound. They must place their country above a nihilistic, anti-democratic—with a small “d”—GOP that obfuscates and excuses the January 6 insurrection as a “peaceful protest.” They must weather the wrath of a MAGA-dominated Republican party.

And so far, they are missing in action.

The immediate task is simple: Raise the nation’s debt limit and thereby avert a U.S. recession and worldwide economic disaster.

Lies and Hypocrisy Meet a Constitutional Mandate

Incorrectly characterizing America’s debt ceiling, congressional Republicans suggest that it’s analogous to an individual’s credit card: “You hit the limit and can’t spend anymore.”

But the nation’s debt limit has nothing to do with future spending. Raising the ceiling merely allows the federal government to pay debts it has already incurred for expenditures that Congress previously approved.

The U.S. Constitution has already spoken on this issue: “The validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.”

Even so, if Republican extremists who control House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) prevail, sometime this summer the U.S. Treasury will exhaust the extraordinary measures now underway to avert defaulting on that debt. The nation and the world could nosedive into an economic recession or worse.

In Part, It’s About 2024

Democrats and Republicans raised the ceiling three times under President Donald Trump as he increased the national debt by $7 trillion. So what new urgency prompts the current GOP trek toward economic apocalypse?

A partial answer is that President Joe Biden is a Democrat. The best case for any Democratic victory in 2024 is the economy. It has come roaring back on his watch: More jobs created in the first two years than any president in history, bipartisan support for historic infrastructure investment and climate action, easing inflation, falling gas prices, and more. The best way to defeat any Democrat in 2024 is to kill the economy. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling might do the trick.

America has been down this road. Before the midterm elections in 2010 ushered in the first GOP Tea Party candidates, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared that making President Barack Obama a one-term president was “the single most important thing we want to achieve.” Republicans then won control of the House.

A year later, McConnell played the debt-ceiling card. Only 72 hours before a U.S. default in 2011, McConnell agreed to raise the limit in return for cuts in future government spending. Along the way, he also killed Obama’s proposal for tax increases on the wealthy as an alternative method of balancing future budgets.

But in the weeks leading up to that 11th hour resolution, uncertainty surrounding the negotiations roiled financial markets. Stocks plummeted and didn’t recover for months. Volatility spiked; interest rates increased; S&P downgraded the nation’s debt rating; and the country’s borrowing costs went up by $1.3 billion.

President Obama still won a second term. And this time around, even McConnell sees the folly of threatening a U.S. government default.

“In the end, I think the important thing to remember is that America must never default on its debt. It never has, and it never will,” McConnell said last month. “We’ll end up in some kind of negotiation with the administration over what the circumstances or conditions under which the debt ceiling [will] be raised.”

McConnell assumes that reasonable minds will prevail. But today’s House Republicans make that a dangerous assumption.

Thelma and Louise Go To Washington

The fact that President Biden is a Democrat is not the only reason for Republican obstruction. After all, following the 2011 debacle, Republicans approved additional debt limit increases during the Obama administration with far less drama. But this time really is different.

The embarrassing spectacle of McCarthy’s election as speaker makes clear that a few far-right extremists now control him and the GOP’s House majority. Economic ruin doesn’t scare them. At their core, they are nihilists. Destruction is in their DNA.

Negotiate, McConnell says. How can anyone negotiate with hostage takers who refuse to say what they want? Beyond unspecified cuts to future spending, the GOP won’t even list its demands. But a few “emerging GOP ideas” have appeared.

During his State of the Union speech, President Biden noted correctly that some Republicans in Congress had proposed “sunsetting” Social Security and Medicare. He was referring to Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) infamous 11-point plan to “rescue America,” which would require congressional re-enactment of all federal legislation – including Social Security and Medicare – after five years.

From the audience, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yelled, “Liar.” When other Republicans joined her heckling, Biden embraced their new collective promise not to cut those programs:

“So, folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now. Right? All right. We’ve got unanimity!”

Republicans applauded the line. Time will tell if the GOP promise sticks.

Other Republican “ideas” would actually increase spending, such as additional border wall funding. Likewise, House Republicans have already voted to approve another GOP “idea”: reduce $80 billion in previously authorized IRS funding slated to hire 87,000 more employees and modernize antiquated systems. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Republican plan would actually increase the deficit because it would reduce federal revenue by $186 billion.

The most candid of the congressional far-right extremists would refuse to increase the debt limit at all and allow the economy to go off a cliff – like the title characters in Thelma and Louise speeding into the Grand Canyon.

Prominent financial players, including Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, hope that default doesn’t happen. But as Moynihan observed on February 6, “Hope is not a strategy.”  He is preparing his institution for a possible U.S. default, and he’s not alone.

Five rational Republicans in the House can stop the madness, provided the Democratic candidate wins Virginia’s February 21 special election for a currently open seat.

Otherwise, it will take six.

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Don’t Call Them Election Deniers. Call them Election Liars

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on October 24, 2022.

“Lie: To make an untrue statement with intent to deceive.”
“Liar: A person who tells lies.”

            Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Thomas Jefferson warned that an informed citizenry would be crucial to the survival of democracy. In pursuit of that mission today, words matter and the media bear a special responsibility to get them right. When they don’t, democracy itself can become the ultimate victim. That’s happening now.

Universally, the media have settled on the term election “denier” to describe election liars. The difference goes far beyond semantics.

Election “denier” is tailor-made for today’s “bothsidesism” press. It implies the existence of two defensible but competing positions on President Joseph Biden’s unambiguous victory. It allows the media to straddle both sides of a polarized electorate without the risk of alienating those offended by the plain truth. Clarity yields to the chase for subscribers, viewers, and online clicks.

But by definition, those spreading the Big Lie that Trump won the election are liars. Asserting otherwise ignores Biden’s resounding popular vote and Electoral College wins, followed by Trump’s 60+ unsuccessful court challenges seeking to reverse those results. It disregards schemes that are the subject of federal and state criminal investigations to subvert the election. It perpetuates the danger that culminated in the January 6 insurrection.

And it undermines what matters most to American democracy: public confidence in free, fair, and secure elections.

The widespread use of election “denier” is the culmination of the press’s struggle to cover Donald Trump appropriately. Until 2015, the country had never seen a presidential candidate like him. Rarely calling him a persistent liar – which he is – news organizations accused him of more benign acts: “dishonesty, spreading falsehoods, misrepresenting facts, distorting news, passing on inaccuracies, and being loose with the truth.”

The Washington Post didn’t use the word “lie” about a false Trump assertion until August 22, 2018. By then, its fact checker had documented his more than 4,200 “false or misleading claims” but had never used the “L” word. Rationalizing his prior reluctance, the fact checker wrote, “[I]t is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth.”

Actually, it’s not. In a court of law, juries can and do infer intent from surrounding facts and circumstances, including prior bad acts. By the time Trump left office, the fact checker had found more than 30,000 “false or misleading” Trump claims, but rarely had the paper called them lies.

Likewise, Associated Press standards editor John Daniszewski explained, “[W]e feel it’s better to say what the facts are, say what the person said and let the audience make the decision whether or not it’s an intentional lie.”

Such disingenuous sophistry abdicates the press’ fundamental responsibility in a democracy. Trump has overwhelmed the public with lies, and his allies have amplified them. Americans need the help of respected news organizations to separate fact from fiction. Identifying lies – and avoiding euphemisms in describing them – should be part of every real journalist’s (and headline editor’s) job.

In 2018, Dean Baquet, then-executive editor of the New York Times, offered this excuse:

“The word ‘lie’ is very powerful. For one thing, it assumes that someone knew the statement was false. Another reason to use the word judiciously is that our readers could end up focusing more on our use of the word than on what was said. And using ‘lie’ repeatedly could feed the mistaken notion that we’re taking political sides. That’s not our role.”

Previous press malfeasance does not justify its current failures. Take Baquet’s points in order and apply them anew to election liars: First, the power of the word “lie” is all the more reason to use it when democracy’s survival hangs in the balance. Second, election liars know that Biden won because – almost two years later – they can cite no credible evidence to the contrary. Third, audiences should focus on the fact that Trump and his allies are lying to them about Biden’s right to the presidency.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, labeling election liars accurately is not “taking political sides.” It’s the responsibility of a free press in the fight to save democracy.

The descent down the slippery slope of equivocation is swift. On October 13, 2022, the front-page headline of the Times’ online edition read: “Over 370 Republican Candidates Have Cast Doubt on the 2020 Election.”

“Cast Doubt” – that’s not so bad, right? Two days later, the article’s headline in my home-delivery print edition was worse: “2020 Election Skeptics Crowd the Republican Ticket Nationwide.”

“Skeptics” – that’s a good trait, isn’t it? To ancient Greek philosophers, skeptics were merely critical thinkers about debatable propositions. The current dictionary definitions of skepticism include “an attitude of doubt… either in general or toward a particular object” and “the doctrine that… knowledge in a particular area is uncertain.”

But there is no longer any doubt or uncertainty about President Joseph Biden’s election victory. Asserting the contrary view is lying. Period.

The election liars’ only intent is to deceive, and their battle cry is simple: “If we don’t win the next election, it must have been rigged – just as the last one was.”

To observe the impact of failing to call election liars what they are, look at videos depicting the death and destruction that occurred on January 6.

Look at how, since January 6, Trump’s Big Lie has metastasized throughout the GOP and the American body politic.

Look at gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R-AZ). In a CNN appearance on October 16, 2022, she refused to commit to accepting defeat.

Look at how the stage is set for violence and chaos that could erupt in key states and congressional districts where Republicans lose in November.

But some of the election liars will win in November 2022.

Now imagine November 2024.

Timeline of Trump’s Lies: The Mar-a-Lago Papers and ‘Consciousness of Guilt’

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on August 17, 2022.

Day after day in the unfolding Mar-a-Lago scandal, Trump’s own words have added evidence of criminal wrongdoing that could cost him a lot more than money.


Former president Donald Trump is unleashing a barrage of contradictory lies about the FBI’s search of a possible crime scene – Mar-a-Lago. As each lie collapses under the weight of incontrovertible facts, he moves on to a new one. In 2018, Trump adviser Steve Bannon described the strategy to author Michael Lewis:

“The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

Except this time Trump’s very real opposition is the U.S. Department of Justice, and federal prosecutors are not so easily distracted. With every lie that Trump tells and then abandons, he creates new evidence of what prosecutors call “consciousness of guilt” – a defendant’s post-crime conduct indicating an awareness that he or she committed the offense.

Ironically, as Trump spun his Mar-a-Lago lies, he sat for a deposition in the New York attorney general’s civil suit that threatens his wealth. Trump refused to answer every question, except his name. He asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times.

Yet day after day in the unfolding Mar-a-Lago scandal, Trump’s own words have added evidence of criminal wrongdoing that could cost him a lot more than money.

Timeline Leading to the Search

January 2022: After months of wrangling with the National Archives, Trump returned 15 boxes of presidential documents that he had no right to possess. Under the Presidential Records Act, they were and are the property of the American people. When he left office, they should have gone to the Archives, regardless of whether they were classified.

February 2022: While in office, Trump had torn up documents and flushed them down the White House residence toilet. As Archives officials reviewed the 15 boxes of material recovered in January 2022, they discovered previously torn documents that White House records management personnel had taped back together. They found other documents that remained in tatters.

Archives officials realized that some boxes contained classified material and suspected that some records were missing altogether. They referred the matter to the Justice Department.

April-May 2022: Federal agents quietly interviewed Trump aides at Mar-a-Lago about the handling of presidential records.

June 3, 2022: Four Justice Department investigators met with Trump’s lawyers at Mar-a-Lago and visited a basement room housing the documents. During the meeting, the investigators served a grand jury subpoena for some of the sensitive national security documents and took those documents with them.

Around this time, one of Trump’s lawyers certified that Trump had now returned all classified material in the storage room boxes.

June 8, 2022: Trump’s attorneys received a letter from federal investigators asking them to increase security for the document storage room in the basement at Mar-a-Lago. Trump aides added a padlock.

June 22, 2022: Federal investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization for surveillance tape of the Mar-a-Lago document storage area. The tape allowed investigators to determine who had accessed that area.

Aug. 5, 2022: Based on an evidentiary showing of probable cause that the search would lead to evidence of a crime, a federal magistrate judge approved the warrant to search specific areas of Mar-a-Lago.

Timeline of Trump’s Lies

Lie #1: Persecution

Aug. 8, 2022: The FBI conducted the search and gave Trump’s representatives a copy of the warrant. When they finished, they also provided Trump with an inventory listing everything that the FBI had found and seized.

The warrant revealed that the FBI was seeking evidence of serious crimes involving destruction of government records, obstruction of justice, and the Espionage Act.

The inventory revealed that the FBI had found 20 boxes of material that included 11 sets of classified documents. Some documents were marked “Secret,” “Top Secret,” or “Top Secret/Secured Compartmented Information” – one of the highest levels of classification. 

That evening, Trump complained publicly about the search, calling it political persecution. He had a copy of the warrant and inventory that proved otherwise, but the public didn’t.

Lie #2: The FBI is corrupt

August 10, 2022: Trump suggested falsely that the FBI may have planted evidence during the search.

August 11, 2022: Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he would seek public disclosure of the search warrant and the inventory of items that the FBI had collected during the search. Those documents would reveal the criminal statutes involved and the results of the search, thereby exposing Trump’s lies about “persecution” and supposedly “FBI-planted” material.

Lie #3: Obama did it too

August 11, 2022: On his social network platform, Trump pivoted to a new lie that also introduced a red herring. He claimed falsely that former President Barack Obama took millions of classified documents with him. In fact, the National Archives retained custody of President Obama’s records when he left office, including those sent to an Archives facility in the Chicago area. Moreover, the criminal statutes cited in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant apply to classified and unclassified documents.

August 12, 2022: The National Archives publicly refuted Trump’s lie.

Lie #4: Trump declassified everything

August 12: Trump announced that he would not oppose the release of the search warrant and inventory, and the federal magistrate judge unsealed them. With public disclosure of the serious potential crimes identified in the warrant, coupled with the classified material listed in the inventory, Trump resorted to a new lie that highlighted his red-herring issue. Without any supporting documentation, he claimed that he had issued a “standing order” declassifying everything that went to Mar-a-Lago.

But that contradicted what one of Trump’s lawyers had certified to the Justice Department in June, namely, that all classified material at Mar-a-Lago had been returned.

Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said that Trump’s claim to have issued a standing order was “almost certainly a lie.” Bolton knew of no such order, adding, “When somebody begins to concoct lies like this, it shows a real level of desperation.”

Glenn Gerstell, Trump’s former top lawyer for the National Security Agency from 2015 to 2020, called Trump’s claim of a standing order “preposterous.”

Lies #5 and #6 in the works?

Aug. 14, 2022: On CNN, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said that he hadn’t seen the Mar-a-Lago documents. Nevertheless, he still raised doubts about whether the documents really had risen “to the highest level of classified material.” (Never mind those pesky “Secret,” “Top Secret,” and “Top Secret/SCI” designations. And never mind that Trump’s entire “classified v. declassified” argument is a red-herring anyway.)

Turner, by the way, is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

Aug. 16, 2022: Former Trump White House aides began blaming former chief of staff Mark Meadows for failing to return presidential documents before Trump left office.

You might think that Trump’s Republican defenders would have grown weary of his contradictory lies, pause before pushing each new one, or notice that Trump throws even his staunchest loyalists under the bus.

You’d be wrong. They’ve already coalesced around several conflicting whoppers.

And it’s only been a week.

The ‘Missing Text Messages’ Timeline: Incompetence, Obstruction, or Worse?

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on August 2, 2022.

As Trump railed against the “Deep State,” he was creating one of his own.


Behind the story of missing text messages from the U.S. Secret Service and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is a bigger scandal: Former President Donald Trump placed his loyalists in key executive branch positions for a reason. Many are still there.

Trump’s Loyalists

The most benign explanation for the widespread disappearance of the Secret Service’s text messages surrounding the January 6 insurrection is the stunning incompetence of the agency’s leadership. The actual explanation may be more nefarious.

April 2019: Trump removed Secret Service Director Randolph Alles. He had been former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly’s selection for the post. But by the end of December 2018, Trump had ousted Kelly as White House chief of staff and began to purge the DHS of Kelly’s leadership team there.

To replace Alles, Trump wanted Tony Ornato, who had led Trump’s personal security detail until Trump made him White House deputy chief of staff—an unprecedented move for supposedly apolitical Secret Service agents. Ornato told Trump to pick James Murray to head the Service instead. After a 10-minute interview with Murray, Trump did.

July 2019: Trump appointed Joseph Cuffari to replace the DHS inspector general (DHS OIG). During the six prior years, Cuffari had been an advisor to Arizona’s Republican governors, Jan Brewer and Doug Ducey. As DHS’s IG, he was supposed to be the independent, non-partisan watchdog overseeing the department.

But that was never how Trump saw any IG. During a six-week period in April and May 2020, Trump fired five IGs, including Michael Atkinson—his own appointee. Atkinson had determined that Congress should see the “credible” and “urgent” whistleblower complaint that led eventually to Trump’s first impeachment. Then he alerted the Congress that Trump’s director of national intelligence had withheld that complaint from lawmakers.

June 2020: Following the police murder of George Floyd, the Secret Service helped to clear Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square for Trump’s photo op—where he held up a Bible. Ten days later, career staffers in Cuffari’s office proposed an investigation into whether the Service had violated its use-of-force policies. Cuffari blocked the probe.

August 2020: While protecting Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during campaign rallies and appearances, dozens of Secret Service agents contracted COVID-19. Cuffari sought to limit—and then ultimately shelved—an investigation into whether the Service ignored federal protocols to detect and reduce the spread of the pandemic within its workforce.

The Missing Texts Timeline—So Far

In addition to protecting the nation’s leaders, the Secret Service possesses the world’s leading cybersecurity expertise. But now it claims to have botched a standard technological exercise.

Fall 2020: According to the Secret Service, it began planning to migrate all electronic devices to a new system. The process would erase all employees’ text messages from their phones.

Dec. 9, 2020: The Secret Service Office of Strategic Planning sent an email to agency employees reminding them of their responsibility to preserve records and including instructions on how to do so. The agency’s chief information officer sent a similar email in January 2021.

Jan. 16, 2021: As Trump’s second impeachment investigation proceeded, multiple House committees directed DHS—which includes the Secret Service—to produce all materials relating to January 6. Additional congressional requests came on March 25, August 11, and August 25, 2021.

Jan. 20, 2021: Inauguration Day

Jan. 25, 2021: The Secret Service told its personnel to back up their phones’ data, leaving individual agents to decide what they should preserve. IT experts later described that approach as “ludicrous” and “crazy.”

Jan. 27, 2021: The systemwide migration began, deleting anything that individual agents had not backed up.

Feb. 4, 2021: All Secret Service employees received an email instructing them to preserve all communications specific to Jan. 6.

Feb. 26, 2021: Cuffari’s office first requested electronic documents from the Secret Service, “after the migration was well under way,” according to the Service.

Apr. 1, 2021: The systemwide migration was completed.

May 2021: The Secret Service notified Cuffari’s office that its agents’ text messages had been deleted, but Cuffari did not inform Congress.

June 11, 2021: Cuffari’s office requested records and texts from 24 Secret Service employees, including the heads of Trump’s and Pence’s security details, relating to January 6, 2021.

July 27, 2021: Cuffari’s Deputy IG Thomas Kait, a Trump appointee who had been involved in revising an unpublished December 2020 report to downplay domestic violence and sexual misconduct by DHS law enforcement agency officers, told DHS that the IG’s office was no longer seeking text messages from the Secret Service.

Dec. 3, 2021: Cuffari’s office reopened its inquiry into the missing text messages and submitted a new request for text messages from DHS.

Feb. 18, 2022: Late in the evening, one of Cuffari’s deputies emailedinvestigators, telling them to halt efforts to recover lost texts and other data.

Feb. 4, 2022: Deputy IG Kait removed language in a draft memo criticizing DHS for failing to provide previously requested documents, including text messages. The final version of the memo, dated Feb. 10, said the opposite, praising DHS’s response to the IG’s request.

Late February 2022: DHS notified Cuffari’s office that the text messages of Trump’s most senior DHS officials—acting Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli—had been lost in a “reset” of their phones when they left office in January 2021. But Cuffari did not inform Congress or investigate.

June 28, 2022: Cassidy Hutchinson testified publicly that on January 6, 2021, she met with Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail. After Trump’s speech to the mob at the Ellipse, Ornato invited Hutchinson into his White House office where Engel was sitting in a chair “looking somewhat discombobulated and a little lost.” Ornato then explained why.

After the speech, Engel had refused Trump’s demand that the limo take him to the U.S. Capitol. A furious Trump lunged toward the driver. When Engel grabbed Trump’s arm to remove his hand from the steering wheel, Trump used his free arm to lunge toward Engel’s “clavicles.”

Through intermediaries, Ornato and Engel initially denied Hutchinson’s account. But when DHS officials invited them to dispute her story under oath, they hired lawyers and went silent.

The spotlight turned to possible text messages involving Engel and other agents—not only on January 6, but also during the days leading up to the insurrection. (Divergent stories still circulate about the reason Vice President Mike Pence refused to comply with the Secret Service’s request that he get into an armored limousine during the attack.)

July 7, 2022: Director Murray announced his resignation, effective July 30.

July 13, 2022: Cuffari wrote to the House and Senate committees charged with DHS oversight that the agency’s text messages for January 5 and 6, 2021, “were erased as part of a device replacement program… after [Cuffari’s office] requested” them. (Emphasis in original)

But then on July 14, 2022: The Secret Service issued a statement saying that Cuffari’s office “requested electronic communications for the first time on Feb. 26, 2021, after the migration was well under way. The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of certain phones’ data, but confirmed to OIG that none of the texts it was seeking had been lost in the migration.” (Emphasis supplied)

July 19, 2022: The Secret Service produced only one text message, “namely, a text message conversation from former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to former Secret Service Uniformed Division Chief Thomas Sullivan requesting assistance on January 6, 2021,” and said it did not have any further records responsive to the IG’s request for text messages.

July 20, 2022: The House’s January 6 Select Committee issued a statement saying that the Service’s failure to preserve the texts “may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act.”

Late on July 20, 2022: Cuffari’s office notified the Secret Service that it should halt its internal search for the missing texts so that it did not interfere with the IG’s “ongoing criminal investigation” into the matter.

July 28, 2022: Secret Service Director Murray announced that he will delay his resignation for a “brief period.”

The story is far from over. Two whistleblowers have come forward, and the National Archives wants to know what happened.

The Enemy Within

Like U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy, Cuffari is among the dozens of Trump holdovers still occupying key positions in the federal government.

As Trump railed against the “Deep State,” he was creating one of his own.

The Lawyers Who Enabled Trump’s Assault on Democracy

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on July 23, 2022.

Their prolonged silence forced the nation to live through the catastrophic consequences of their earlier cowardice.


Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone thinks that Mike Pence should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for refusing Trump’s demand to commit a felony and subvert a presidential election. That’s how low the bar for heroism among Trump administration alumni has sunk.

Lawyers Who Supported a Lawless President

When they entered the legal profession, the attorneys advising Trump swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. Those who took government jobs in his administration swore it again. But many of them facilitated Trump’s relentless efforts to undermine the rule of law.

The most notorious members of what former Attorney General William Barr now calls Trump’s post-election “clown show” may have been Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and Jeffrey Clark. But Barr, Cipollone, and others with law degrees – including Pence – helped to create the dangerous creature that roamed the White House on January 6, 2021. Their silence during Trump’s second impeachment and the months that followed has allowed that creature to continue haunting the country today.

Belatedly, three key Trump advisers with law degrees have now come forward to reveal the ugly truth about the man they had enabled for years.

Heroes or hypocrites?

William Barr

Barr, one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders in his administration, politicized the Justice Department to serve Trump’s personal agenda. For example:

  • He kneecapped special counsel Robert Mueller’s report by issuing a deceptive and misleading “summary” before it was public. Then he launched an all-out effort to discredit the entire Trump-Russia investigation. Finally, he intervened in cases Mueller had brought – and won – against Trump advisers Roger Stone and Mike Flynn, both of whom became prominent players in the insurrection.
  • For months preceding the 2020 election, Barr sowed doubts about its integrity while admitting that he had no supporting evidence.
  • In the opening sentence of his December 14, 2020 resignation letter – which Trump tweeted immediately – Barr reassured Trump that “the Department’s review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election… will continue to be pursued.”

Barr now says that before he resigned, he told Trump repeatedly that the claims and conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud were “nonsense” and “bullshit.” But prior to the insurrection and for months thereafter, he did not reveal that to the public.

Pat Cipollone

Criticizing Trump publicly has been unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory for Pat Cipollone. American taxpayers had paid him to represent the office of the president, not Trump personally. Apparently, he forgot.

  • During Trump’s first impeachment trial, Cipollone led the defense legal team and was among those lawyers who, in the service of Trump, lied repeatedly to the Senate and the public.
  • On December 18, 2020, he participated in the “unhinged” Oval Office meeting when Sidney Powell and others urged Trump to seize voting machines and appoint her special counsel to pursue non-existent election fraud.
  • In the infamous Oval Office session on January 3, 2021, he told Trump that Jeffrey Clark’s scheme to overturn the election was a “murder-suicide pact.”
  • On January 6, Cipollone urged Trump to stop the attack on the U.S. Capitol. He warned that Trump would have blood on his hands, and he was right: Five people died and more than 140 law enforcement officers were injured.

But it took a public shaming by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and the riveting testimony of a young staffer, Cassidy Hutchinson, to flush Cipollone out and into the witness chair. Finally – 18 months late – he revealed what he knew about Trump’s traitorous misconduct.

Steven Engel

Engel was with Trump from the beginning of his administration. As assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), he flew under the public radar, but his dubious legal opinions provided cover for Trump’s flagrant abuses of power.

  • After the House subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to pursue Mueller’s evidence that Trump had obstructed justice, Engel issued an opinion that Congress could not compel McGahn or other Trump advisers to testify – even to confirm what they had already told Mueller. More than two years later – after an appellate court rejected Engel’s position – McGahn eventually appeared. By then, no one cared.
  • The inspector general for the intelligence community (IGIC) determined that the whistleblower complaint leading to Trump’s first impeachment presented a “credible” matter of “urgent concern” and should be provided to Congress immediately. But Engel issued an opinion permitting Trump to withhold it. His conclusion and underlying legal analysis generated an unprecedented rebuke from the entire inspector general community — more than 60 IGs throughout the federal government: “[W]e agree with the ICIG that the OLC opinion creates a chilling effect on effective oversight and is wrong as a matter of law and policy.”
  • Days after Trump’s first impeachment trial in the Senate had begun, Engel issued an opinion defending Trump’s stonewalling of every subpoena that three House committees had issued to the executive branch during Congress’s Trump-Ukraine investigation. Constitutional scholar Frank O. Bowman III observed that Engel’s position was, “to be plain, ridiculous… absolutely daft…” If accepted, “The result is not only to neuter the impeachment power, but more profoundly, to cripple the fundamental check on executive mismanagement, abuse, corruption, and overreach embodied in their own power of oversight.”

At the Oval Office meeting on January 3, 2021, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, told Trump that if he appointed the manifestly unqualified Clark to replace Rosen, they would resign. Engel warned Trump that mass Justice Department resignations – including his own – would follow, and Clark would be “left leading a graveyard.”

But for more than a year, Engel said nothing publicly about that meeting.

Blood on Their Hands

While the January 3 Oval Office meeting was underway, the Washington Post broke the story of Trump’s tape-recorded call pressuring Georgia election officials the previous day.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

At that point, Cipollone, Engel, Rosen, and everyone else attending the Sunday night session knew that Trump was proceeding simultaneously on multiple fronts to overturn the election.

But as January 6 approached, they remained silent.

As the House impeached Trump for his role in the insurrection, they remained silent.

As GOP-dominated state legislatures and their Republican governors relied on Trump’s Big Lie to adopt draconian voter suppression laws and propose legislation seeking to thwart future popular presidential vote outcomes, they remained silent.

As Trump and his allies rewrote the story of the insurrection so that the armed mob became “peaceful protesters” and the attackers became “tourists,” they remained silent.

And as Republican leaders flip-flopped, they remained silent.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) condemned Trump. Now he says he’d vote for him again.

Likewise, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that Trump bore responsibility for the attack. Now he has returned to his familiar role as Trump’s lackey.

On January 7, 2021, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “Count me out… The president needs to understand that his actions were the problem, not the solution. … It breaks my heart that my friend, a president of consequence, would allow [Jan. 6] to happen, and it will be a major part of his presidency. It was a self-inflicted wound.” In September 2021, Graham said that he hoped Trump runs again in 2024.

What If?

If Barr had broken his silence before January 6, would the violent attack on the Capitol even have occurred? 

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, if Cipollone, Engel, Rosen, and others had revealed what they knew, would Trump have remained the face of the GOP?

If collective fear hadn’t kept all of them quiet for so long, would Trump today be the “clear and present danger to democracy” that former Judge J. Michael Luttig warned?

Late is better than never for Republicans who resisted Trump’s attempted coup and have now come forward. But they are not profiles in courage. Their prolonged silence forced the nation to live through the catastrophic consequences of their earlier cowardice.

And those consequences endure.

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Alito’s Bad History Meets the Vendetta of Clarence Thomas

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on June 29, 2022.

If democracy dies, it will take a long and mighty struggle to get it back. In the interim, the personal damage to millions of Americans will be irreparable.

The Dobbs opinion overturning Roe. v. Wade is another marker on the road to where Republicans and the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative super-majority are taking the country. Millions of Americans cheer the journey. But a lot of them won’t like the final destination.

[Continue reading]

Trump and His Allies Are “A Clear and Present Danger to American Democracy”

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on June 22, 2022.

Every responsible media representative should have been amplifying Luttig’s stark message, not deducting points based on performance.

On Thursday, June 16, a conservative icon issued an ominous warning about the most influential Republican in the country. Former federal appellate judge J. Michael Luttig concluded his testimony before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol with these words:

“Today, almost two years after that fateful day in January of 2021, still Donald Trump and his law allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Judge Luttig’s concerns carry enormous weight. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the federal appeals court. Years later, he landed on President George W. Bush’s short list of U.S. Supreme Court nominees twice. On the evening of January 4, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence’s outside counsel sought Luttig’s advice on a critical question:

Could the Vice President overturn the election, as Trump was demanding of Pence? Along with every other legal adviser whom Pence consulted on the subject, Luttig said no.

In a series of tweets the following morning, Luttig published his view. Immediately, reporters called him, and the New York Times reported on his tweets. Pence’s January 6 letter refusing Trump’s demand cited Luttig’s analysis.

Luttig’s testimony on June 16, 2022, was stunning. But MSNBC host Ari Melber—himself a lawyer—complained, “What Judge Luttig offers in credentials, he lacks in delivery. Out of the 1,000 witnesses, should he be one of the handful of live ones?”

Chyrons accompanying Melber’s program criticized Luttig’s “dry, meandering testimony” that was “drowned in legalese.”

Melber and his fellow media performance critics probably would have panned Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address. In a slow, shrill, and unpleasant voice, Lincoln began the speech with obtuse words in a meandering introduction: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent…”

Déjà Vu—Over and Over Again

The Beat with Ari Melber is among the most watched cable news programs, regularly beating CNN in its 6:00 p.m. (EDT) time slot. Viewers rely on his “quick-takes” to synthesize important stories that they don’t have time to follow closely themselves. Melber wasn’t alone in criticizing Luttig’s performance, but such commentary is neither “news” nor meaningful “analysis.” Every responsible media representative should have been amplifying Luttig’s stark message, not deducting points based on performance.

When style displaces substance, calamity follows. The nation has been down that dangerous road with Trump.

In 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller generated similar criticism. Dwarfed by the commentary about his “halting, faltering performance” before Congress was the undisputed evidence underlying his key conclusions: Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win the 2016 election; the Trump campaign embraced Russia’s help; and Trump systematically obstructed justice by interfering with investigations into the scandal. Future historians reading Mueller’s report will ask only one question about Trump-Russia: How did Trump remain in office and avoid prison?

The answer Is that Attorney General William Barr issued a deceptive “summary” of Mueller’s report that gave Trump the opening he needed to push a Big Lie that stuck: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.” Then congressional Republicans closed ranks in his defense.

But the final blow came when reporters and self-proclaimed “analysts” said that Mueller’s congressional performance wasn’t sufficient to resurrect the rule of law that Trump and his allies had destroyed. A powerful message dissolved in a critique of the messenger. What should have been Trump’s first impeachment never happened.

America paid the price. Emboldened by the failure to hold him accountable, Trump then attacked democracy by extorting Ukraine’s president to pursue a phony investigation into Joe Biden. This time, the House impeached Trump, but Senate Republicans left him free to strike again.

And strike again he did, mounting an even more aggressive assault on democracy with a new Big Lie—that the 2020 election had somehow been stolen from him. He set the stage for an attempted coup that resulted in death and destruction at the U.S. Capitol.

Next Time Will Be Worse

As Judge Luttig observed last week, “A stake was driven through the heart of American democracy on January 6, 2021….”

The House impeached Trump again, but once again, Senate Republicans let him off the hook. As a result, “[O]ur democracy today is on a knife’s edge,” said Luttig, who also explained that Trump’s newest attack is, as before, open and notorious:

“To this very day, the former president, his allies, and supporters pledge that in the presidential election of 2024, if the former president or his anointed successor as the Republican party presidential candidate were to lose that election, that they would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020.”

To that end, Trump is endorsing 2020 election “deniers” of President Biden’s victory. More than 100 of them have already won Republican primaries. Some are seeking critical positions that will control future elections in key states.

Three years ago, Robert Mueller urged that no one—not even the President of the United States—was above the law. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress proved him wrong.

Last week, J. Michael Luttig warned that if Trump slips away this time, the consequences will be catastrophic:

“I don’t speak those words lightly, I would never have spoken those words in my life, except that is what the former president and his allies are telling us… the former president and his allies are executing that blueprint for 2024 in open and plain view of the American public.

“I repeat, I would’ve never uttered one single one of those words unless the former president and his allies were candidly and proudly speaking those exact words to America.”

Luttig Gets the Last Word

Two days after testifying, Luttig responded to his performance critics—some of whom even questioned his health, just as they had Mueller’s. The ellipses in that series of tweets are his:

“I believed I had an obligation to the Select Committee and to the country, first to formulate . . . then to measure . . . and then . . . to meter out . . every . . . single . . . word . . . that I spoke . . . , carefully . . . exactingly . . . and . . . deliberately, so that the words I spoke were pristine clear and would be heard, and therefore understood, as such.

“I believed Thursday that I had that high responsibility and obligation—to myself, even if to no other. Also please bear in mind that Thursday was the first time in 68 years, to my knowledge, I had ever been on national television, let alone national television like that.

“And though not scared, I was concerned that I do my very best and not embarrass myself, as I think anyone who found themselves in that frightening circumstance would be.”

Judge Luttig closed with a personal rule that those offering media “quick-takes” would do well to follow:

“What I will say, though, is this. And I think it explains it all. All my life, I have said (as to myself, and at times, by way of sarcastic prescription for others) that I never . . . talk . . . any . . . faster . . . than . . . my . . . mind . . . can . . . think.”

Russia’s “Victory Day” and the Trump-Putin Alliance Against Ukraine

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on May 5, 2022.

Putin fell just one U.S. presidential election short of swift and complete success in Ukraine.


Vladimir Putin planned to conquer Ukraine by May 9—Russia’s annual “Victory Day” celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. Instead, he failed miserably and is a global pariah. NATO and U.S. support for Ukraine made all the difference.

But consider this: Putin fell just one U.S. presidential election short of swift and complete success in Ukraine. Prior to the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump told aides that he planned to withdraw the U.S. from NATO in his second term. And as recently as April 21, 2022, Trump boasted that, as President, he threatened our NATO allies, saying that he would not defend them against a Russian attack.

The Trump-Putin alliance was always hiding in plain sight. But Putin’s war on Ukraine has made many of the dots easier to connect.

Putin’s Motive, Means, and Opportunity

Addressing his nation in 2005, Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Restoring it required the conquest of Ukraine, but he needed help to accomplish that mission.

Enter Donald Trump.

The entire U.S. intelligence community, special counsel Robert Mueller, and the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia interfered with the 2016 election to help Trump win. Launched in February 2017, the Trump-Russia Timeline at documented Putin’s efforts, as well as Trump’s presidential actions rewarding Russia’s dictator. When last updated in early 2021, the Timeline had over 2,000 entries. More than 600 relate to Ukraine.

Here’s a sample:

Paul Manafort

In 2007, Paul Manafort worked as a paid consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Putin dictator. By March 2016, the dictator had been deposed and Manafort was broke. Although deeply in debt, Manafort went to work without pay on the Trump campaign. By May, he was its chairman.


Summer 2016: Manafort began pushing the Kremlin lie that Ukraine was responsible for hacking Democratic National Committee computers. For the next four years, that lie became a pervasive Trump talking point. 

July 2016: Working behind the scenes, Trump’s campaign weakened a Republican Party platform plank that would have armed the Ukrainian popular resistance with weapons to combat Russia’s ongoing attacks in Crimea. After Manafort’s repeated denials, another Trump adviser eventually admitted that Trump himself had insisted on the change.

Later that month, Boris Epshteyn, a Russian-born Trump adviser, spouted Kremlin propaganda about the illegal seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea… But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.” (Epshteyn is now part of the Trump team urging states to “decertify” the 2020 election of President Biden, which is a legal impossibility.)

August 2016: Manafort met in Manhattan with his Kyiv-based business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had just flown in from Ukraine. Kilimnik was a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen and former Soviet military officer with ties to Russian intelligence. He and Manafort discussed a so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine that was actually a “backdoor” for Russia’s permanent control of eastern Ukraine.

Trump Won!

November 2016: A few days before the U.S. presidential election, the pro-Kremlin leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia proclaimed that if Trump won, “Russia would ‘drink champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions on Syria and Ukraine.” 

November 9, 2016: When Russia’s Parliament learned of Trump’s election, it erupted in applause.

January 2017: At the Manhattan Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met with Trump’s business associate, Felix Sater, and Andrey Artemenko, a pro-Putin lawmaker from Ukraine. Artemenko and Sater gave Cohen a supposed “peace plan” for Ukraine.

July 2017: Trump met with Putin in Helsinki. Over the next several months, Trump promoted Putin’s lie, telling aides on several occasions that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. At one point, Trump told a senior aide that he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

Trump Extorted Ukraine

April 2019: After Volodymyr Zelensky became Ukraine’s president with an overwhelming 73 percent of the popular vote, Putin simplified the process for residents of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region to obtain a Russian passport. Meanwhile, Trump promoted the Russian lie that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

June 2019: Trump ordered a hold on distributing $250 million in military aid that Congress had authorized to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s ongoing attacks.

July 25, 2019: “I would like you to do us a favor though…” Trump said to Zelensky in their now-infamous phone call. He was holding U.S. military aid hostage to demands that Zelensky: 1) promote Putin’s lie that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election; and 2) smear Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election, Joseph Biden.

September 2019: During a joint appearance on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Trump urged Zelensky to “get together” with Putin and “solve your problem.”

The Putin-Trump Lie Persisted

November 20, 2019: As Republicans on the House Impeachment Committee and throughout Capitol Hill defended Trump’s extortion of Zelensky by pushing Russia’s lie that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election, Putin told an economic conference in Moscow: “Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

November 21, 2019: Fiona Hill, a former member of the National Security Council and a leading authority on Russia and Putin, testified before the House Impeachment Committee: 

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute….” 

But Hill’s admonition didn’t stop Trump and his allies from continuing to push Putin’s lie.

November 22, 2019: On Fox & Friends, Trump repeated Putin’s lie, saying, “[A] lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine.”

November 24-December 1, 2019: Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-LA) said he didn’t know if Ukraine or Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC server and Clinton campaign emails. Appearing on “Meet the Press” a week later, Kennedy said falsely, “I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. I think it’s been well documented.”

December 2, 2019: Politico reported that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee investigated and found no evidence to support claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

December 9, 2019: “We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told ABC News.

Trump Remains Loyal to Putin

Trump’s initial take on Russia’s 2022 invasion was to call Putin “savvy” and a “genius.” He has showered endless praise on the Russian dictator, never uttering an unkind word about him. Russia’s state-controlled media has replayed all of it.

President Biden and a united NATO deprived Putin of the “Victory Day” celebration that he desired this year. But Putin isn’t finished – with Ukraine, Trump, or American democracy. Recently, U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that Putin may increase his efforts to interfere with upcoming U.S. elections.

Compared to the obstacles that Putin encountered in Ukraine, undermining American democracy is his path of least resistance to a momentous Russian “Victory Day” down the road. As Trump and his Republican allies suppress voting, place Trump’s minions in critical state positions that could influence election outcomes, and push bogus post-election audits that destroy voter confidence, they have become Putin’s accomplices.

The Ongoing GOP Attack on Democracy

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on April 25, 2022.

On March 28, 2022, a federal judge found that former President Donald Trump and attorney John Eastman engaged in “a coup in search of a legal theory.” The court concluded that, more likely than not, their efforts to overturn the presidential election were federal crimes.

The coup continues.

Trump lost by more than seven million votes, but his false claim that Democrats stole the election from him isn’t just about 2020 anymore. It’s about conditioning GOP voters for the ultimate Trump loyalty test: rejecting future elections that Trump or his designees lose. Sowing distrust in the system, Trump and his allies are proceeding state by state, one voter at a time.

“Look at Wisconsin”

On the eve of Wisconsin’s annual Republican convention in June 2021, Trump issued a statement filled with his standard “pants-on-fire” lies. Although he lost all recounts and legal challenges seeking to reverse his 2020 loss, Trump threatened the state’s GOP leaders with political annihilation if they didn’t spread his Big Lie by pursuing an unwarranted post-election “audit” of Wisconsin votes.

Trump scared them into submission. The next day, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced to the convention that he had appointed retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to oversee an investigation into the 2020 presidential election. On January 9, 2022, Vos told an interviewer that he talked to Trump periodically about the investigation “just to keep him up-to-date to make sure he understands what’s happening but to know we are doing our very best.”

Two days later, when NPR’s Steve Inskeep confronted Trump about his persistent Big Lie, Trump denied, dissembled, and deflected: “Take a look at what’s going on in Wisconsin. You just take a look.”

Ok, let’s take a look.

Michael Gableman

Hours after news networks had called the election in favor of Joseph Biden on November 7, 2020, Gableman attended a pro-Trump rally in Milwaukee.

“I don’t think anyone would be here if we all had confidence that this was an honest election,” he said.

Addressing the crowd and lacking any evidence to support his claim, Gableman declared, “Our elected leaders — your elected leaders — have allowed unelected bureaucrats at the Wisconsin Elections Commission to steal our vote.”

Gableman’s GOP ties run deep. He’s a former chair of his local county Republican Party. He relied on GOP support to win a state supreme court seat in 2008. And he’s an avid Trump fan.

Immediately after Speaker Vos announced Gableman’s appointment to head the 2020 election investigation, Gableman told the GOP convention audience, “I’m glad to be here — glad to see so many friends.”

On March 1, 2022, Gableman presented his report to the Wisconsin Assembly’s election committee. It included bogus claims and false conspiracy theories, some from a pro-Trump website that has for years trafficked in misinformation.

But Gableman’s most dangerous ideas were legislative recommendations that would transfer electoral power to partisan political hacks. They included moving oversight from the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission to “a politically accountable body,” taking “a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election” (which is a legal impossibility), and establishing on the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly or Senate yet another post-election forum in which a losing candidate could air false claims of fraud in an effort to overturn the popular vote after exhausting all legal challenges.

Ominously, Gableman added, “This is just the beginning of the investigation.” The Republican-led legislature gave him a $676,000 taxpayer-funded budget and extended his probe to the end of April.

Trump promptly seized on Gableman’s dubious testimony and bogus conclusions, falsely labeling Wisconsin’s 2020 election corrupt. Two weeks later, John Eastman was taking his “coup in search of a legal theory” to Wisconsin, where he pressured Vos to nullify the 2020 election and reclaim the electors awarded to Biden.

The Assembly’s Republican majority leader, Jim Steineke, isn’t seeking re-election, so he was having none of it, declaring:

“I have ten months remaining in my last term. In my remaining time, I can guarantee that I will not be part of any effort, and will do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections…

“In a world where partisan divides are deep & seemingly anything can be justified as long as it results in retaining power, handing authority to partisan politicians to determine if election fraud exists would be the end of our republic as we know it.”

Ron Johnson

Trump and Gableman have an important Wisconsin ally, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. In April 2021, nine months beforeJohnson had even decided to seek reelection, Trump endorsed him to run again. The reasons are self-evident

On December 16, 2020, the courts had uniformly rejected Trump’s election fraud claims. But as then-chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Johnson convened a hearing that amplified Trump’s lies. Likewise, in February 2021, Johnson repeated the false claim that “fake Trump supporters” caused the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. And in May, he said, “By and large, it was peaceful protest.”

But at a GOP event in August when Johnson thought that he was speaking to a fellow Republican, he admitted, “I think it’s probably true that Biden got maybe seven million more popular votes. That’s the electoral reality. So to just say for sure that this was a stolen election, I don’t agree with that.”

Knowing that Trump lost the popular vote in Wisconsin, Johnson echoes Gableman’s recommendation that the Republican-controlled legislature replace the state’s bipartisan Election Commission in overseeing federal elections. Johnson said that Gableman’s report “raises severe issues regarding the 2020 election that need to be taken seriously. The goal of our efforts moving forward is to restore confidence in our election system.”

Other than Trump himself, few people in Wisconsin have done more to undermine voter confidence in the nation’s election system than Michael Gableman and Ron Johnson. Along with Trump allies throughout the country, they’re succeeding. According to a recent Marquette University Law School poll, three-fourths of Republicans nationwide are “not confident that the votes were accurately cast and counted in the 2020 presidential election.”

Danger Ahead

The long-term consequences of the Big Lie and its spawn are far more profound than specious cries to “decertify” the 2020 election.

“If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer,” Hannah Arendt said in a 1974 interview. Arendt was a German-American philosopher who studied the origins of totalitarianism and wrote Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which was an attempt to explain how ordinary people became participants in evil totalitarian systems.

Arendt continued: “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

November 2022: The Anti-Democracy Coalition

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on April 15, 2022.

In former President Donald Trump’s ongoing effort to dismantle democracy, his people gave Jim Marchant an important assignment. Marchant embraced it.

The Big Lie, QAnon, and a Coalition

Marchant’s mission began shortly after the November 2020 election, when he lost his bid to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Nevada.

“I got a suite in the Venetian hotel across the hall from the Trump attorneys and the Trump people that came in to start investigating the election fraud here in Nevada,” Marchant later told a QAnon audience at its October 2021 convention in Las Vegas. “And guess who showed up at my suite? Juan O Savin.”

Savin is the alias for an anonymous QAnon influencer and author. Some followers believe he is John F. Kennedy, Jr. in disguise. QAnon’s bizarre conspiracy theories include its core falsehood that a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control American politics and media. No longer on the far-right political fringe, QAnon followers now comprise 25 percent of Republicans.

“For the next three to five months, we worked on trying to expose the election, the fraudulent election here in Nevada and everywhere, actually,” Marchant continued, failing to mention that they failed to find fraud anywhere.

He went on to describe his new task, saying, “We need to take back the secretaries of state offices around the country. So not only did they ask me to run, they asked me to put together a coalition… I can’t stress enough how important the secretary of state offices are. I think they are the most important elections in our country in 2022. And why is that? We control the election system. In 2022, we’re going to take back our country.”

In most states, the secretary of state administers all elections and certifies outcomes used to determine electoral votes in presidential contests. Marchant’s coalition is working “behind the scenes to try to fix 2020 like President Trump said.”

“We have the original Rachel Hamm in California, Kristina Karamo in Michigan, Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona,” Marchant said in a January 2022 interview, identifying the members of his coalition. Trump has endorsed Karamo, Hice, and Finchem. Hice has denied that he was “part of a coalition” but is among the handful of candidates profiled on the “America First Secretary of State Coalition” website.

Marchant also claimed that others from Minnesota and Wisconsin would be joining. Currently, the coalition website also includes candidates from Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico. 

“Like-Minded” in Undermining Democracy

Marchant describes his group as a “coalition of like-minded secretary of state candidates” across the country. It promotes the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election. It supports voter suppression efforts. And without any evidence supporting its claims of widespread fraud, it is systematically undermining voter confidence in America’s elections.

“Your vote hasn’t counted for decades,” Marchant told the audience during a February 2022 debate with his GOP rivals for the secretary of state nomination. “You haven’t elected anybody. The people that are in office have been selected. You haven’t had a choice.”

Marchant relies an absurd antisemitic conspiracy theory to support the baseless claim. He asserts that powerful Jewish Democrats plotted for 20 years to defeat Republican presidential candidates by electing progressive secretaries of state to control election outcomes in key swing states. And he says that Trump’s loss in 2020 was “the direct result of that plan.”

He points to George Soros – a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1956 – and the late former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) – a Mormon who married a Jew – as key players in his fantasy. His views would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous.

The Cancer Spreads

Besides Marchant, other members of the coalition spoke at the QAnon convention last October. Michigan’s Kristina Karamo told the audience:

“First, I want to thank Jim Marchant for putting the coalition together. We owe him so much because you know, when I first asked to be a part of the coalition, and we came here today and we sat in a room and we met and we talked, all of us on the coalition together, and we realized how well coordinated, how nefarious this agenda was to undermine the will of the American people.”

Arizona’s Mark Finchem and California’s Rachel Hamm participated in a panel discussion during which Marchant outlined some of the coalition’s priorities for their candidates who win in November. They include advocating voter ID laws, limiting voting to a single day, discontinuing the use of mail-in ballots, and “cleaning up” voter rolls.

According to an NPR analysis in February 2022, “[A]t least 20 Republican candidates running [for secretary of state] question the legitimacy of President Biden’s 2020 win, even though no evidence of widespread fraud has been uncovered about the race over the last 14 months. In fact, claims of any sort of fraud that swung the election have been explicitly refuted in state after state, including those run by Republicans.”

If you live in any of the following states, a “2020 election denier” is seeking to become your next secretary of state: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin.

In Pennsylvania, the governor selects the secretary of state, and the two front-runners for the Republican nomination are promoting Trump’s Big Lie too. Marchant has said that one of them, Doug Mastriano, is a member of his coalition. His profile is on the coalition’s website.

Historically, midterm elections don’t attract much voter interest. If such lethargy prevails this time, the outcome of a few key contests for secretary of state in November 2022 could lead to tragic consequences for American democracy in 2024 and beyond.

Now is the time to pick a side.

State Candidates and the Trump “Ticket” – He Said the Quiet Part Out Loud Again

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on April 5, 2022:

As he plants the seeds of democracy’s destruction, former President Donald Trump is open and notorious about his plan. Most recently, at an April 2 rally in Washington Township, Michigan, he exhorted the crowd to ask each candidate at the state’s upcoming Republican convention “if they will support the Trump ticket.” 

“If they won’t give you that assurance,” he continued, “don’t give them your vote.”

[Read More]

Ginni Thomas’s Texts: A “Coup in Search of a Legal Theory,” and Judicial Malfeasance

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on March 30, 2022:

The 29 publicly available text exchanges between Ginni Thomas and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that begin on November 5, 2020, are stunning.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written that he and his wife, Virginia (“Ginni”), are “one being—an amalgam.” Repeatedly, he has called her his “best friend.” Immediately after President Donald Trump lost the November 2020 election, Ginni Thomas joined the effort to overturn it. Since then, her husband has been hearing cases arising from the January 6 insurrection.

The Gap

The 29 publicly available text exchanges between Ginni Thomas and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that begin on November 5, 2020, are stunning, but what’s missing may be more important: a 46-day gap – no texts between November 24, 2020, and January 10, 2021.

What happened during that period?

According to U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, the answer is that Trump and law professor John Eastman “launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history.” The judge called it “a coup in search of a legal theory,” which “spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

The court found it more likely than not that Trump and Eastman had committed serious crimes against the United States: “If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution.”

John Eastman is a former law clerk for Justice Thomas and a close friend of the Thomas family.

Texts We’ve Seen (So Far)

Between November 5, 2020, and January 10, 2021, Ginni Thomas sent Meadows 21 texts that are now publicly available. Meadows sent her eight. Here are a few highlights:

November 6: “Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back [sic].”

November 10: “Help This Greatest President stand firm, Mark!… You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

November 13: “Sidney Powell & improved coordination now will help the cavalry come and Fraud exposed and America saved.” (Sidney Powell was Mike Flynn’s attorney and a conspiracy theorist pursuing Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims throughout the country. None succeeded.)

November 19: “Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down… You guys fold, the evil just moves fast down underneath you all.” (After the election, the far right used “Release the Kraken” as a catchphrase. It referred to the exposure of a massive voter fraud conspiracy that would have the force of a “Kraken” – a mythical giant sea monster.)

November 24: “If you all cave to the elites, you have to know that many of your 73 million feel like what Glenn [Beck] is expressing…”

When Meadows asked what Thomas meant, she answered, “I can’t see Americans swallowing the obvious fraud. Just going with one more thing with no frickin consequences… the whole coup and now this… we just cave to people wanting Biden to be anointed? Many of us can’t continue the GOP charade.”

Describing the effort to overturn the election, Meadows invoked God: “This is a fight of good versus evil. Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”

Thomas responded, “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”

Then comes the gap.

Nefarious Deeds During the Gap

Ginni Thomas is a board member of CNP Action – an offshoot of a secretive but influential conservative group called the Council for National Policy. After the election, it urged members to pressure Republican lawmakers in swing states to challenge the results and appoint alternate slates of electors: “Demand that they not abandon their Constitutional responsibilities during a time such as this.”

In a memo shortly after Christmas, John Eastman outlined a planned coup relying on those alternate slates of phony electors. Eastman and Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to execute it on January 6, when Congress met in joint session to confirm Joseph Biden’s victory. It’s no surprise that Ginni Thomas attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, which sought to intensify that pressure.

Nor is it a surprise that the House committee investigating the January 6 attack now wants to interview her. Recently, Thomas claimed that she “played no role with those who were planning and leading the Jan. 6 events.” But 10 days later, that denial became dubious with the disclosure of her text exchanges with Meadows, who was deeply involved in planning the protests.

Likewise, immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the CNP circulated a memo from one of its members, outlining a public relations strategy for reframing the violent insurrection: “Drive the narrative that it was mostly peaceful protests… Amplify the concerns of the protesters and give them legitimacy.”

Which takes us to the only available post-gap text from Ginni Thomas to Mark Meadows. She excoriated Pence, who foiled the January 6 coup:

January 10, 2021: “We are living through what feels like the end of America,” she wrote. “Most of us are disgusted with the VP and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams. Those who attacked the Capitol are not representative of our great teams of patriots for DJT!! Amazing times. The end of Liberty.”

Justice Thomas’s Rulings on the Failed Coup

On January 19, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request to block the release of White House records to the House committee investigating the insurrection. Only one justice dissented: Clarence Thomas. It wasn’t the first time that he sided with Trump allies in a case involving the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.

All federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court justices, are subject to federal law requiring disqualification “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The requirement specifically includes cases in which a spouse has an “interest” in the outcome.

But for Supreme Court justices, there’s no enforcement mechanism. It’s up to the individual discretion of the justice in question. Also unlike all other judges, Supreme Court justices have no binding code of professional ethics.

Cases relating to Trump’s failed coup will continue making their way to the nation’s highest court. If Justice Thomas greets them as he has – with callous disregard for his obligation to recuse himself – remember that his “best friend” will be lurking nearby.

And public confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court will take another hit.

QAnon Arrives in the U.S. Senate

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on March 25, 2022:

Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are Republican presidential prospects for 2024, and the pedophilia theme panders to an increasingly large GOP constituency: QAnon followers.


Specious claims of soft sentences in child pornography cases were an unlikely theme for Republicans to pursue in a confirmation hearing on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Fact checkers had thoroughly debunked the claims. Thoughtful conservatives tried and failed to head them off.

“The allegation appears meritless to the point of demagoguery,” Andrew McCarthy wrote in the conservative publication National Review on March 20, 2022.

McCarthy was referring to Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) false claim on Twitter that, as a district court judge, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson had an “alarming pattern… of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker.” Likewise before the hearing, the Washington Post dismantled Hawley’s claims, awarding him “Three Pinocchios.” 

None of that mattered to Hawley or his equally dogged ally of the moment, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Over and over again, they returned to the subject. Media coverage of the meritless claims missed a key point: Both men knew better.

So why did they do it?

Preoccupation with Pedophiles

Cruz and Hawley focused most of their questions on Judge Jackson’s service on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and her sentences in a handful of child pornography cases. Repeatedly, Judge Jackson explained in detail how she followed the law in imposing sentences appropriate to the factual circumstances of each case. Those sentences put her squarely in the mainstream of all federal judges, regardless of which administration appointed them.

Yet Cruz and Hawley persisted. Facts and truth didn’t matter.

Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are not stupid. Cruz graduated from Princeton University and was Judge Jackson’s classmate on the prestigious and highly competitive Law Review at Harvard. Hawley graduated from Stanford University and Yale Law School.

So why did they ignore the fact checkers and pretend not to understand Judge Jackson’s complete rebuttal of their suggestions that she is somehow soft on pedophilia?

The QAnon Connection

The answer is that Cruz and Hawley are Republican presidential prospects for 2024, and the pedophilia theme panders to an increasingly large GOP constituency: QAnon followers.

QAnon is an anonymous website that became an internet sensation in 2017. One of its core beliefs is that a group of Satan-worshiping elites run a child sex ring and are trying to control U.S. politics and media. Another foundational tenet is that a storm is coming to sweep away those elites and restore the rightful leader of the country (whom some believe to be former President Donald Trump). They also believe that things are so off track that true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save the country.

Seventy percent of QAnon adherents believe that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. The infamous “QAnon Shaman” participated in the January 6, 2021 insurrection, for which he was sentenced to 41 months in prison. 

According to a February 2022 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) analysis, 25 percent of Republicans identify as QAnon believers. That’s more than enough to tip a GOP presidential primary election.

The New York Times noted that “few QAnon followers appeared to take notice of Judge Jackson’s sentencing record before Senator Hawley’s tweets.” But Hawley and Cruz quickly changed that:

“One prominent QAnon message board immediately amplified the Republican allegations with a post on Tuesday afternoon that wildly and baselessly claimed that there was proof in Judge Jackson’s ‘office logs’ that she sympathized with child abusers. On Monday, after Mr. Hawley’s remarks on the hearing’s first day, the same website posted a message with copies of the senator’s tweets about Judge Jackson and the subject heading, ‘Biden’s SCOTUS nominee has got a soft spot for pedophiles.’”

Other Republicans on the committee then ran with the fake pedophilia baton, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Less than a year ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voted to confirm Judge Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This time, he badgered and interrupted her repeatedly with angry outbursts.

“Put their ass in jail…” Graham proclaimed. Which, of course, she did. But truth wasn’t the point. Pandering to QAnon was the point.

Desperation underlies the demagoguery. Going into the hearings, 58 percent of Americans said that Judge Jackson should be confirmed. That level of support was second only to then-Judge John Roberts, who had 59 percent support prior to his confirmation in 2005. And Senate Republicans know that Judge Jackson is well on her way to the 51 votes needed to join him on the Court.

But Hawley, Cruz, Graham, and the other GOP purveyors of misinformation on the Judiciary committee and throughout the party are playing to the 53 percent of Republicans opposed to her confirmation. QAnon followers are among them.

That’s now the party of Lincoln, and it’s frightening.

The Expendable Americans in a Pandemic

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on March 18, 2022:

On March 14, 2022, seven million Americans and their families became victims again. I’m one of them

For the first time since the COVID pandemic began, Republicans jettisoned Congress’s bipartisan approach of providing “no strings” emergency funds to battle the virus. Instead, the GOP insisted that Democrats find a way to pay for ongoing COVID testing, treatment, and vaccines. Otherwise, Republicans would scuttle the $1.5 trillion omnibus bill funding the entire federal government through September. The bill also included a $42 billion increase in military spending and almost $14 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine.

The COVID funds were a rounding error – a $15.6 billion item, or 1 percent of the omnibus bill.

To assuage Republicans, Democrats pulled $7 billion from state aid allocated in a previous relief package. But pushback from governors and some House Democrats caused Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to remove COVID funding from the bill altogether.

The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Thune (R-SD), tried to blame Democrats. “We had a chance to get that last week, and the House progressive wing blew it up,” he said, adding, “They torpedoed it.”

Given the GOP’s new demand that Democrats find a way to pay for this round of the COVID plan, that’s nonsense.

For immunocompromised citizens like me, vaccination offers some protection. But the science is clear: According to a study published in the JAMA Network on Dec. 28, 2021, the vulnerable population is at increased risk of “breakthrough COVID-19 infection that can have severe and even fatal outcomes.” Individuals 65 and over account for 75 percent of all deaths, even though we have the highest COVID vaccination rates. Likewise, across all age ranges, more than seven million American adults live with compromised immune systems that impede vaccine effectiveness. In a recent study, vaccinated immunosuppressed patients accounted for 44 percent of breakthrough hospitalizations. And an even greater percentage – 98 percent – were over 50, which makes me a double-dipper in the COVID pool.

This means that for many of the immunocompromised, treatments are the only way back to a life resembling “normal.” But they are in short supply and, without additional federal funding, will become ever scarcer.

In his State of the Union message, President Biden said, “We’re leaving no one behind or ignoring anyone’s needs as we move forward.” He then outlined his plan for stockpiles of tests, masks, and pills “if Congress provides the funds we need.”

Well, Congress dropped that ball. But the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) share some of the blame for my current plight. As of last summer, COVID had killed 580,000 Americans, but President Biden said the worst was over. The CDC announced that anyone vaccinated didn’t need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors.

When Delta arrived, infections and hospitalizations soared, but most people remained in an “I’ve moved on – I’m so done with COVID” state of denial. As Omicron engulfed the world and swamped hospitals yet again, that mindset persisted.

America paid the price for its denialism. By January 2022, the country was approaching one million COVID deaths, and the CDC told everyone to wear N95 masks for the best protection against Omicron. A month later, the CDC revised its metrics to focus on hospital admissions rather than infections. Using the new criteria, most of the country went from “high” community transmission levels to “medium” or “low” levels overnight and, suddenly, 70 percent of Americans could remove their masks.

But every day, more than 1,000 Americans are still dying of COVID.

Now rising infection and hospitalization rates in Europe provide troubling signs that another wave may be on the way. As Dr. Eric Topol recently wrote, “That, in itself, requires preparedness. Unfortunately, we have a mindset that the pandemic is over, which couldn’t be further than the truth…”

I now have a new perspective on how handicapped individuals must have felt before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. My COVID fate remains in the hands of people motivated to look the other way. We’ve become an unwanted footnote in discussions about transitioning the country from pandemic – which is where we still are – to so-called “endemic” – a goal for which we have no real plan. Lip-service about “leaving no one behind” has yielded to social Darwinism making seven million people like me expendable.

The country shouldn’t come to a screeching halt because some of us have compromised immune systems that make COVID especially dangerous. But presenting that as the only alternative to “moving on” – the message that people embrace because they want to hear it – is disingenuous.

Rather than promoting magical thinking, tell Americans the truth: Just because you haven’t contracted severe COVID doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. Just because you don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean that you can’t transmit the virus to someone who will develop serious complications with tragic consequences.

Rather than sowing doubt about scientific facts, provide funds for testing, treatment, and vaccines – all of which are now in imminent jeopardy. Adopting those public health measures should be characterized as bipartisan victories. They will not only better protect the most vulnerable now, but also help everyone defeat future lethal variants. Helping us – the immunocompromised – helps everyone.

There’s even biblical precedent for doing the right thing:

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25: 40)

The War on Democracy is Here

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on March 14, 2022:

As Ukraine fights for its democratic survival, former President Donald Trump’s war on democracy in America continues.

For the first time, on January 12, 2022, Trump said the quiet part out loud. In a video message, he told Republicans gathered for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate and gubernatorial primary debates, “Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate.” Repeating the Big Lie that he won the election, Trump added, “We have to get tougher and smarter.”

Trump’s choice of venue was no accident. Pennsylvania was a key state in his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Like most states, the secretary of state is its chief vote counter. But unlike most states, the governor – not the voters – selects the person who holds that office.

Now two of Trump’s accomplices in 2020 are front-runners for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and they are polling far ahead of their competition.

Subverting Democracy Plan A: Lou Barletta

When Trump’s court challenges failed to reverse the popular vote in any state, he needed a new plan to switch some of Biden’s electoral votes into his column.

The first phase of the plan called for Republican allies in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to ignore Trump’s loss in their states and submit a false slate of Trump electors to the Electoral College. If accepted, the phony electors would swing the entire election to Trump.

One of the signatories to Pennsylvania’s phony slate was Lou Barletta, a former U.S. congressman. He was among the first politicians to endorse Trump in 2016, co-chaired Trump’s 2016 Pennsylvania campaign, and served on his transition team.

So Barletta seemed like a shoe-in for Trump’s endorsement – until Doug Mastriano came along.

Subverting Democracy Plan B: Doug Mastriano

The second phase of the subversion plan contemplated that Congress might not accept the phony Trump electors when it met to certify Biden’s election on January 6, 2021. But their mere existence could create a cloud over legitimate Biden electors from those states.

That cloud would allow Vice President Mike Pence – as presiding officer of the session – to delay the proceedings in the hope of making Trump the eventual winner. Buttressing this phase of the plan before January 6, Trump urged state legislators to sow doubt and confusion about the election results.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano helped to organize and host a “Senate Republican policy hearing” at a hotel conference room in Gettysburg on November 25. Speakers included Rudy Giuliani promoting the Big Lie and Trump offering an 11-minute videotaped rant about how the election had been rigged.

Trump invited Mastriano to the White House that evening, but he tested positive for COVID and had to leave. Two days later, he introduced a resolution in the Pennsylvania senate authorizing the Republican-controlled legislature to choose the state’s electors.

The following week, Trump followed up twice with Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R), asking him to “fix” the election problem. But on December 2, Cutler and the state’s other three legislative leaders released a letter repeating what they had said publicly: The legislature had no power “to overturn the popular vote and appoint our own slate of presidential electors.”

However, Cutler then joined Mastriano in other efforts to reverse Trump’s loss. On December 4, they were among dozens of Republican state legislators who signed letters complaining about the election to Pennsylvania’s attorney general and inspector general. Along with 62 other GOP members of the state legislature, they also sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, urging that they object to the state’s electoral votes for Biden.

On December 14, the Electoral College included Biden’s electors from Pennsylvania in confirming his victory, but Mastriano persisted. Eight days later, he sent each of Pennsylvania’s Republican state senators an email reminder of their invitation to lunch “with POTUS at the White House” on December 23. 

And on January 4, 2021, Mastriano was one of 21 Pennsylvania state senators who signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), urging Congress to delay certifying the state’s electoral votes for Biden because of “inconsistencies and questionable activities” relating to the election. Numerous courts in Pennsylvania and across the country had rejected Trump’s similar claims.

The following evening, John Eastman, the subversion plan’s architect, forwarded that letter to Greg Jacob, Pence’s chief legal counsel: “Major new development attached. This is huge as it now looks like PA legislature will vote to recertify its electors if Vice President Pence implements the plan we discussed.”

As rioters breached the U.S. Capitol the next day, Jacob responded that Eastman’s scheme would not garner a single vote in the U.S. Supreme Court or any of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, concluding, “Thanks to your bullsh*t, we are now under siege.”

Mastriano, who had organized bus trips to Washington for the “Stop the Steal” rally, was present when the mob attacked. The House committee investigating the assault has subpoenaed him.

In May 2021, Mastriano said that Trump had asked him to run for governor and had promised to campaign for him. The next day, a Trump senior adviser responded that Trump had not yet endorsed anyone in that race.

After all, Lou Barletta was already a candidate.

The Rest

Two months before the May 17 primary, 45 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans are still undecided. But most of the other GOP candidates aren’t distancing themselves from Trump, including the two immediately behind Barletta and Mastriano in the latest poll:

  • William McSwain was Trump’s U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. In a June 9, 2021 letter to Trump, he raised vague allegations of voter fraud and suggested that Attorney General William Barr had impeded his effort to investigate. “It’s just false,” Barr retorted. To him, the claims “appeared to have been made to mollify President Trump to gain his support for McSwain’s planned run for governor.”
  • As he prepared to join the gubernatorial race, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman moved closer to Trump and pushed the legislature’s ongoing election investigation. “I don’t necessarily have faith in the results,” he said in August, still lacking any evidence of problems. Corman also signed the January 4, 2021 letter urging Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to delay certification of the state’s Electoral College votes for Biden.

Trump is using America’s democratic process to destroy democracy from within. He’s counting on the Big Lie to divert uninformed voters from the truth. He’s betting that the apathy of others will allow his organized minority to prevail. And he’s hoping that most people don’t realize that the outcome of November 2022 elections in Pennsylvania and other key states on Trump’s hit list will have profound implications for 2024.

Every patriot should hope that he’s wrong.

What Did William Barr Know and When Did He Know It?

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on March 7, 2022:

We live in the age of narrative, not facts,” former Attorney General William Barr told NBC News in an interview that aired on March 6, 2022.

He should know. For two years, Barr developed false narratives that protected then-President Donald Trump from incriminating facts, starting with a “distorted” and “misleading” summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Barr diverted the public from Mueller’s conclusions that Russia committed crimes to help Trump win the 2016 election, Trump’s campaign had embraced the assistance, and Trump himself had obstructed justice during the ensuing investigation.

But now that Trump is at the center of a potential criminal conspiracy to remain in office after losing the election, Barr is promoting his new book and launching a new narrative. 

And this time, he’s trying to protect himself.

I have a few questions.

Why Did Barr Stop Pushing Trump’s Big Lie?

Prior to the election, Barr repeatedly pushed Trump’s lie that fraud could infect the outcome. He was still at it on November 9, 2020, when he reversed the Justice Department’s longstanding hands-off policy surrounding elections and ordered an investigation into allegations of voting irregularities that, “if true, could potentially impact the outcome a federal election in an individual State.”

According to former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen’s August 7, 2021 interview with the House committee investigating the January 6 attack, Barr “had been considering it earlier.” But for some reason, he decided to announce the policy change two days after every news organization had confirmed Trump’s defeat. The head of the Justice Department’s Election Crimes Branch resigned from that position in protest.

On the same day and in a seemingly unrelated development, Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and appointed Christopher C. Miller as acting secretary. Immediately, Miller replaced three top department officials and named three Trump loyalists to replace them:

  • New chief of staff to the secretary of defense: Kash Patel, former aide to former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).
  • New acting undersecretary of defense for policy: Retired army Gen. Anthony Tata, a pro-Trump Fox News pundit.
  • And, perhaps most significantly, new acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, former assistant to Trump’s first national security adviser, confessed felon, and election-conspiracy promoter, Mike Flynn.

Then in a recently revealed mid- to late-November meeting, Trump told Barr that his lawyers said the Justice Department could seize voting machines. Barr rejected the idea. But did he hear that Trump kept exploring the possibility with other federal agencies, including the Defense Department?

Shortly thereafter, Barr abruptly turned on Trump and renounced the Big Lie publicly. On December 1, he told the Associated Press that there was no evidence of voter fraud sufficient to change the election outcome.

Nine days later, Trump signed an executive order revising the Defense Department’s line of succession. He moved up his newest departmental loyalists – Tata and Cohen-Watnick – and put them directly behind the deputy secretary and the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It meant that if Trump issued an order that the Pentagon’s top four leaders refused to obey, the resulting departmental massacre would leave friendly faces in their stead.

What Did Barr Know about Trump’s Phony Electors?

Trump tried to reverse his defeat in key states by litigating popular vote totals and contacting election officials. Many of those efforts were in plain sight at the time, and all of them failed. But recently we learned that Trump’s allies were working secretly on another ploy.

On December 9, Boston attorney Kenneth Chesebro – whom the House’s January committee subpoenaed on March 1, 2022 – outlined a plan to press ahead with Trump’s potential electors in six states that he had lost. Their combined electoral votes would swing the Electoral College outcome to Trump.

In accordance with the U.S. Constitution and federal law, the Electoral College voted on December 14 in state capitals throughout the country. Previously chosen electors for each state’s winning candidate cast their ballots accordingly and transmitted them to federal officials, including the National Archives.

But in seven states that Biden won – the six states in Chesebro’s memo plus New Mexico – Trump’s potential electors pretended that Trump had won. They signed phony voting certificates that are now the subject of criminal investigationsIdentically prepared as to font and format, the certificates falsely declared Trump the official winner in those states. One of Trump’s illegitimate electors from Michigan later said that the request for the false certificates had come from the Trump campaign.

What Did Barr Know about the Defense Department’s Involvement?

December 14 was an eventful day:

  • The Electoral College voted to confirm Biden’s victory.
  • Barr resigned effective December 23.
  • Trump named Jeffrey Rosen as acting Attorney General.
  • And Trump’s White House assistant sent Rosen an email (“From: POTUS”) that pushed repeatedly debunked claims about voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan.

The following day, Rosen and others met in the Oval Office and told Trump that the Antrim County claims were false. Immediately afterward, Rosen briefed Barr on the session.

“Thanks for the update,” Barr responded.

A recently revealed draft executive order dated December 16, 2020, ties together various election-subversion strands. Based on the lies about Antrim County, the order empowered the newly reworked Defense Department to seize voting machines, federalize the National Guard, and prepare an assessment of the situation within 60 days – nearly a month past the January 20 Inauguration Day set forth in the Constitution. The order also appointed a special counsel to investigate voter fraud.

On December 17, Secretary Miller ordered a cessation of transition team meetings between the Defense Department and President-elect Biden’s team.

On December 18, an aide to Trump adviser Peter Navarro escorted Mike Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell into the Oval Office where they urged Trump to sign the draft executive order. Other advisers, including Rudy Giuliani, pushed back. So Trump told Giuliani to ask acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II if his agency could seize voting machines. Cuccinelli said no.

Still, early on December 21, Navarro appeared on Fox News, proposing that the federal government “seize a lot of those voting machines” and appoint a special counsel before Inauguration Day to investigate. Shortly thereafter, Barr responded to a reporter’s question, saying that he saw no basis for either step.

On December 23, Barr left office.

Less than three weeks later, a remarkable bipartisan op-ed appeared in the Washington Post. Evidently inspired by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who had served as secretary of defense for President George H.W. Bush when Barr was attorney general the first time, it issued a stark warning from all 10 living former secretaries of defense to leaders of the armed forces:

“Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We did not swear it to an individual or a party…

“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”

The following day, Trump moved forcefully in a different direction. Along with Chapman University law professor John Eastman, he urged Pence to proceed with the final phase of the phony-electors plot. They wanted Pence to use the false certifications as a pretext to ignore the electoral votes that Biden had won in those seven states.

On the morning of January 6, Pence rejected the plan. The insurrection followed.

William Barr was the nation’s top law enforcement officer – twice. He too had sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution. We now know that after the election and before Barr left office, nefarious plots to undermine democracy swirled throughout the Trump administration. He quashed at least one himself.

What did Barr know and when did he know it?

Before he answers, put him under oath.

Putin’s Most Dangerous Fan is Donald J. Trump

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on February 28, 2022:

As I write this column on February 27, 2022, President Vladimir Putin has put his nuclear deterrence forces into high alert.

Only five days ago, on February 22, Trump called Putin “savvy” and his flagrant violation of international law “genius.”

“You gotta say, that’s pretty savvy,” Trump said the day after Putin illegally declared two regions of Ukraine to be independent countries and thereby created a false pretext for an imminent and unprovoked invasion. “This is genius,” Trump added. “Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine … Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.”

At a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser the following evening, he doubled-down: “They say, ‘Trump said Putin’s smart.’ I mean, he’s taking over a country for two dollars’ worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart. He’s taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in.”

Even as casualties mounted while Ukraine fought for its life on Saturday night, February 26, 2022, Trump again told a large Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) audience that Putin was “smart.”

Trump’s comments generated widespread shock and outrage – except from fellow Republicans, including those who cheered him last night at CPAC. His praise for the ruthless dictator should not have surprised anyone. For years, Trump has helped Putin advance his most important objective: rebuilding the former Soviet Union.

Putin’s Mission

Putin’s April 2005 state of the nation address revealed the guiding principle of his reign: “First and foremost, it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”

At the time Putin gave that speech, some of the people he referred to as his “countrymen” had been citizens of newly independent nations for more than a decade. A few of those former Soviet satellites had even become members of NATO – the European security pact that was created to counter Soviet aggression. For more than 70 years, NATO has helped the continent avoid a major war.

Putin wants them back and, more importantly, he wants the land they occupy. If he can sow discord among NATO allies, all of Eastern Europe – including Ukraine – becomes a softer target. That’s where Trump comes in.

Trump’s Assistance

Trump has happily obliged the Russian benefactor whose support he embraced during the 2016 election. His open and notorious praise for Putin personally has been unwavering. Trump also tried to undermine NATO.

For example, at an April 2, 2016 campaign appearance in Racine, Wisconsin, he called NATO “obsolete.” Member countries had to pay their fair share, he said, and if they didn’t, “they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.”

Shortly before accepting the Republican nomination for President in July 2016, Trump told the New York Times that whether he would come to the aid of NATO countries facing Russia’s most immediate threats, especially the former Soviet Union’s Baltic States, depended on whether those countries were fulfilling their financial obligations to the pact. The simple fact is that many countries who need NATO protection the most simply can’t afford to pay more.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama pressed NATO allies to increase military spending. But no American president has ever imposed such a condition on the United States’ mutual defense obligation under NATO.

On July 10, 2018, as Trump departed for the annual NATO summit in Brussels, followed by a trip to London and a summit with Putin in Helsinki, he said, “I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think?”

Then he opened the NATO summit on July 11, 2018, by demanding once again that all NATO countries increase their financial contributions to the pact. He reiterated that demand in London.

Then he met with Putin in Helsinki where they breached diplomatic protocol and held a private two-hour session with no aides present. We still don’t know what they discussed then or in their numerous private conversations throughout Trump’s presidency. We do know that Trump confiscated the U.S. interpreter’s notes of their July 7, 2017 session in Hamburg, Germany.

Perhaps one of their conversations concerned Putin’s displeasure at being ousted from what was then the G8 – eight of the world’s most powerful leaders – in retaliation for his 2014 annexation of Crimea. As host of the 2020 summit, Trump wanted to invite Putin back in, saying, “I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world… It’s a very outdated group of countries.”

Trump’s Second Term?

And then there’s this from Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker in their recent book, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year“Trump had privately indicated that he would seek to withdraw from NATO and to blow up the U.S. alliance with South Korea, should he win reelection. When those alliances had come up in meetings with [Defense Secretary Mark] Esper and other top aides, some advisers warned Trump that shredding them before the election would be politically dangerous.

‘Yeah, the second term,’ Trump had said. ‘We’ll do it in the second term.’”

Even as some Republicans criticize Putin’s invasion while also trying to blame President Joseph Biden for the war, the GOP remains silent about Trump’s willingness to genuflect before an autocrat who is ruthless with his enemies, territorially aggressive with his neighbors, and committing what may be war crimes against innocent people. That’s worth remembering for the 2022 midterm elections.As for that “second term,” if Trump runs and retakes the presidency, he’ll be not only Putin’s most dangerous fan, but also his most powerful. 

Anatomy of Trump’s Big Lie

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on February 23, 2022:

On November 4, 2020, a county clerk in rural northwestern Michigan inadvertently launched one of former President Donald J. Trump’s Big Lies. Six weeks later, it was embedded in a proposal that the U.S. Department of Defense seize voting machines across the country. The lie remains a central talking point in Trump’s assault on democracy.

Now Trump is rewarding one of its original promoters.

Birth of a Big Lie

The story of Antrim County and the 2020 election is simple. Back in 2016, Trump received more than 60 percent of the county’s votes. But around 4:00 a.m. on November 4, 2020, the county clerk  – a Republican who had been with the office for more than 40 years – posted unofficial results showing that Biden had won the reliably Republican county with about that percentage. A few hours later, a local resident sent the clerk an email questioning the outcome.

Later that morning, the county released a statement noting “skewed results” and asking “all interested parties to bear with us while we get to the bottom of this.”

The world didn’t wait.

On November 6, the New York Post ran an article headlined: “Michigan Republicans claim software issue undercounted Trump votes.”

By that evening, the clerk had found the human error that was to blame. Although the scanners and tabulators in the voting machines had counted the votes correctly, she had not updated the computer software properly. The clerk took full responsibility for the mistake and issued corrected totals showing that Trump had indeed won.

Even if the error had not been caught so quickly, it would have surfaced during the post-election canvassing process required before certifying the official vote.

The Lie Metastasized

Trump and his allies immediately seized on the mistake as evidence of widespread election fraud committed via Dominion Voting System machines used throughout the country. And Dominion itself became the subject of false conspiracy theories.

In Portage, Michigan, sole practitioner Matthew DePerno pressed the false claims on behalf of an Antrim County resident. To assist, DePerno used Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG). ASOG’s founder, Russell Ramsland, Jr., was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress in the 2016 Texas primary. In October 2017, he spoke about a purported effort by the “deep state” – including U.S. intelligence agencies – to undermine Trump’s 2016 candidacy and then his presidency.

Ramsland was already on Trump’s election team. In a separate federal lawsuit by Trump allies, on November 18, 2020, Ramsland submitted an affidavit making what fact-checkers called “wildly inaccurate claims” alleging widespread election fraud in Michigan. During the state’s House Oversight Committee hearing the next day, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani used Ramsland’s affidavit to push the Big Lie.

The judge in DePerno’s state court case was a former Republican state lawmaker. On December 4, the same day that fact-checkers gave Ramsland’s affidavit a “Pants on Fire!” rating, the judge issued an order giving DePerno access to Antrim County’s voting machines. Only nine days later –  December 13 – Ramsland sent DePerno his report, which made unsupported claims of election fraud involving Dominion equipment. Trump and his allies immediately amplified those claims in the media too.

At an Oval Office meeting a few days later, Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell – prominent purveyors of false election-conspiracy theories – urged Trump to sign a December 16, 2010 draft executive order seizing voting machines across the country. It cited “the forensic audit of the Antrim County voting machines, released December 13, 2020” – and little else – as “probable cause” to justify the seizure. The draft order quoted Ramsland’s false conclusion that “the Dominion Voting System is intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.”

The next day – December 17 – Antrim County concluded an actual audit. State and local officials and representatives of both political parties conducted a hand recount of all votes cast for president. It confirmed the official results as tabulated by the Dominion voting machines: Trump beat President-elect Biden by 3,800 votes.

More Undisputed Facts Haven’t Slowed the Big Lie

On January 20, 2021, the GOP-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee issued a comprehensive analysis of the election. It refuted in detail the claims in Ramsland’s report.

The committee concluded that “ideas and speculation that the Antrim County election workers or outside entities manipulated the vote by hand or electronically are indefensible. Further, the Committee is appalled at what can only be deduced as a willful ignorance or avoidance of this proof perpetuated by some leading such speculation.” (Emphasis in original)

The report also addressed attorney Matthew DePerno’s role in the Trump team’s disinformation campaign: “The Committee closely followed Mr. DePerno’s efforts and can confidently conclude they are demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions.”

Likewise, on April 21, 2021, the Michigan secretary of state issued the results of a statewide audit of the November 2020 election, concluding:

“Beginning on Wednesday, November 4, several inaccurate claims were made about the conduct of the 2020 Election. In general, these claims were either entirely fabricated, based upon misunderstanding of election processes, or the result of incorrect inferences that human errors were intentional misconduct.”

Meanwhile, Dominion Voting sued Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell (“Mr. Pillow”), Patrick Byrne (former CEO of Overstock), Newsmax, One American News Network (OANN), and Fox News for defamation, seeking more than a billion dollars in damages.

Trump keeps repeating the Antrim County lie and is now endorsing Matthew DePerno to become the state’s next attorney general. In Trump’s September 16, 2021 statement, he praised DePerno for having “exposed so much Voter Fraud in Antrim County.” And on March 8, 2022 – six weeks before the Michigan Republican primary – Trump is scheduled to host a fundraiser for him at Mar-a-Lago.

If DePerno wins, he’ll be in charge of litigating disputes over Michigan’s elections. So his baseless attacks on the November 2020 election attracted Trump’s attention.

Now, perhaps, he has attracted yours.