April 22, 2022
“I don’t recall.” “I don’t remember.”
Georgia Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene today took the stand before an administrative law judge in Atlanta to defend her right to be on the ballot in Georgia after five voters challenged her inclusion on the grounds she had violated the third section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits anyone from holding office who has taken an oath to support the Constitution and then participates in an insurrection or rebellion or gives aid and comfort to someone who does.
After being caught out when her examiner provided a video in which she called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a traitor just after Greene denied ever saying such a thing, Greene did not try to defend her inflammatory past statements. She simply said she didn’t remember anything about the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection. Even when asked “Did you advocate to President Trump to impose martial law as a way to remain in power?” she did not answer no, but rather said: “I do not recall.” “So you’re not denying you did it?” asked her questioner. “I don’t remember,” she answered.
Under her own lawyer’s questioning, Greene claimed to have been a “victim” of the January 6 attack, although there are photos and a video of her smiling and apparently at ease with colleagues during the attack. Ultimately, her lawyer defended her speech as protected under the First Amendment, said the evidence wasn’t clear, and said that removing her would create a bad precedent.
The judge will report on the evidence and make a recommendation to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger about whether to include Greene on the ballot. Ultimately, the decision will come down to him. Since he is eager to fend off challenges from the Trump right wing, he may have already made his decision. But Greene’s refusal to repeat any of her inflammatory statements under oath in court, and therefore at risk of perjury, demonstrated the degree to which right-wing leaders have gained power by lying to their supporters without accountability.
There has been some accountability this week, though, for the gulf between Republican rhetoric and reality. Yesterday Brian Kolfage, co-founder of the “We Build the Wall” project that claimed to be raising money to build former president Donald Trump’s border wall, pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the project. He, and other organizers, promised donors that all proceeds would go toward building the wall. His partner on the project was Trump confidant Steve Bannon, who was charged in the case but was pardoned by the former president. Financier Andrew Badolato also pleaded guilty. The Fox News Channel and pro-Trump personalities, including Donald Trump, Jr., and his fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, pushed the wall scheme.
Kolfage initially claimed that criminal cases against him were politically motivated but now says, “I knew what I was doing was wrong and a crime.” Badaloto said, “I’m terribly, terribly sorry for what I did and I humbly beg the court for mercy.”
But if accountability has shown up for businessmen, it has not for lawmakers.
Yesterday, New York Times journalists broke the news that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy did, in fact, say to Republican leadership that he thought Trump should resign after the January 6 insurrection. When news of that conversation broke yesterday morning, McCarthy called it “totally false and wrong,” only to have a recording of the conversation surface on Rachel Maddow’s show last night, revealing McCarthy to have straight-up lied.
Such a scandal would have sunk a leader in the past, but McCarthy has quietly assured Republican colleagues that he immediately called Trump and that the former president isn’t mad at him. That assurance was enough for some House Republicans to let the matter slide. One of them told CNN reporters Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju, and Lauren Fox: “The only one who matters is Trump, [a]nd if Trump is fine, it's not an issue.”
Three people told Washington Post reporters Jacqueline Alemany, Marianna Sotomayor, Felicia Sonmez, and Julian Mark that Trump sees McCarthy’s quick capitulation to him after calling for his resignation as a demonstration of Trump’s control of the Republican Party.
But the Republican disarray might not be fixed so easily. Trump Republicans, including Steve Bannon, expressed their fury with McCarthy today for his perceived disloyalty. “McCarthy and McConnell are the enemies of the Republican Party,” one wrote.
And then, this evening, Politico dropped photos appearing to be Trump loyalist Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) in lingerie and jewelry, drinking with young women hugging him, at what appears to be a somewhat raucous party. Cawthorn outraged Republican leadership recently when he said his colleagues had invited him to “orgies” where there was cocaine; they suggested his statements were false. Cawthorn admits that the photos are real, but says the “goofy vacation photos” are from “waaay” before he got elected and suggests “the left” is trying to hurt him. The photos will nonetheless create a mess for the Republican caucus, already reeling.
And the tension in the party will continue. Today, CNN dropped another recording, this time of a conference call between McCarthy and Republican leaders on January 11 in which McCarthy did, in fact, say: "[L]et me be very clear to you and I have been very clear to the President. He bears responsibility for his words and actions. No if, ands or buts…. [H]e told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. And he needs to acknowledge that." McCarthy has since avoided confirming the conversation.
Despite its increasing exposure, Republican disinformation continues to poison our democracy. Florida governor Ron DeSantis today signed the law he demanded from the Florida legislature in retaliation for the Walt Disney Company’s opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law widely perceived as attacking LGBTQ Floridians. The new law strips from the Walt Disney Company the ability to govern itself essentially as if it were a town, as the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) set up in 1967.
DeSantis sold the bill as a way to protect children from what he lies are “groomers” of children for sexual assault.
But the law significantly strengthens his political power. Sarah Rumpf of Mediaite notes that the law will hurt the people of the state: Disney has preserved large green spaces as natural habitats that are hugely valuable real estate and are now at risk. In addition, repealing Disney’s status means that Orange and Osceola Counties are now responsible for Disney’s $2 billion bond debt—a 20% to 25% tax hike costing $2,200 to $2,800 per family of four—and will have to pick up the tab for the operating services that Disney currently provides. Since Disney’s RCID pays more and has better employee benefits than the Florida government, county workers staying on will likely have to take pay and benefit cuts.
Rumpf also notes that the law won’t go into effect until June 1, 2023, after this year’s midterms and after next year’s legislative session. The idea is to “put Disney on a leash,” one attorney told Rumpf, “So they better do what Ron DeSantis says, they better give to the P[olitical] A[ction] C[ommittee]s Ron DeSantis says, or else.” The implication, the lawyer said, was that if Disney did as it was told, the new law would quietly go away. Even more, though, state law says that Disney’s status can’t be repealed without the consent of the voting landowners, a reality Republicans in the state legislature appear to have ignored.
That pain is about political power. DeSantis’s attack on Disney demonstrates his use of the state to impose the will of his voters on a popular company; it also retaliates against Democratic voters. Osceola and Orange County were two of the Florida counties that backed Biden in 2020, Osceola by 56.4% to 42.6% and Orange by 61% to 37.9%. Imposing taxes and lower wages on the people there seems likely to be what makes the plan attractive to DeSantis.
Indeed, along with the attack on Disney, the Florida legislature accepted extreme new congressional districts carved out by DeSantis that significantly benefit Republicans while carving up one traditionally Black district and obliterating another: the one currently represented by Val Demings, who is challenging Marco Rubio for his Senate seat.
Opponents of the law are suing.