Discover more from Letters from an American
August 2, 2023
There have been more developments today surrounding yesterday’s indictment of former president Trump for conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to disenfranchise voters, and conspiring and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding as he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election and install himself in office over the wishes of the American people.
Observers today called out the part of the indictment that describes how Trump and Co-Conspirator 4, who appears to be Jeffrey Clark, the man Trump wanted to make attorney general, intended to use the military to quell any protests against Trump’s overturning of the election results. When warned that staying in power would lead to “riots in every major city in the United States,” Co-Conspirator 4 replied, “Well…that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”
The Insurrection Act of 1807 permits the president to use the military to enforce domestic laws, invoking martial law. Trump’s allies urged him to do just that to stay in power. Fears that Trump might do such a thing were strong enough that on January 3, 2021, all 10 living former defense secretaries signed a Washington Post op-ed warning that “[e]fforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”
They put their colleagues on notice: “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.” Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo recalled today that military leaders told Congress they were reluctant to respond to the violence at the Capitol out of concern about how Trump might use the military under the Insurrection Act.
Political pollster Tom Bonier wrote: “I understand Trump fatigue, but it feels like the president and his advisors preparing to use the military to quash protests against his planned coup should be bigger news. Especially when that same guy is in the midst of a somewhat credible comeback effort.”
On The Beat tonight, Ari Melber connected Trump Co-Conspirator John Eastman to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Just before midnight on January 6, 2021, after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Eastman wrote to Pence’s lawyer to beg him to get Pence to adjourn Congress “for 10 days to allow the legislatures to finish their investigations, as well as to allow a full forensic audit of the massive amount of illegal activity that has occurred here.” On the floor of the Senate at about the same time, Cruz, who voted against certification, used very similar language when he called for “a ten-day emergency audit.”
An email sent by Co-Conspirator 6, the political consultant, matches one sent from Boris Epshteyn to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, suggesting that Epshteyn is Co-Conspirator 6. The Russian-born Epshteyn has been with Trump’s political organization since 2016 and was involved in organizing the slates of false electors in 2020. Along with political consultant Steve Bannon, Epshteyn created a cryptocurrency called “$FJB, which officially stands for “Freedom. Jobs. Business.” but which they marketed to Trump loyalists as “F*ck Joe Biden.” By February 2023, Nikki McCann Ramirez reported in Rolling Stone that the currency had lost 95% of its value.
Since the indictment became public, Trump loyalists have insisted that the Department of Justice is attacking Trump’s First Amendment rights to free speech. Indeed, if Giuliani’s unhinged appearance on Newsmax last night is any indication, it appears that has been their strategy all along. Aside from the obvious limit that the First Amendment does not cover criminal behavior, the grand jury sidestepped this issue by acknowledging that Trump had a right to lie about his election loss. It indicted him for unlawfully trying to obstruct an official proceeding and to disenfranchise voters.
Today, Trump’s former attorney general William Barr dismissed the idea that the indictment is an attack on Trump’s First Amendment rights. Barr told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins: “As the indictment says, they're not attacking his First Amendment right. He can say whatever he wants. He can even lie. He can even tell people that the election was stolen when he knew better. But that does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy. All conspiracies involve speech. And all fraud involves speech. Free speech doesn't give you the right to engage in a fraudulent conspiracy.”
Rudy Giuliani has his own troubles in the news today, unrelated to the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. His former assistant Noelle Dunphy is suing him for sexual harassment and abuse, and new transcripts filed in the New York Supreme Court of Giuliani’s own words reveal disturbing fantasies of sexual domination that are unlikely to help his reputation. (Historian Kevin Kruse retweeted part of the transcript with the words, “Goodbye, lunch.”)
The chaos in the country’s political leaders comes with a financial cost. According to Fitch Ratings Inc., a credit-rating agency, the national instability caused by “a steady deterioration in standards of governance over the last 20 years” has damaged confidence in the country’s fiscal management. Yesterday it downgraded the United States of America’s long-term credit rating for the second time in U.S. history.
Fitch cited “repeated debt-limit political standoffs and last-minute resolutions,” “a complex budgeting process,” and “several economic shocks as well as tax cuts and new spending initiatives” for its downgrade. The New York Times warned that the downgrade is “another sign that Wall Street is worried about political chaos, including brinkmanship over the debt limit that is becoming entrenched in Washington.”
The timing of the downgrade made little sense economically, as U.S. economic growth is strong enough that the Bank of America today walked back earlier warnings of a recession. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted that the key factors on which Fitch based its downgrade had started in 2018 and called the downgrade “arbitrary.” The editorial board of the Washington Post called the timing “bizarre.” But the timing makes more sense in the context of the fact that House Republicans could not pass 11 of 12 necessary appropriations bills before leaving for their August recess.
The White House said it “strongly disagree[d]” with the decision to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, noting that the ratings model Fitch used declined under Trump before rebounding under Biden, and saying “it defies reality to downgrade the United States at a moment when President Biden has delivered the strongest recovery of any major economy in the world.” But it did agree that “extremism by Republican officials—from cheerleading default, to undermining governance and democracy, to seeking to extend deficit-busting tax giveaways for the wealthy and corporations—is a continued threat to our economy.”