March 29, 2022
Yesterday, a decision by Judge David Carter said that Trump had likely committed a federal crime when he was part of a conspiracy to obstruct Congress’s count of the votes of the Electoral College on January 6, 2021. Today, a Trump spokesperson called yesterday’s decision “absurd and baseless.”
But the investigation into the events of January 6 is producing more and more evidence about the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and it is neither absurd nor baseless.
Today, journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa broke a story about the internal White House records turned over to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those records show previously unreported brief calls on the morning of January 6 between then-president Trump and unofficial advisor Stephen Bannon and between Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. They also show a ten-minute phone call with Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who was, as Woodward and Costa note, “a key figure in pushing fellow [Republican] lawmakers to object to the certification of Biden’s election.”
Trump also talked for 26 minutes with senior advisor Stephen Miller, who had publicly pushed the idea that alternative electors from contested states would replace the official electors who cast ballots for Biden. Trump then talked, cryptically, “to an unidentified person.”
And that was the last call identified before a seven hour and 37 minute gap in Trump’s phone logs. This blackout includes the crucial hours in which the Capitol was under attack. There is no record of any calls to or from Trump for 457 minutes, from 11:17 am to 6:54 pm.
Since there have already been reports of a number of phone calls during that time, including calls to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the committee is now investigating whether Trump hid his calls or communicated through the phones of his aides, or perhaps through unsecure “burner” phones, cheap prepaid mobile phones that are untraceable and are thrown out when no longer needed. Trump tried to kill this idea by saying in a statement: “I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.”
But former national security advisor John Bolton contradicted that, saying he personally heard Trump using the term “burner phones” in several discussions and had discussed with him how burner phones helped people keep phone calls secret. In November 2021, Hunter Walker of Rolling Stone reported that the organizers of the January 6 events used burner phones to communicate with the White House and the Trump family, including Eric Trump, his wife Lara Trump, and chief of staff Mark Meadows.
The news of this gap in the record is significant because Trump and his allies have maintained that they were challenging the election results because they honestly believed the results were false, and that they believed they were operating within the law.
If so, why the seven-hour blackout?
The missing logs might not, in the end, obscure any phone calls made in that time, though, not only because witnesses can fill in some of the holes, but also because last summer, the January 6 Committee instructed 35 telecom and social media companies to preserve records of calls. When news broke today of the missing records, Crooked Media editor in chief Brian Beutler recalled McCarthy’s threat to punish telecom companies that cooperate with the January 6 Committee.
The ten-minute phone call with Jordan suggests that the 139 members of the House of Representatives who objected to the counting of the certified ballots were perhaps not simply making a protest vote, but rather were part of a larger organized Republican effort to steal the election. That story dovetails with yesterday’s story by Michael Kranish in the Washington Post about Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who worked hard to keep Trump in power despite the will of the American voters, intending to lay the groundwork for his own presidential bid in 2024.
Cruz and John Eastman, the author of the Eastman memo outlining a strategy for then–vice president Mike Pence to throw the election to Trump, have been friends for close to 30 years, since they clerked together for then–U.S. Appeals Court judge J. Michael Luttig. While Eastman presented a plan by which Pence could refuse to count Biden’s electors, Cruz wrote a plan for congress members to object to the results in six critical states that Biden won, establishing a 10-day “audit” that would have enabled Republican-dominated state legislatures to overturn the election results in their states. Ten other senators backed Cruz’s plan, offering a path to create enough chaos to keep Trump in power.
Luttig told Kranish that Cruz was central to the events of January 6. Contesting the states’ electoral votes required one senator and one representative for each state. Then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made an effort to keep his caucus from working with representatives who planned to challenge the count. But junior senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) broke ranks and said he would join the challenges. Not to be outflanked by Hawley on the right, Cruz immediately stepped aboard the train and brought 10 senators with him. “Once Ted Cruz promised to object,” Luttig said, “January 6 was all but foreordained, because Cruz was the most influential figure in the Congress willing to force a vote on Trump’s claim that the election was stolen.”
Along with Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Cruz was the first to challenge an electoral ballot: that of Arizona.
Cruz’s plan was similar to a plan White House advisor Peter Navarro explained in fall 2021 called the “Green Bay Sweep.” According to Navarro, that plan was to block the counting of electoral votes until public pressure forced Republican-dominated state legislatures to overturn the election results and give the presidency to Trump. (It is worth noting that Navarro’s plan absolves Trump of responsibility for the Capitol violence, and seems to have been deployed in part for that reason.)
Cruz’s spokesperson said the senator “does not know Peter Navarro, has never had a conversation with him, and knew nothing about any plans he claims to have devised.”
Navarro has his own problems. Yesterday, the January 6 committee moved to hold him and another Trump aide, Dan Scavino, in criminal contempt of Congress, sending the resolution to the full House for a vote. Navarro has ignored the committee’s subpoena, saying—falsely—that Trump had asserted executive privilege over his testimony and so he could not testify, despite the fact he had written extensively about his participation in the attempt to overturn the election. Scavino, Trump’s director of social media, has also ignored the committee’s subpoena.
A budget proposal from the Department of Justice yesterday revealed that it wants 131 more lawyers to handle January 6 cases. In the request, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said, "Regardless of whatever resources we see or get, let's be very, very clear: we are going to hold those perpetrators accountable, no matter where the facts lead us,... no matter what level.”
Today, on a right-wing news show, Trump appeared to try to change the subject and regain control over the political trends when he called for Russian president Vladimir Putin to release dirt on the Biden family, since “he’s not exactly a fan of our country.” Russian state TV featured a Russian government official calling for “regime change” in the United States, asking the people of the U.S. to replace President Biden with Trump “to again help our partner Trump to become President.”
Professor Richardson, your Letter today reads like a treatment for a film – a scenario for the overthrow of the American government, replete with nefarious characters, the designers of the plot, the strategies coordinated by diverse characters on multiple fronts (legal teams in Washington, rightwing militias in the hinterlands, insiders – senators and representatives – influential power brokers – even the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice – and of course, the president who, for reasons that will be revealed in the third act, cannot afford to lose. And the juiciest element for this reviewer – the unknown caller engaged in a cryptic conversation with the president just before the 7-hour blackout during which the Capital was stormed.
Great fiction – awful reality.
I understand the Russian word for "partner" and "stooge" are the same. :-)