We can expect to see a slew of books coming out about the truly disastrous Trump presidency, trying to understand how such a manifestly weird and awful person managed to destroy his primary opponents, get elected president, and turn the Republican party into a cult that has some of the most fanatical and dangerous supporters in recent history. As his presidency went on, it became more and more chaotic as those with even a semblance of independence and competence got replaced if they were not totally subservient to him and replaced by even more sycophantic and incompetent people. The end result was predictable, that he would end up getting advice from the looniest of loonies.
Axios has put together a series of articles titled Off the rails, a description of the final days, starting with election night. Trump’s plan had been that when people went to bed on Tuesday night, they would see a sea of red states predicting a landslide victory for Trump based on just the election day votes, the so-called ‘red mirage’ that he had been warned about. Then when the mail-in vote counts were announced much later and if the tide turned against Trump, people would be more susceptible to his fraud narrative. But things went berserk after Fox News, of all networks, became the first news network to call Arizona for Biden as early as 11:20 pm. This shocked and infuriated the Trump camp, who saw it as a betrayal by the most loyal media network, because it blew apart that narrative.
If you do not have time to read the full set, you should check the bonus article about “one long, unhinged night a week before Christmas, when an epic, profanity-soaked standoff played out with profound implications for the nation.” The opening sentence pretty much sets the tone: “Four conspiracy theorists marched into the Oval Office.” It sounds like the beginning of a joke except that it describes something deadly serious.
Four conspiracy theorists marched into the Oval Office. It was early evening on Friday, Dec. 18 — more than a month after the election had been declared for Joe Biden, and four days after the Electoral College met in every state to make it official.
“How the hell did Sidney get in the building?” White House senior adviser Eric Herschmann grumbled from the outer Oval Office as Sidney Powell and her entourage strutted by to visit the president.
President Trump’s private schedule hadn’t included appointments for Powell or the others: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, and a little-known former Trump administration official, Emily Newman. But they’d come to convince Trump that he had the power to take extreme measures to keep fighting.
As Powell and the others entered the Oval Office that evening, Herschmann — a wealthy business executive and former partner at Kasowitz Benson & Torres who’d been pulled out of quasi-retirement to advise Trump — quietly slipped in behind them.
The hours to come would pit the insurgent conspiracists against a handful of White House lawyers and advisers determined to keep the president from giving in to temptation to invoke emergency national security powers, seize voting machines and disable the primary levers of American democracy.
Herschmann took a seat in a yellow chair close to the doorway. Powell, Flynn, Newman and Byrne sat in a row before the Resolute Desk, facing the president.
For weeks now, ever since Rudy Giuliani had commandeered Trump’s floundering campaign to overturn the election, outsiders had been coming out of the woodwork to feed the president wild allegations of voter fraud based on highly dubious sources.
Trump was no longer focused on any semblance of a governing agenda, instead spending his days taking phone calls and meetings from anyone armed with conspiracy theories about the election. For the White House staff, it was an unending sea of garbage churned up by the bottom feeders.
Powell began this meeting with the same baseless claim that now has her facing a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit: She told the president that Dominion Voting Systems had rigged their machines to flip votes from Trump to Biden and that it was part of an international communist plot to steal the election for the Democrats.
Powell waved an affidavit from the pile of papers in her lap, claiming it contained testimony from someone involved in the development of rigged voting machines in Venezuela.
She proposed declaring a national security emergency, granting her and her cabal top-secret security clearances and using the U.S. government to seize Dominion’s voting machines.
And then, believe it or not, it gets even crazier.
At one point, with Flynn shouting, Byrne raised his hand to talk. He stood up and turned around to face Herschmann. “You’re a quitter,” he said. “You’ve been interfering with everything. You’ve been cutting us off.”
“Do you even know who the fuck I am, you idiot?” Herschmann snapped back.
“Yeah, you’re [White House counsel] Patrick Cipollone,” Byrne said.
“Wrong! Wrong, you idiot!”
Byrne, wearing jeans, a hoodie and a neck gaiter, piped up with his own conspiracy: “I know how this works. I bribed Hillary Clinton $18 million on behalf of the FBI for a sting operation.”
Herschmann stared at the eccentric millionaire. “What the hell are you talking about? Why would you say something like that?” Byrne brought up the bizarre Clinton bribery claim several more times during the meeting to the astonishment of White House lawyers.
What Flynn and Powell were proposing amounted to suspending normal laws and mobilizing the U.S. government to seize Dominion voting machines around the country.
Powell was arguing that they couldn’t get a judge to enforce any subpoena to hand over the voting machines because all the judges were corrupt. She and her group repeatedly referred to the National Emergencies Act and a Trump executive order from 2018 that was designed to clear the way for the government to sanction foreign actors interfering in U.S. elections.
These laws were, in the view of Powell, Flynn and the others, the key to unlocking extraordinary powers for Trump to stay in office beyond Jan. 20.
Their theory was that because foreign enemies had stolen the election, all bets were off and Trump could use the full force of the United States government to go after Dominion.
“How exactly are you going to do this?” an exasperated Herschmann asked again, later in the conversation. Newman again cited the 2018 executive order, which prompted Herschmann to question out loud whether she was even a lawyer.
Then Byrne chimed in: “There are guys with big guns and badges who can get these things.” Herschmann couldn’t believe it. “What are you, three years old?” he asked.
The discussion shifted from Dominion voting machines to a conversation about appointing Powell as a special counsel inside the government to investigate voter fraud. She wanted a top secret security clearance and access to confidential voter information.
[White House staff secretary Derek] Lyons told Trump he couldn’t appoint Powell as a special counsel at the Justice Department because this was an attorney general appointment. Lyons, Cipollone and Herschmann — in fact the entire senior White House staff who were aware of this idea — were all vehemently opposed to Powell becoming a special counsel anywhere in the government.
It was after midnight by the time the White House officials had finally said their piece. They left that night fully prepared for the mad possibility Trump might still name Sidney Powell special counsel. You have our advice, they told the president before walking out. You decide who to listen to.
You will notice that there is an extraordinary amount of vivid detail about a meeting at which the reporters were not present. That should make you wonder how they got the information. Such fly-on-the-wall accounts imply someone who was there is spilling the beans bigly. From the way that various characters are portrayed, who looks good and who looks bad, it looks very much like it was Herschmann and/or Cipollone and/or Lyons were the likely sources, trying to show that they were upholding norms while Flynn, Powell, Byrne, and Giuliani are portrayed as clueless villains. The leakers are not disinterested participants and are likely trying wash off the stain of their Trump association and rehabilitate themselves into sane society by portraying themselves as fighting the barbarians at the gate. So one should not take the account at face value.
Read it and weep. Or, now that this band of nutcases are no longer in positions of power and influence, maybe we can laugh.