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Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

‘I Just Want to Find 11,780 Votes’

We’re waiting for the state of Georgia to finish counting ballots for the Ossoff vs. Loeffler and the Warnock vs. Perdue U.S. Senate races. I’m sure The New York Times’ needle monitor has been bombarded with traffic. A number of pollsters are calling the races but I’m not going to pay them heed yet.

I’m too afraid of getting my hopes up too high given how many attempts Team Trump and the GOP have made to subvert U.S. elections.

While waiting for the final tallies, I want to look at the transcript from the audio recording of the teleconference between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, particularly this excerpt:

TRUMP: … And why can’t we have professionals do it instead of rank amateurs who will never find anything and don’t want to find anything? They don’t want to find, you know they don’t want to find anything. Someday you’ll tell me the reason why, because I don’t understand your reasoning, but someday you’ll tell me the reason why. But why don’t you want to find?

I don’t know about you but it sounds like Trump is implying with the right persons permitted access to the ballots, the votes Trump needs to win Georgia would be “found.”

He’s implied he wants a fixer team to resolve his “missing votes” problem since Raffensperger can’t or won’t — how mobster-like, how corrupt.

There’s just so much raw, naked criminality in this one phone call, beyond numerous lies Trump made.

There’s solicitation of a crime — he clearly says he wants to “find” 11,780 votes, a number representing at least one more than the margin by which Joe Biden won Georgia. Trump’s insistent on this point, using the word “find” 23 times over the course of the conversation compared to his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who says “find” twice but in context of an agreement, and attorney Cleta Mitchell who says “find” once while asking about FBI and Georgia Bureau of Investigation findings.

There’s extortion —  a threat of prosecution and other less specific injury implied against Raffensperger and GA SOS counsel Ryan Germany if the desired votes aren’t “found.”

I’m not the lawyer here at emptywheel, but it looks to me like Trump may have violated federal voting and election law 52 U.S. Code 20511 with his interference in a federal election, depriving or defrauding the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process.

Trump may have violated Georgia election law 21-2-604, Criminal solicitation to commit election fraud; a presidential pardon won’t weasel him out of this one if GA attorney general Chris Carr or Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis find there’s adequate reason to investigate and prosecute Trump.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and Moms Demand Action activist Patti Vasquez discussed the tape with MSNBC Legal Analyst Joyce White Vance, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in their On Topic podcast. Vance pointed out there was an effort to put “lipstick on the pig,” dressing up the phone call as if there was a legitimate lawsuit about which Trump and his campaign were seeking a settlement with the state of Georgia. But Vance had found no active suit.

Why this effort, including the appearance of an attorney — Cleta Mitchell of lawfirm Foley & Lardner — who wasn’t really Trump’s attorney nor his campaign’s attorney, but compromised enough by her presence during the phone call that her employment was terminated on Monday by Foley & Lardner? This looks deceptive as heck.

Why was White House Chief of Staff Meadows involved at all, discussing an implied agreement in the offing? Yet another Hatch Act violation by a Trump staffer we’re supposed to swallow like a TicTac?

What really bothers me is the practiced ease with which Trump just rolled through this call. We know he tried to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating Hunter Biden to produce evidence of malfeasance by both Hunter and his father Joe Biden while Biden was VP during the Obama administration. The approach was similar though Trump used bait in the form of aid rather than a threat of prosecution as he did with Raffensperger and Germany. We have yet to see a word-for-word transcript of the 2019 Ukraine call, having instead a memo providing most of the context. Would the full transcript buried in a classified file system sound more like the Trump-Raffensperger call?

How many other calls like this past Saturday’s has Trump made? How many in-person visits making similar solicitation and extortive attempts as well?

Did he use the same technique during that one golf game with Lindsey Graham after which Graham suddenly did an about-face toward Trump, becoming his lap dog?

Let’s not forget that same lap dog also called Raffensperger about finding votes for Trump. Did his call sound like Trump’s except Graham didn’t tweet about it afterward?

I hope we’re going to hear from other states soon whether they, too, were pressured to “find” votes.

And I hope each state pursues an investigation and prosecution where appropriate.

Lordy, There Are Tapes

The President of the United States continues to harass Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, because he did not cheat to produce a Trump win in November.Just hours ago, Raffensperger responded to the President’s taunts on Twitter by suggesting the truth would come out.

The truth came out, in a detailed account of the call in the WaPo.

What’s remarkable … well, let’s be honest, the whole damn thing is remarkable, but also the new normal … is how many times Trump made implicit legal threats. He said moving machinery out of Fulton County would be illegal. Trump accused, “You know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. … That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan.” He said “they” are shredding ballots and moving machinery, “both of which are criminal fines.” “Well under law, you’re not allowed to give faulty election results, okay? You’re not allowed to do that, and that’s what you’ve done.”

Trump suggested, repeatedly, that Raffensperger and his counsel, Ryan Germany, would face legal consequences for running a fair election.

And you know that Trump has repeated this conversation over and over with other people, including the seditionists in Congress. At least part of the time, these efforts have been working.

A Modest Proposal: Include Lindsey Graham’s Threats against Brad Raffensperger in any Special Counsel Mandate

Lindsey Graham has endorsed the idea of appointing a Special Counsel to investigate Hunter Biden.

Graham on a special counsel for Hunter Biden: I think it’s a good idea..if you believe a special counsel was needed to look at the Trump world regarding Russia. How can you say there’s no need for special counsel regarding Hunter Biden?”

Apparently, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn’t see the difference between appointing a Special Counsel after the President has fired the FBI Director to stop an investigation into himself and a Special Counsel to investigate the President-Elect’s son two years into an investigation that has (thus far) found nothing. Graham doesn’t even seem to realize that various parts of the Trump DOJ have investigated — at a minimum — Trump’s son-in-law (as part of a referral from the Mueller investigation, though the topic is unknown), Trump’s personal lawyer, and any number of his corrupt former campaign managers, without needing a Special Counsel to protect the independence of the investigation, not even after the confirmed interference by the Attorney General.

The call for a Special Counsel to continue an investigation that has already lasted two years (that is, longer than the entire Mueller investigation and twice as long as it took to indict Manafort on 44 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering, and unregistered influence-peddling) without finding anything comes along with President Trump’s call for another Special Counsel investigating purported voter fraud.

As I said in my post noting that John Durham has unaltered originals of documents that — under Billy Barr’s micromanagement — got altered and submitted to a judge, followed by a lie to the same judge, one way to deal with the Durham Special Counsel designation is to have him investigate crimes that Barr’s associates may have committed in their efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. John Durham will control the day-to-day conduct of this investigation, but he doesn’t — cannot legally, under current precedent — control the scope.

Something similar could be done with both of the Special Counsel investigations Trump wants to push. Rudy Giuliani will no doubt be pardoned in the next 35 days. And the next day, Rudy will wake up and continue pursuing the same disinformation, largely about Hunter Biden, from Russian-tied mobbed up oligarchs. So Sally Yates or Doug Jones or whoever Biden makes Attorney General can very easily ask a Special Counsel to include Rudy’s potential crimes among those the Special Counsel investigates. The Special Counsel doesn’t even have a reporting mechanism to complain about scope (which John Durham might have used when Barr was flying him around the world chasing George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories). If the Special Counsel complained about the scope, she could quit and be replaced by someone Biden’s AG believed appropriate. If the Special Counsel leaked anything, Biden’s AG would have the Comey precedent to justify firing the Special Counsel.

So, too, could a Special Counsel appointed by Trump to investigate voting irregularities be scoped to investigate the more credible allegations of crimes committed during the election, most notably threats and other coercive means used against those (including Republicans) trying to conduct free and fair elections. Among others whose conduct could be investigated are government employees who also served as counsel on Trump-backed lawsuits challenging the election. A Special Counsel investigating allegations of crime during the election could review fraudulent claims alleging fraud in sworn declarations submitted in these frivolous lawsuits; such an investigation could consider whether there was an organized effort to collect such perjurious statements, and if so, who funded it all. Such a Special Counsel could investigate whether then-President Trump’s multiple calls haranguing GOP officials constituted a threat or some kind of bribe. A Special Counsel could and should review the range of violent threats against participants on both sides of the election.

Among the most alarming potential crimes alleged during the post-election period, as it happens, involves Lindsey Graham himself. He called up Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, and — while witnesses were listening — pushed Raffensperger to disqualify legal votes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who he said questioned the validity of legally cast absentee ballots, in an effort to reverse President Trump’s narrow loss in the state.

[snip]

In the interview, Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims about voting irregularities.

In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested because counties administer elections in Georgia.

“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.

It’s unclear whether Lindsey’s actions constitute a crime or not. But that’s why it would be a reasonable thing for a Special Counsel, one not directly controlled by Biden’s AG, to review: to ensure it receives a fair review without political influence.

Lindsey Graham seems to believe that Trump’s calls for Special Counsels are merited.

Very well then.

Rudy the Dripper: The Vicious Cycle of Dead-Ender Propagandists Feeding Bullshit to Tribalist Republicans

Not long after the former US Attorney of the Southern District of New York headlined a press conference where he and other lawyers presented insane conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump had been robbed of his victory, CNN reported that the FBI continues to investigate Rudy Giuliani for his ties to Russian Agents.

Complicating matters is that Giuliani’s post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.

In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.

But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign’s chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.

Meanwhile, the same propagandists who’ve helped Trump survive in recent years — on the left and the right — are claiming that because Democrats and others backed the investigation of Russian efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 (an investigation that attempted to understand why Trump fired Jim Comey, the person most Democrats chiefly blame for Hillary’s loss), it is precedent for Trump’s efforts to disclaim Joe Biden’s resounding win.

This exemplifies the vicious cycle we’ve been on since since August 2016, when Donald Trump authorized his rat-fucker to take desperate measures to find bullshit stories to tell to try to win an election.

After WikiLeaks released the first set of files Russia had stolen as part of its plot to help Trump get elected in July 2016 and someone — it’s not clear who — released damning information about Paul Manafort’s corrupt ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, Donald Trump doubled down. Rat-fucker Roger Stone, desperate to save Trump’s campaign and maybe even the job of his lifetime buddy, made a Faustian bargain for advance access to fairly innocuous John Podesta emails that Stone believed would provide the smoking gun for a conspiracy his allies had been chasing since March. The Faustian deal, by itself, exposed Stone as a co-conspirator in a hack-and-leak operation led by a hostile foreign agency. But the deal also brought ongoing exposure: at least as soon as he was elected, Trump’s rat-fucker (and maybe his eldest son!) started pursuing an effort to pay off Julian Assange with a pardon or some other way out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby implicating Trump in a quid pro quo. After Trump assumed the Presidency, his own exposure through Stone gave him reason to want to shut down the investigation, even the investigation into the hack-and-leak itself. As a result, from very early in his presidency, Trump had obstructed justice to hide the quid pro quo and conspiracy his rat-fucker (and possibly he and his son) had joined to help him get there.

Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, acting on advice that Paul Manafort gave after returning from a meeting with one of Oleg Deripaska’s key deputies, the Republicans defended their President by attacking the credibility of the Steele dossier — one that Deripaska himself likely ensured was filled with disinformation — as a stand-in for the larger investigation itself. Deripaska even has apparent sway at one of the outlets that most relentlessly pursued that synecdoche, the dossier as the Russian investigation. Former hawks on Russia, like Trey Gowdy, were lured into fiercely defending Trump even in the face of overwhelming proof of his compromise by the able gate-keeping of Kash Patel and the discovery of how the use of informants can implicate members of your own tribe, as it did with Carter Page. By the time Billy Barr deceived the nation with his roll-out of a very damning Mueller Report, almost every single Republican member of Congress was susceptible to ignoring damning evidence that their President treated both the pursuit of the presidency and his office as a means for self-benefit, no matter what that did to US interests.

Key to the process of co-opting virtually all Republican members of Congress was the process of villainizing the people who had tried to keep the country safe from Russian compromise, starting with Peter Strzok but also including Andy McCabe. That process easily exploited the same apparatus of Congress’ “oversight” powers — and the same susceptibility to heated rants over logic — that had been used to turn a tragic incident in Libya into a multi-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. Also key to that process were certain propagandists on Fox News, including three of the lawyers that stood with Rudy yesterday: DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell.

The day after Mueller closed up shop, those same propagandists joined with Rudy to pursue a revenge plot for the investigation — they started pursuing a way to frame Joe Biden in anticipation of the 2020 election. Most Democrats didn’t believe that Hillary lost because of Russia, but Trump and his conspiratorially-minded advisors believed they did. And so Rudy, relying on advice Manafort offered from prison, used the same networks of influence to try to frame Biden in a Ukrainian plot that, at the same time, might provide an alternative explanation for the Russian crimes Trump was personally implicated in.

Once again, Trump got personally involved, extorting the Ukrainian president over a series of months, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s abuse of Congress’ power of the purse in an effort to extort a campaign benefit from a foreign country merited impeachment. There’s also no doubt that it served to heighten the tribalism — and ranting illogic — of Republican members of Congress.

Things snowballed further.

That tribalism, by itself, might have gotten Trump re-elected. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. Instead, the President prepared an attack on the integrity of the vote by dissuading his own supporters from using mail-in ballots, setting up the Equal Protection hoaxes that Rudy has pushed in recent days. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claims that, by itself, the effort to discredit mail-in voting cost Trump the state of Georgia. But partisan attacks are what got Trump where he is, and partisan attacks are what he knows.

Trump also doubled down on what had gotten him elected in 2016: overblown attacks sourced to stolen emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, in this case rolled out by one guy at legal risk for his ties to Fraud Guarantee, and another under indictment for exploiting the tribalism of Trump’s supporters to commit fraud. According to CNN, the FBI believes these emails may have been packaged up by the Russian agents that have been buying access through Rudy and DiGenova and Toensing.

Trump’s DOJ, working with Sidney Powell, even tried to invent an attack on Joe Biden by altering exhibits in a court proceeding. In that case, the overblown attack was sourced to real notes, albeit notes that actual law enforcement officials had packaged in such a way as to tell a false story. Yet again, however, this was a false story that scapegoated those who’ve protected the interests of the country — adding Joe Biden to the targets along with McCabe and Strzok — to try to cover-up unbelievably damning evidence about Trump’s coziness with Russia. The effort to deny that Mike Flynn was secretly working for Turkey while claiming to work for Trump and to deny that Mike Flynn repeatedly called up the country that had just attacked us to try to obtain further benefits turned into an attack on those who tried to keep the country safe from sell-outs like Mike Flynn.

It’s a false story. But Republicans in Congress believe it with all their being. And so it has succeeded in convincing those Republicans they need to redouble their efforts to defend Trump.

So, yesterday, Rudy and the other propagandists gave a press conference that was, for the first time, broadly labeled as a coup attempt and roundly mocked, even by otherwise true believers. Trump, Rudy, Republicans, they’re all victims of an international plot launched by George Soros, Cuba, China, Venezuela, according to Rudy and the lawyers who spun the last several conspiracy theories on Fox News.

And this propaganda, an attempt to set aside the clear will of the voters, derives its strength not from any basis in fact. Rather, it derives its power from the fact that Republicans have gotten so tribally defensive of Trump, they will set aside the clear good of the country to back him.

Donald Trump, if he leaves office, may face legal consequences for what he did in 2016 to get elected. If Trump leaves office, Rudy may face consequences for the things he has done since to keep Trump in office.

To save themselves, they’re pursuing the same strategy they’ve pursued since 2016: telling bullshit stories by waving documents around and lying about what they say, relying on tribalism and raw power rather than reason to persuade their fellow Republicans. It just so happens that several of these stories got told with the help of Russian foreign agents (though some got told with the help of a corrupted law enforcement). It just so happens that Trump and Rudy (and Stone’s) willingness to rely on Russian help to tell these stories has greatly exacerbated their legal risk, and therefore made the spewing of bullshit stories more urgent.

But the Russian role mostly serves to magnify the desperation of this gambit.

Mostly, this is about weaponizing the tribalism of the Republican party that puts party loyalty over loyalty to the country or Constitution. And while there have been a few defectors from this dangerous tribalism in recent days, for the most part, Republicans in Congress don’t care that Trump is exploiting them like this or even — in some cases — don’t understand that this is all a shoddy set of lies.

Sidney Powell Implicates Barbara Ledeen in Her Effort to Undermine Democracy

Yesterday, GA’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger used various means to push back on the Republicans who were trying to cheat to win. In addition to a genuinely useful thread from Erick Erickson debunking one after another conspiracy theory about GA’s vote, he gave an interview to the WaPo detailing how his Republican colleagues have been pressuring him.

He called Doug Collins (who, remember, campaigned with all the Trump felons) a liar.

The normally mild-mannered Raffensperger saved his harshest language for Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), who is leading the president’s efforts in Georgia and whom Raffensperger called a “liar” and a “charlatan.”

Collins has questioned Raffensperger’s handling of the vote and accused him of capitulating to Democrats by not backing allegations of voter fraud more strongly.

[snip]

“I’m an engineer. We look at numbers. We look at hard data,” Raffensperger said. “I can’t help it that a failed candidate like Collins is running around lying to everyone. He’s a liar.”

More alarmingly, Raffensperger described Lindsey Graham suggesting he should throw out entire counties of legally cast votes.

Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims about voting irregularities.

In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested because counties administer elections in Georgia.

“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.

As a number of people have pointed out, it’s a crime under GA law to solicit election fraud.

Meanwhile, Sidney Powell continues her effort to drum up support for undermining democracy. In a tweet this morning, she included Lindsey Graham staffer Barbara Ledeen among her co-conspirators.

In addition to working with Mike Flynn to try to reach out to hostile foreign governments in hopes they had hacked Hillary’s emails, Ledeen’s spouse, Michael, was the first person Flynn called when he was trying to figure out how to undermine sanctions on Russia.

Ledeen is, in spite of those glaring conflicts, the key staffer behind Lindsey’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. That suggests she’s also a key staffer behind Lindsey’s decision to ignore how DOJ has altered documents in Bill Barr’s effort to undermine the prosecution of Powell’s staffer.

I honestly believe that Lindsey does all this because his mind has rotted and people like Ledeen have told him so many lies he believes it. But now he’s entering a potentially criminal racket.