Editor's Blog
Exposed Again: The Criminal Intent Behind Trump's Fascist Coup Plot

Roger Stone leaving court during his trial for obstructing the January 6 investigation

Now that former President Donald Trump has been indicted not once but twice for attempting to steal the 2020 presidential election, his apologists say he was merely pursuing his constitutional right to contest the results. They insist that he truly believed his campaign was undone by massive voter fraud and that all the post-election machinations carried out by him and his cronies were innocent and sincere.

Unfortunately for them, evidence continues to emerge showing not only that their claims of fraud were fabricated — and ruled to be false in 61 lawsuits — but that Trump had planned to carry out a conspiracy against democracy well before the election results were even fully tabulated.

Nobody should be surprised to learn that the latest confirmation of the Trump's campaign's nefarious intent features Roger Stone, the veteran dirty trickster and pardoned felon, who must have coined his "Stop the Steal" slogan while peering into a mirror. If there was an attempted "steal," he was one of the perps.

In his boundless vanity, Stone allowed himself to be videotaped by Danish documentarian Christoffer Guldbrandsen while dictating a memo that outlined a plan to substitute fake electors supporting Trump for legitimate electors supporting Joe Biden. That moment occurred on November 5, 2020 — two days after the election and two days before Biden was declared the election's winner.

Speaking slowly as an aide typed on a laptop, Stone declared: "Any legislative body may decide on the basis of overwhelming evidence of fraud to send electors to the electoral college who accurately reflect the president's legitimate victory in their state, which was illegally denied him through fraud."

Stone is not a lawyer, and that notion of an "independent state legislature" acting to overturn the actual election result in any state was thoroughly discredited before the Supreme Court rejected it. John Eastman, the conservative Trump attorney who conceived the fake electors scheme, has confessed that he knew all along the theory was hollow and that even Republican-appointed judges would dismiss it.

But the validity of the theory was beside the point, as Stone himself suggested in another interview with Guldbrandsen. The coup plot formulated by Stone and the rest of Trump's team foresaw a sudden assertion of illegitimate authority to seize control and void the election. Michael Flynn, Trump's pardoned former national security adviser, even urged a plot that would conclude with the imposition of military dictatorship. They meant to force the country to accept the outcome they demanded, with a spasm of military violence wherever that proved necessary.

That was why Stone — and Steve Bannon, the fascistic former White House strategist, also pardoned by Trump - both predicted, quite accurately, that Trump would declare himself the victor on Election Night regardless of the tabulated results. "I really do suspect that it'll still be up in the air," Stone said on November 1, 2020, anticipating the election a few days later. "When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine-tenths of the law."

Speaking in the voice of Trump, he enunciated what he thought his client should say: "No, we won." If those tabulated results showed Biden in the lead, Stone added, then Trump should say:"Sorry, we're not accepting them. We're challenging them in court."

And not just in court, where all but one of Trump's challenges were repudiated by judges of both parties. "If the (Biden) electors show up at the Electoral College, armed guards will throw them out," Stone warned. Speaking again in Trump's voice, he went on, "I'm challenging all of it, and the judges we're going to, are judges I appointed."

None of that worked out according to Stone's expectations, as even Trump's appointees and his own vice president, Mike Pence, resisted the fake fraud charges, the phony electors and the entire coup plot. As articulated repeatedly by Stone, Bannon, Mike Flynn and others around Trump, the intent couldn't have been more brazenly authoritarian and illegal.

In early September 2020, Stone echoed Flynn on Alex Jones' Infowars show that in the event of a contested election, Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act, and arrest Bill and Hillary Clinton, the late Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and "anybody else who can be proven to be involved in illegal activity." He also urged Trump to shut down any publication that could supposedly be shown to have engaged in "seditious and illegal activities," and with its entire staff "arrested and taken into custody."

In short, the extremists around didn't hide their vision of a violent fascist takeover. That they couldn't execute the plan does not in any way exonerate them or Trump, who followed that plotline until it led to the mob attack on the Capitol. The latest video of Stone, preening and pontificating, is simply further proof of the criminal intent — what the law calls mens rea — that drove their attempt to overturn American democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Why A Biden 'Impeachment Inquiry' May Make Democrats Secretly Smile

Rep. Lauren Boebert

Impeaching Joe Biden doesn't rank high on the list of political priorities for most Americans — who are far more concerned with economic security, gun violence and crime, health-care costs and whether Republicans and Democrats can work together to address those issues.

While the president's approval ratings languish, most Americans display little interest in the tortuous House investigations targeting him and his son Hunter Biden. A recent Morning Consult poll found that only 30 percent of voters, including less than a quarter of independents, see any urgency in launching a Biden impeachment inquiry.

Yet under intense pressure from their party's loudest voices, including former President Donald Trump, House Republicans may soon embark on the first stage of that process. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy privately told GOP leadership and some members last week that he is "moving closer" to an impeachment inquiry. When he realized that he had encouraged his party's most extreme faction in its mania, he stepped back. "Impeachment inquiry is not impeachment," he assured reporters.

Dim as he is, McCarthy nevertheless should realize that an "inquiry" without an actual impeachment will amount to a public exoneration of Biden. He already may have noticed what his more fanatical members like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) have not: a distinct absence of proof that Biden has committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" that warrant his removal from office.

The most damning piece of evidence uncovered so far by Rep. James Comer, the House Oversight Committee chairman, is a scrap of an interview with an FBI informant who claimed to have heard a Ukrainian businessman say he had paid off Biden during the Obama administration. Unfortunately for Comer, that very same individual had already denied, on tape, that he ever had any contact with Biden.

As Philip Bump noted in The Washington Post, that episode exemplifies the feeble case cobbled together so far by Comer, who has confessed forthrightly that his purpose is political, not forensic. He doesn't care whether he has enough facts to make a persuasive argument for Biden's guilt. The smear is good enough for the chairman and is indeed good enough for many or even most Republicans.

Is such flimsy and contradictory material enough to sustain an impeachment inquiry, however, let alone a vote to oust the president? For those Republicans who still insist that Biden was not duly elected, perhaps it is. For anyone with a functioning brain, including many elected Republicans, it may not be. Before McCarthy starts down the path toward impeachment, he ought to listen to the Republicans who are waving him off. They include Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who publicly warns that impeachment is "a trap," and Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), a Freedom Caucus member who mocks "impeachment theater" as a distraction and delusion.

For Buck, Paul and other Republican skeptics, it is unpleasant to recall what happened the last time a leader of their party impeached a Democratic president without respect to public opinion. Driven by an intense hatred for President Bill Clinton (and First Lady Hillary Clinton) among their base, and by the proliferation of far-fetched accusations and conspiracy theories in right-wing media, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich committed an historic blunder.

The ugly spectacle produced by the Republicans dragged them down and elevated Clinton. Despite the president's admitted misbehavior with a former intern — and his perjured testimony to shield that private affair — the American people saw him as a victim of partisan hypocrites and Pharisees. When the dust cleared, Clinton was riding high, the Republicans had unceremoniously booted Gingrich and the Democrats had gained seats in a midterm that should have seen them lose.

None of those rather basic considerations discourage the most zealous figures on the right, who demand Biden's impeachment as vengeance for the two Trump impeachments. It's an obsession that leaves voters cold and alienated. Before the impeachment caucus gets too excited, they ought to ask why that threat makes so many Democrats smirk.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.