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Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, David Perdue, and Kelly Loeffler

Photo by CNN Politics/ Twitter

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The lie that Georgia's presidential election was rigged through voter fraud is a right-wing fantasy — but these baseless claims could have a very real impact on the upcoming Senate runoffs. And that has some members of the state's right-wing media apparatus panicking.

Groundless allegations of voter fraud in Georgia's presidential election have pitted members of right-wing media, and the Republican Party as a whole, against one another ahead of two crucial January runoffs that will determine control of the Senate.

Trump loyalists are clinging to a manufactured conspiracy theory that Georgia was stolen for President-elect Joe Biden, even though Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has rejected such claims and a statewide audit found no evidence of widespread fraud. In response, right-wing media figures have lashed out at both Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, who certified the state's election results last Friday.

Some Trump supporters have taken their complaints one step further — suggesting that they may not support Republican candidates Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) in the upcoming runoffs given their dissatisfaction with the handling of nonexistent voter fraud.

That threat has spooked some members of the right-wing media ecosystem in Georgia. Yet while some are desperately trying to refocus audiences angry with anyone who does not fully endorse Trump's absurd fraud claims, other media figures are helping to feed the party infighting.

Conservative media figures are attacking Georgia officials and fueling manufactured grievances

One of Trump's most ardent supporters in the state is actually a radio host based out of Virginia who only recently moved his show to Georgia, ahead of January's runoffs. Host John Fredericks, in explaining his decision to move to the state, complained about the supposed lack of true Trump loyalists among the state's talk radio hosts and singled out one fellow host in particular.

On November 19, Fredericks claimed, "There's no radio shows. Erick Erickson in the afternoon — are you kidding me? Never Trumper extraordinaire. I'm sure he's backing Raffensperger."

Erickson is one of the most prominent talk radio hosts in the state, and he openly supported Trump's reelection effort despite Fredericks' claim that he is a Never Trumper.

Since moving his show to Georgia a few weeks ago and launching a partisan "news" site designed to appear like a local publication — ostensibly to support Loeffler and Perdue — Fredericks has repeatedly hosted MAGA firebrands like attorney Lin Wood who have attacked the state's elected officials.

During a lengthy interview on November 20, Wood accused Kemp and Raffensperger of corruption and suggested that unless Republicans stood by Trump's efforts to overturn the election, Trump voters would not turn out to support Loeffler and Perdue.

"I don't believe the people that went out and voted and believe in Donald Trump are going to show up for the runoffs. You are not going to fool Georgia voters but one time. So these people that think they're going to try to, on the Republican side, get a win in the runoff, they are not going to get it unless they undo the fraud in the general election regarding President Trump." Fredericks agreed, telling Wood, "You're right."

Steve Bannon, a close Fredericks ally, echoed the sentiment on November 23 during an appearance on The John Fredericks Show.

"Quite frankly, if Kemp and the secretary of state and the lieutenant governor don't turn this around, … if they don't put their shoulder to the wheel, they should all be recalled. You should start a recall petition and recall them. And hey, if Democrats win it, who cares? It's better than having the hypocrisy of these Republicans who just feed at the trough."

National conservative media figures have also suggested that disillusioned Trump voters perhaps have reason not to turn out in January.

After a distraught caller complained that the Republican Party had abandoned Trump, radio host Rush Limbaugh expressed sympathy for voters who were threatening to sit out the Senate runoffs.

"Yeah we want to win the two seats, yeah we want the Republicans to maintain control, but there's a lot of people out there right now who are ambivalent and wouldn't mind if the Republicans lost those two seats and sit around and watch the Democrats and the Republicans deal with the mess that they have made."

On Fox, multiple hosts have assailed Kemp and Raffensperger, feeding outrage among the Republican base.

Fox host Sean Hannity suggested that Gov. Kemp was "cowering in fear" because he had allowed the election results to stand. Host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Raffensperger was "off the reservation of logic." And Fox Business host Lou Dobbs accused Raffensperger of "playing with votes."

Other conservatives are sounding the alarm that voter fraud conspiracy theories could backfire in January

Meanwhile, conservative figures like Erickson have repeatedly denounced the fraud allegations and have warned of the danger they present to Republican turnout.

On November 17, Erickson referenced the Dominion voter fraud conspiracy theory, arguing, "When you've got these conspiracy-mongers out there saying they are going to release some Kraken, it's going to expose that Dominion Voter Services stole the election in Georgia, well how can it be when the paper ballot and the machines align almost perfectly? None of it makes sense. You can't let the victim mentality soak in or you are going to have Georgia taken by the Democrats in the Senate."

Those right-wing media personalities who do question the voter fraud conspiracy theories are often met with fierce backlash from their audiences.

Georgia radio host Scott Ryfun, after suggesting that there's no evidence supporting claims that that election results in the state would be overturned, fielded angry callers on November 19.

"As you know, I have taken a lot of heat, a lot of heat, for suggesting that the numbers are not going to change." Ryfun continued. "I am trying to keep you from being so totally dispirited, and disheartened, and just done that you don't participate in the Senate race. That you lose faith in the Senate race. We can't do that."

Beyond Georgia, national conservative media outlets are also working to try to placate an angry base and to chastise top Republicans for fueling the outrage.

In an opinion piece for The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria wrote, "Republicans can't rely on organizing and fundraising to get voters out while simultaneously telling their voters that Georgia elections are rigged, especially in pursuit of an outcome that is never going to materialize." Writing in National Review, Isaac Schorr criticized Loeffler and Perdue's calls for Raffensperger's resignation and asked, "Is it really in the senators' interests to tell GOP voters that there is no guarantee their votes will be fully and fairly counted?"

After years of promoting the myth of widespread voter fraud in an effort to suppress Democratic votes, right-wing media are now reckoning with an unexpected impact — that these claims may limit turnout among their own supporters and are tearing the conservative movement apart.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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