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.