THE LIST: Everything You Need To Know For Saturday, May 26
May 26 | 2012
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Ronna McDaniel secured a fourth term as chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) on Friday with roughly two-thirds of the votes cast, leaving her challengers in the dust, including millionaire conspiracy-monger Mike Lindell, who had projected a winner’s confidence on the campaign trail.
The MyPillow CEO, a staunch ally of former President Trump and chief propeller of his Big Lie, sauntered into the contentious RNC chair race in late November, telling indicted Trump loyalist Steve Bannon that “one of the big donors said to me… ‘Mike, everybody wants you to be head of the RNC,’” according to Axios.
\u201cBefore the voting began, Mike Lindell stopped by to speak with reports. He told us "the people want me" and if the RNC members vote for anyone except him to be chair \u201cthey are not listening to the people." Citing this @Rasmussen_Poll \n\nhttps://t.co/4C8OIr6vT4\u201d— Robert Sherman (@Robert Sherman) 1674843716
Everybody, it turned out, wanted Lindell to be something other than RNC chair, as the pillow salesman nabbed just four of the 168 ballots cast, despite Lindell’s prediction that McDaniel didn’t have the votes to win and his insistent claims that he was “the best” candidate in the race.
On the phone with ABC News shortly before the election, Lindell said that McDaniel was “well under the 85 needed,” making the chairmanship race "kind of like what happened in Congress," comparing the race with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)’s long-drawn-out speakership bid.
"This is very similar — only it's very much to my advantage because it's a secret vote," Lindell told the news outlet. "If it was an open vote, I think it'd be hard for anybody to win because of the promises that are made — and all of the sudden, you're going to get that carrot pulled back if you vote elsewhere.”
In reality, however, Lindell’s bid was a long shot from the outset, as is his crusade against voting machines, which made him the target of a Justice Department investigation and the butt of many jokes — an obsession many RNC voting members believed made him unfit for the leadership role he sought.
\u201cRonna McDaniel vs. Mike Lindell for RNC Chair. \n\nCan\u2019t wait for that (My)pillow fight.\u201d— Senator Bob Duff, Majority Leader, Connecticut (@Senator Bob Duff, Majority Leader, Connecticut) 1669425599
According to the New York Times, Lindell squandered a lump of his fortune — as much as $40 million — on the election denial movement, promoting the Big Lie in advertisements on Fox News’s prime-time opinion shows and prominent right-wing podcasts.
Yet, the rightward-shifting RNC rejected Lindell bigly and re-elected McDaniel, whom Lindell and MAGA attorney Harmeet Dhillon -- who netted 51 ballots in the race -- deemed responsible for the string of embarrassing losses the party had suffered in recent elections.
Lindell’s campaign manager, Sherronna Bishop, a right-wing activist whose home was raided by the FBI, told The Daily Beast in the lead-up to the chairmanship vote that Lindell had no plans to drop out.
Bishop told the Beast that Lindell’s Tuesday night reception for RNC members was “well attended” and that Lindell had addressed “lots of questions” from attendees, many of whom expressed “lots of concern” for the capability of the incumbent RNC leadership.
An RNC member who attended Lindell’s event told the Beast that he had “accepted” that Lindell, who’d had only one public endorsement, had a huge mountain to climb to outdo McDaniel and rising MAGA gadfly Dhillon.
The sole Lindell endorsement came from Louisiana RNC Committeewoman Lenar Whitney, who, like the pillow executive, had spread lies that Trump was the victim of deep state-machinations and widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“I am convinced now, more than ever, that the only path to a righteous outcome in American elections will be provided by a return to hand-marked ballots printed on secure paper,” Whitney wrote to her colleagues, the Baton Rouge Advocatereported.
“THE ONLY PERSON ADVOCATING SUCH A TRUE NORTH COURSE IS MIKE LINDELL,” she added.
Jeff Kaufmann, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, told Vice that Lindell’s support for — and from — election deniers, such as disgraced Arizona Republicans Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, many of whom succumbed to humiliating defeats in the 2022 midterms, aptly predicted how bad a job Lindell would do at winning elections for the GOP if elected RNC chairman.
“His candidacy for the RNC shows he doesn’t know how to campaign for an office. Do you see the irony here? He’s campaigning to be the RNC chair for more campaigns, and his campaign for RNC chair is a bunch of boilerplate emails that have come very, very late,” Kaufmann said. “Making pillows and winning elections—I don’t think there’s a correlation there.”
The arrest of Charles McGonigal, chief of the FBI counterintelligence division in New York from October 2016 until his retirement in 2018, reopens festering questions about the troubled election that put Donald Trump in the White House. Among the crimes charged against McGonigal in two lengthy federal indictments is a secret financial relationship with Oleg Deripaska — a Russian oligarch close to dictator Vladimir Putin and associated with Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, himself convicted of crimes and pardoned.
During his FBI career, McGonigal oversaw investigations of Deripaska and other oligarchs suspected of various crimes, including espionage. Now the exposure of his illegal connection with Deripaska may provide fresh insights into Trump's tainted victory.
On October 4, 2016, a month before Election Day, FBI director James Comey appointed McGonigal as special agent in charge of the FBI counterintelligence division in New York City, an exceptionally influential job that he took over at an extraordinarily sensitive moment. The bureau already had open investigations of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican adversary Trump. The Clinton investigation concerned "her emails," of course, and the Trump investigation involved his campaign's Russian connections.
What followed McGonigal's sudden ascent to power in the New York FBI office were two seemingly separate incidents, occurring days before the election, that had a fateful impact. On October 28, Comey sent a letter to the Congress publicly announcing that the bureau had resumed its investigation of Clinton due to the discovery of a laptop owned by former Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose spouse Huma Abedin was a top Clinton aide.
Months earlier the Justice Department months had cleared Clinton of any crime, but Comey violated Justice Department guidelines in accusing her of being neglectful about classified information, though it was later revealed that her emails contained no classified documents. (That means zero, zilch, nada, none, nothing.) But then Comey was driven to examine Clinton emails on the Weiner laptop.
Comey's announcement stopped the Clinton campaign's forward momentum and almost certainly cost her the election — even though the FBI director acknowledged on November 2, days before the election, that nearly all of the data on the Weiner laptop duplicated emails the FBI already had seen. None contained any damaging information. Just as Clinton was severely damaged among swing suburban voters, Trump's base voters were galvanized.
While Comey's broadside against Clinton stunned the nation, perhaps nobody should have been shocked. Trump crony Rudolph Giuliani —who for decades maintained a close relationship with Republican-leaning officials in the New York FBI office as the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — had repeatedly hinted on Fox News in the weeks before the election that the bureau was sitting on a "big surprise" that would vault his candidate to victory.
Meanwhile, on October 31, 2016, the New York Times published a front-page story on that other FBI investigation, known internally as "Crossfire Hurricane," which unlike her emails had gotten no public attention (and inspired no leaks). The headline was declarative and conclusive: "Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia." That false story, exonerating Trump of Kremlin connections that we now know were extensive and incriminating, was pushed by Trump operatives and agents and clearly originated in the New York FBI counterintelligence division — which had played a key role in the beginning of Crossfire Hurricane. It quoted anonymous "law enforcement sources," which did not mean a local police lieutenant.
Before he moved on to other positions at FBI headquarters, McGonigal's career had begun in New York, where he worked closely with James Kallstrom — the right-wing ideologue who headed the New York office for decades. A bosom buddy of Giuliani and Trump, Kallstrom is suspected of leading the pressure campaign that induced Comey to reopen the Clinton investigation. The explicit threat of leaks by agents and former agents like Kallstrom, who reportedly hated Clinton, spurred Comey's disastrous decision and his public announcement, which again violated department policy against election interference.
Damning as those facts may seem, they only get us so far. There is much more to learn before we can understand the full story of 2016. The scrupulously nonpartisan presidential historian Michael Beschloss asked this week whether McGonigal's indictment will lead us closer to the truth. Will the prosecution of McGonigal reveal the details of his relationship with Deripaska, whom he had once investigated before becoming his corrupt stooge? Will Comey provide a full and honest accounting of what happened in the New York FBI office before the election? Will the New York Times examine — and disclose — how that misleading story about Trump and Russia appeared on its front page? Who briefed the Times for that bogus story?
With Trump seeking to return to the White House, the answers to those questions do not merely reckon with the past but are critical to democracy's future. The malign conspirators who first brought that would-be tyrant to power, both foreign and domestic, are still at large.
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.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.