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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

President Donald Trump loves to brag about his Twitter following. As more revelations brewed around the Trump campaign’s possible involvement with Russia, Trump tweeted on June 17 about his overall social media following: 100 million strong, or so he claims, and Twitter of course being his favorite method of communication

A quick glance at Trump’s actual number of Twitter followers tells a different story, however; while president brags of about 34 million followers, the truth is far different. According to an analysis by Socialbakers in June for CNN Tech, one analytics tool estimates that 11.6 million of Trump’s 32 million Twitter followers are either dormant or accounts run by bots.

“The analysis run by Twitter Audit, which estimates how many of an account’s following is made up of real people, gave Trump a 40 percent audit score and found that about 20 million of his followers are fake. Status People, another site that rates the authenticity of Twitter followers, found that 5 percent of Trump’s followers are fake and another 91 percent are inactive.

That Trump seemingly has more fake followers than real ones can be attributed to the existence of bots, an umbrella term referring to accounts with no profile picture and no tweets. A quick scroll through the most recent followers on the @realDonaldTrump account shows a number of accounts with Twitter’s default profile picture and no tweets, that seemed to have joined Twitter very recently.

Amassing bot followers is fairly easy. One only has to pay a certain amount of money, and voila, one has an instant bump in following count. A New York Times article by Nick Bilton describes the social media bot industry as a “giant pyramid scheme” often used by big-name brands, A-list celebrities and regular people seeking a “social media ego boost.”

Of course, Trump is not the only famous figure to have fake followers or bots. Politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also have bots following their verified Twitter accounts. The rub is that Trump’s account seems to have a larger number of bots and presumably fake accounts than any other politicians on Twitter—in comparison, Barack Obama received a 90 percent audit score from Twitter Audit, Hillary Clinton was given a 52 percent audit score and Sen. Bernie Sanders garnered an 89 percent score.

According to the Washington Post, academic research in 2016 found that bots supporting Trump “massively outperformed the bots supporting Clinton” by a 5 to 1 margin days before Election Day. The research paper found that 81.9 percent of “highly automated” accounts carried some form of pro-Trump messaging.

The fact that so many of Trump’s followers are ghost accounts made solely to amplify the president’s message should undermine his own unabashed boastfulness that he’s speaking to 100 million people each time he goes on one of his uncensored and often deleterious tweetstorms. But if the president has one quality that is painfully obvious, it is his penchant for attention and his constant hunger for validation; it’s his whole brand. Those millions of Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets serve as Trump’s affirmation, a co-sign from the public that he is indeed popular and powerful. After all, Trump has built his entire career, including his rise to the presidency, on popularity and a brazen wielding of power whenever it suits him.

If Trump is aware of the bots and fake accounts he has spawned, he’s done a fairly good job at hiding it. Of course, even if Trump were aware of his pooling of bots, he would decry these reports with his favorite phrase: “fake news.” For a man whose ego is so fragile that he would even fabricate his own inauguration audience numbers, Trump needs those tens of millions of followers so much that he’ll even throw out a number like 100 million just to assert his dominance without even a simple fact check.

Celisa Calacal is a junior writing fellow for AlterNet. She is a senior journalism major and legal studies minor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. Previously she worked at ThinkProgress and served as an editor for Ithaca College’s student newspaper. Follow her at @celisa_mia.

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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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