Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup in Washington, D.C., US, on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The Italian job
Even Jewish lasers can't maintain space dominance forever.
The hot new conspiracy, we learned in Thursday's January 6 hearing, is that Italian satellites beamed vote-changing messages into the electronic brains of Dominion voting machines on the ground, thus stealing Donald Trump's rightfully-won re-election from low Earth orbit.
Actually, the theory isn't new at all. But most of the American public learned of it for the first time when Justice Department officials testified that the online QAnon bullshit was just one of the dozens of election conspiracies they struggled to drum out of Trump's head as he saw a second term slipping away.
"You guys may not be following the internet the way I do," Trump, being extremely truthful, told acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue on Dec. 27, 2020. It was much more than an idle preoccupation. Trump also had his acting secretary of defense call the military's defense attaché in Rome to chase down the evidence for a thing he saw on YouTube.
That's kind of where the fun ended in yesterday's January 6 session. That is, unless you're the type who considers Rep. Matt Gaetz clamoring for a presidential pardon also a good time. Gaetz was one of five, or possibly six, GOP lawmakers who White House aides or email evidence fingered asking for pardons once they realized they could be criminally exposed by aiding the coup plot. Gaetz has other legal exposure, so let's not assume his very broad ask was strictly coup-related.
Actually, all of it is incredibly dark. Three DOJ officials, all of them loyal Trump functionaries, testified about the lengths Trump went to to purge, co-opt, and weaponize the Justice Department so he could overturn the election and remain in power. Much of that story was known, especially if you read this Friday email regularly. Donald Trump was infuriated that DOJ officials wouldn't use the department's credibility to lie to the public and to state officials so that they'd rescind Joe Biden's win and send fake electors to Washington.
Trump asked DOJ officials to illegally seize voting machines. When they refused, he pressured officials at Homeland Security to do it. Trump demanded the appointment of a DOJ special counsel to investigate election fraud, and when AG Bill Barr demurred, he wanted none other than sanctioned and sued "Kraken" lawyer Sidney Powell to answer the call.
But outside the hearing room, where Italian vote-zapping satellites fear to soar, things are getting realer still. Just hours before the committee convened, news dropped that federal agents served a warrant and raided the home of the day's main character. Jeffrey Clark, the environmental lawyer who promised to lie to state officials if only Trump would make him attorney general, was, according to allies, escorted away from the house in his jammies while investigators executed their search.
What exactly they were searching for is unknown. But unlike election-blasting space weapons, being the target of a federal criminal investigation is, to use a legal term of art, "real AF." You may recall that Clark took the Fifth a lot of times when the committee questioned him. Speaking strictly as his lawyer, that was a wise move. Who says an environmental attorney can't be a crack criminal law mind?
We also found out that the federal grand jury that's been investigating the fake elector part of the coup plot is ramping up too (see below). You'd hate to imagine that a hapless Capitol Hill intern could get caught up in something like that. But thanks to Trump loyalist and senator-who-makes-adults-weep-just-like-Trump-does Ron Johnson, it's possible that kid at least gets questioned.
Trump, for his part, is definitely watching the hearings and is definitely shook. (It was only weeks ago that the coup plotters' strategy was to dismiss the proceedings as borrrrrrrr-ring.) But for now, the committee is taking a short break. No hearings are scheduled for about two weeks. That's being billed as an opportunity to process all the new evidence rolling in. It's also a great way not to get turfed in the news cycle by an imminent blockbuster abortion ruling from the Supreme Court.
The committee says it'll resume hearings likely in the second week of July. So as we say in democracy reporting, arrivederci!
Weather satellites are predicting a hot summer of democracy action. Sign your friends up for Breaking the Vote!
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens addresses the crowd at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on February 22, 2017 in University City, Missouri. (Michael Thomas/ Getty Images)
You vs. the guy they told you to legislate about
By now you've seen the new political ad from Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens. It's the one where Greitens brandishes a shotgun and proclaims that he and an armed "MAGA crew" combat team are "hunting," "bagging," and "tagging" his—and the viewer's—political enemies. Never mind that his targets are insufficiently right-wing fellow Republicans. Greitens' ad is boastfully violent, intentionally menacing, and eerily fascist.
It was funny (not in a "haha" way but in a "ffs, America'' way) that Greitens' ad dropped the same week that the Senate he hopes to join passed a bill that modestly tones up gun safety law. Both the ad and the bill were timed for the aftermath of a racist massacre in Buffalo, a school massacre in Texas, and a dozen mass shootings in between.
One good part of the bill is that it narrows the so-called "boyfriend loophole," a bit of shorthand for the gap in federal law making it possible for (usually) men convicted of violence against dating partners to still legally own firearms. Intimate-partner violence is one of the most reliable predictors of later gun violence, so by making it harder for convicted abusers to get guns, Congress may be on track to prevent significant suffering and death.
Greitens is pretty much a walking "boyfriend loophole." He resigned as Missouri's governor in 2018 after a woman he was involved with leveled a bundle of credible sexual assault allegations against him. They included slapping, hitting, and photographing her without consent, then threatening to publish photos he'd taken of her during sexual encounters if she told anyone.
Greitens denied the allegations but only managed to escape charges when the statute of limitations expired. But had prosecutors convicted him, under the Senate bill he would likely not be allowed to legally own the gun he uses to incite violence in his own campaign ad.
Meanwhile, the twisted irony of Greitens' sorry reintroduction was lost on much of the political press. Many reporters covered the "hunting" ad as the GOP's sudden "dark turn" toward violence, instead of what it really was: another example of a party that turned to violence as a political means long ago.
The ad, of course, wasn't conjured out of nowhere. It was planned to appeal to a political base loyal to a leader who fomented a riot on Jan. 6; who glorifies the deadly rioters and promises them pardons if he's made president again; who mused that his VP deserved chants of "Hang Mike Pence!" The House GOP's number-three leader traffics in a low-cal version of the racist theory that fueled mass murderers in Christchurch, El Paso, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. The Senate GOP's campaign chairman tells supporters their political opponents are worse than Nazis. State GOP officials ominously ask supporters if they're ready to die in the name of party propaganda, while the national party blesses an insurrectionist mob as "legitimate political discourse."
(Reporters know this, but the pull to normalize threats to democracy is a strong one. Instead of calling consistently ominous Trumpist GOP violence what it is, each sunrise can bring a new, more comfortable day of reporting on regular old Republican-versus-Democrat competition for midterm votes. That's not what's happening in this country.)
One of Greitens' primary opponents is a man whose sole source of name ID is pointing an assault rifle at Black protesters. If Greitens' ad was a "dark turn" for the GOP, the question becomes, a dark turn from where? The ad isn't a deviation; it's a logical extension. It's also, according to Greitens' ex-wife, a further example of his violent tendencies that she's filing in their ongoing custody dispute.
One of the stated aims of the January 6 committee is to warn the public, and the press, that the Trumpist threat is stark, urgent, and ongoing. Greitens' appeal to the GOP base, and the press' reaction to it, proves their point. Far away from committee rooms or depositions, Greitens' attempt to return to power, and his the message of his ad, show that the violence Donald Trump has helped entrench at the heart of the GOP has now outgrown him.
Just when you thought This Week in Subpoenas might be running out of subpoenas… more subpoenas!
- I'm ready for my close-up
British filmmakers will be the saviors of the Republic, after all. First, documentarian Nick Quested provided the January 6 committee with never-seen footage of the first moments of the Capitol riot. Then the committee learned of a new trove of documentary film footage featuring Trump family members and the former president himself in interviews and in action over the course of several months before and after the 2020 election.
The footage shows Trump and family on Jan. 6 and includes an interview with the former president after the insurrection. British filmmaker Alex Holder was subpoenaed and sat for an interview yesterday. Trumpworld people who've definitely been telling the whole truth about what they know seem… a little upset by the revelation.
- Fakes news
"Fake electors" Tuesday at the January 6 committee took on a whole new dimension Wednesday when a federal grand jury served fakes in several states with subpoenas of their own. Fake electors in Georgia and Arizona were served (love it when your candidate for governor gets called in for questioning). A campaign official in Virginia got a subpoena, as did at least one would-be fake elector in Michigan. It was already known that a federal grand jury was investigating potential criminal charges around the fake electors scheme, and there's reason to believe prosecutors may have gleaned important information from the devices of none other than Rudy Giuliani. But this week's news shows the probe is widening.
That awkward Tina phase
BtV favorite Tina Peters will enter the MAGA singularity on Tuesday when the election-denying, alleged election-defrauding county clerk who's banned from running elections… runs in an election. Peters' GOP primary bid for secretary of state goes down Tuesday, though her arraignment on 11 counts of election tampering, impersonation, and fraud has to wait till next month. Stay tuned!
Speaking of Peters' multiple counts, here's a twist: Peters is accused of using the identity of a guy named Jerry Wood to make false security badges so another guy could tamper with and copy data from voting machines. Now, she says Real Jerry is lying about Fake Jerry. Sounds like classic Seinfeld, only in this awful knock-off, Kramer's kooky new friend winds up running elections in Colorado.
Brooks, and done
Alabama GOP Rep. and pardon wanterMo Brookslost his Senate primary and has had his career ended, for now, by Donald Trump. Remember that Brooks was a Trump favorite and even helped incite the crowd at the Ellipse rally on Jan. 6. But when he fell to a distant third in March, Trump pulled his endorsement. Brooks then told everyone that Trump has been asking, even up until September 2021, to have Joe Biden removed from office so he can be reinstalled in the White House. The obvious conclusion now is that Brooks, who's under subpoena from the January 6 committee, has nothing left to lose and should testify. Looks like he's down!
The Gableman lifestyle
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge has been in court explaining why he won't share records of his taxpayer-funded, Trump-fueled election investigations. You gotta read this.
The grift that keeps on grifting
Travel with VICE News' David Gilbert on a journey into the world of Trump's "stolen-election" empire. It's a veritable Mos Eisley Cantina of fraudsters, fabulists, and faux-experts all out to prove a big nonexistent conspiracy and make a buck doing it.
"If he is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I'd vote for him again."
— Ariz. GOP House Speaker Rusty Bowers, just after telling the January 6 committee that he was "appalled" at the "tragic parody" of Trump aides and supporters who'd tried to get him to "do something counter to my oath."
No Fox to give — A judge in Delaware ruled this week that Dominion Voting Systems' defamation lawsuit against Fox News can expand to include its parent company, Fox Corp. The suit's a whopper: Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion in damages for what it alleges was Fox's self-enriching campaign to tie Dominion's voting machines to widespread election fraud that never existed.
Late sedition — The trial of five Proud Boys leaders on federal seditious conspiracy charges will have to wait until at least December, thanks largely to the ongoing Jan. 6 investigation. A federal judge ruled the coverage and evidence coming out of the hearings could prejudice a jury if it were selected now. Federal prosecutors are also struggling to get the committee to hand over evidence that it's collected on Proud Boys and many others.
Loudermilking it — Now that you've seen the video of Rep. Barry Loudermilk's Jan. 5 tour group taking very weird pictures on Capitol Hill, then yelling threats at the Capitol the next day, you should know that the congressman is using it to raise money for his campaign.
Liz marquee — When she's not vice-chairing the January 6 committee, Rep. Liz Cheney has pledged to do everything she can to keep Donald Trump from getting back to the Oval Office. Obviously, that starts with Republicans. Catch Cheney next Wednesday at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. She'll address fellow conservatives on their "time for choosing."