Casting about for ways to prevent Joe Biden from taking office, Donald Trump reportedly has toyed with several outlandish proposals, including military intervention, the appointment of conspiracy monger Sidney Powell as a White House special counsel charged with investigating election fraud, and the federal seizure of voting machines as part of an attempt to back up her unsubstantiated claim that they were rigged to deny the president his rightful victory. Trump expressed interest in all of those tactics at a meeting on Friday, according to administration officials interviewed by The New York Times and Axios.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who participated in the meeting, suggested during a Newsmax interview last week that Trump "could take military capabilities," "place them" in swing states that Biden won, and "basically rerun an election in each of those states." Flynn said such a move is "not unprecedented" and complained about "these people out there talking about martial law" as if "it's something that we've never done." But he added that "I'm not calling for that," because "we have a constitutional process…that has to be followed." Trump "asked about" Flynn's idea during the meeting, the Times reports.
Trump also floated the idea of appointing Powell, a lawyer who has represented Flynn and assisted the Trump campaign, to investigate election irregularities. He suggested that Powell, who was at the meeting, could be given whatever security clearance would be required to help her find evidence that the election was stolen.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows "repeatedly and aggressively pushed back" against that proposal and Trump's other suggestions, the Times says, citing officials "briefed on the meeting." Cipollone and other advisers emphasized that "there was no constitutional authority" for the steps Trump described.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who participated in the meeting by phone, also opposed the idea of appointing Powell, with whom he has quarreled. Last month Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, the Trump campaign's senior legal adviser, declared that Powell, who a few days earlier had been presented as part of the "elite strike force team…working on behalf of the president and the campaign," was no longer representing either. But that semi-repudiation did not mean that Trump or Giuliani had rejected Powell's conspiracy theory, according to which Democratic election officials across the country used fraud-facilitating voting software to give Biden an edge, then resorted to wholesale paper ballot fraud when their initial plan did not work as expected.
The Times reports that Giuliani, while continuing to spurn Powell, has been urging the Department of Homeland Security to seize election machines from swing states in the hope of documenting a vast anti-Trump conspiracy he says is "easily provable." He "was told the department does not have the authority to do such a thing."
Axios reporter Jonathan Swan says "senior Trump administration officials…tell me that Trump is spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists and flirting with blatant abuses of power." One of his sources said "people who are concerned and nervous aren't the weak-kneed bureaucrats that we loathe." Rather, they are Trump appointees "who have endured arguably more insanity and mayhem than any administration officials in history."
Meanwhile, Fox News, apparently in response to a threatened defamation lawsuit by Smartmatic, one of the companies that Powell, Giuliani, and Trump have implicated in the alleged plot to steal the election, has been airing a segment debunking their claims during shows that have promoted them. The segment, which features an interview with voting technology expert Eddie Perez, aired during Lou Dobbs' Fox Business program on Friday night, during Jeanine Pirro's Fox News show last night, and during Maria Bartiromo's Fox News show this morning. While Fox News reporters have been skeptical of Trump's fraud claims since he began making them, Dobbs, Pirro, and Bartiromo have amplified them.
"They have no evidence to support their attacks on Smartmatic because there is no evidence," Smartmatic chief executive Antonio Mugica said last Monday, when the company sent legal notices to Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network. "This campaign was designed to defame Smartmatic and undermine legitimately conducted elections."
In the corrective Fox News piece, Perez, whom Dobbs described as "one of the leading authorities on open-source software for elections," said, "I have not seen any evidence that Smartmatic software was used to delete, change, alter anything related to vote tabulation." He noted that Smartmatic software was used only in Los Angeles County during the 2020 election and that the company is independent from Dominion Voting Systems, whose machines were used to process votes in 28 states. Dominion, which has threatened to sue Powell and the Trump campaign for defamation, also figures in their allegations of massive fraud. Perez debunked the idea that U.S. ballots were processed in foreign countries, another claim frequently made by Trump, Giuliani, and Powell.
In addition to describing the fraud claims as "baseless," Dominion noted that its machines "were used in 351 of 731 counties" in "10 key states" (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). "In counties that used Dominion systems," it said, "Biden got 888,259 votes to Trump's 851,069. In counties that didn't use Dominion systems, Biden got 1.54 million votes to Trump's 1.52 million. In other words, if you eliminated every county that used Dominion systems, Biden still got more votes."
During last week's Senate hearing on election "irregularities," Christopher Krebs, who ran the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency until Trump fired him in a fit of pique on November 17, said claims about fraud-facilitating voting machines have no basis in fact. "The allegations being thrown around about manipulation of the equipment used in the election are baseless," Krebs testified. "These claims are not only inaccurate and 'technically incoherent,' according to 59 election security experts, but they are also dangerous and only serve to confuse, scare, and ultimately undermine confidence in the election. All authorities and elected officials in positions of power or influence have a duty to reinforce to the American people that these claims are false."