In the final months of his first term in office, President Donald Trump took the public approach of a would-be authoritarian, but with the private perspective of a MAGA internet troll.
Last week, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful, orderly transfer of power, regardless of who wins the 2020 presidential election, stating at one point: “We have to see what happens.”
For appalled voters, spectators, and the democratic opposition, it was another clear example of the seated president openly telegraphing his plans to seize power, something that some officials fear will soon take shape within the federal government and major party organs.
But for Trump it was … hilarious as hell.
According to two people who are familiar with the matter, Hours after the president stepped back from the cameras, Trump continued to track the impact of the press, including the cable news, and privately noted how amusing it was that his response blew up media and liberal minds, and predictably dominated television coverage as well.
“He seemed to be getting a real kick out of it,”
A senior White House official warned they had no direct knowledge of the president laughing at the matter. But under long-time Trump hands, the idea that he would bask in the shit storm of his creation was entirely to be expected.
“Trump is just Trump and people are playing right into his hands,” said Stuart Jolly, who served as national field director for Trump’s 2016 presidential election. “The media always take the bait.”
Few laughed outside the borders of Trumpland. Some of the president’s former senior administrators said they were appalled by the comments and found that they found both perfectly credible indications of intent, as well as further evidence that the man they once served was not just unfit for office, but one Security posed a threat to the public.
“I remain concerned that the president’s reckless rhetoric will spark violence from fringe extremists,” said Elizabeth Neumann, a former Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary for Counter-Terrorism and Threat Prevention who has since supported Joe Biden. “All executives need to understand the precarious moment we are in, which has been determined through multiple law enforcement and intelligence meetings. You have a responsibility to be careful with what you say. “
As of Thursday, some GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill were busy gently tweeting President Trump or treating the issue more aggressively on both sides. But in some corners of the administration, various officials and law enforcement officers have actually begun to view the threat of a constitutional crisis with alarm.
There are internal concerns, according to a Justice Department prosecutor In some departmental circles, Attorney General William Barr will participate in post-election trials on behalf of the Trump campaign or its allies. The prosecutor had no inside information about it and instead described it as an expectation among some Justice Department staff who consider Barr dangerous.
They noted that Barr has already steered the Justice Department to help Trump against efforts to undercut his tax returns and against E. Jean Carroll rape allegations. This adds to Barr’s job of prosecuting Trump ally Mike Flynn and revised sentencing recommendations for Trump ally Roger Stone, not to mention Barr’s infamous misrepresentation of the Mueller report.
That month, Barr invented a postal ballot fraud lawsuit and reiterated Trump’s deceptive portrayal as a vector for election theft. He urged demonstrators to consider indicting demonstrators of sedition. This week Barr warned New York City, Portland and Seattle that as “anarchist” jurisdictions they are risking federal funding; Criteria for nomination include “factors that the Attorney General deems appropriate”.
A Justice Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Any intervention by the Justice Department in election-related lawsuits would have “enormous practical implications,” said the prosecutor. In addition to the quality of the legal profession – particularly within the attorney general’s office should the case reach the Supreme Court – the lawyers have prestige in federal appeals courts. The appointment of a ninth Supreme Court to fill the seat of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg would likely act as a firewall in the event that crucial election decisions reach the Supreme Court – which Trump and his Vice President have openly considered.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, pointed to a recent Michigan case in which private companies sued Governor Gretchen Whitmer over her home pandemic commands. The Justice Department filed a “Declaration of Interest” to participate. McQuade noted that this was an option for election-related lawsuits in various states.
“If [the Justice Department] If he were to take on the same side as the president, he would have the credibility of the US government and an unlimited number of very talented lawyers, ”said McQuade.
FBI Director Chris Wray testified to a Senate committee Thursday morning that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud, either by mail or otherwise. But hours later, the Justice Department issued, erased, and reissued a statement announcing an investigation into “reports of potential problems with a small number of postal ballots” in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, which was strong for Trump in 2016. In progress since Monday The investigation found that a “small number” of military votes had been rejected, it said without further elaboration.
Of nine ballots recovered, seven contained Trump votes, while two had indefinite candidate preference, the Justice Department said in a statement attributed to U.S. attorney David Freed that all nine ballots were originally cast for Trump. “When the completed ballot papers arrive by post, they should be sorted immediately and put in the locked room,” reported Jerry Lynott and Jennifer Learn-Andes from the Times leader.
To many observers, the statement appeared to be a test run for the ministry to delve further into election-related matters. And McQuade said the “highly unusual testimony” violated the department’s policy on confirming investigations.
“There is an exception, if necessary, to reassure the public,” she said, “but this seems more like an effort to alarm the public and undermine confidence in the elections.”
Barr, the Justice Department attorney warned, “there is no limit to what he will do.”