Trumpworld's unhinged delusions are not just a silly sideshow

There have been so many unprecedented and weird goings-on in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election that I think everyone's overwhelmed, so we sometimes miss the forest for the trees. The whole Kraken sideshow between Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, with the rivulets of black dye and shrill accusations that the long-dead former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, had rigged the election, was so comically outlandish that I don't think we fully understood the full scope of the danger the country was in during that period. For all of the public clownish antics by Giuliani and company, the plotting that was going on behind closed doors was even worse.

We now know about the attempt to fire then-acting attorney general and replace him with a Trump toady who was willing to strong-arm state legislators into delaying the certification of votes, a plan which was met with such resistance from both the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel's office that several staffers threatened to quit en masse, calling it a "murder-suicide pact." We also now know that the military was so concerned about the president's erratic behavior that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley gathered the top brass to remind them of the protocols in place in the event of an order for a nuclear strike and he felt compelled to call his Chinese counterpart to reassure him that the U.S. was not contemplating an attack.

We now know all about John Eastman's coup plot for GOP members of Congress to object to the certification of the electoral votes and have vice president Mike Pence throw the electoral count to the House of Representatives, where Trump would automatically win because the GOP has more state delegations (which, for some reason, made sense to someone at one time.) And we have recently had confirmation that Trump associates, led by Giuliani, coerced local Republicans in swing states to fraudulently sign electoral college ballots as fake Trump electors and send them in as if they were legitimate.

But of all the wild reports that emerged over the past few months about the ongoing insanity in the White House during Trump's lame duck period, there was always one story that I found so incredible that I wondered if it might not have been exaggerated.

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Back in December of 2020, the NY Times reported that a late-night meeting took place in the oval office in which the president proposed that Sidney Powell be made a Special Counsel and be given security clearance to pursue her insane claims of massive election rigging. Even Giuliani opposed that idea but the meeting concluded without anyone knowing if Trump would follow through or not.

Retired General Michael Flynn was also present as was, for some unknown reason, Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Jonathan Swan at Axios later reported that these people had actually somehow sneaked into the White House (which I didn't think was possible) to convince the president to "invoke emergency national security powers, seize voting machines and disable the primary levers of American democracy."

This meeting went on for many hours with people coming and going throughout, arguing and yelling back and forth as the president pressed for these conspiracy theorists to be given more power while the staffers pushed back. It eventually ended up in the residence with arguments going back and forth and no resolution all the way up until midnight.

Powell insisted that the real story was that the election had been stolen by Venezuela, Iran, China and others, in cahoots with the voting machine manufacturers, all of which was a total fantasy. Flynn was pushing for the military to seize the voting machines. Byrne was babbling that he knew how these things worked because he'd bribed Hillary Clinton with 18 million dollars in an FBI sting which nobody understood. It was, in other words, completely unhinged nonsense.

According to Swan, Powell kept referring to an Executive Order from 2018 which was written to impose sanctions on foreign interference, as if it gave Trump some sort of authority. But the New York Times had earlier reported that there was another Executive Order they were bandying about which has remained vague until now, but which we knew was supposed to authorize the seizure of the voting machines. Last Friday, Politico reported that they had a copy of that proposed Executive Order.

Nobody knows who wrote it, but it's a good bet that Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell herself had a hand in it. The document would have authorized the Special Counsel to investigate the 2020 election. Flynn had been the first to float the idea of having the military seize the voting machines a few days earlier, and that too appeared in this draft Executive Order. Curiously, however, the order mentions a couple of classified orders, one of which had never been made public and therefore must have come from someone with a security clearance.

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This document is now in the hands of the January 6th committee which is no doubt trying to run down who wrote the draft. Subpoenas have gone out to Powell and Giuliani although I doubt anyone expects them to comply. Dominion Voting Machines has sued Powell and a number of media companies for defamation for spreading these lies and there's a good chance that they will lose since her claims were total fabrications.

But after reviewing the reports of this strange meeting in which three crackpots found their way into the White House and commanded nearly six hours of the president and his staff's time in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a hundred years, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that today the vast majority of Republicans are convinced that the election was stolen and the Party has done nothing to disabuse them of that fact.

And the same delusional former president who took those ridiculous proposals to defy the peaceful transfer of power and fraudulently overturn the election seriously is the front runner for the Republican nomination in 2024. How is it even possible that such a person could be let anywhere near the White House again?

Trump's new legal troubles mount — even as Russia probe officially runs out of steam

If last week was considered Joe Biden's no-good, very bad week, there's a case to be made that this week was Donald Trump's no-good, even worse week.

Let's look at all of the legal cases and investigations that seem to be pushing forward against Trump despite his best efforts to repel them with lawsuits and delaying tactics. The good news for Trump is that it appears the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided that all of the obstruction of justice Trump perpetrated in plain sight during the Russia investigation is not worth prosecuting. Unless they make a move very quickly, the statute of limitations is about to run out on that front. So much for Robert Mueller's sanguine pronouncement that we needn't worry about his refusal to recommend indictment because, of course, they could always do it after the president left office.

But that's the only good news on this front that Trump's received in recent days.

The former president is still facing a flurry of legal investigations from New York to Georgia while the evidence is piling up at the January 6th committee and the DOJ. The case that seems to be closest to coming to a head is the civil investigation by New York State Attorney General Leticia James. Last Tuesday, James filed a response to one of Trump's frivolous arguments with a filing and a statement that her office has "uncovered significant evidence indicating that the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading asset valuations on multiple properties to obtain economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions for years."

It's not that anyone's surprised by this. The New York Times exposed the massive tax fraud perpetrated by Trump's father over decades — and Trump learned everything he knows about "business" from his daddy. There have been numerous other journalistic deep dives into Trump's corrupt business practices defrauding customers, investors and insurance companies. The joint investigation by Pro-Publica and WNYC called Trump Inc. and the book by its main producer Andrea Bernstein called "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power" alone uncovered years of misrepresentations and double-dealing in Trump's real estate businesses in the U.S. and abroad. This family business — as we know from previous cases such as the Trump University fraud case which Trump settled for 25 million dollars when he assumed the presidency and the embarrassing con game they ran called the "Trump Foundation" which turned out to be little more than a slush fund for themselves — has been skirting the edge of criminality for years.

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This case by the NY attorney general is the first to take an official look at some of those allegations and it appears that there is plenty of evidence to back them up. For instance, James brought receipts showing that Trump had refinanced the loan on his 40 Wall Street tower in Lower Manhattan by claiming that it was worth $735 million when it was worth less than half of that. The Trump Organization's Aberdeen Golf Club's value was massively inflated based upon lies about how many luxury houses it was planning to build. The AG also claims that Trump gave untrue statements to the IRS, overstating the values of land at two of his golf courses by counting the values of nonexistent mansions for which he then took deductions. I don't know about you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if any of us tried to do something like that even on a tiny scale we would be in serious criminal trouble.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has an ongoing criminal investigation based upon the same evidence and there is some coordination between the two offices, a fact which Trump and his offspring are using to argue that they should not have to appear under subpoena. You see, if they wish to avoid incriminating themselves in the criminal case, they would have to take the 5th in the civil case, and unlike criminal cases, that can be used against them.

Just think about that: the former president of the United States and his children, one of whom was a senior white house adviser, are arguing that they will not be able to testify because they might incriminate themselves criminally. You might think they're just trying to delay the proceedings but they must actually be very worried about criminal exposure. According to James, Eric Trump, the only one to testify until now, took the 5th 500 times in his deposition.

RELATED: Eric Trump spent six hours pleading the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times

The criminal investigation has been much quieter than the New York attorney general's but they have indicted the Trump Organization's Chief Financial Officer on unrelated fraud charges and since the case is intertwined with the civil case, one can assume they are operating from the same evidence. It's possible they won't be able to put together criminal charges from what we've seen, but if what James says is true, that means something is terribly wrong with our criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the district attorney investigating Trump's attempt to coerce state and local officials into committing voter fraud has requested a special grand jury to hear the case. That's the one where he was recorded calling up the Secretary of State to tell him he would be in legal trouble if he didn't "find" 11,800 votes to put Trump over the top. It looks as though that case isn't going away any time soon either.

Back in DC, Trump's hand-picked Supreme Court betrayed him once again, ruling this week that the National Archives can turn over the records requested by the January 6th committee. (I would be very surprised if lawyers in the White House who were reportedly so concerned about the president's unconstitutional coup planning, did not write notes to the file outlining their objections.) The committee subpoenaed Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis and has asked Ivanka Trump to appear voluntarily to tell what she knows about her father sitting on his hands while his supporters sacked the Capitol.

And now we have this story of Giuliani coordinating the use of fraudulent Trump "alternate electors" who actually sent fake documents to the National Archives, which may end up being the most notorious case of voter fraud in history. (It's enough to make your head explode.) Two state attorneys general have referred the case to the Department of Justice and it's hard to imagine that they will not look into this. People are in jail right now for far less.

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It's raining bad legal news for Donald Trump. Unfortunately, what this means is that Trump will definitely run for president which he believes will insulate him and his family from legal exposure. Coming from the man who won his election with promises to "lock her up!" that's especially rich, but this is Trump. And if he were to win (or "win") in 2024, he would gain himself four more years in which to run out the clock on all prospective crimes since the DOJ policy is that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Perhaps that's one norm that really deserves to be shattered.

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Trump documents may not reveal as much as expected: 'This was not a normally operated White House'

Republicans' red flag: GOP ignores warning signs of struggle

There has been a lot of garment rending and hand wringing the last few days over a new Gallup poll which shows that party identification amongst voters has shifted dramatically over the past few months from Democratic to Republican. Coming as it does at the one-year mark of the Biden administration, this does seem to portend doom for Democratic hopes for midterm election success in November. Party identification is one of the traditional predictors of future results, and this one doesn't look good. The shift in 2021 was the largest shift since 2006, as Gallup reported:

On average, Americans' political party preferences in 2021 looked similar to prior years, with slightly more U.S. adults identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic (46%) than identified as Republicans or leaned Republican (43%). However, the general stability for the full-year average obscures a dramatic shift over the course of 2021, from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter.

It is a dramatic shift to be sure. But it's important to realize that at the beginning of last year there was another dramatic shift away from Republicans, likely because of the events surrounding the election and the deadly COVID surge of winter 2021. Reversion to a relatively common partisan split isn't surprising.

And the reasons for this split are obvious.

Some of it just goes back to the polarization we've been living in for the last few years. There's also been a slew of bad news over the past four months, from the messy Afghanistan withdrawal to inflation that has everyone spooked to a new COVID variant.

A year ago, nobody thought we'd be back where we are right now. Back then, the vaccines were rolling out and it appeared that we had "rounded the curve" as Trump would say. Most of us assumed that virtually everyone would get vaccinated and we would get past the point at which there could be so much hospitalization and death that the health care system was on the brink of collapse. But here we are today. And the Democrats are in charge so they are being blamed, rightly or wrongly.

But let's not forget that the Republicans haven't been sitting quietly knitting in the corner for the past year. They have been relentlessly pounding the Democrats with culture war propaganda, from demagoguing critical race theory and school closures to Dr. Suess and Mr. Potatohead and some of it has successfully penetrated the mainstream. If you happen to catch any kind of right-wing media, this is the sort of thing you will see day in and day out.

Of course, bashing America's cities has long been a staple of right-wing dogma. They know who lives there, after all, and it isn't "their kind of people." Cities are also the places where they believe the election was stolen from Donald Trump, which is the shrill MAGA rallying cry.

It's obvious how potent that Big Lie has been among Republican die-hards and most likely some independents as well. And even if you know it's a crock, the mere fact that so many people believe it is disorienting and depressing.

All of these things have contributed to this pervasively grim mood that exists throughout the culture despite the fact that the economy is actually doing extremely well. (If nothing else, this state of affairs proves that economic determinism is a very narrow way to explain the political behavior of the American public.) People feel tired and dispirited and when that happens a "throw the bums out" attitude often takes hold. The Washington Post's Philip Bump argues that this shift proves the Democratic Party's focus on Republican anti-democratic behavior has failed as a political message and that any thoughts the GOP might be permanently harmed by its complicity in January 6th simply haven't resonated:

Gallup's new data undercuts that idea severely. Americans don't appear to be particularly concerned about the Republican Party's response to 2020, particularly given the significant role that Trump still plays in setting its direction. Democrats have repeatedly hoped that Trump would prove so poisonous that the electorate would turn against the GOP. It worked in 2018, when the midterms served as a repudiation of Trump's politics. It didn't work in 2016, though, when Trump first won, and it offered only limited utility in 2020, when Trump earned significantly more support than he had four years prior, even while losing the popular vote by a wider margin. Democrats had unified control of government — but only barely.
And that was before Trump and congressional Republicans tried to subvert Biden's victory. There are a lot of reasons for the swing back to the right over the past year, most of which center on Biden, not Trump. But Democratic efforts to cast the GOP as hostile to democracy itself either aren't landing — as polling has suggested — or aren't compelling.

The polling to which he refers shows that it's actually Republicans who believe that democracy is in danger more fervently than Democrats —because they believe Trump's Big Lie. That doesn't, however, mean that the Democrats' argument isn't landing. It just means that Democratic voters still have some faith that the system will hold. That isn't a rejection of the argument that the Republican Party has become a toxic force. In fact, it may just mean that many voters accept that they are and simply believe that American democracy is strong enough to withstand it. (That may be naive, but it strikes me as quintessential American optimism.)

In any case, there is some other polling that seems to contradict all the agita over the Gallup findings, evidence that the media overlooked. USA Today reported this just a couple of weeks ago:

Republicans lost their lead on a generic congressional ballot, according to a new USA Today-Suffolk University poll, a red flag for the party ahead of this year's midterm elections.The poll found Democrats leading Republicans on a generic ballot 39% to 37%, within the poll's margin of error of 3.1 percentage points but a significant drop from Republicans' 8-point lead in the same poll in November.

This is hard to reconcile with the reaction to the Gallup numbers and it's impossible to know exactly what might have precipitated the drop. But these findings are no less determinative than Gallup's, and none of it can accurately predict what's going to happen next November.

We are living through a very weird, unprecedented time and predictions are a fool's game in these circumstances. I would suggest, however, that if Bump is correct and the Democrats' legitimate alarm about the anti-democratic behavior of the GOP has been falling on deaf ears, there's one thing that will almost certainly get the public's attention: Donald Trump's return. There's no one in the country who makes that argument for the Democrats more clearly than he does.

GOP's dream is about to come true – but it's a nightmare for the rest of us

It's very hard to fathom why the right seems so determined to prolong the deadly COVID-19 pandemic but it's obvious that they are. From politicians banning mask requirements to media celebrities pushing disinformation about vaccines, there is no escaping the fact that Republicans and their allies simply do not care that more than 850,000 thousand Americans are dead in less than two years from this scourge and that hundreds of thousands of them are still dying because they refuse to take life-saving vaccines. That the majority of them are their own constituents who have died because they believe right-wing conspiracy theories is just mind-boggling, but apparently they are convinced that this is good for them politically and gives them great ratings.

I guess I was hoping against all evidence to the contrary that there was some corner of the former conservative world that was above exploiting a global health catastrophe for their own gain but that was a silly illusion. Not even the Supreme Court could set aside their partisan and ideological goals in the face of a calamitous crisis. Yesterday they joined the anti-vax fanatics of Fox News and Info-Wars and blocked the implementation of the Biden administration's "vax or test" requirements for large businesses. If they could bend the rules just a little bit further the majority no doubt would have joined Tucker Carlson last night for a celebration.

The court did manage to scrape up a majority with the three liberals plus Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to decline to block the mandate for health care workers — although the fact that four justices voted to block that as well is stunning. Remember, however, that there are still cases in the pipeline about that mandate so I'd guess the conservatives still hope they will be able to convince Kavanaugh or Roberts to join them on the dark side down the road. For now, the federal government has the right to mandate that institutions that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients require their employees to not willfully spread a deadly virus to their patients for no good reason. A rare moment of sanity.

Still, it's quite something to see the entire right-wing of the U.S. political system, all the way up to the Supreme Court, work together to hobble efforts to contain the pandemic so they can blame their political rivals for failing to contain the pandemic. Talk about teamwork.

RELATED: Biden beware: GOP sees opportunity in new COVID variant

Early reports suggest that the big businesses that were to be affected by the mandate are divided on the issue. Some, like United Airlines, which imposed its own mandate, reported that they have 99% compliance and are happy with the results. Others are planning to scrap their plans now that the federal mandate is gone. And if anyone was under the illusion that this was about freedom or markets or small government, ideas that used to be the backbone of conservative thought, some red states have imposed bans on private employers requiring vaccines. So without the federal mandate, even employers who would like to protect their workforce and their customers are going to be forced to allow unvaccinated employees to get sick, transmit the virus and make them bear the costs. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees that this makes sense, which is terrifying.

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The majority opinion rested on the idea that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exceeded its authority because COVID is not specific to the workplace. They say that because people can also get it elsewhere an agency that is tasked with ensuring workplace safety has no business making this rule. I would just point out that this reasoning is going to come as quite a surprise to the people who have been working from home for the past year and a half, along with school employees, frontline workers and basically anyone who works for a living.

It's absurd. Nothing has been more disrupted by the pandemic than work — you know, that place where people gather inside buildings to spend at least 8 hours with other people breathing all over the place? Of course COVID is being spread at work, probably more than anywhere else. This rationale makes no sense at all. People can get poisoned by asbestos at places other than the workplace but employers are still required to ensure that they can't get it at work. The dissent by the three sane justices made clear how ludicrous the majority's decision was:

"Underlying everything else in this dispute is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from Covid-19? An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the president authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?"

What remains unstated but has been really illuminated in all this is the larger agenda of this Supreme Court. As law professor Kim Wehle explained in this piece for The Atlantic, this ruling is the first salvo in the conservative court's crusade to dismantle the administrative state:

"If Congress is hindered in its ability to employ agencies to fill in the details of its broad mandates, life in the United States could change dramatically. Agencies make rules and regulations affecting stock markets, consumer-product safety, the use and trafficking of firearms, environmental protection, workplace discrimination, agriculture, aviation, radio and television communications, financial institutions, federal elections, natural gas and electricity, the construction and maintenance of highways, imports and exports, human and veterinary drugs, and even the licensing and inspection of nuclear-power plants."

That is the goal. It's grotesque that they would exploit a deadly disease that's killing thousands of people every day to advance it, but they have a mission and nothing will stand in their way. In fact, there's a whole school of thought devoted to the idea that not only is it unconstitutional for the federal agencies to enact regulations, but Congress also has no authority to delegate that task to them in the first place. In this view, public health and safety is solely a state function.

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If you are not one to follow the dark machinations of the right-wing legal community, and who can blame you, this idea may nonetheless sound familiar because you've heard it from some other less exalted sources. Recall that none other than Steve Bannon has been blathering on about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" ever since he came to national prominence. Recently, he's been telling people that he's training 4,000 "shock troops" who will be ready on day one when Donald Trump is restored to the presidency to take over all the federal agencies to clean out the bureaucracies and take a wrecking ball to government regulations.

The goal of destroying the government regulatory apparatus that makes America a first-world country is shared by Republicans from Bannon to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney to Chief Justice John Roberts and every conservative in between. And it's one of the most radical agendas any political faction has ever advanced. If you want to know why all the Republicans backed Donald Trump even when they knew he was monumentally unfit, this was it. They got their court and their dream is about to come true. Unfortunately, it's a nightmare for the rest of us.

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The GOP is suddenly running scared from Trump's Big Lie

Something unusual happened last weekend that may portend a little bit of dissonance in the Republican Party. A conservative senator went on television and directly refuted Donald Trump's Big Lie.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, "What do you say to all those Republicans, all those veterans who believe the election was stolen, who have bought the falsehoods coming from former President Trump?" Rounds responded:

We looked -- as a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states. While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state.
"The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency. And moving forward -- and that's the way we want to look at this -- moving forward, we have to refocus once again on what it's going to take to win the presidency.

Trump was not a happy ex-president. He fired off a scathing response:

"Senator" Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota just went woke on the Fraudulent President Election of 2020. He made a statement this weekend on ABC Fake News, that despite massive evidence to the contrary, including much of it pouring in from Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states, he found the election to be ok – Just fine.
Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive.
Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.

And then the oddest thing happened. Rounds stuck by his comments.

"I'm disappointed," the Republican said, "but not surprised by the former president's reaction."

However, he continued, "the facts remain the same. The former president lost the 2020 election."

Rounds went on to argue that relitigating the past and attacking Republicans was no way to win elections. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell backed him up, saying, "I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election." Sens. Kevin Kramer, R-S.D.,and John Thune, R-N.D., also agreed with Rounds. And here's what Utah's Mitt Romney had to say:

What makes this unusual is not that some Republicans are speaking out about something Trump has done. Over the years, many have expressed shock and dismay over some of his crude insults or egregious behavior, but they always back off once they realize that the rank and file are sticking with him. Soon after the night of the January 6th insurrection, when so many congressional Republicans made bold declarations of independence from Donald Trump, most slunk back into their safe spaces, afraid to admit what he did that day for fear of angering the base. On the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot, Politico took a look at all Trump's cabinet members who resigned from the administration in protest and found that none of them had spoken out since.

No, what makes Rounds' comments, and the powerful senators backing him up even in the face of Trump's spittle-flecked rebuttal, unusual is what they are saying. Top Republicans in the Senate are now disputing the central organizing principle of the GOP in 2022: the Big Lie.

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A Washington Post-Amherst poll released last week showed that only 21 percent of Republicans believe that Joe Biden was legitimately elected, which tracks with most other polling over the last year. Donald Trump's relentless pounding of this issue, day in and day out, starting even before the election was held in November 2020 has done its work. Republican officials all over the country have used Trump's sore-loser strategy to change voting laws, install partisans in the election system and generally prepare the ground to dispute elections whenever Republicans don't win. The Big Lie is now the central organizing principle of the GOP.

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All of this has the effect of not only validating the mistrust in the electoral system with Republican voters, it's shaking faith in the system among Democratic voters as well. After all, if elections are being overseen by partisan Republicans chosen specifically for their willingness to back Trump's delusional insistence that he won an election he lost by 7 million votes, people will be hard pressed to put much faith in the integrity of their decisions. This is not a problem for the GOP which will be happy to see Democrats flailing about trying to contest elections that really were "rigged." They are not afraid of that.

So why are these Republicans testing the waters by speaking out about the Big Lie now? After all, it stands to benefit them if they can wire elections in their favor. But Rounds' other comments make clear what they are concerned about. They are afraid that all this demeaning of the election system will keep their own voters from the polls In his first comments Rounds said:

[I]f we simply look back and tell our people don't vote because there's cheating going on, then we're going to put ourselves in a huge disadvantage. So, moving forward, let's focus on what it takes to win those elections. We can do that. But we have to let people know that they can -- they can believe and they can have confidence that those elections are fair.

He followed up later saying:

Why are we having that discussion today? I think because we're getting closer and closer to 2022, in which we want people to get out and vote. We want them to have faith in the election process. We want them to feel like they're a part of it and that their vote really matters."

And while he only mentioned it in passing, these folks are very worried about Trump's attacks on Republican incumbents and the fringe weirdos he's endorsing to replace them.

Many smart Republicans understood that Trump's insistence that the election was stolen was largely responsible for the loss of the Senate because of the way his lies played out in Georgia with the two Senate runoff races that sent Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to Washington. It's fair to assume that they hoped Trump would fade away by now and they could carry on about their business without having to confront him on this. But he's still lying and there's no getting around it.

Will this challenge hold up any better than any of the other times a few Republicans tried to stand up to Trump? Who knows? But as the Democrats continue to struggle in the Senate over the vital voting rights legislation that could help stave off some of this partisan electoral engineering based on the Big Lie, it's interesting that there's some nervousness among the GOP leadership about how it might affect them negatively as well.

Imagine if they could summon the intestinal fortitude to really do the right thing and acknowledge that a bipartisan vote to secure voting rights for everyone (as has been done regularly over the past 30 years) could go a long way toward solving all these problems? I'm not holding my breath.

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Fox News has a big Jan. 6 problem

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Capitol insurrection and attempted coup of the U.S. government by former president Donald Trump. There was a time not long ago when everything about that sentence would have made us laugh at the sheer absurdity of it. Nobody's laughing now.

Trump was apparently persuaded by his advisers to cancel his scheduled press conference for Jan. 6 after seeing that he would not get live coverage on all the networks to spread the Big Lie and excuse the violent mob that stormed the capitol a year ago vowing to hang Vice President Mike Pence. He promised to deliver that message to his loyal followers at a rally next weekend instead, drawing a huge sigh of relief from most Republican officials in Washington who just want to keep a low profile and put the unpleasantness behind them.

Unfortunately for them, however, it's not going away.

Trump will be talking about this for the rest of his life and the January 6th committee is revving up for several months of public hearings. Even some MAGA Republicans on Capitol Hill are determined to try to muddy the waters by dusting off their Benghazi playbook and holding their own "investigation" into why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was derelict in her duties by allowing hundreds of rabid Trump-voting fanatics to breach the Capitol that day.

On Tuesday, committee chairs, Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Liz Cheney R-Wy., released a letter they sent to Fox News host Sean Hannity in which they revealed that they had many text messages from him to high-level members of the White House staff in the run-up to January 6th. They ostensibly want Hannity to cooperate with the committee, but I doubt that there is any expectation that he will. This seemed more likely to be a notice to anyone who ever texted people in the White House during this period that the committee probably has them and intends to make them public. And it will almost certainly cause more dissension in Trumpworld. Meadows is already on thin ice. Now Hannity's backchannel "concerns", as Thompson and Cheney put it, about what Trump and his cronies were up to before and after January 6th leave him at odds with the president, who very likely had no idea that Hannity was pressing his staff to stop him from doing what he did.

Hannity's lawyer issued a statement saying they were examining the letter and had First Amendment concerns. However, his texts indicate that he was acting as an adviser to the president and comparing what he said privately to what he was saying on the air at the time, it's quite clear that he wasn't acting as any kind of journalist. It will be interesting to see if his bosses at Fox News have a problem with one of their stars brazenly lying to their audience. (Yeah, never mind. They won't.)

The committee homed in on just the period between December 31 and January 20th when Trump finally left office. They mention a text to Meadows in which Hannity said:

"We can't lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity. Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen."

It's impossible to know for sure what he meant by "January 6th happening the way he is being told" but according to a number of accounts this was when Trump's henchmen were hatching their plot to have Republicans in Congress object to the electoral count and have Pence throw the election to the House of Representatives where Trump would win despite losing through legitimate means. In other words, the coup was being planned. And apparently, the White House counsel's office knew it was illegal and was threatening to quit en masse over it, or at least that's the suspicion based upon what Hannity was texting.

Hannity was obviously very much in the loop inside the upper echelons of the White House and knew all about the discussions to put the heat on Pence. On January 5th he wrote to Meadows "Pence pressure, WH counsel will leave." On the night before the insurrection he wrote, "I'm very worried about the next 48 hours" which prompted the committee to ask, "why?" — which is a very good question. Surely he couldn't have foreseen the violent insurrection. But was Hannity worried that the entire administration would resign? Massive protests? It would be very interesting to know, although I doubt we ever will.

The letter suggests there are other texts which indicate that Hannity spoke with Trump personally that night as well as others. I have a sneaking suspicion that he didn't express his "concerns" quite as openly with Trump. Nobody does that. No, this was Hannity wringing his hands with the chief of staff and others in the White House while he put on a happy face with Trump and his MAGA-crazed audience.

After Trump's egregious performance on that day, which will live in infamy, and in the days after, Hannity once more proved that he was anything but a member of the press when he texted Meadows and Trump sycophant Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, worried about what Trump might do before the inauguration:

"Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days. He can't mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I'm not sure what is left to do or say, and I don't like not knowing if it's truly understood. Ideas?"

Trump responded to that on Thursday night, telling Kaitlin Collins of CNN, "I disagree with Sean on that statement and the facts are proving me right." Actually, they are not.

As I said, I don't think Hannity will cooperate and there's no doubt that there will be much shrieking and caterwauling about the freedom of the press and Hannity's sources being revealed. But Meadows is the one who turned over the texts and Hannity never reported any of this. In fact, this was what he was sharing with his audience which he was clutching his pearls behind the scenes:

Every day we hear new evidence about the attempted coup and insurrection of January 6th and there's every reason to believe that the next few months will offer even more. It is simply astonishing that this happened in America in 2021. But even more astonishing than that is the fact that after all that (and everything that came before) Donald Trump is still the most popular and influential Republican in the country and is overwhelmingly favored to win the nomination for president in 2024. The man plotted a coup and incited a violent insurrection and he didn't lose any voters. No wonder he just keeps spewing the Big Lie. It works. And I have no doubt that Sean Hannity will be at his side helping him do it.

IN OTHER NEWS: Watch what Sean Hannity was saying publicly while texting Trump allies in private

Watch what Sean Hannity was saying publicly while texting Trump allies in private

Republicans are very much in the minority but are fighting like hell to preserve their delusions

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the January 6th insurrection. There will be some commemorations of the day in Washington and pro-democracy groups will hold vigils for democracy while pro-Trump groups will be holding vigils to support the insurrectionists. Donald Trump plans to hold a press conference on that day where he says he will discuss in-depth the "stolen election" of 2020, citing several states where "the numbers don't work for them." Feel the magic:

"Remember, the insurrection took place on November 3rd, it was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th."

Over the holiday break, the Department of Justice released more shocking footage of the allegedly "completely unarmed protest" which showed three hours of bloody violence raining down upon the capitol police that day. Trump's attempt to reframe January 6th as an unarmed peaceful protest may be his greatest act of chutzpah yet — and that's saying something.

Several news organizations released polling this past weekend looking at the public's attitude toward the 2020 election and January 6th one year later. The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that 68 percent say there was no evidence of fraud and that includes huge majorities of Democrats (88%) and Independents (78%). Republicans, however, are still living in denial. 62 percent of Republicans still believe that the election was riddled with fraud, a number virtually unchanged since this time last year. That adds up to a massive 30% of the nation that still believes the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

An ABC-Ipsos poll found pretty much the same thing. They also asked if Americans believed that the people who stormed the Capitol that day were "threatening democracy" and 72% said "yes" while 25% say they were "protecting democracy." That last number includes 52% of Republicans, which is stunning. I'm sure you will recall those ancient times when the GOP prided itself on being the party of "law and order." 78% of Republicans now believe that Trump bears only a little or no responsibility for the attack, which is contradictory since they also profess to believe that the mob was protecting democracy. Surely they don't think Trump was against that, do they?

A CBS Poll delved into public attitudes about political violence and it's isn't comforting. Two-thirds of Americans believe that the events of January 6th were a sign of increasing political violence and that American democracy is threatened. Most have not changed their minds about that violence in the ensuing 12 months. 87% disapproved then and 83% say they disapprove now. But lest you think that Republicans understand what happened that day, CBS reports that "the intensity with which Republicans disapprove softened over the summer and has stayed softer."

RELATED: D.C. cop beaten on Jan. 6 calls out Trump supporters for "whitewashing" MAGA mob

They no longer strongly disapprove – they seem to have reconciled themselves to seeing it some kind of minor infraction. Four out of ten have persuaded themselves that it was actually leftists who committed the violence. Apparently, they think the Trump supporters were all standing outside sweetly singing "What a Friend We have In Jesus" as red-hatted Antifa members hit cops over the head with American flags.

Most disturbing in the CBS Poll was the question of whether there will be political violence from the losing side in the future. 62 percent of Americans believe there will be. And that's not all:

We then followed up and asked, "If that's your side that loses and there is in fact violence, would you be in favor of that or not?" It's an abstraction right now, of course, and a mere 2% would favor it. But another quarter left it open, saying it depends on the circumstance — and in that, we start to see political differences, with 2020 Trump voters twice as likely as Biden voters to say that it depends

30 percent of Republicans are open to violence if their side loses.

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All of that indicates that the GOP is very dug in on The Big Lie and the ensuing insurrection. It's unlikely they are going to change their minds. If there were decent leadership in the Republican Party and a moral compass among the right-wing media, all of whom know the truth but refuse to speak it, there might have been a chance to walk back from the precipice. But there is not and so we are facing the increasingly uncomfortable reality that tens of millions of our fellow Americans see violence as a reasonable response to losing elections. Because of that, two-thirds of Americans now see democracy as being threatened. And they are right.

All of this new data shows that the ideas expressed in a remarkably unvarnished, year-end New Yorks Times editorial speak for a large majority of Americans:

[T]he Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists.

It exists.

It is clear that Republicans refuse to accept reality and they are primed to fight to preserve their delusions and the large majority who know otherwise are going to have to step up. The good news is that there seems to be many more of them. In all that polling about January 6th, the Big Lie and the willingness to use violence to obtain power, Democrats and independents are in lock step agreement, which is unusual. On this, the country isn't polarized. A large majority of Americans are opposed to this anti-democratic impulse — the Republicans are very much in the minority.

That means that as we go into this election year (yes, I know, I'm sorry) it's incumbent upon the Democrats to ensure that this issue is front and center. The Washington Post's EJ Dionne made a good case for the Democrats to run on a democracy platform by quickly passing the democracy bills pending in the Senate, with the president himself taking the lead and championing democracy far more forcefully than he has until now, pushing legislation and using executive action wherever possible. Most importantly, he writes:

It also requires invoking the evidence from the House select committee's Jan. 6 investigation to make clear that the threat to democracy comes not just from Trump but also from a Republican Party complicit in undermining democratic institutions, both overtly and through its silence.

It is not just Trump, far from it. The entire Republican Party is complicit in this ongoing assault on democracy: from the wealthy donors to the powerful Washington officials all the way down to the grassroots. Democrats must pull out all the stops to explain the stakes and activate the vast majority of Americans who want to save it. This could not be a worse time for complacency.

Trump's MAGA movement suffered in 2021 — but has big comeback plans for 2022

Last year at this time we were all counting down the days until the delusional lame duck president would finally be out of office and the world would tilt back on its axis. He and his clown car full of MAGA lawyers were pushing conspiracy theories all over the country while judge after judge was knocking down their arguments in court. And we had been told by people close to him (anonymously of course) that poor Donald Trump was just having a hard time accepting his fate and the best thing to do was just let him cry it out, after which he'd fade into the woodwork as all defeated president do.

The MAGA movement seemed to have come to the end of the line. They had a good run and the reverberations would be felt for many years to come, but it was over. Their last hurrah, planned for January 6th when the faithful all planned to gather in Washington D.C. for one last Trump rally, promised to be the last of its kind. After what transpired that day we can now only hope that's true. But there is little guarantee of that. The MAGA movement is anything but dead. In fact, it's thriving.

Current polling shows that Trump managed to convince tens of millions of Americans that the election was stolen and his hardcore followers are still as rabidly enthusiastic about Trump himself as they ever were. And a new set of MAGA leaders emerged this year to carry the banner in DC. Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Madison Cawthorn, R-NC, Lauren Boebert, R -Co, Matt Gaetz, R-Fl., Arizona's Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar among others, have stepped up to troll, insult and otherwise cause chaos on behalf of the MAGA Movement in the Congress. Greene distinguished herself very early on when the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments after she "endorsed the executions of Democrats and spread dangerous and bigoted misinformation" — and was proud of having done so. The MAGA faithful immediately began sending her huge sums of money, showing just how profitable being an obnoxious, Trumpist cheerleader in Congress could be.

Later in the summer, she and Gaetz, currently under investigation by the DOJ for possible underage trafficking, took their act on the road with "Peaceful Protests Against Communism" events to entertain the troops. They weren't welcome in certain places, but that just gave them even more MAGA street cred. Boebert made a name for herself by ostentatiously displaying her gun collection during zoom committee hearings and calling Democrats jihadist terrorists on the House floor and at fundraisers. Gosar sent out an animated video showing himself killing fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and got himself censured for doing it. His faithful followers couldn't love him more.

Meanwhile, across the nation, Trump voters dug in their heels and staged ongoing tantrums, threatening public health officials and school administrators who were trying to keep people safe during the pandemic and harassing election officials to say the election was stolen. They refused to get vaccinated, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary COVID deaths, instead putting their faith in the kind of snake oil cures Trump pushed relentlessly when he was president.

They are so dug in that they even booed Trump himself when he begged them to let him have credit for the vaccines. And they are shocked and dismayed that he subsequently said the vaccines actually save lives. (I'll be shocked if he pushes that line again — the backlash from his faithful supporters was fierce.)

The MAGA media even had its own odyssey this year.

According to the Washington Post, Fox News had been contemplating moving away from Trumpism after the election, something which Trump sensed and tweeted about relentlessly. He promoted the small time rivals OAN and Newsmax and it had an effect. Fox lost viewership and quickly learned its lesson. It went back to all MAGA all the time and it's ratings have never been better.

On the social media side, the results have been less stellar.

90 percent of the top-rated Facebook pages are Trumpist but the man himself has been banned from Facebook and Twitter so he is forced to send out what would formerly have been tweets as "statements" directly to his followers via email. There are a number of alternative right-wing sites, like GAB, Parler and Rumble backed by major corporate figures and billionaires but the former president is saving his essence for the new social media company called "Truth Social" he has conned some other rich marks into backing. (It will probably be better than his earlier attempt, which was basically an embarrassing blog that nobody read. )

Has Trump's golden image tarnished a bit among his followers? Maybe just a little. But considering that he continues to this day to insanely insist that he actually won the 2020 election in a landslide and suggests that he could still somehow be reinstated, it's amazing that his hold on the Republican Party is as tight as ever. Now he and his top henchwoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and her congressional clique have big plans afoot to pull the rope even tighter.

Trump has made it clear that he plans to participate in GOP primaries against incumbents he considers his enemies. The list of them is long. From Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Trump is pledging to take out any Republican who crossed him in the past and/or refuses to say the election was stolen. Just this week, he informed Alaska Governor Steve Dunleavy that he would only endorse him if he agreed not to back incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski for re-election. The litmus test couldn't be more clear: Trump then, Trump now, Trump forever.

Greene and fellow MAGA Caucus member Madison Cawthorn, R-NC., are ready to rumble too, endorsing candidates who are interested in helping them build power in the GOP. According to the Washington Post, they are working against any Republican incumbents who are deemed disloyal to the former president. Even more importantly, the candidates this group is backing say they are uninterested in fighting Democrats -- they want to come to Congress to shame Republicans. One candidate told the Post that he wants to "force Republicans into tough votes, starting with articles of impeachment against President Biden and a full congressional inquiry into the 2020 presidential election, which he says was stolen from Trump."

They seem like a terrific bunch. And I doubt that any new GOP House speaker, whether it's Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ohio congressman Jim Jordan or Donald Trump himself will be able to control them. This group will make the House Freedom Caucus look like mild-mannered institutionalists by comparison.

MAGA is still kicking and it's more powerful than ever within the Republican Party. In fact, in 2022 it may be gathering enough power that it doesn't actually need Trump himself. I suspect Trump may know that, too. Those boos he got last week must have him kicking himself for failing to slap the Trump name on the movement the way he's slapped his name on everything else he's ever done. Without that brand is it really his?

Donald Trump's lazy response to COVID just blew up in his face

One of the most notorious moments of the presidency of Donald J. Trump has to be that visit he made to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on March 6th of 2020. COVID-19 hadn't even been named yet and the World Health Organization (WHO) hadn't yet designated it a pandemic but we all knew that something very bad was happening. Cases had shown up in Washington state and California. The whole country was riveted by the plight of a cruise ship sailing off the West Coast with sick people aboard and nowhere to moor. The president was reportedly angry about the whole thing and was resisting dealing with it but finally agreed to travel to the CDC's Atlanta headquarters for a photo-op to show his concern. It was one of the most astonishing presidential performances of all time:

But perhaps the most memorable of all was this:

You know, my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like a record number of years. He was a great super genius. Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, "How do you know so much about this?" Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.

Those exchanges illustrated the fundamental bind Trump was in from the beginning of the crisis. He wanted to "downplay" the virus, as he admitted to Bob Woodward around that time, but he also wanted to be the very stable genius who personally solved it. So he wavered back and forth throughout, some days saying the whole thing was just going away by itself and that his political enemies were talking it up to hurt his re-election chances. On other days he promoted snake oil cures, even offering advice to scientists on what they should be researching to treat the virus, apparently convinced that he had brilliant ideas that hadn't been explored:

He grew impatient with the medical professionals who kept telling him bad news and instead turned to the quack remedies like Hydroxychloroquine which people like Fox News personality Laura Ingraham were promoting. He listened to quack doctors like Fox News radiologist Dr. Scott Atlas, who would tell him what he wanted to hear. As his COVID task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx has testified before Congress, during the final months of his term, Trump completely lost interest in COVID altogether — at least until he came down with it himself.

However, towards the end, the vaccines were coming on line and Trump very much wanted to be given credit for them. He claimed over and over again that everyone said it would take five years but he made sure they were done in record time and nobody could have achieved that but him. In his first press conference after the election he said this:

The vaccines, and by the way, don't let Joe Biden take credit for the vaccines. If Joe Biden… Joe Biden failed with the swine flu, H1N1. Totally failed with the swine flu. Don't let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they've ever been pushed before. But the vaccines, there are those that says one of the greatest things. It's a medical miracle. Don't let anyone try and take credit for it.

As you can see, he was desperate to be given credit, as if he had personally spent that previous few months cooking up the vaccines in the White House kitchen. After all, he had a genius uncle who taught at MIT and all the doctors were astounded by his "natural ability." As he put it, "the vaccines were me."

We found out later that he and Melania Trump were among the first to be vaccinated while they were still in the White House, although they didn't announce it or do what all the other politicians were doing by having cameras present to record the moment as a way to reassure the public that they were safe. Nonetheless, over the following months, Trump would from time to time talk up the vaccines, mostly as a way to talk up his part in it, and while always emphasizing that people "have their freedoms." Last September, he even joined the freedom from sanity club himself saying that he probably wouldn't get the booster when they became available.

His followers were not convinced.

After all those months of Trump downplaying the virus, refusing to wear a mask and otherwise encouraging his voters to see the mitigation strategies as a Democratic plot to bring him down, they have continued to chase snake oil cures and refused to get vaccinated. They don't see the "medical miracle" of vaccines as a Trump triumph. They see it as a threat.

This week, Trump told another audience that he had received the booster after all — and he got booed. He took the opportunity to once again try to make the case that he should get credit and that his supporters are "playing into [the Democrats'] hands" by booing him.

"Take credit for it. What we've done is historic," Trump told an audience over the weekend. "If you don't want to take it you don't have to, you shouldn't be forced to take it, no mandates. But take credit because we saved tens of millions of lives, take credit, don't let them take that away from you."

He meant, "don't let them take that away from me."

Many people have seen those comments as Trump encouraging people to get vaccinated, but it really wasn't and I doubt any of his followers saw it that way. In fact, he made it clear that he doesn't care if they do it or not and that all that matters is that he is acknowledged as a big hero. In other words, his comment was really just more of his partisan politicization of the pandemic that's gotten us into this mess in the first place.

And even if he did make an explicit pitch for people to get vaccinated, it's unlikely that it would make a difference. Polls show that the resistance to vaccines is now baked into the MAGA psyche, with him or without him. He may have created this problem but he has no power to fix it and I imagine that's intensely frustrating for him.

Trump yearns to be worshiped as the great leader who single-handedly saved the world but his followers are all inexplicably offering themselves up as human sacrifices instead.

Trump's coup accomplices have been exposed -- and they're sitting in Congress

Around this time one year ago, Donald Trump was leaning heavily on the Justice Department (DOJ) to help him overturn the presidential election. According to notes taken by top DOJ official Richard Donoghue, after attorney general Bill Barr had abruptly skedaddled out of town before the proverbial manure hit the fan, the president called up the newly installed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and told him "just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen."

That Nixonian "request" was denied by Rosen, since it would have been a bald-faced lie but as we later learned, the White House was also plotting with an obscure DOJ lawyer named Jeffrey Clark to put the heat on Rosen to squeeze state election officials in states Trump claimed without evidence had been stolen from him. Rosen was told that Trump planned for Clark to replace him if he didn't comply but Rosen resisted and Trump backed off after his own White House counsel convinced him that there would be mass resignations at the DOJ if he followed through. Other than one congressman from Pennsylvania, a Republican by the name of Scott Perry who had reportedly called up Donoghue to threaten him into doing Clark's bidding, until now we didn't know exactly who the "R. Congressmen" were. Now The New York Times reports that Trump's accomplices were none other than the members of the House's far-right Freedom Caucus.

The Times names Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louis Gohmert of Texas, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Pennsylvania's Perry, who is described by the Times as the coordinator of the plans to replace the attorney general with the compliant Clark. They all worked closely with one of the original founders of the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina congressman who served as Trump's chief of staff.

The Times reports on a previously unknown meeting that took place shortly after the election which included Jordan, Perry and Meadows along with White House adviser Stephen Miller, Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Jordan claims it was purely a media strategy meeting. But when it comes to The Big Lie, that amounts to a strategy to overturn the election. Everything flowed from that. These Freedom Caucus members were all over TV spreading falsehoods about voter fraud. They pressured Republican officials and ran around chasing rumors of foreign interference. And after Barr announced that the DOJ had found no evidence of fraud, they smeared the FBI and the DOJ in the press. That's when they turned their full attention to overturning the election, focusing on January 6th.

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Gohmert sued vice president Mike Pence to force him to nullify the election. (The case was thrown out of court.) Perry forwarded a letter from some Pennsylvania state legislators to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House, asking them to delay the certification which they had no authority to do.

And they met personally with the president to make plans to "stop the sedition."

And now we know from the Times' reporting that the PowerPoint coup plot was forwarded to Meadows by none other than Jim Jordan --- who Trump awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom after the insurrection. (That would be the same Jim Jordan who Kevin McCarthy had the chutzpah to attempt to install on the Jan. 6th Committee.)

The "R. Congressmen" were up to their necks in coup plots. But that's not surprising. If anyone had told me five years ago that we'd have an attempted coup in America I would have assumed that the Freedom Caucus would be involved. They've been practicing for years on their own party.

RELATED: House Freedom Caucus expanding to the states — because GOP isn't right-wing enough

When the Freedom Caucus was formed in 2015, Mark Meadows was one of its founding members. So was Mick Mulvaney, another former Trump chief of staff, and current Florida Governor Ron Desantis among others, like Jordan. They presented themselves as dedicated to fiscal conservatism and re-establishing congressional prerogatives but from the start it was clear that their prime directive was to make the GOP leadership miserable and drive Democrats to drink.

Meadows went even beyond the caucus at times, unintentionally showing the way forward. He challenged then House Speaker John Boehner's leadership by deploying an obscure procedure that hadn't been used since 1910. It failed, but it riled up the right-wing media and the base in a way that only Trump has since mastered. With their in-your-face extremism they managed to create so much chaos in the GOP caucus that House Speaker John Boehner was eventually forced out.

They refused to vote for his assumed successor, Kevin McCarthy of California, helping to doom his candidacy and instead they got Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, an up and coming conservative superstar who had run for Vice President on the ticket with Mitt Romney in 2012. Ryan was considered one of their own at the time, although he wasn't a formal member of the Freedom Caucus. But that didn't really work out all that well either. They made Ryan's life hell too and he ended up quitting politics altogether in 2018.

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The truth is that the Freedom Caucus has been running the House Republican caucus in a reign of terror for over half a decade now and if they manage to take the majority in 2022, Kevin McCarthy is likely to have a big fight on his hands. He's never been one of them and despite his desperate attempts to ingratiate himself with Trump, the Freedom Caucus is going to want to put a homeboy in charge for real. That person is almost surely going to be Jim Jordan, the man who helped Mark Meadows plot the attempted coup.

These people have been fighting a guerilla war against their own party for years and were the perfect choice to be Trump's personal henchmen. In many ways they paved the way for his mafioso style of governance. And you can bet that as Trump goes around the country wreaking revenge on all those who betrayed him over the next few years, the Freedom Caucus will be right there with him. When it comes to stabbing fellow Republicans in the back, they are professionals.

Mark Meadows is having a really bad week — and Trump's is even worse

It has been a very bad week for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows —maybe even the worst week of his life. And it's not over yet.

Late on Tuesday night, the House of Representatives voted to hold Meadows, a former GOP congressman from North Carolina, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the bipartisan Jan. 6th Committee. The vote fell mostly along party lines, with only Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republicans serving on the committee, being the only two Republicans who voted with every Democrat to hold.

Meadows contempt citation will now be referred to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to prosecute. Most of the TV lawyers seem to think this will be a hard call since Meadows really was in the White House during the period in question, unlike podcaster Steve Bannon, who was referred a few weeks ago on the same charge. On the other hand, before Meadows decided to defy the subpoena, he had turned over around 6,000 documents including many text messages, which the committee claims it wants to ask him about. So Meadows is claiming that they can look at his documents but his knowledge of them is privileged information? That doesn't make any sense.

The documents he turned over which the committee has released in the last few days have been dramatic and compelling. Among them was the PowerPoint presentation that had been circulated in the White House and to Republicans in Congress and the right-wing media prior to the insurrection. It's a shocking document that outlined several possible strategies to illegally overturn the 2020 election. Subsequent reporting revealed many GOP officials knew that Trump and his henchmen had cooked up plans to stage a coup and didn't say anything about it.

Then on Monday, as the committee was preparing to vote, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY., read off some of Meadows' text messages showing that Fox News personalities such as Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity had been frantically texting Meadows during the insurrection asking him to get Trump to call off his troops. Even Donald Trump Jr. exhorted Meadows to tell his daddy that he needed to "lead now" and do an Oval Office address. There were dozens of such texts from people all over Washington, begging the president to tell his followers to stop the violence.

We know that Trump sat on his hands for hours sending out lame tweets about respecting the police until he finally released a video in which he commiserated with the violent thugs and told them that they were very special and he loved them.

We've learned that there were texts to Meadows after the fact from unnamed congressional lawmakers telling him they had tried their best but "nothing worked." On Tuesday night before the floor vote, members of the committee read more, some of which revealed that members of Congress were offering advice on how to carry out the coup even before January 6th:

The Jan. 6th Committee is planning to start holding public hearings shortly after the new year and the word is that they will release the names of those GOP officials who helped with the coup planning.

One can only imagine what's happening down at Mar-a-Lago now that Trump has seen that his own son Don Jr. was calling his (formerly) trusted majordomo Mark Meadows on that day, telling him his father had to "lead." After the recent debacle of Meadows' book, in which he revealed the former president's pitiful, weakened state as he was lying to the country about having COVID, Trump now has to grapple with the fact that Meadows inexplicably turned over all these documents to the committee and is only now exerting executive privilege after the cat is out of the bag.

So Trump may be having a worse week than Meadows.

Not only is he dealing with the fallout of Meadows' document dump, a judge just ruled on Tuesday that he's going to have to give up his tax returns after all. That the ruling came from a judge who Trump appointed, must really chap his hide. It's been stayed pending appeal, but the gyrations the higher courts would have to go through may not be worth the trouble. If he runs again in 2024, there's a good chance the country will at least be able to see what he's been hiding.

He's also been called to appear for a deposition by the New York Attorney General's office in regards to the civil fraud investigation into his real estate business. Since the Manhattan District Attorney is running a parallel criminal investigation, this puts Trump at risk if he is forced to take the Fifth Amendment in the civil case to avoid incriminating himself criminally. In civil cases, you are allowed to infer guilt from a Fifth Amendment plea.

The bad news quickly piled up for Trump this week when the New York Times reported late Tuesday that the prosecutors in the criminal investigation have called his accountant and his longtime banker before the grand jury to determine whether Trump committed fraud when he applied for loans. It appears that these two cases may be coming to a head.

But perhaps even more threatening, for the first time we are seeing the contours of what the January 6th Committee may be leading up to: a criminal referral of Donald Trump for obstruction. Liz Cheney spelled it out on Monday during the Committee hearing to hold Meadows in contempt of congress:

Hours passed without necessary action by the President. These privileged texts are further evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes. And Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another key question before this Committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceedings to count electoral votes?

Journalist Marcy Wheeler explains that this seems to be following the same legal framework the DOJ is using to prosecute the most serious January 6th rioters. She writes, "Liz Cheney was stating that Trump's actions on January 6 may demonstrate that he, along with hundreds of people he incited, had deliberately attempted to prevent the vote count."

The language Cheney used tracks closely with those other cases, which is a clue that this is how they may be seeing this case going forward. The courts have so far been amenable to this interpretation of the law 18 USC 1512(c)(2) which makes it illegal to obstruct an official proceeding. Whether that holds up through the inevitable appeals process is yet to be determined, but when you look at the evidence it's clear that Donald Trump spent weeks planning to do just that and when his followers resorted to violence to accomplish it, he sat on his hands for hours and watched them do it.

I am not particularly optimistic that any of these cases will come to fruition. But Trump and his henchmen are feeling the heat right now for what his long-time fixer Michael Cohen always calls "his dirty deeds" and maybe that's the best we can hope for.

Jan. 6 PowerPoint reveals many more Republicans were in on Trump's coup plot

Last week a federal court agreed to schedule Steve Bannon's contempt of Congress criminal trial for July of next year — just as the fall campaigns go into full swing. He must be very pleased. Bannon would like nothing more than to have a big show trial at that moment and be carted off to jail where he can write his Great Replacement manifesto.

With the news that there was a PowerPoint presentation called "Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for JAN 6", reported here by Brett Bachman, Bannon's revolutionary proclamations on his Jan. 5th podcast have become clearer. Recall what he said:

"Mitch McConnell's got to start taking care and focusing on these senators — because this is going to be very controversial. We are going into uncharted waters. We're going into something that's never happened before in American history. Tomorrow it's going — we're pulling the trigger on something that's going to be, it's going to be minute by minute, hour by hour, what happens. The stakes couldn't be higher right now."
"It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen ...Okay, it's going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in. … You made this happen and tomorrow it's game day. So strap in. Let's get ready...It's all converging, and now we're on the point of attack tomorrow."

It's understandable that people would suspect that he was talking about the violence that took place when Trump incited his crowd to converge on the Capitol and he may very well have been. He and the others who were plotting at the Willard Hotel in the days before the insurrection were very close to groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who had an outsized role in the attack.

But it's clear now that Bannon was also talking about the plans laid out in that PowerPoint presentation which included some of what we knew but also reveals some rather chilling recommendations that add more detail to what was undeniably a coup attempt. When he said, "We are going into uncharted waters. We're going into something that's never happened before in American history," he wasn't kidding.

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The presentation indicated that Mike Pence had more than one way to overturn the election. As vice president, he could seat alternate Republican electors (which Rudy Giuliani and the boys were working feverishly to round up), he could reject the electoral votes of the states Donald Trump was disputing (with no evidence) or he could delay by refusing to certify until there was a recount of all paper ballots. That last coincidentally tracks with the fatuous proposal by Senator Ted Cruz, R-Tx, and 11 other senators who planned to delay the count in order to conduct an "emergency audit" in the states Donald Trump was disputing in order to "restore trust in the electoral system." Finally, Pence could just throw up his hands and say there was no way to ever know the real outcome and throw it to the House of Representatives which would vote as if it were a tie and Trump would win under the rules that each state delegation has one vote.

None of those recommendations were remotely constitutional.

Meanwhile, the PowerPoint also recommended that Trump brief Congress on alleged foreign interference in the election, deem all electronic voting in the states invalid, declare a National Security Emergency and put the National Guard on standby. (Politico reported that Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did order the guard to be available to "protect pro-Trump people.") Here's a little flavor of what they had in mind:

The PowerPoint also features some of the looniest conspiracy theories hatched in the wake of the election. One slide states that a "key Issue" is that "critical infrastructure control was utilized as part of ongoing globalist/socialist operation to subvert the will of United States Voters and install a China ally leading to another one advising the president to say the Chinese government interfered in the election as a pretext to declaring all the electronic votes invalid.

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This presentation was released by the January 6th Commission because it turned up in former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' documents which he voluntarily turned over the committee. It took a day or so before the person who circulated it was identified — a former Army Colonel by the name of Phil Waldron, who told the Washington Post that he worked with Trump's lawyers to put it together. Waldron said he contributed the stuff about foreign interference and he claims that he met with Meadows 8-10 times and helped to brief members of Congress before January 6th on what they had in mind, telling the Post that the presentation's recommendations were "constitutional, legal, feasible, acceptable and suitable courses of action." And he's right — if you are plotting a coup in a banana republic.

Not one of the people who read this disgraceful betrayal of American democracy blew the whistle. Well, except for Lara Logan, the Fox News personality who recently compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele. She tweeted out a version of the PowerPoint on January 5th but nobody paid any attention because she has no credibility. And yes, it was reported in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's book "Peril" that Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina "vetted" the fraud claims and determined that it wouldn't be prudent to overturn the election. I'm sure others clutched their pearls in the Senate cloak room, worrying about how risky the whole thing was as well. Not that they said anything publicly, of course.

RELATED: Trump lashes out at GOP senators, blames Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee for his failed coup attempt

We knew that Trump had many different plans to overturn the election. The memos prepared by right-wing lawyer John Eastman, Trump telling Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen "just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen" and threatening to replace him with a toady, Jeffrey Clark, if he refused were just a few examples. All of this was grossly unethical.

But this PowerPoint emphasizes just how desperate they were.

They threw everything at the wall in the hope that something would stick, that enough Republicans in Congress would grab on to one of the rationales they offered and agree to at least delay the certification or overturn it outright. When Vice President Mike Pence refused to go along, Trump tried one last gambit. He sent the angry mob he'd just whipped up to march to the Capitol to give the "weak" reluctant Republicans the "pride and boldness" they needed to stop the certification. It's why he sat on his hands for hours as his supporters stormed the Capitol.

IN OTHER NEWS: Psaki shuts down Fox's Peter Doocy after he whines about Fox News Christmas tree arson

Psaki shuts down Fox's Peter Doocy after he whines about Fox News Christmas tree arson

Trump hopping mad after being blindsided by Mark Meadows' nauseating collection of White House anecdotes

Former President Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows was terrible at his job. Nothing in his life prepared him for such a high-level assignment and the only thing he brought to the position was excessive, obsequious loyalty to the boss — which Trump always misconstrued as competence. But the problem is that he's not the sharpest tool and even when he's trying to be a steadfast soldier, he tends to screw the pooch. With his new book "The Chief's Chief," Meadows made the worst mistake of all when he unwittingly betrayed his former boss by telling the world about what is arguably the worst thing Trump did while he was president. Now Trump is reportedly hopping mad about it.

Meadows no doubt thought he was writing a great tribute to a man he clearly worships. The book is a nauseating collection of treacly anecdotes that are enough to make your teeth hurt. In Meadows' telling, Trump is a saint who never thinks of himself and a superman who literally saved the nation from ruin. He is as delusional as the most ecstatic rallygoer and his all-consuming devotion has blinded him.

So blinded, astonishingly, that he apparently didn't realize Trump would be livid if he revealed that at one point he was a weak and sickly man, sitting up in bed in the White House residence in his t-shirt with his hair disheveled hooked up to an IV. It didn't occur to Meadows that revealing that Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and walked around with bloodshot eyes, sick for days, exposing massive numbers of people might upset his former boss. His descriptions of a man so weak he couldn't lift a 10-pound briefcase (which Meadows had to pick up after dousing himself with hand sanitizer) and saying things like, "I've lost so much strength, the muscles are just not responding," must have made Trump tremble with rage. Imagine what the vain, narcissistic Trump thought when he heard about this description of his first morning at Walter Reed Medical center:

Trump was up and moving, asking questions like it was any other day. But he was still sluggish, and I could tell that every movement was difficult for him. Every few minutes, he would need to sit back down and rest.

It's obvious that Meadows doesn't know the real Trump at all.

RELATED: Mark Meadows and Kevin McCarthy have a long, strange history of dubious self-dealing

According to the Daily Beast, Meadows has been going around telling everyone that he was sure the president would be very pleased with his book. This is funny since Trump had already promoted it back in October, calling it a "fantastic book." He probably should have read it first. Now he is calling it fake news, specifically the part about him having COVID and lying about it. Meadows, meanwhile, is dancing as fast as he can to deny that as well, even though the narrative in his own book clearly lays it all out.

He is asking people to believe that Trump tested positive then negative, showed symptoms for days but didn't suspect he had COVID as he traveled all over the country and met with hundreds of people unmasked without taking any precautions. It's obvious that he did have it. He tested positive with a rapid test, they did another test that was negative but they didn't do a real PCR test until days later, long after he was clearly sick. The Washington Post did a deep dive into his activities during the seven days between his first and second positive tests, a period in which Meadows describes him as not being himself, clearly under the weather, looking tired, and determined that he came in contact with at least 500 people. By the end of that month, more than two dozen people in his circle would test positive. Trump was a walking superspreader.

RELATED: Trump's COVID bombshell: He was symptomatic three days before debate with Biden

It's a miracle that he didn't infect Joe Biden, something I would bet crossed Trump's mind as he was standing there on the stage for the debate. He no doubt suspected he had it. Meadows almost certainly did, as he writes:

By Tuesday, September 29, the morning of the first debate with Joe Biden, the president was looking slightly better than he had a few days earlier, emphasis on the word slightly. His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone. But the dark circles under his eyes had deepened. As we walked into the venue around five o'clock in the evening I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual. He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back.

Remember, Trump didn't get tested before the event as he was required to do. The debate hosts said it was on the "honor system," which Trump and his henchmen do not know the meaning of. Meadows may be too dim to know what he was saying there but Trump isn't.

The Daily Beast is now reporting that Trump has been "volcanic" all week, telling anyone who will listen that he didn't think Meadows would put that "garbage" about the COVID test in his book and that his appointment as Trump's 2024 campaign manager is now in doubt. The book's dishy inside scoops have also put Meadows on the hot seat with the January 6th Commission, which is casting a jaundiced eye on his claims of executive privilege. If he can spill the beans for profit, they reckon, he can testify before Congress. Up until Tuesday, Meadows was reportedly cooperating with the committee but his lawyer now claims that he will no longer do so due to some questioning they now feel is out of bounds.

According to committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Meadows already provided thousands of documents and records to the committee and that's what they would like to question him about. And with hundreds of other people already cooperating with the committee, there's a good chance they already know many of the answers which makes the plodding Meadows in danger of committing perjury should he try to cover anything up. His lawyer is wise to keep him from testifying.

But one can't help but wonder if it is really that the Big Boss has suddenly realized that his majordomo might not be up to the task of testifying to the committee and has told him to stop cooperating. As bizarre as it is to contemplate, up until now Trump apparently thought Meadows could be trusted to outsmart the sharp lawyers on the committee. After hearing about what's in Meadows' book, however, he's got to be wondering what's in all those documents he turned over. Meadows probably had no clue.

IN OTHER NEWS: RNC chair links Biden to Fox News Christmas tree fire: 'This is a huge problem for Democrats'

RNC chair links Biden to Fox News Christmas tree fire: 'This is a huge problem for Democrats'

Why Fox News lets Lara Logan call Dr. Fauci a Nazi — and get away with it

It's always a fool's game trying to keep up with the latest right-wing outrage. Theirs is a profit-making enterprise — and the customer base is in a buying mood. In the last month or so, we've seen an unusually high volume of vomitous rhetorical spew coming from both elected Republican politicians and conservative media figures. I guess it's their way of celebrating the holidays.

First, we had Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar distributing a noxious anime video depicting the killing of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and attacking President Joe Biden. The Republican leadership shrugged their shoulders and it was left to the Democrats to take action, which they did by stripping Gosar of his committee assignments and censuring him.

RELATED: Paul Gosar's death-threat video is no joke — it's part of the Republican terror strategy

In her floor speech on the subject, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., saying "The Jihad Squad member from Minnesota has paid her husband, and not her brother husband, the other one, over a million dollars in campaign funds." A few days later Boebert was caught on camera joking around with laughing supporters about Omar being a suicide bomber. She did apologize on Twitter to "anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment," but then accused Omar of anti-American rhetoric in a phone call.

RELATED: Ilhan Omar hangs up on Lauren Boebert after anti-Muslim attack

Boebert and her bestie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., then exchanged insults with another Republican, Nancy Mace R-S.C., with Green calling Mace "trash" for criticizing Boebert and Mace saying, "bless her f--king heart," leading Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker to dub them "The Plastics" after the nasty high school clique in the movie "Mean Girls."

But despite the obvious immaturity of all those involved, that trivializes the issues involved.

This is the U.S. Congress we're talking about, not WWE wrestling. The Islamophobia openly expressed by Boebert and Greene has a toxic effect on our culture at large. As Li Zhou of Vox reported:

Researchers have indeed found that Islamophobic rhetoric by politicians has real-world consequences and has been directly linked with hate speech targeted toward Muslim Americans. If Congress doesn't impose more penalties regarding this incident, lawmakers could — whether they mean to or not — further normalize anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment, affecting not only Muslim lawmakers but millions of Muslim Americans as well.

Of course, it's too much to expect Republicans to take any action against these people.

Rhetorical bomb throwers like Boebert and Greene raise huge amounts of money from their fans and are favorites of Donald Trump. In fact, Greene even went running to him during her spat with Mace apparently expecting him to take action against her — which he probably will. It remains to be seen if the Democrats will sanction Boebert as they have done with Green and Gosar but in an interview on Sunday, Omar said she is very confident that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will take "decisive action" this week.

But for all this bigotry and nastiness among GOP elected representatives, they're amateurs compared to what's happening in the conservative media.

There's no need to recapitulate the ongoing horror that is the nightly Fox News Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham insult hours. Just know that they aren't alone. Last week, we saw an act of character assassination that goes beyond even their worst. Fox Nation host Lara Logan said that people all over the world are comparing NIH scientist Anthony Fauci to the Nazi Joseph Mengele:

It's a truly stunning statement and one which you would think would instantly garner a response from the network. But so far, crickets. She hasn't appeared on the network but they haven't said anything either. And people are asking, "what happened to Lara Logan?" the former glamorous foreign correspondent :

Actually, nothing happened to Laura Logan.

She may have joined the ranks of full-blown Fox News trolls but it was clear she was a right-winger for years when she was working for CBS. Logan had very strong opinions about America's handling of terrorism, the military and war and she didn't hide it. For instance in 2011, she appeared with Marvin Kalb at the National Press club and suggested that the US needed to get tough with Pakistan:

You take 24 to 48 hours out of your day where you target all the people who you know where they are and you send a message to the Pakistanis that putting American bodies in Arlington Cemetery is not an acceptable form of foreign policy.

In another speech to the Better Government Association in Chicago, after the attack on the embassy in Benghazi, she said this:

I hope to God that you are sending in your best clandestine warriors to exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil, its ambassadors will not be murdered and the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.

It was more than obvious that Logan had a strong right wing point of view and that she was prone to bloodthirsty hyperbole. So it shouldn't have come as a huge surprise when in 2013 she was caught in a major scandal over a big blockbuster story on Benghazi for 60 Minutes which turned out to be a hoax. She relied on a contractor who went by the name "Morgan Jones" who said he was an eyewitness to the attack and told her that the American government was slow to respond and totally unprepared. He even claimed that he climbed the wall and fought off the terrorists in hand-to-hand combat and Logan hailed him as a hero.

It turned out this man, whose real name is Dylan Davies, was nowhere near the compound that night. In the investigation that followed it was revealed by the rest of the news media that all the facts were easily debunked but Logan failed to check them out. 60 Minutes had to pull the story and issue a retraction and Logan apologized. But she wasn't fired. In fact, she remained with the network for five more years. When she finally left she immediately started caterwauling about "the liberal media" and ran first to the far-right broadcast network Sinclair and then signed on with Fox.

Her reporting was taken as face value for years when she worked at CBS and even the Benghazi hoax scandal wasn't seen as a matter of her bias but rather a mistake even though it was right in front of them. Her show on Fox Nation today is unironically called "Lara Logan Has No Agenda."

Comparing Dr. Fauci to Joseph Mengele and calling Ilhan Omar a jihadist suicide bomber is now just mainstream right-wing rhetoric, rewarded with tons of money and attention from the base of the Republican party. And it's the natural consequence of allowing people like Lara Logan to shape the mainstream media narratives that have defined our politics for years.

Forget the Steele dossier: Mueller report release shows why Trump-Russia inquiry was required

The last few weeks we have seen the media work itself into something of a frenzy in an attempt to force a "reckoning" on the matter of the Steele Dossier, the opposition research document prepared by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele about then-candidate Donald Trump. I'm sure I don't need to go into detail about that chapter in the Trump era. You'd have to have been in a coma not to have heard more about it than you ever cared to. Suffice to say that it was the source of the rumor about the infamous "pee tape" which offered many a late night comedian an uproarious punchline.

It's hard to know exactly what precipitated this sudden desire to have the media don a hair shirt over their coverage of the dossier, but it seems to stem from a recent ABC interview with Steele and the recent indictments of a handful of people by Special Prosecutor John Durham for lying to the FBI about it. Durham's inquiry into what Trump called "the oranges of the investigation" has been going on for years now with very little to show for it and according to those who have followed the cases closely, like journalist Marcy Wheeler, there is every reason to believe that the probe will end up being a dud.

RELATED: Steele dossier researcher Igor Danchenko arrested by Bill Barr's special prosecutor

Nonetheless, there has been quite a back and forth among news organizations over whether they were too credulous in reporting the dossier and if it was ethical to publish it in the first place. Overlooking the mountain of evidence that had nothing at all to do with the dossier and the bizarre behavior by Trump both before and during his presidency when it came to Russia, the result of all this "reckoning" is that suddenly there seems to be some belief even in mainstream quarters that the whole Russia scandal was overblown and perhaps not worth the resources and time put into reporting it.

Naturally, no one is more pleased by this than Donald Trump:

No doubt there was some histrionic coverage of the Steele Dossier. But the truth is that virtually every news outlet that reported it made clear that it was unsubstantiated and no one reported that it was the only reason for the Russia investigation. Trump and his campaign's suspicious behavior was more than enough to set off alarms all over the world.

Trump had been seeking to do business in Russia for years and was found to have lied throughout the campaign about that, saying that he knew Vladimir Putin, that he didn't know him, that they were "stablemates," that he couldn't comment because it would betray Putin's confidence all the while heaping over-the-top praise on the Russian leader. During the course of the Russia investigation, it was revealed that Trump had elaborate plans for Trump Tower Moscow, which he had assigned to none other than his personal lawyer and his daughter Ivanka. He lied repeatedly about this too, even in one of the presidential debates in the fall of 2016.

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and his team found that they could not prove a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in regards to the interference in the 2016 election and the hacking of Hillary Clinton's campaign. He indicted a bunch of people, including Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort, for passing campaign data to a Russian operative associated with an oligarch to whom he owed a lot of money. There were strange fringe players all over that campaign including the famous "coffee boy" George Papadopoulos who were also indicted by Mueller and confirmed by the bipartisan Intelligence Committee report to have been the one who actually tripped the investigation by the FBI. His loose lips to an Australian diplomat about Russian activities on behalf of Trump happened months before anyone had heard of Christopher Steele's dossier.

The Senate's report made clear that the dossier was not the source of the government investigation. The Mueller Report did not rely upon it in any way. It was a side-show, at best, which had zero bearing on the findings of those two huge investigations which concluded that the Trump campaign's suspicious activities, including the numerous overt attempts to cover up and obstruct justice, were more than enough to justify the investigations that plagued him throughout his term.

All of these things and much more actually happened, including meetings overseas in which Donald Trump openly sided with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies. It wasn't just some made-up scandal. We had a president who was either so corrupt, so reckless or so vulnerable to blackmail that he spent his entire term essentially justifying the suspicions about his relationship with the Russian government with his bizarre behavior.

One of the most damning charges against the Trump campaign (which also had nothing to do with the Steele Dossier) was reported by the New York Times in July of 2017, revealing that Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort had met with a Russian attorney who was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Russian government. According to the Senate intelligence report, the Russian government saw that as a signal that they were willing to play ball, particularly when Trump explicitly asked Russia to release Clinton's emails in a public press conference shortly afterward. That very night there was an attempt to hack the Clinton campaign and within a month, a cache of emails was released by Wikileaks on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

In a somewhat surprising decision, on Tuesday a federal appeals court reversed a lower court ruling that kept certain redactions in the Mueller Report in place pertaining to Donald Trump Jr's involvement in the investigation and the Mueller team's reasoning for not charging him and others with campaign finance violations. The government's insistence on keeping that under wraps was absurd since much of the information was already public and its reasoning that it would cause "reputational or stigmatizing harm" made no sense. (They will not unredact the parts which explain why Mueller chose not to charge for false statements which really would be interesting, unfortunately.) The decision won't offer any new revelations but at least it strikes a small blow for transparency.

As he has his whole life, Trump has escaped direct accountability for any of it. I doubt the Russia investigations had anything to do with his loss in 2020 and Mueller's decision not to say directly that Trump obstructed justice because it might harm his reputation (while also making it clear that he could be prosecuted for that crime after leaving office) was tragically naive. But that is no reason for the media to signal its even-handedness by flagellating itself over the Steele Dossier and help Trump persuade even more people that the Russia scandal was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt. It was not. And one can't help but wonder if it might be more fruitful for the media to have a little "reckoning" over their "but her emails" coverage during the 2016 campaign, a truly egregious error in judgment that led to the nightmare that followed. At the moment there is every reason to believe that could easily happen again.