As Brandi Buchman continues Daily Kos’ live coverage of the ongoing hearing of the House select committee on Jan. 6, there are moments that stand out both as absolutely ludicrous … and extraordinarily frightening. One is the committee’s coverage of a draft executive order, issued by Donald Trump, that would have instructed the defense secretary to seize all voting machines.
Trump then intended to appoint a special counsel whose task it would be to review those machines for signs of tampering, fraud, and error. A very special counsel: Trump attorney Sidney Powell.
Powell, who had already lost in court numerous times at that point as she tried to press wild theories about dead Venezuelan dictators, truckloads of out-of-state votes, and unspecified Chinese interference, was the worst possible person to place in charge of America’s electoral process. Which is why Trump wanted her. Because she was the only person absolutely guaranteed to claim that Trump had won, no matter what the evidence actually showed.
This isn’t the first time we’ve learned about this draft order. In fact, back in February, it became clear that Trump never thought of this document as a draft. He just thought of it as an order. However, Trump was unable to get either the Justice Department or Department of Homeland Security to take control of the machines. But he tried.
Wholly apart from the Jan. 6 scheme, this was, in itself, a complete conspiracy to overturn American democracy and hand the election to Trump. It didn’t require Mike Pence to pretend there was something wrong with the slates of electors. It didn’t require Congress to cooperate. It was simply a direct seizure of the mechanism of elections.
Trump would have his people grab the machines. Then he would have Powell declare him the winner. Done.
In the days immediately following the election, Trump held a meeting with then-Attorney General William Barr in which he tried to get the Justice Department to take control of the voting machines. In that meeting, Trump insisted to Barr that, “his lawyers had told him” that taking and holding the machines was within the power of the DOJ. Barr replied that he had “no probable cause” to seize the machines, and refused to act. Barr then followed up by resigning his position.
With Barr off the table, Trump decided to take his plan to the Pentagon. He met with Sidney Powell and disgraced ex-general and former national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Dec. 18. By that point, the “draft executive order” had already been prepared, instructing the military to take control of voting machines. Included in the order were lies Powell had made up about results in Michigan, apparently to address Barr’s complaint that there was no probable cause.
That this scheme didn’t go forward wasn’t a matter if it being rejected by the Department of Defense. Instead, the scheme fell apart inside Trump’s own organization, with White House counsel Pat Cipollone and even Rudy Giuliani opposing it. In Giuliani's case, he likely spoke out against the plan because it empowered Powell, and not him.
Three days after the meeting was held, Giuliani conducted a press conference in which he insisted that Powell “does not speak for the president” and that she only “speaks for herself.” At the time, Giuliani appeared to be threatened by Trump’s growing support for Powell (who was actually back at the White House on the same day that Giuliani made his “speaks for herself” announcement).
When the draft order surfaced a third time, it was actually Giuliani carrying it around. This time he took it to the Department of Homeland Security. But when Giuliani told the acting deputy secretary of DHS to get out there and get to seizing, the secretary told Giuliani that neither he, nor DHS, held the authority to take voting machines.
The scheme to seize voting machines and allow Trump’s own legal adviser to determine the outcome of the election was the most direct and blatant attempt Trump made to overturn the outcome, even more so than John Eastman-authored “Jan. 6 scenario.” It should be sufficient in itself to charge Trump with seditious conspiracy. And it deserves more attention.