Trumpworld's delusions and the real world threat

Sidney Powell's Kraken was more than a silly sideshow

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 24, 2022 10:01AM (EST)

Sidney Powell, Donald Trump and Mike Flynn (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Sidney Powell, Donald Trump and Mike Flynn (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

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.

RELATED: Trump, the Proud Boys and the Kraken: Is the #EndofDemocracy just a meme — or the real thing?

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 New York 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 inane 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 snuck 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 Oval Office 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 his staffers pushed back. It eventually ended up in Trump's residence with arguments continuing back and forth and no resolution at midnight.

Powell, for her part, 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.

RELATED: How do we report on Trump's dastardly schemes without amplifying his lies and incitement?

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 it 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 Systems 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?   

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary January 6th Committee Mike Flynn Rudy Giulliani Sidney Powell