Donald Trump's having an awful week — and it's only Wednesday

This week's Trump news seems to have shaken even the D.C. press corps' jaded attitude

By Heather Digby Parton


Published February 2, 2022 10:00AM (EST)

Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and Mike Pence (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and Mike Pence (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Generally speaking, the Washington press corps and, in particular, the political reporters at the New York Times (NYT) are not ones to engage in hyperbole when it comes to Donald Trump. If anything, the paper of record has been downplaying the ongoing saga of Trump's Big Lie and all the evidence that's been piling up about what happened in the lead-up to January 6th recently. But this week's Trump news seems to have shaken even their jaded attitude.

For instance, the Times' Peter Baker tweeted on Tuesday, "Even for Trump it's quite a week -- first dangling pardons for capitol attackers, then admitting his goal was to have 'overturned the election' and now calling on the House to investigate Pence for not throwing out votes of multiple states so a president who lost could keep power." Then the Times' Maggie Haberman, appearing on CNN on Tuesday night, said, "it's been a breathtaking couple of days." This NYT piece by Shane Goldmacher headlined "Trump's Words, and Deeds, Reveal Depths of His Drive to Retain Power" says it all.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Trump's scripted comments at the rally in Texas over the weekend in which he promised pardons for the January 6th insurrectionists who were "treated unfairly" and called for protests against prosecutors who are investigating him. But that was just the beginning. On Monday, Trump put out a truly revealing statement (which some might call an admission of guilt.)

Republican leaders have picked a side and it appears to be Trump's. As usual, there hasn't been much of an outcry about any of this. Oh sure, a few have said it's "inappropriate" to talk about pardoning the January 6th rioters and there has been some tut-tutting about how "the process worked" but that's about it.

Trump followed up his confession that he wanted to overturn the election by suggesting that the January 6th Committee should investigate Mike Pence if they believe he could have overturned the election and ask him why he didn't do it. I would guess that's Trump's pathetic attempt at trying to clean up his earlier comment but it's incredibly lame and self-defeating. He shouldn't be pushing Mike Pence toward the committee — Pence's closest aide and his lawyer both testified for hours this week.

RELATED: Trump is feeling the heat from investigations — and wants his mob to save him

It couldn't have helped his agitated mood to see new details emerge about those crazy meetings in the White House after the election when he and his lawyers were trying to find ways to do exactly what he wanted Mike Pence to do on January 6th: overturn the election. I've been intrigued by the one that took place on December 18th ever since it was reported and I wrote about it just the other day. What we knew was already so nuts that it's hard to believe it could be any loonier --- but it is.

Recall that General Michael Flynn, Trump lawyer Sidney "Kraken" Powell and the former CEO of somehow got into the White House and proposed to Trump that he sign an Executive Order naming Powell as Special Counsel to investigate the alleged election fraud and order the military to seize the voting machines. What we didn't know until the NY Times and CNN reported it this week is that Trump had earlier tried to get former Attorney General William Barr to have the Justice Department seize machines and Barr told him he could not do it because it would require probable cause and there wasn't any. (Barr resigned not long after.)

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We also learned that when the idea of an Executive Order to the Penatagon was shot down by Rudy Giuliani and others, Trump directed Giuliani to see if the Department of Homeland Security could do it. And there was reportedly yet another draft Executive Order drawn up to that effect. In the end, none of the Executive Orders were signed and no one agreed to seize the voting machines. (Just imagine if they had actually tried to do that ...)

Until now, Trump has been portrayed as sort of passive in all this, simply receiving proposals from his minions and henchmen and not directing any of the action. It was never particularly believable except to the extent that he played the role of the mob boss who only has to quirk an eyebrow and his lieutenants know what to do. Fortunately for the country, as Salon's Amanda Marcotte points out, Trump was saved by his lackeys and accomplices, either because they were too inept to carry out the coup or because even they had reached the end of the line with his lunacy.

But Trump can no longer hide behind his henchmen. We now know that Bill Barr told him that seizing the voting machines was illegal without a court order which requires probable cause and there was none. Yet he still entertained the proposal that he issue executive orders to the Pentagon and DHS to do it anyway. And according to the Times, Trump also made overtures to state officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania to have law enforcement agencies take control of voting machines, which were rebuffed. He was clearly convinced that if he could get someone to seize those machines it could turn the tide and somehow overturn the election.

Was it that he believed Sidney Powell and Mike Flynn's inane conspiracy theories that said the machines were rigged by the very dead Hugo Chavez or had been surreptitiously sent to Italy to have the votes changed? Or did he just think that making such a dramatic move would change the dynamic and make the state actors take action to change the electoral count? It's hard to know. Trump believes that he can change reality simply be saying things over and over again (and it works on about 35% of the population.) Maybe he just thought he could will it to be true.

These latest revelations do show us just how different these days are than 48 years ago when it was revealed that Richard Nixon had tried to get the CIA to block the FBI's investigation into Watergate. That was known as the "smoking gun" in that case and it made dozens of Republicans and conservative Democrats turn against him. He resigned days later.

What Trump did was worse.

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He tried to use the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security (and for all we know the CIA and the Department of Education too) to overturn a legal election that he lost. And his party shrugs. Worse than that he is the front runner for the nomination in the next presidential election. If, for some reason, he is actually held to account for any of this -- or anything at all -- it won't be because the Republican Party lifted a finger to make it happen. 

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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