COMMENTARY

Donald Trump's week in the toilet bowl: His craptastic coup gets a little clearer

Pilfered documents seized at Mar-a-Lago! Rudy tried to grab Michigan voting machines! For Trump, it all stinks

By Heather Digby Parton

Published February 11, 2022 9:49AM (EST)

Former President Donald Trump, right, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. (DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump, right, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. (DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

It's been quite a week for Donald Trump and his henchmen. The House Jan. 6 committee finally subpoenaed his former trade adviser, Peter Navarro, who has been telling anyone who will listen about his plot to overturn the election. It was reported that Trump's former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, last seen on "The Masked Singer," called a Michigan prosecutor shortly after the 2020 election and asked him to turn over voting machines in one county to Trump's team. And the National Archives has reportedly sent a referral to the Department of Justice regarding all the White House documents Trump absconded with and shipped to Mar-a-Lago, some of which were reportedly marked as classified or top secret. Oh, and it turns out there were major gaps (of more than 15 minutes) in the White House presidential call records on Jan. 6 and that Trump at least sometimes tried to flush documents down a White House toilet.

Taking the last items first, let's stipulate that Trump's non-compliance with the Presidential Records Act has been known for some time. It was previously reported that he routinely tore up documents and his staff had to rifle through the trash and tape them back together. He refused to use a secure phone and half his staff, including his daughter, used personal email accounts. Trump was even alleged to have eaten documents at one point. This new story, reported by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman in her forthcoming book "Confidence Man," that plumbers were repeatedly called to service a toilet in the White House which had become clogged with papers that "someone" had tried to flush, is entirely in keeping with all the reports about Trump's refusal to adhere to laws about record keeping.

As for stealing documents and mementos that rightly belong to the National Archives, that's par for the course as well. Recall that during Trump's notorious trip to France for the World War I memorial (where he didn't want to get his hair mussed) he pretty much ransacked the U.S. ambassador's house, sending whatever he took a liking to back to Washington. He clearly believed the had the prerogative and authority to take whatever he wanted, which apparently included such historical documents as the letters he received from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, as well as others that were clearly classified.

RELATED: Trump's "love letters" from Kim Jong-un spirited from White House, seized at Mar-a-Lago

Trump responded to these reports with one of his extended Twitter-esque "statements," but this one was clearly drafted by a lawyer and later larded up with Trumpish embellishments, suggesting that there is some concern about his legal exposure. But you have to love the fact that despite the clear obligations outlined in the explicitly-named Presidential Records Act, he claims he was told he was "under no obligation to give this material." He truly does not believe that any rules ever apply to him.

In reporting this overt act of lawbreaking, mainstream media went to great lengths to explain that it would be difficult for prosecutors to determine his intent, so this is probably another example of the Teflon Don getting away with it. But it's hard to think of any possible reason for ripping, flushing or stealing documents unless you really doesn't want others to see them.


Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.


Meanwhile, this Politico story reports that Rudy Giuliani had been trying to seize voting machines as far back as Nov. 20, 2020. Until now there was no evidence that this daft idea had gone beyond being floated among various executive branch officials, but apparently Giuliani actually made that request to prosecutor James Rossiter in Antrim County, Michigan (the focus of various MAGA World conspiracy theories). Rossiter said he told Giuliani, "'I can't just say: give them here.' We don't have that magical power to just demand things as prosecutors. You need probable cause." Since Giuliani first became famous as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. I'm pretty sure he knew that. 

This sheds some light on the odd fact that Giuliani was reportedly the one who put his foot down during the notorious White House meeting when Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn urged Trump to use the military to seize voting machines. Clearly Giuliani wasn't against the seizure itself. After all, he later approached the Department of Homeland Security about doing it, and now we know he reached out to at least one local official. It would appear that Giuliani and Powell had competing theories about the predicate for seizing voting machines. Powell was pushing the theory that foreign actors (China, Venezuela, Italy, etc.) had stolen the election. That hypothetically created a national security issue, which she and Flynn believed would allow the president to order the military to intervene. Giuliani thought the better story was that Democrats and local officials had rigged the machines, so the national security issue didn't hold water. The fight wasn't over whether to seize voting machines, but exactly how and why.

RELATED: With new subpoenas, Jan. 6 committee closes in on its ultimate target: Donald Trump

What seems clear in all this reporting is that Trump didn't care what theory anyone came up with — he just wanted to overturn the election by any means necessary. He was willing to run with whatever worked. It's unclear, even today, exactly how he claims to explain this alleged massive fraud, coordinated and carried out with amazing precision.

That brings us back to Peter Navarro's subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee which he promptly refused, claiming executive privilege. When asked about the subpoena by the New York Times he responded by email, attacking a wide array of fellow Republicans as disloyal to the Leader:

[Mike] Pence betrayed Trump. Marc Short [Pence's former chief of staff] is a Koch Network dog. [Mark] Meadows is a fool and a coward. [Liz] Cheney and [Adam] Kinzinger are useful idiots for Nancy Pelosi and the woke Left.

He seems wound a little tight, don't you think?

Navarro is an unusual case, since he has  written a book openly admitting that he and Steve Bannon concocted a plot to allow Trump to steal the election. In the book and in these interviews with MSNBC's Ari Melber, he explains that his "Green Bay Sweep" required one member of the House and one member of the Senate to object to the electoral count in each of the battleground states where Trump claimed he actually won. Then Mike Pence would declare that the electoral count could not be determined and he would "send it back to the states," where the legislatures would determine who had really won. Navarro insists he had no idea about the slates of "alternate electors" that were already in place in those states (which is hard to believe) and that this ridiculous plan is clearly outlined in the Constitution (which it certainly is not). He claims he had 100 members of Congress lined up to help him with his plan, although he has declined to name them.

Trump, Giuliani and Navarro are not hiding what they've done. They are betting there is no mechanism strong enough to hold them accountable, as long as the Republican establishment continues to support them. There's little sign that will change so all of this is likely being done just for the historical record. What with all the book-banning the right wing is doing these days, I wouldn't count on anyone learning the real story in the future. 

Read more of Salon's recent coverage of Donald Trump's assault on democracy:


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.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton