"These people are admitting they lied to you": Trump’s own men undermine his “delusional” defense

Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows revelations show the Big Liars can't hide behind "delusional" defense

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 28, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

"For those that still believe there was widespread voter fraud, these people are admitting they lied to you." These are not the words of a Democratic politician or an MSNBC anchor but of a Republican.

Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer of the Georgia Secretary of State, has long been one of the few Republicans brave enough to defend democracy in the face of Donald Trump's efforts to destroy it. Sterling was responding to reports that former New York City mayor-turned-Trump accomplice Rudy Giuliani has conceded that his accusations against two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, were "false" and "defamatory." The two women are suing Giuliani for a ridiculous conspiracy theory he and Trump spread, claiming a video showing the two women sharing candy was actually evidence they were somehow stealing votes for Biden.

For everyone outside the MAGA bubble, Sterling's comments may sound like a "no duh" statement. It's obvious to reality-based people that everyone involved in the Big Lie knew it was a lie, and that Joe Biden was the true winner of the 2020 election. It's important to remember, however, that this fact is still hotly disputed by the vast majority of Republican leadership. Most GOP leaders — who are all also lying through their teeth — like to pretend that Trump and his followers "really believed" the Big Lie. Indeed, most Republican leaders still like to pretend that they themselves find the Big Lie compelling, even if they avoid saying they believe it entirely.

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The bad faith of Trump's election claims increasingly matters in another arena: The court of law.

We are now over a week into this round of Trump indictment watching after Justice Department-appointed special prosecutor Jack Smith sent a letter letting Trump know he's under investigation for leading an attempted coup that resulted in the insurrection of January 6, 2021. Such a letter nearly guarantees charges are coming. Further reporting suggests the specific charges will depend on Smith and his team arguing that Trump was deliberately trying to steal an election.

Giuliani's latest admission is another sign this house of cards is coming down.

Trump, like most Republicans, is still clinging to the defense that he can't have committed a crime because he supposedly believed that the 2020 election was stolen. "We'll have fun on the stand with all of these people that say the Presidential Election wasn't Rigged and Stollen [sic]," Trump wrote on Truth Social Wednesday morning. "THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY!!!"

On Wednesday, Trump posted a video on Truth Social, where he kept up the ruse. "They don't go after the people who cheated in the election, they only go after the people who report on, or question the cheating," he whined. 

The good news is there is already plenty of evidence that Trump and his co-conspirators knew they were attempting a coup, and that, contrary to their public statements, they did not think they were simply try right a grievous wrong. The House committee that investigated January 6 released evidence that Trump knew he was lying, most notably from White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. "I don't want people to know we lost, Mark," she recalled hearing Trump say to his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on December 11, 2020. "This is embarrassing."

That Smith seems ready to go forward with indictments suggests he has amassed even more solid evidence that the Big Lie was just that, a lie, and not a sincere delusion. As NBC News reported Wednesday, there are strong signs that Smith is building up a massive pile of evidence that Trump was knowingly lying about the election. Smith has subpoenaed testimony from multiple election officials Trump pressured, as well as fake electors who were involved in his scheme. 

"The special counsel appears to be investigating what President Trump said and did in private to further show that Trump's public statements and actions about election fraud were not borne out of good faith or [an] honest mistake," Temidayo Aganga-Williams, former senior investigative counsel for the House Jan. 6 committee, told Salon. 

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Giuliani's latest admission is another sign this house of cards is coming down. Not that Giuliani is giving up on the case entirely. Mostly, it seems his lawyers realize there's no way they can hide behind the "he really believed it" defense. They are conceding the point in a last-ditch effort to plead that his lies were "free speech" and not damaging. He's probably not going to get far with that argument, since both women have extensively documented how they've had to hide out from deranged Trump supporters, with Moss even testifying movingly about her suffering to Congress last year.  But that Giuliani has given up pretending he was sincerely deluded strongly suggests that it's a pretense Trump himself will struggle to keep up. 

Here's hoping for justice for these two women so horribly abused by Giuliani. But for the Trump indictment watchers, this story has even bigger implications, especially in light of reports that Giuliani sat for hours of interviews with Smith's team under a proffer agreement, which is where witnesses exchange information for limited immunity. Proffer agreements usually means someone has flipped. Giuliani's lawyers deny that he is throwing Trump under the bus to save his own skin. But this new filing in the defamation case suggests his team has abandoned all efforts to spin their client as a well-meaning dupe who really believed the Big Lie, and instead are in damage mitigation mode. 

One of the most promising signs comes to us via the Washington Post, which reports that Smith's team has obtained text messages of Meadows joking with White House lawyers in a way that shows they knew full well Trump's claims of voter fraud were lies. This "is one of many exchanges from the time in which Trump aides and other Republican officials expressed deep skepticism or even openly mocked the election claims being made publicly by Trump," the Post reporters write. The rest of the article focuses on outward signs suggesting that Meadows may be cooperating, to one extent or another, with Smith's team. After all, he faces serious legal jeopardy himself, and may be boxed into a deal in exchange for cooperation. 

Despite this, Republicans are still clinging to the dumb-as-rocks talking point that Trump is innocent because he was just so gosh-darned convinced he won the election. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is supposedly running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, told reporters last week that while he wished Trump had done more to stop the Capitol riot while it was happening, he was skeptical there was real criminal intent. Former vice president Mike Pence, also supposedly running against Trump, told CNN, "While his words were reckless, based on what I know, I am not yet convinced that they were criminal."

There is little doubt that these men are being deliberately dishonest, and not just because they know full well Trump was knowingly lying about the 2020 election. The reported leaks of what the investigation letter to Trump said make it quite clear that the likely charges aren't focused on what he said to the crowd on January 6, so much as the nearly two months he spent before that day pressuring government officials to fabricate votes for him or assist in his "fake electors" scheme. 

Most Republicans are well-practiced at sticking to a lie, even in the face of glaring evidence contradicting the falsehood. So we can expect the "Trump meant well" to remain a talking point, even if Smith rolls out a mountain of evidence showing Trump always knew full well that he lost the 2020 election. Still, that pose will be a harder sell once court documents are public and especially if, heaven willing, the trial happens before the election. But even if it doesn't change the GOP's relationship to Trump, the wannabe-dictator will have to face down a jury. And "golly, Trump thought he was doing the right thing" is like not going to be an argument that holds up in court. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary Donald Trump Gabriel Sterling Jack Smith Mark Meadows Rudy Giuliani