By Heather Cox Richardson
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Tonight, in Fulton County, Georgia, a judge allowed 9 Georgia voters and their experts to inspect copies of the 147,000 mail-in ballots cast in that county to make sure that officials did not accept counterfeit ballots. Georgia officials have already done three separate audits of the ballots from the 2020 vote, including a hand recount, and found no widespread fraud. But supporters of former president Trump insist that he actually won the 2020 election and that it was stolen from him by fraud.
It is this same belief that led to the private “audit” of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, where Republican state senators made election officials give both ballots and election equipment to a private company, Cyber Ninjas, to recount and examine. The Cyber Ninjas had no experience doing such an audit and the process has been widely discredited, but they accused election officials of deleting databases, accusations picked up by Trump loyalists like Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ).
Today, attorneys for Maricopa County and those election officials warned the Republican Arizona Senators to preserve all evidence surrounding this “audit” for future lawsuits.
Despite the Arizona debacle, Trump supporters all over the country are demanding recounts like the one in Maricopa County. They say their only goal is to make sure that machines are accurate and the count is fair, but they are echoing Trump, who continues to insist he won the 2020 election.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they found thousands and thousands and thousands of votes,” he said recently at Mar-a-Lago. “So we’re going to watch that very closely. And after that, you’ll watch Pennsylvania and you’ll watch Georgia and you’re going to watch Michigan and Wisconsin. You’re watching New Hampshire. Because this was a rigged election. Everybody knows it.”
It was not a rigged election. Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won by more than 7 million votes with more than 51% of the popular vote to Trump and Mike Pence’s 46.8%. The Democrats won in the Electoral College by a vote of 306 to 232. Trump lost more than 60 lawsuits over the election, and recounts turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.
Observers call Trump’s insistence that he won the 2020 election the Big Lie.
It was this lie that led to the January 6 insurrection, when rioters stormed the Capitol to stop the counting of the electoral votes that would make Biden president. In case after case, the insurrectionists’ lawyers have claimed their clients believed that Trump won and the election was stolen from him. The lawyers have blamed the “propaganda” coming from the Fox News Channel and the former president for their clients’ actions.
According to “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley, his lawyer wrote, if not “for the actions and the words of the President, he would not have appeared in Washington, DC to support the President and, but for the specific words of the then-President during his January 6, 2021 speech, the Defendant would not have walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and would not have gone into the U.S. Capitol Building.”
In an interview with Matt Shuham of Talking Points Memo, the lawyer added: “These aren’t bad people; they don’t have a prior criminal history. F**k, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since f**king Hitler.”
But here’s the rub: Last week, when they removed Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) from party leadership, Republicans indicated they have now tied themselves to Trump, along with his eagerness to overturn elections unless he gets his way.
We are on a very dangerous path.
Republican lawmakers are downplaying the January 6 insurrection, rewriting our history to suggest that the assault on the heart of our democratic process was no big deal. Last week, Representative Andrew S. Clyde (R-GA) said the event was like a “normal tourist visit”—photos show him that day screaming and frantically barricading the doors to the House gallery—and Representative Ralph Norman (R-SC) questioned whether the rioters were Trump supporters, despite their Trump flags and MAGA hats, and the fact the former president told them he loved them. On the Fox News Channel this week, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) claimed the insurrection was largely a “peaceful protest.”
On Wednesday, the House passed a bill to set up a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the events of January 6. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had set out conditions for the commission, apparently with the idea that Democrats would reject them, but in fact the Democrats agreed to his demands, leaving McCarthy scrambling to find a reason to oppose the commission. For oppose it he does, along with all but 35 Republicans (whom Trump promptly called “ineffective and weak”). Four fifths of the Republicans in the House oppose creating a bipartisan independent commission to figure out what happened on that hideous day.
They are opposed in part because they do not want voters to be reminded of their leader’s complicity in the event, driven as it was by the Big Lie, and also because a number of them would be witnesses, called to testify under oath. Cheney has repeatedly suggested that McCarthy himself, who had a heated telephone conversation with the former president during the riot, should testify voluntarily or, if necessary, under subpoena.
Yesterday, McCarthy pointedly refused to answer whether he was sure no members of his caucus had spoken with any of the rioters, bringing to mind the January 13 letter from 34 members of the House, including those with military training and former CIA agent Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), to request an immediate investigation into tours of the Capitol given on January 5. The letter reported that the number and nature of the tours were so concerning that members reported them to the Sergeant at Arms that day.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to oppose it, calling it “slanted and unbalanced” in what seems to be a shout out to Fox News Channel viewers by playing on “fair and balanced.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will bring the bill to the floor, where Republicans are expected to filibuster it, meaning it will take 60 votes, rather than a simple majority of 51, to pass it. They are likely to block even a debate on it.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has maintained he can work with the Republicans, commented: “So disheartening. It makes you really concerned about our country…. I’m still praying we’ve still got 10 good solid patriots within that conference.”
It seems to me that ship has sailed. Six months after the 2020 election, supporters of the former president are challenging vote counts all over the country as he continues to insist he won. His supporters stormed the Capitol to overturn our electoral process. And now our Republican lawmakers, who have taken an oath to defend the Constitution, are trying to protect their leader from accountability for inciting that insurrection.