Saturday, May 18, 2024

Elector fraud, lies dog Trump efforts for redemption

By Kenneth Tiven in Washington

The saber rattling between Russia and the Ukraine have for the moment shifted the political focus in the USA  to Russian President Vladimir Putin and away from the legal troubles facing former US President  Donald Trump. 

US President Joesph Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are focused, among many aspects, on helping Europe find alternate liquefied gas sources if any sanctions on Russia curtail pipeline deliveries this winter.   

The Biden Administration is highlighting global worries that have led to declines in Russian stock markets and the low value of the Russian ruble on global currency markets as a reason Putin will not attack Ukraine. Asked if he would consider sanctions on Putin himself, Biden responded: “Yes. I would see that.”  

Despite the Russia-NATO situation, there is growing awareness in the past 10 days that various legal issues could derail former President Donald Trump’s ambition to get re-elected in 2024. Courting his faithful voters with a drumbeat of attacks on Biden won’t deter the judiciary and the investigating committee regarding  the January 6  insurrection. As investigators and others release details of their work it seems the planning to overturn the 2020 election was both larger and more desperate than imagined. 

Trump’s lawyers took it all the way to the Supreme Court, but lost in an 8-1 ruling that let the National Archives release 800 White House documents related to events of that two day period. Two of these documents  seemingly have him in trouble, but he has escaped punishment numerous times before with tactics learned from the late Roy Cohn, an infamous lawyer  who believed the ends always justified the means.

A serious problem surfaced this week when Letitia James, New York state’s attorney general known for her pursuit of the rich and powerful, filed court papers explaining why she wants to depose Trump and two of his children. Her civil court case for fraud is based on forensic research carried out by investigators in New York State. She wants to depose both Ivanka and Don Junior in addition to their father. How this will impact Donald Trump’s behaviour is unclear, but will certainly keep lawyers busy playing defence. 

James’s filing offered a brilliantly simple explanation of how Trump and Company made, or appeared to make, money in real estate using a typewriter or computer keyboard as their primary tools.

For his Scottish golf course near Aberdeen, he bought 809 hectares of land in 2006 for $12.6 million. Five years later, a real estate company  valued it at $161million, a 12X increase. By 2014, the windswept seaside links course was valued at  $436m. That’s a 34X increase in value based on the Trump “accounting system”.

The New York State attorney general notes in her filing,“That the valuation of Trump Aberdeen used for Mr Trump’s financial statement was prepared for purposes of providing information to Forbes magazine in a quote.” Further, the valuation involved selling 2,500 houses, even though none of the houses actually existed. By the way, the company had planning permission for only half that number.

In the year since Trump left office, few weeks have been this dramatic for the potential damage that will upend his dream of returning to power. In Georgia, a judge approved a local prosecutor’s creation of a special grand jury to assist in collecting testimony for a criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump for interference in the 2020 election. Remember, there is an audio recording of his call to the Secretary of State asking him to “find”  enough votes for Trump to win Georgia.

In the USA, state legislatures use a specially selected group to act as “Electors” whose job is to certify the election results for the Electoral College. In practice, this is a fair process. However, in three states,  Republicans with legal advice from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani organized sham elector groups and actually sent their own results to Washington. The National Archives which manages this function quickly realized they were fakes. Now, the question is will the people who signed these documents be prosecuted for fraud. 

It seems obvious that the House Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is deliberately releasing or leaking information to keep the pressure on Trump. That approach may nullify his ability to dodge negatives unlike in the Mueller probe, where deniability and obfuscation worked wonders to influence his first failed impeachment proceeding

There are 81 Republican lawyers in Congress who list “lawyer” as their profession. Remarkably few have raised questions related to any of what has gone on for the past five years with Trump, so scared are they of the core Republican voters. A Republican pundit this week suggested that the only people claiming to be Republicans today are diehards for Trump, intimating that there are many more Republicans who will not vote for Trump. Some of this was visible in the states with close down-ballot races where Republicans seeking local office won, outpolling Trump. 

Why did Trump fight all the way to the Supreme Court over his claim of executive privilege? Perhaps because there was one document especially difficult to explain. Neither signed nor issued, was an executive order draft  that would have appointed a special counsel to probe the 2020 election  among several options to thwart Biden’s victory. Additionally, there is a draft of a speech Trump  could have given. These offer dramatic perspectives on different opinions among White House advisers  and friends during his final two weeks as Commander In Chief.

While authorship is uncited, the draft executive order is dated December 16, 2020, and is consistent with proposals that lawyer Sidney Powell made to the then-president. The order empowers the defense secretary to “seize, collect, retain and analyze all machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records required for retention under” a US law that relates to preservation of election records. It also cites a lawsuit filed in 2017 against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The website Axios has generally reliable sources and reported that in a December meeting, Powell urged Trump to take these actions as well as appoint her as a special counsel to investigate the election. Yet a meeting described in documents turned over to the House Committee raises issues around security for top secret documents.

On December 18, 2020, Powell, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump administration lawyer Emily Newman, and former CEO Patrick Byrne met with Trump in the Oval Office. Describing presidential authorities to permit the steps that Trump needed to take included reference to Executive Order 12333, an order governing the intelligence community. Additionally the draft executive order also cites two classified documents: National Security Presidential Memoranda 13 and 21. The logical source for that is most logically former General Michael Flynn, who had run an intelligence agency. The news website Politico reported that anyone who knew  about the existence of Memorandum 21 probably had access to information about sensitive government secrets.

“This draft order represents not only an abuse of emergency powers, but a total misunderstanding of them,” said Liza Goitein, co-director of the liberty and national security program at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice. She scoffed at what was drafted: 

 “The order doesn’t even make the basic finding of an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat’ that would be necessary to trigger any action under [federal emergency powers law]. It’s the legal equivalent of a kid scrawling on the wall with crayons.”

It had been reported that Pat Cipollone, the Whole House chief counsel, had fought with Trump in the final weeks over several things. The presumption is that he and other more rational lawyers talked Trump out of signing this particular executive order. But because drafts of everything are required by law to be saved, there it was.

We end on a high note, which is to say the filing by prosecutor Letita James  includes Trump’s penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York. The New York investigators found that in 2015 the three story  complex was valued at $327 million based on 2,800 square meters. The problem is the penthouse is apparently just 1,022 square meters, which would be worth $117 million. So Trump’s financial statement discovered by prosecutors is overstated by $210 million dollars. 

The Big Lie is clearly a total aspect of Trump’s behaviour and insecurity. 


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