Overt acts, covert calls, 7 and a half hours of sloppiness
Trump's January 6th activities record offers an enigmatic view of a dark day
“Be there, will be wild!” tweeted Donald Trump on December 19, 2020. On January 6th, was going to “stop the steal,” though every lawyer who filed case after case in court after court alleging the election was stolen reaped nothing but shame and embarrassment. Trump’s last throw of the dice was to use impossible legal shenanigans to somehow throw the election into complete disarray. On that dark day, Trump spun up the crowd—something he relishes—then settled in front of his TV, and waited for chaos to bloom.
For nearly 500 long minutes, the presidential call log, an official document maintained under the Presidential Records Act, contains no calls to or from Trump, despite the fact that evidence shows such calls were made or received. The Guardian tracked down a call to Sen. Mike Lee, who was on the floor of the Senate while the assault on the Capitol boiled outside, as coming from the official White House switchboard.
Trump called Lee at 2.26pm on January 6 through the official 202-395-0000 White House number, according to call detail records reviewed by the Guardian and confirmation by the two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
The call was notable as Trump mistakenly dialed Lee thinking it was the number for Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville. Lee passed the phone to Tuberville, who told Trump Mike Pence had just been removed from the Senate chamber as rioters stormed the Capitol.
The call was neither logged in the official call log nor in the daily diary, which is a more subjective record of events. If the call logs were tampered with, it would in itself be a serious crime, since those records are kept by White House Communication Agency staff and must not be altered. The diary, on the other hand, is a product of the president’s own senior aides, and generally can include, or exclude, what staffers choose.
More importantly, if Trump was found to have used “burner phones”—untraceable prepaid cell phones not tied to an anyone’s account—that would be powerful evidence of an overt act in planning and execution of what could only be termed an autogolpe, a coup to remain in power, extralegally.
However, CNN and other media are now reporting that the congressional January 6th committee has completed an official review of the logs and determined that the record is complete.
The six pages of White House switchboard logs for January 6, 2021, are complete based on an official review of White House records, according to a source familiar with the matter. There are no missing pages and the seven-hour gap is likely explained by use of White House landlines, White House cell phones and personal cell phones that do not go through the switchboard.
The Washington Post referred to the possibility that calls were simply missed in the diary that occurred in the log, or vice versa, recorded in the diary but not in the phone log, as “the beginning of 7½ hours of sloppiness.” Trump’s staff always had a challenge in keeping up with his habit of throwing away things that should be kept. He also had a habit in the Oval Office of not using the official switchboard. He used his cell phone, or had aides place calls on their phones for him. According to the committee, this habit was reflected in the official log gap.
Of course, Trump’s staff may have been distracted, which would be an understatement. The White House’s antiquated switchboard equipment might also help explain the gap. Many calls to and from the president don’t get logged unless an aide keeps notes. On January 6th, it’s likely aides were not too keen to keep notes.
The search for a smoking gun of overt acts will continue to yield a lot of wet powder, enigmas, and evidence that could point either to guilt, incompetence, or simple ennui with the norms of how a president and the executive office staff should behave.
It seems everyone looks at things through Trump-colored glasses. Those who are pro-Trump believe the election was stolen no matter what evidence exists that it wasn’t, therefore Trump was protecting the integrity of the nation in their minds. That’s a pretty dangerous pivot because it’s almost an act of faith. Those who are anti-Trump will find a smoking gun everywhere, and fail to acknowledge five or more years of unrelenting attempts to destroy Trump and everyone who aligns with him. To them, these efforts were necessary and the ends justify the means, even when the means are lying, censoring, covering up, and inventing stories out of whole cloth.
The truth lies between, somewhere in the miasma of lies, uncertainty, narcissism, mistrust, and hate on both sides. But mostly, the truth is in the banal actions of people acting in their own interests, and some acting to preserve things bigger than themselves, for good and for ill.
Ginni’s texts and Thomas’s actions
National Review’s Andrew McCarthy called what’s happening with Justice Clarence Thomas a “smearing.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I do believe McCarthy’s points are worth consideration. This paragraph in particular:
The statute that governs judicial disqualification, Section 455 (of Title 28, U.S. Code), extensively addresses recusal on the basis of a spouse’s potential connection to matters in litigation. Essentially, the triggers involve financial or legal stakes in the matter, or some connection to the matter as an attorney. Ginni Thomas’s conservative political activism — up to and including the text messages to Mark Meadows about the 2020 election — does not activate those triggers. If it did, many judges appointed by Democrats would have been disqualified from cases over which they’ve presided despite the political and legal activism of their spouses.
Ginni Thomas’s texts to Mark Meadows fall far short of the kind of actions which trigger recusal. I’m willing to entertain the thought that her political opinions and bent toward MAGA might have attempted, or even asserted, some influence over Thomas. But it’s just as likely that in some things, he simply agreed with her on his own. The fact that he’s being attacked for expressing his legal opinion, which is his job, because others disagree with him, is troubling, as a trend.
Rich Lowry added today, that “Ginni Thomas didn’t have any more or any less interest in election-related litigation than any other Republican who believed Trump’s claims of fraud, and there were countless millions of them.”
This is true. Millions of people believe that there’s some truth to Trump’s claims. Republican state legislatures have crafted laws to prevent the very things that Trump claims happened. Many Republicans are running on these specific issues. Democrats claim that anything Republicans do regarding voting is in service to a racist, anti-democratic (small “d”) agenda. It’s also true that preventing fraud where fraud is unlikely is a waste of resources. There’s quite a bit of what Bartow County, Georgia election supervisor Joseph Kirk called “security theater” going on.
“Having security procedures in a secured authorized-access only room is security theater," Kirk said. “That’s what slows down your resources that we need to dedicate to other things that really matter.”
In the same vein, forcing a Supreme Court Justice to recuse himself because of his wife’s opinions and private texts is theater. If Thomas’s colleagues on the court believed he was unduly influenced or acting in the service of some conspiracy, they’d do something about it. I don’t agree with my friend David Thornton’s conclusion that Thomas has damaged the credibility of the court. We have to trust someone, and when we’ve knocked out the last pillars of trust from the last institution we need to trust, boiling everything down to Trump-colored glasses, we will find ourselves very much blind and lost.
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