The timelines always help. On Saturday 30 January, CNN reported that Trump and his first legal team had parted ways, a bare 10 days before his impeachment trial was to start in the Senate. (The report was originally posted on 30 January; the dateline is as of the latest revision, which was on the 31st). Reportedly, Trump was dissatisfied that the team leaders didn’t want to focus on the allegations of fraud about the 2020 election. Their preferred basis for defense was the constitutionality (or unconstitutionality) of the proceeding,
The next day, 31 January, Trump announced the new leaders of his legal team: David Schoen and Bruce Castor, Jr. Discussion at the time, and a Fox News interview on Friday night (5 February), have indicated that the team will bring up the electoral irregularities and fraud allegations in the Senate.
A week’s work
On Monday, 1 February, lawyers for New York congressional candidate Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat, filed a motion in the New York District 22 election case, where Claudia Tenney, the Republican, declared victory this week, by a margin that has narrowed down to 109 votes. (Tenney filed the original complaint against the county board of elections.)
Marc Elias of Perkins Coie, long a fixture on the election litigation circuit, is the lead on the effort for Brindisi, a respondent in the case. And his argument, laid out in the motion, is that Dominion Voting Systems machines malperformed and “undercounted” votes for Mr. Brindisi. To be clear: the motion states that the machines produced an erroneous vote tally. Brindisi is not blaming a vote-count error on human activity, but on the performance of the machines, which his team alleges to have been out of calibration.
This has naturally caused eyebrow-raising among Trump supporters, who have spent months trying to get a court to acknowledge their complaint that Dominion machines may have produced vote-count errors. The Trump supporters have been called nutty conspiracy theorists for their pains. Like the Trump supporters, Elias argues in the Brindisi filing that the machines systematically undercounted votes for his client. He argues that the probable undercount, when the district-wide tally is verified, will significantly exceed the current 109-vote margin for Ms. Tenney.
Before moving on, we must note one thing. Elias’s brief carefully avoids proposing that the Dominion machines be challenged. Just take a moment to ponder that. Brindisi is asking for a recount, but he’s only asking for a hand recount of ballots. If no light bulb is coming on, we’ll be discussing it more below.
On Thursday, 4 February, TIME published an article by Molly Ball entitled “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.” It’s a slick piece of propaganda, laden with the memes-n-themes of the groups Ball fully acknowledges to be a “cabal”: the ones that fought Trump tooth and nail in 2020 and did everything in their power to run the election on their terms, and no one else’s.
Their terms, and no one else’s. Here, for example, is how Ball characterizes “what Trump did” about the 2020 election:
Trump and his allies were running their own campaign to spoil the election. The President spent months insisting that mail ballots were a Democratic plot and the election would be “rigged.” His henchmen at the state level sought to block their use, while his lawyers brought dozens of spurious suits to make it more difficult to vote — an intensification of the GOP’s legacy of suppressive tactics. Before the election, Trump plotted to block a legitimate vote count. And he spent the months following Nov. 3 trying to steal the election he’d lost — with lawsuits and conspiracy theories, pressure on state and local officials, and finally summoning his army of supporters to the Jan. 6 rally that ended in deadly violence at the Capitol.
Pure, 200-proof bias. The whole article is soggy with it. But what the article does — arrestingly, and at such a time as this — is admit that there was a “shadow campaign” — a conspiracy — a cabal — engaged to … well, not rig the election, oh no, but … fortify it.
Of course, the actual methods used would be called “rigging the election” in any other context. This paragraph has probably become the most famous at this point:
[T]he participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream — a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.
We could spend the next 10 years talking back to the dementedly biased premises lurking behind every adjective and trigger-noun in the Ball article. But we’re not going to, because they’re not what’s most important. We can do that some other time. (OK, fine, we can pause briefly to observe that voting in our democracy is one lousy, high-cost, low-payoff fragile commitment, if the only way to bring it off successfully is to have a well-funded, powerful cabal influence perceptions, change rules and laws on the fly, steer media coverage, and control the flow of information lest people think for themselves. What kind of con game is that? Meanwhile, for those who want to investigate a juicy takedown, see here.)
What’s important about the Ball piece is what everyone is talking about: its confession that, yes, political activists, Big Tech types, the Chamber of Commerce, the labor union leadership, Never-Trump Republicans, deep-pocketed donors — all joined forces in 2020 to run an election Trump couldn’t win.
Oh, the article insists that the effort wasn’t to keep Trump from winning, so let the record reflect that. Consider the point noted.
These people who were so terrified of Trump they had to bestir themselves to influence, change, steer, etc. would have been just fine with Trump winning; they went to all that trouble to fortify the fragile beast out of an antiseptic, non-partisan passion for some bizarre vision of voting that no one else has. (I, for one, assume there will always be a big load of uncorralled perceptions, unsteered media coverage, and uncontrolled information flow in attendance on the Big Vote. These are features of our system, not bugs. Fragility lies not in our electoral system, but in ourselves – and we’re not nearly as fragile as this cabal purports to think.)
But, again, let me say one more time: Ball, presumably with the blessing of the cabal, is outing the cabal and its activities in 2020.
Now why would they go and do a thing like that?
Let’s check off one more event in the timeline. On 5 February, sundance at Conservative Treehouse picked up on a relevant filing with the IRS: a complaint against True the Vote, which partnered with the GOP in Georgia after the 2020 election to “ensure a transparent, secure ballot effort for the Senate runoff elections.” The gist of the complaint is that True the Vote partnered only with the GOP, and not the Democratic Party in Georgia.
Now, this complaint was filed over a month ago, on 28 December 2020. So the complaint itself is not part of the propaganda parade unfolding in the past week.
But what’s in the complaint is some of the most hilariously disingenuous complaining I’ve seen in a document of its kind – for some time, if not ever. It’s a crystalline example of the purpose and nature of the urgent-narrative campaign being mounted against “Trump” and all things Republican and voting-integrity-ish. (The short summary is: it’s so specious, it’s asinine.)
And that’s what this week’s work boils down to.
The Senate trial starts on Monday. If Trump’s legal team is going to introduce information about how Trump’s political opponents tried to rig-fortify the election, the cabal (TIME’s word, not mine) wants to get there first, and condition your mind with the right memes-n-themes to contextualize and explain it.
Read the TIME article at your leisure. It’s all there: the endless repetition that Trump is destroying our democracy, the implication that any and all conspiracies and collusions were justified to fend off Trump’s thermonuclear assault on our fragile voting systems, the depiction of business-world colluders and Big Tech censors and deep-pocket donors as a motley pickup team of The Concerned, manning their general-quarters stations.
This is the vision the cabal (TIME’s word, not mine) wants dancing in your head as the Trump juggernaut and its “information” comes barreling at you like a steam calliope with chainsaw bayonet attachments next week.
Just take that on board mentally, and the real work here is done. You’re being played by the TIME article. Its purpose is to shape preconceptions for you, so that you can’t listen objectively, with an open mind, to what Trump’s legal team may present.
A handful of pings
I want to address just a few additional points, however. One, the most important, is this. The TIME article in particular, but probably the other efforts as well (Marc Elias’s filing in New York, and the complaint against True the Vote), is being thrown out there because the cabal knows there is damning information Trump can bring.
I imagine the cabal isn’t sure what or how much Trump has. But it knows what it did, and it knows that what it did will look bad when the American people see it.
Just pause and calmly think about that. Get past the gaslighting counter-narrative of the media and the Democrats for the last three months (which, yes, is disgusting, but get past it). The point is, there is a cabal and it knows it did bad things. We don’t know how much the cabal has confessed of what it did, or how much Trump may have to brief against it. The cabal itself doesn’t know the latter, for that matter.
But Trump’s determination to raise the issue of election tampering in the Senate trial has driven the cabal (TIME’s word, not mine) to the surface.
Another point is this. The measures referred to in the TIME article – ramrodding vote-by-mail, changing or circumventing voting rules by foul means as well as fair, suppressing speech, “steering” media coverage – are some but not all of what we saw in 2020. The TIME article is careful not to give any attention to the allegations of questionable ballot practices, the findings of large numbers of ineligible voters, the concerns that voting machine problems or the misuse of voting machine features may have produced invalid vote tallies.
But – here’s the gist of the point – the case in New York is likely to serve as an all-purpose “answer” to that second list of concerns. That’s an invalid service, but still a probable one. It’s enough reason, on its own, to bring the case in the first place, even if Brindisi’s motion doesn’t yield the electoral result it seeks.
The New York case doesn’t answer any of the broader questions, largely because it carefully avoids asking them. But it does refer to ballot-counting problems and machine counting gone awry. So the fact that it has no interest in the validity of the ballots or their voters, or in inspecting the machines themselves, can be gulped away by omission.
If a mere hand recount of ballots yields a result the parties in New York’s 22nd District agree to live with, that will be held up as the banner event dictating how all such problems must be seen and dealt with.
Anyone who has bothered to familiarize himself with the concerns brought in multiple states knows that’s a hand-wave over a real and much bigger problem. But it’s not impossible for a basic, non-forensic hand recount to be completed, and the hand to be ready to wave, before Trump’s Senate trial ends. Certainly it can be there before a case alleging potential vote fraud gets to the Supreme Court. (There are some 20-odd still extant.)
The silliest subplot
Before the final point, we’ll consider one more: the complaint against True the Vote (TTV). The complaint, forwarded to the IRS by the Campaign for Accountability, produces a pair of quotes about TTV as “evidence” that TTV has engaged in partisan activity, and should therefore lose its tax-exempt status with the IRS.
The quotes come from a letter sent by TTV’s own legal representative. The quotes cite allegations by Democrats in Georgia that TTV makes only partisan partnerships. But the attorney’s purpose is to issue the assurance that TTV is ready to partner with anyone who honestly seeks representation, and complies with and supports all state requirements for such activities. (See page 2.)
According to the Campaign for Accountability, therefore, responding to refute an allegation from a Democrat is decisive evidence that TTV has acted in a partisan manner.
To anyone who thinks this is sound logic, all I can say is, may it happen to you. May you be the target of allegations – whether true or not – that you have to have your attorney refute, and may that response alone be “evidence” against you, and alter your operating viability and your future.
The larger issue is that this is the nature of what is being tossed up like silly string and confetti around the upcoming Trump defense, to obfuscate what the defense may actually try to present and establish. It’s information warfare: trying to preempt the cognitive landscape and pre-populate it with appearances, traps, and landmines. Georgia? — the warfare campaign would say. Oh, that’s where the presumably Trump-friendly TTV was colluding with Republicans on the Senate runoff election.
The craft of information warfare is burrowed deep in what’s going on right now. Mentally, it’s very wearing; I imagine readers will all attest to that. (One of the tactics I’ve encountered just in writing this article is that Google is making a huge amount of information undiscoverable by search engine. I’ve run a number of searches in the last day that I know should have returned plenty of results, because the information has been there in the past, and have hardly gotten any. The information censorship is very real.*)
A curious omission
The final point about the TIME article starts with something that’s not in it. It’s unrealistic in the extreme to imply that the effort of the cabal just sort of came together out of an access of noble sentiment about fragile voting systems and democracy. For so much to come together in a vast, detailed, highly organized operation, between the fall of 2019 and November 2020, it had to start out with people who knew which other people to call, and for what purposes.
What’s missing is what that link was. It’s actually obvious what the link was as soon as Molly Ball cuts us the first name – Michael Podhorzer, AFL-CIO political director up until 2019 – but the link is never specified. That’s probably because the link would be Barack Obama. (His name is mentioned once in the article, in connection to Norm Eisen, “a prominent lawyer in his administration.” Eisen was a law school classmate of Obama, and served as counsel to the House impeachment team in the 2020 Senate trial of Donald Trump.)
The entities that revolved in Obama’s orbit from 2008 until today are the core elements of the cabal. That’s starting with Podhorzer, who besides being with the AFL-CIO was on the board of the data firm Catalist which got so much laudatory notice from the left-wing media after supporting Obama’s 2008 campaign, and which doubled down on its dividends in 2012.
Obama’s organization seeded the political activism elements of the cabal (including, besides the unions and the big-data firms, the Astro Turf group Indivisible, which sprang wholly formed from the brow of Organizing for America, and affiliates of Black Lives Matter, along with other organizers of the street riots in 2020 whose threads run back through the Occupy movement and ACORN).
Going further afield — beyond the first-order Obama links — some of the connections have an interestingly contemporary relevance, such as those of a second prominent name in the Ball piece, Amber McReynolds. McReynolds is the head of the National Vote at Home Institute, which is in the funding and influence circle of the usual suspects, and which rather obviously advocates for by-mail (or other remote) voting for everyone.
But McReynolds was also an election official in Denver, Colorado for a number of years, and although there are plenty of background details to review, just this one will resonate in a very particular way in 2021. In 2015, a delegation from California filed testimony with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) about a visit to Denver to observe the “Colorado Model” for assisting limited-ability voters. Amber McReynolds gave the California delegation — led by Secretary of State Alex Padilla — a brief while they were there, but it’s what she briefed that’s noteworthy. McReynolds, a public official, briefed Dominion Voting Systems’ Democracy Suite, in the version used by Denver at the time, to the visitors from the Golden State (see pp. 16-17).
This inevitably washes a particular hue over Molly Ball’s narrative: “McReynolds’ two-year-old organization [the National Vote at Home Institute] became a clearinghouse [in 2020] for a nation struggling to adapt. The institute gave secretaries of state from both parties technical advice on everything from which vendors to use to how to locate drop boxes.”
Ball continues: “The institute’s work helped 37 states and D.C. bolster mail voting.” That’s a lot of states. It’s illuminating to recall that in many of the states, the “help” was rendered to friendly local (or state) officials via the left-wing activist network in the cabal, bypassing the legislatures that are supposed to order and regulate the vote. (Ball has a couple of passages admitting that the cabal looked for ways to circumvent state voting laws. She depicts that as a righteous effort as opposed to a devious one.)
There are no doubt more connections to unearth, and researchers will probably find them in spite of Google’s search censorship. In the meantime, the cabal (TIME’s word, not mine) has done what it can to prepare your mind for the Trump defense in the Senate trial. Its excuse list is made out, at least for what it apparently thinks Trump knows about its activities. Judge for yourselves; it looks like consciousness of guilt from here. But then, I don’t buy the line that the only way we can vote safely is if a cabal denies us the free exchange of information and the opportunity to think for ourselves.
Of course, it is gratifying to understand that an important factor in the safe practice of democracy is partisan cabals bypassing the legislatures to run voting the way they want to. Anyone, after all, can play that game.
* One such search was for the numerous articles that appeared after Peter Schweizer, in 2014, filed the FEC complaint of his Government Accountability Institute against, among others, the Democratic big-data firm NGP VAN, which the GAI alleged had been involved in illegal campaign funding practices. NGP VAN was linked with a similar company, Catalist, in another FEC complaint in 2015, and Catalist is mentioned in the TIME article as a firm one of the key cabal players, Michael Podhorzer of the AFL-CIO, was connected with. Catalist and NGP VAN were both prominent in Obama’s and other Democratic campaigns.