Axios has recently published an extensive series of stories going behind the scenes of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat.
Today it has put up a “bonus episode”, featuring new details of a particularly wild meeting between Trump, his advisers and election conspiracy theorists in the Oval Office on December 18.
We already knew about this meeting, but not in the sort of blow-by-blow detail provided by Axios’ report.
It happened four days after the electoral college had certified Joe Biden’s victory. Most of Trump’s court challenges had already been dismissed. The only event of any significance left on the calendar was the joint sitting of Congress on January 6, when the electoral votes would be formally counted – and we all know what happened on that day.
A group of conspiracy theorists still believed Trump could overturn the election result, and went to meet him at the White House. Their highest profile member was lawyer Sidney Powell, who had been spreading nonsense about voting machines switching ballots to steal the election from the then-President. Dominion Voting Systems is now suing her for defamation, seeking more than $1 billion in damages.
Powell was joined by retired US Army General Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s first national security adviser before he was fired and then convicted for lying to the FBI. Trump later pardoned him.
The group was followed into the Oval Office by White House adviser Eric Herschmann. Over the next few hours, he and other advisers, including White House lawyers, argued against Powell and her colleagues as she tried to convince Trump he could invoke a series of extraordinary emergency powers.
“Powell proposed declaring a national security emergency, granting her and her cabal top secret security clearances and using the US government to seize Dominion’s voting machines,” Axios reports.
Herschmann asked Powell to elaborate on her theory.
“Is your theory that the Democrats got together and changed the rules, or is it that there was foreign interference in our election?” he asked.
“It’s foreign interference,” she replied.
He reacted “in disbelief”, and yelled for an aide to get White House counsel Pat Cipollone in the room.
“White House staff had spent weeks poring over the evidence underlying hundreds of affidavits and other claims of fraud promoted by Trump allies like Powell. The team had done the due diligence and knew the specific details of what was being alleged better than anybody. Time and time again, they found, Powell’s allegations fell apart under basic scrutiny,” says Axios.
“But Powell, fixing on Trump, continued to elaborate on a fantastical election narrative involving Venezuela, Iran, China and others.”
Herschmann demanded Powell provide evidence to back up what she was saying. He got a lawyer from the Trump campaign, Matt Morgan, on the phone. At this point, people in the room were already “yelling and cursing”.
“Flynn went berserk,” the report says. He stood up and started “ranting”.
“You’re quitting! You’re a quitter! You’re not fighting!” he shouted at Herschmann, turning to Trump and telling him “we need fighters”.
After a fair bit of this behaviour from the retired general, Herschmann fired back at him.
“Why the f*** do you keep standing up and screaming at me?” he said.
“If you want to come over here, come over here. If not, sit your ass down.”
Flynn did, in fact, sit down.
Another confrontation soon occurred, this time between Herschmann and another member of Powell’s entourage, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
“You’re a quitter,” Byrne said, echoing Flynn.
“You’ve been interfering with everything. You’ve been cutting us off.”
“Do you even know who the f*** I am, you idiot?” Herschmann asked.
“Yeah, you’re Patrick Cipollone,” said Byrne.
“Wrong! Wrong, you idiot!” yelled Herschmann.
The next blow-up happened when Powell told the President her court cases had only failed because every judge was corrupt.
“That’s your argument? Even the judges we appointed? Are you out of your f***ing mind?” Herschmann responded.
The Oval Office meeting continued in this chaotic fashion for more than three hours. Afterwards, the group followed Trump to his White House residence, where they were joined by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. That part of the meeting went past midnight.
By the end of it, having argued that Powell’s claims were nonsense and her proposed solutions impossible, Trump’s advisers were bracing for the possibility that he would actually appoint her as a special counsel investigating election fraud.
“You have our advice. You decide who to listen to,” they told the President as they left.
In the end – to their relief, no doubt – there was no special counsel appointment.
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