While Donald Trump was publicly whipping his supporters into a frenzy over claims the 2020 election was “stolen,” he was privately mocking his own allies’ outlandish conspiracy theories as “crazy.”
It’s a contradiction that Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office would like to know all about.
According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, federal investigators have questioned multiple witnesses, including in recent months, about Trump privately suggesting, starting in Nov. 2020, that certain conspiracy theories and “evidence” were nonsensical.
Among these witness accounts are moments of the then-president repeatedly calling Sidney Powell, one of the MAGA lawyers and diehard Trumpists aiding his effort to stop the transfer of power, “crazy,” and dismissing many of her election fraud arguments as patently absurd.
This included Powell’s assertions that several foreign nations had secretly helped rig the 2020 election in favor of Biden, manipulating Dominion voting technology in what would amount to one of the greatest international scandals in modern history. None of this was true, and even Trump — according to these witness accounts, and other sources who relayed similar experiences to Rolling Stone — initially sneered at the ridiculousness of it all.
However, that did not stop President Trump from publicly continuing to entertain and encourage Powell’s propaganda for weeks. This led to a now-infamous Dec. 18, 2020, gathering at the White House, when Powell, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and others used these conspiracy theories to try to convince Trump to essentially declare martial law and federally impound voting equipment, so that he could remain in power. (That White House meeting is itself part of a series of gatherings that the special counsel has been probing.)
The special counsel’s continuing interest in incidents where Trump either seemed to know — or was told by his own aides — that his election conspiracy theories were baseless suggests that prosecutors are likely preparing to demonstrate that Trump’s attempts to overturn the election weren’t the result of a reasonable or good faith belief in conspiracy theories but instead willful disregard of the facts. Demonstrating that Trump knew he was misleading the public could be a crucial evidentiary hurdle in any attempt to prove Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The special counsel’s office declined to comment. In response to a request for comment, Trump’s spokesman Steven Cheung replies: “President Trump has been consistent and never wavered in his fight to right the wrong of the rigged and stolen 2020 election. His actions, under advice of many attorneys, were in furtherance of his duties as Commander in Chief and upholding of our Constitution.”
The Powell- and Flynn-led crew supplied the Trump administration with documents they claimed corroborated their ludicrous conclusions, which implicated the Democratic Party, the Iranian government, China, and other actors. It is unclear if Smith’s team have reviewed these papers. However, one source — who retained these documents and describes themself as a “likely witness” for the special counsel — tells Rolling Stone that they are prepared to provide them to Smiths’ office, if investigators don’t already have them.
Press reports of Trump dubbing Powell “crazy” behind her back first began trickling out, including at Axios, at the tail end of his term in office. Sources close to Trump and who worked for him during the tumultuous presidential transition tell Rolling Stone that it is often difficult for them to determine for certain, as one former senior White House official puts it, “what [Trump] believes and what he, you know, wink-wink ‘believes.’” Several of these sources are convinced that though Trump apparently had moments following the 2020 election when he privately admitted he lost, it ultimately did not matter to whether or not he “believed” it. Whatever mild reservations he had, he was likely able to convince himself — largely due to his immense ego — into believing that only a massive fraud conspiracy could have kept him from returning to the Oval Office.
However, that is a distinction that, to federal prosecutors at least, may not make that much of a difference.
Trump’s awareness of the truth about the 2020 election has been a repeated area of interest for the special counsel’s office.
For instance, the office has also grilled certain witnesses — including Trump’s son-in-law and former top aide Jared Kushner — on whether the then-president privately acknowledged in the days after the 2020 election that he had indeed legitimately lost to Biden.
The special counsel’s office has also asked witnesses about the White House’s reaction to a July 2020 risk assessment of mail-in voting issued by CISA, the top U.S. cybersecurity agency, a source familiar with the matter tells Rolling Stone.
The assessment found that while all forms of voting carry security risks, the “risks to mail-in voting can be managed.”
Under questioning from the January 6 Committee in 2021, former CISA director Chris Krebs testified that the White House had told his staff that they were unhappy that the office had issued that guidance. According to Krebs, Trump administration staffers pushed back on the assessment, asking “why are we providing guidance on whether a form of voting that the President has said is insecure” and “why are we saying that there are security controls for it?”
As CNN first reported, prosecutors have also asked witnesses about a February 2020 White House meeting where staff briefed Trump on efforts to improve the security of paper ballots and election systems. After the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, Democratic voters favored mail-in voting more than Republicans and Trump attempted to crack down on the practice, citing baseless conspiracy theories about the security of the practice. But prosecutors were reportedly interested in Trump’s comments during the pre-pandemic February 2020 meeting in which he encouraged aides to publicly tout the security of mail-in ballots and election systems.
Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/donald-trump-jack-smith-election-lies-rudy-giuliani-1234796815/