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That Crazy Trump White House Night

Even Rudy Giuliani got dragged into the late-night fray (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

A conservative friend who was not a Never Trumper sent me this Axios story, about a wild and crazy night (December 18, 2020) in the White House, and said:

I don’t know how you read this and are not glad, at some level, no matter your politics, that Trump lost.

It’s really true.  This is a very detailed account of a surprise meeting in the White House one night between the president and Sidney Powell, Gen. Mike Flynn, a minor former Trump staffer named Emily Newman, and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne (who tells much the same story on his blog). As Axios reports, the four bluffed their way into the White House — think about that for a second — and then bluffed their way into the Oval Office, where they told the president that his staff was selling him out, and that they had a secret plan to keep him in office. Excerpts:

The hours to come would pit the insurgent conspiracists against a handful of White House lawyers and advisers determined to keep the president from giving in to temptation to invoke emergency national security powers, seize voting machines and disable the primary levers of American democracy.

More:

She proposed declaring a national security emergency, grantingher and her cabal top-secret security clearances and using the U.S. government to seize Dominion’s voting machines.

“Hold on a minute, Sidney,” [White House senior adviser Eric] Herschmann interrupted from the back of the Oval. “You’re part of the Rudy team, right? Is your theory that the Democrats got together and changed the rules, or is it that there was foreign interference in our election?”

Giuliani’s legal efforts, while replete with debunked claims about voter fraud, had largely focused on allegations of misconduct by corrupt Democrats and election officials.

“It’s foreign interference,” Powell insisted, then added: “Rudy hasn’t understood what this case is about until just now.”

In disbelief, Herschmann yelled out to an aide in the outer Oval Office. “Get Pat down here immediately!” Several minutes later, White House counsel Pat Cipollone walked into the Oval. He looked at Byrne and said, “Who are you?”

The meeting was already getting heated.

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.

But Powell, fixing on Trump, continued to elaborate on a fantastical election narrative involving Venezuela, Iran, China and others. She named a county in Georgia where she claimed she could prove that Dominion had illegally flipped the vote.

Herschmann interrupted to point out that Trump had actually won the Georgia county in question: “So your theory is that Dominion intentionally flipped the votes so we could win that county?”

As for Powell’s larger claims, he demanded she provide evidence for what — if true — would amount to the greatest national security breach in American history. They needed to dial in one of the campaign’s lawyers, Herschmann said, and Trump campaign lawyer Matt Morgan was patched in via speakerphone.

By now, people were yelling and cursing.

And it was just getting started! More:

At one point, with Flynn shouting, Byrne raised his hand to talk. He stood up and turned around to face Herschmann. “You’re a quitter,” he said. “You’ve been interfering with everything. You’ve been cutting us off.”

“Do you even know who the fuck I am, you idiot?” Herschmann snapped back.

“Yeah, you’re Patrick Cipollone,” Byrne said.

“Wrong! Wrong, you idiot!”

Read it all. It goes on and on. These people … there are no words. This actually happened in the inner sanctum at the pinnacle of the United States government.

(And before you say, “Fake news!”, you should know that the level of detail in the piece, and all the names attached to it, means that Axios has a recording of that meeting. Someone there must have turned on his smartphone, got it all down, and played it for the Axios reporter. If they published that without proof, attributing quotes to people, they would be hit with a libel suit.)

It was a classic case of Trump doing that thing Trump does, in which he winds everybody up around him, and watches the chaos play out. Reading the Axios piece brought to mind something a DC friend told me in 2017, a couple of months after the Inauguration. He said he had been into the Oval Office for some reason connected with his job (he was not on the White House staff), and saw total chaos. He said Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, and other senior staffers were swirling around Trump, trying to get his attention, while eyeballing each other, afraid of being stabbed in the back. Meanwhile, the new President of the United States was sitting in the eye of the storm, with a remote control in his hand, watching cable news. My friend, who was a Trump supporter, was shocked. That was two months in.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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