President Donald Trump on Tuesday touted yet another false claim about the election as he reportedly has rattled close White House advisors by talking with conspiracy-minded allies who have fueled his fantasies of undoing Joe Biden‘s victory.
They have floated suggestions including having Trump declare martial law and rerunning the election in states where he narrowly lost; trying to get congressional Republicans to void Biden’s win during a session next month; and seizing voting machines.
Leading the charge has been lawyer Sidney Powell, whom Trump fired as an election attorney last month, and Powell’s client Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor whom Trump recently pardoned for lying to FBI agents.
“People out there talk about martial law like it’s something that we’ve never done,” Flynn told the conservative news outlet Newsmax last week.
“Martial law has been instituted 64 times,” said Flynn,a retired Army lieutenant general.
Powell, who was fired from the campaign-reelection challenge team last month because her theories about voting machines being used to swing the election to Biden apparently were too extreme even for other Trump lawyers, has visited the White House three times since Friday.
Trump reportedly has mulled the idea of appointing her as special counsel to investigate purported election fraud. Powell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another person who has pushed Trump to ignore the more-moderate suggestions made by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other advisors is Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com.
Byrne’s admitted affair with Russian asset Maria Butina while giving the FBI information about her plays a key role in his conspiracy-minded worldview.
Byrne has said he was at a long, sometimes contentious meeting with Trump, Powell, Flynn and Trump advisors on Friday, when they discussed the election-challenge strategy.
NBC News has reported that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Cipollone ended the meeting because it was headed in an alarming direction.
“My involvement is I was in the room when it happened,” Byrne wrote in a tweet.
“The raised voices included my own. I can promise you: President Trump is being terribly served by his advisers. They want him to lose and are lying to him. He is surrounding by mendacious mediocrities.”
Byrne later wrote, referring to Powell and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, “For the first time in my life I feel sorry for Donald Trump. He is standing up to his waist in snakes. Trust Rudy and Sidney only.”
The president’s discussions with Powell and the others were quickly leaked to The New York Times and other media outlets, underscoring their reports that Trump’s own White House advisors are worried about the tenor of those talks.
The Times reported Saturday that Trump at the meeting had asked about Flynn’s suggestion of imposing martial law.
Trump in a tweet Monday called that report “Fake News.”
One of the Trump campaign’s other lawyers, Jenna Ellis, early Tuesday tweeted, “To everyone balking at not using the Insurrection Act (which does not apply in this context), consider that President Trump himself tweeted that it’s fake news he is even considering it.”
“He is also a constitutionalist. We do not undermine the rule of law,” Ellis wrote in her tweet, which referred to the suggestions by some of Trump’s supporters that martial law be invoked by the president.
But Ellis’ tweet, and similar ones by her around the same time, were met by criticism by Trump backers who called for more extreme measures to undo Biden’s win beyond lawsuits and having state legislatures effectively hand the election to Trump, which they have refused to do.
“That’s our problem. While we are worrying about following the ‘rules’, Dems are breaking all of them, making up new ones, and getting away with all of it!,” one person wrote in reply to Ellis.
Trump has echoed that frustration, lashing out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after the Kentucky Republican acknowledged Biden had defeated Trump. McConnell also tried to dissuade other lawmakers from embarking on a almost-certainly doomed effort to have Congress nullify the election.
Trump’s personal assistant on Monday night emailed Republicans in Congress a slide that credited McConnell’s own election victory to a Trump tweet and robocall recording by the president.
“Sadly, Mitch forgot. He was the first one off the ship!” the slide said.
All the while, the president has kept up a steady pace of Twitter posts that underscore his refusal to accept that Biden has won and his baseless claim that he lost the election as a result of widespread voting fraud.
“THE DEMOCRATS DUMPED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF BALLOTS IN THE SWING STATES LATE IN THE EVENING,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
“IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION!!!”
Twitter promptly labelled Trump’s tweet with the message: “This claim about election fraud is disputed.” The social media site has repeatedly slapped that label on Trump’s tweets in recent weeks.
Trump’s ranting on Twitter about the election — and lack of messages about the spiraling coronavirus death toll — has led a number of observers to compare the president to King Lear, the Shakespeare character who madly rages over his perceived betrayal.
Trump and his allies have lost or withdrawn all of the dozens of lawsuits that sought to undo or undercut Biden’s victory, as the Electoral College confirmed Biden’s win last week, and as a number of Republican members of Congress have accepted that Trump lost.
Particularly painful for the president was Attorney General William Barr telling the Associated Press that the Justice Department, which Barr oversees, had seen no evidence of widespread ballot fraud that would lead to Biden’s victory being undone.
While Trump cannot control how judges rule, even judges that he appointed, he is Barr’s boss, and the Justice Department is part of the executive branch of government.
Barr’s pointed refusal to endorse Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election was soon followed by the attorney general’s resignation, which takes effect Wednesday.
The losses in court and of Barr as an ally willing to do the president’s bidding have left Trump with little more than Hail Mary scenarios of the kind promoted by Powell, Flynn and Byrne.
CNBC asked White House spokesman Judd Deere asked about the advice Trump was getting from that trio, whether the president was contemplating declaring martial law as Flynn has suggested, and what Trump believes Congress should do on Jan. 6. That is the date on which Congress is scheduled to affirm the Electoral College results.
Deere declined to comment.
But on Monday, Trump met at the White House with Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and around a dozen other House GOP members whom Brooks said were willing to challenge the Electoral College results.
“President Trump is very supportive of our effort,” Brooks told the Associated Press.