There it was. He admitted it, live on TV.
“President Trump wanted to get to the truth. He desperately wanted to get to what happened in the 2020 cycle,” Trump’s attorney John Lauro said on Newsmax on Thursday evening. So, he said, “at the end he asked Mr. Pence to pause the voting” — that is, counting the submitted electors on Jan. 6, 2021 — “for 10 days, allow the state legislatures to weigh in and then they could make a determination to audit or reaudit or recertify.”
Boom. There’s Lauro, copping (as he also did on Fox News) to Trump’s efforts to obstruct the finalization of his 2020 loss. Special counsel Jack Smith’s case, handed to him on a silver platter.
Except, not really. The impulse to identify that one moment that would lead to the capitulation of Donald Trump is by now eight years old and has spawned a healthy, still-viable economy. Over and over, there’s been the one thing, the one detail that was sure to spell doom for Trump — and then didn’t.
This example, though, is particularly odd, for two central reasons.
The first is that, as above, Trump had already said the same thing, more than once.
As Jan. 6 approached, Trump and his allies were hyperactively trying to line up legislators who would use the objection mechanism built into the electoral-vote-counting process in hopes that they’d be able to secure enough support to actually derail Joe Biden’s victory. On the House side, that was trivial; scores signed up to do so in short order. On the Senate side, though, it was trickier. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reportedly hammering his caucus not to do so, obviously recognizing Trump’s intent (and having a more hostile relationship with Trump than his House counterpart).
End of carousel
But the Senate has its own House-esque members, so first Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and then Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) announced plans to oppose the counting of electoral votes. Hawley’s announcement was standalone. Cruz’s looped in a number of his colleagues, including some who hadn’t yet taken their seats. At the centerpiece of Cruz’s plan? A 10-day pause beginning on Jan. 6 so that the claims of fraud could be adjudicated.
(It is always useful to note that Cruz didn’t point to demonstrable fraud as a trigger for this purported need but, instead, to the “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud.” Emphasis added.)
Trump celebrated Hawley’s defection from McConnell and then Cruz’s. He retweeted commentary about Cruz’s plan four times on Jan. 2 and 3. This idea of a pause had entered the public conversation.
In paragraph 93 of the Trump indictment made public this week, Smith describes a Jan. 4 meeting in which Trump and his attorney John Eastman “asked the Vice President to either unilaterally reject the legitimate electors from the seven targeted states, or send the question of which slate was legitimate to the targeted states’ legislatures.” This was purportedly the detail that Lauro had corroborated.
Trump’s request that Pence initiate the pause was different than Cruz’s, which would have required a vote of Congress, something that wouldn’t happen. But, again, Trump didn’t only apply this pressure in private.
On the morning of Jan. 6, as former Capitol riot House select committee litigator Eric Columbus noted Thursday evening, Trump tweeted exactly that.
States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2021
This doesn’t mention the 10 days, specifically, but that isn’t the important part anyway. What’s important, theoretically, is the call for a delay.
Trump said something similar in his speech at the Ellipse that day — more than once.
“The Republicans have to get tougher. You’re not going to have a Republican Party if you don’t get tougher,” Trump said at one point, clearly referring at least in part to Pence. “They want to play so straight. They want to play so, sir, yes, the United States. The Constitution doesn’t allow me to send them back to the States.”
“Well, I say, yes it does, because the Constitution says you have to protect our country and you have to protect our Constitution, and you can’t vote on fraud,” he continued. “And fraud breaks up everything, doesn’t it? When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do.”
That last bit is quoted in Smith’s indictment, as is Trump’s false assertion that the state of Pennsylvania “want[s] to recertify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back.” In other words, Smith does not need Lauro’s cable-news pronouncement, he has Trump’s own words — which he’s already included in the indictment.
This is the other odd thing about this re-eruption of smoking-gun-seeking. The third indictment against Trump is unique in part because it addresses events that Americans saw unfold in real time. This wasn’t the FBI suddenly showing up at Mar-a-Lago and people scrambling to figure out what happened. It was a path toward accountability for actions in which Trump was very obviously involved. For years, Trump critics had been trying to do what they saw the legal system as incapable of doing: proving that Trump had behaved in a way that demanded a response. So Lauro makes his comment and that tendency kicks back in.
But it kicked in after Smith had already outlined 45 pages of criminal charges and supporting evidence. The crowdsourced conviction contingent’s work was already done for it. The desired accountability already sits on the horizon. Smith doesn’t need Lauro’s comment; it’s already in the document.
This doesn’t mean Trump will be convicted. It doesn’t mean that Smith will not somehow use Lauro’s comment in some way. But it does mean that Trump opponents can probably feel comfortable assuming that any eventual accountability does not depend on how they’re parsing something they saw on TV.