Desperate to find some path back to victory, Trump huddled with a trio of conspiracy theorists — former national security adviser Michael Flynn, attorney Sidney Powell and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne — to consider his craziest move yet: Appointing Powell as special counsel to investigate (non-existent) voter fraud.
“‘I’m making Sidney a special counsel to the president,” Trump told his chief of staff Mark Meadows. “‘Mark, you get her the forms. … Give her the forms to onboard her.'”
It’s not clear what “forms” Trump is referring to. Or how he would appoint a special counsel outside of the Justice Department. Attorney General Bill Barr was broadly dismissive of Trump’s wild claims about election fraud — and openly disdainful of Powell. (In that same meeting, Trump suggested that he would use the rarely-invoked National Emergencies Act to seize voting machines. So, yeah.)
The whole episode is recounted in “Peril,” the new book from authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. And it depicts just how far Trump was willing to push the bounds of the government to make the outcome he wanted — a full turning-over of the election — a possibility.
Powell, who among other things had alleged a widespread communist conspiracy tied to the voting machines, never wound up being named special counsel. And amazingly, we have Rudy Giuliani to thank for that.
Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, had aggressively positioned himself as the ringleader of Trump’s merry band of conspiracy theorists. And he didn’t want to give up that prime position. So, when Trump called him to float the idea of Powell for special counsel, Giuliani raced to the White House from a dinner in Georgetown to disrupt the plan.
As Woodward and Costa write:
“Once Giuliani arrived, still putting on his tie, it was apparent there would be no harmony. Giuliani gruffly told Powell she had to start looping him into her legal work. No more surprises. She was sharp in response: You never get back to me when I do. Read your texts.
“Giuliani shook his head. Not true, he said. You’re the one keeping me in the dark!”
And that was the end of that. Powell was never named special counsel (although, again, it’s not at all clear how Trump would have even done that).
The chaos depicted in that episode is frightening. As Trump’s circle of yes-men (and -women) shrunk in the aftermath of the election, he began to not only rely on decidedly fringe voices like Powell but also considered ways to formalize her role as chief conspiracy theorist within the formal government apparatus.
That Giuliani’s ego — and his desire to be the central legal conduit for bogus election fraud claims for Trump — appears to be the only things that stood in the way shows you just how willing Trump, in his final days in office, was to shatter all norms in pursuit of a farcical election challenge.
What’s worse? Since he’s left office, Trump appears to have gone even further down the election conspiracy rabbit hole. Oh, and did I mention he is widely considered the Republican frontrunner for the 2024 presidential nomination?