On Wednesday, January 19, by a vote of 8 to 1, the Supreme Court refused to block the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from releasing documents produced by the Trump White House to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Last night, NARA handed over hundreds of pages of documents to the committee. Today, Betsy Woodruff Swan at Politico published one of them.
It was an unsigned executive order dated December 16, 2020, just two days after the false Trump electors in seven states executed documents falsely saying Trump had won the election in their states. The executive order charges that there is “evidence of international and foreign interference in the November 3, 2020, election.” It went on to echo the lies that the campaign peddled after Trump’s loss.
Those complaints were used to justify using the National Guard to seize the nation’s election machines (ironically, the most intrusive possible federal interference in state elections from the leader of a party that just killed a voting rights bill on the alleged grounds it was federal overreach).
The order told the secretary of defense to “seize, collect, retain and analyze all machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records” from the election. It gave the defense secretary power to call up the National Guard to support him and told the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security to provide support from the Department of Homeland Security.
The secretary of defense had 60 days to provide an assessment to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, suggesting that the process would continue after Inauguration Day.
The executive order also provided for “[t]he appointment of a Special Counsel to oversee this operation and institute all criminal and civil proceedings as appropriate based on the evidence collected and provided all resources necessary to carry out her duties consistent with federal laws and the Constitution.”
Aside from the eye-popping content, the executive order gives us some hints of who was behind it.
The document cites two National Security Presidential Memoranda—numbers 13 and 21—to justify the emergency powers Trump planned to assume. That citation revealed that this was no run-of-the-mill bananas proposition: the existence of Memorandum 21 was not publicly known. Its inclusion in this document suggests the author had access to sensitive government secrets. Tonight, Hugo Lowell of The Guardian noted that the National Security Council would not say anything about what National Security Presidential Memo 21 authorizes.
The proposed special counsel was likely Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who was lobbying to become a special counsel at the time this executive order was drafted. Indeed, she may have had a hand in drafting it, although lawyer Rick Petree noted that the important role of the secretary of defense suggests that Trump loyalist Kash Patel might have been involved as well. After he lost the election, Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, making Patel Miller’s chief of staff where he exercised unusual authority.
Washington reporter for Reuters Brad Heath noted that people close to Sidney Powell said Trump authorized this executive order before his staff talked him out of it.
Tonight, Trump lawyer Boris Epshteyn, who was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee on January 18 along with Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, told MSNBC’s Ari Melber that he and “the Trump legal team” were part of the plan to create the false electors. While he claimed that what they did was legal, he pushed responsibility for the plan onto Giuliani as the one in charge.
And today the election threats task force in the Department of Justice launched its first case against a man accused of threatening lawmakers. Today, the FBI arrested 54-year-old Chad Christopher Stark of Leander, Texas, who posted a message on Craigslist on January 5, 2021, offering $10,000 to kill Georgia lawmakers. He wrote: “Georgia Patriots it’s time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors.” “[I]t’s time to put a bullet” into certain officials, because “[i]t’s our duty as American Patriots to put an end to the lives of these traitors and take back our country by force we can no longer wait on the corrupt law enforcement in the corrupt courts.” In language that echoes that of genocidal movements, he wrote: “If we want our country back we have to exterminate these people.”
He concluded: “Remember one thing local law enforcement… we will find you oathbreakers and we’re going to pay your family to visit your mom your dad your brothers and sisters your children your wife… we’re going to make examples of traitors to our country… death to you and your communist friends.”
The story of January 6 came perilously close to a different ending.
By Heather Cox Richardson