‘Appalling’: Trump ponders military option
Donald Trump has denied reports that he talked about imposing martial law in some US states and forcing them to "rerun" the election during a meeting at the White House late last week.
According to these reports, Mr Trump met with lawyer Sidney Powell in the Oval Office on Friday, and discussed appointing her to be a special counsel investigating voter fraud.
Ms Powell has been parroting outlandish conspiracy theories about fraud since the election - so outlandish, in fact, that the President's legal team cut her loose last month.
That was after she publicly accused Republican Party officials in Georgia, a key swing state, of accepting bribes to help rig the result. She offered no proof.
Her version of the theory involves an international conspiracy between communist countries, election workers, officials from both major parties and the companies behind some electronic voting systems.
She has launched several lawsuits since the election seeking to overturn the result. Each one has been thrown out of court.
Ms Powell was not the only person in that meeting with Mr Trump on Friday, however. She was joined by one of her clients, retired US Army General Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the President's first national security adviser in 2017.
His stint ended a couple of weeks into the job, when Mr Trump fired him for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador in Washington.
Gen Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those contacts. Mr Trump pardoned him late last month.
On Thursday night - the day before the Oval Office meeting - Gen Flynn went on TV and suggested the President could deploy the military to seize voting machines and force another election in the states he lost.
"He could immediately, on his order, seize every single one of these machines. On his order," he told Newsmax.
"He could order the - within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities, he could place those in states and basically rerun an election in each of those states.
"I mean, it's not unprecedented. These people are out there talking about martial law like it's something that we've never done. Martial law has been instituted 64 times."
That interview came a few weeks after Gen Flynn shared a post online calling for Mr Trump to "suspend the Constitution" and impose "partial martial law".
And it echoed rhetoric from a handful of other fringe right-wing figures.
"It's not over yet. So thankful President Trump has a backbone and refuses to concede. President Trump should declare martial law," Virginia state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase said on Tuesday.
"Go and seize these machines and voting equipment to find the voter fraud. There needs to be a national audit."
That same day, North Carolina state Senator Bob Steinburg said Mr Trump should "declare a national emergency" and "invoke the Insurrection Act" to let him deploy military forces on American soil.
And yesterday, celebrity lawyer Lin Wood said martial law should be imposed in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
Like Ms Powell, Mr Wood has spent recent weeks trying to get Mr Trump's election defeat overturned in court, without success. He has made public appearances alongside her and spread many of the same conspiracy theories.
Mr Trump recently promoted his prediction that Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger would end up in jail.
Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pennsylvania are states in which martial law should be imposed & machines/ballots seized.— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) December 20, 2020
7 states under martial law.
43 states not under martial law.
I like those numbers.
Do it @realDonaldTrump!
Nation supports you.
The Insurrection Act has not been used since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.
The US government has not imposed martial law since the aftermath of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Mr Trump does not have the power to do it unilaterally.
Nevertheless, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff James McConville felt compelled to issue a joint statement on Friday, stressing that there is "no role for the US military in determining the outcome" of an election.
Meanwhile, according to both The Times and Axios, Mr Trump brought up the martial law idea during his meeting with Ms Powell and Gen Flynn.
Other ideas included appointing Ms Powell to serve as a special counsel within the White House, giving her top level security clearances, or issuing an executive order to take control of voting machines.
Several officials who were present pushed back "aggressively", including Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
The Times says they "repeatedly pointed out" that Ms Powell "had yet to back up her claims with proof". The meeting reportedly got rather heated.
As I mentioned at the start, Mr Trump has specifically disputed the allegation that he asked about imposing martial law.
Martial law = Fake News. Just more knowingly bad reporting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2020
"Senior Trump administration officials are increasingly alarmed that President Trump might unleash - and abuse - the power of government in an effort to overturn the clear result of the election," Axios correspondent Jonathan Swan reports.
"These officials tell me that Trump is spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists, and flirting with blatant abuses of power.
"Their fears include Trump's interest in former national security adviser Michael Flynn's wild talk of martial law; an idea floated of an executive order to commandeer voting machines; and the spectre of Sidney Powell, the conspiracy-spewing election lawyer, obtaining governmental power and a top level security clearance."
Reporting from other outlets conveys the same level of concern from Mr Trump's inner circle.
I’ve been covering Donald Trump for a while. I can’t recall hearing more intense concern from senior officials who are actually Trump people. The Sidney Powell / Michael Flynn ideas are finding an enthusiastic audience at the top. https://t.co/NxjC0sUrzI— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) December 19, 2020
The details of Friday's meeting have sparked a clear pushback from some of Mr Trump's more vocal critics within the Republican Party.
Another of the President's former national security advisers, John Bolton, reacted to the idea of imposing martial law on CNN.
"This is appalling. There's no other way to describe it. It's unbelievable. Almost certainly completely without precedent," he said.
"But I think it's important to understand, this is just another day at the office, at the Oval. There's a theory out there, I know, that Trump is getting worse as January 20 approaches. No he's not. It's the same behaviour repeated over and over again.
"There's a difference between incompetence and malevolence. And in Trump's case, this is incompetence. He's unfit for the job. I don't think he's ever read the Constitution. If he has, he clearly doesn't understand it.
"That's why the burden, again and again, falls on senior advisers to push back and rein in."
Mr Bolton is not on good terms with Mr Trump, having released an unflattering book about his time in the White House earlier this year.
The President hit back on Twitter.
What would Bolton, one of the dumbest people in Washington, know? Wasn’t he the person who so stupidly said, on television, “Libyan solution”, when describing what the U.S. was going to do for North Korea? I’ve got plenty of other Bolton “stupid stories”.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2020
Utah Senator Mitt Romney, another Republican critic of Mr Trump, also slapped him down on TV.
"It's not going to happen. It's going nowhere," Mr Romney said.
"It's really sad in a lot of respects, and embarrassing, because the President could be - right now - writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap with regards to the vaccine.
"Instead, he's leaving Washington with conspiracy theories and things that are so nutty and loopy that people are shaking their heads, wondering what in the world has gotten into this man?
"I think that is unfortunate, because he has more accomplishments than this last chapter suggests he's going to be known for."
Originally published as 'Appalling': Trump ponders military option
What is different is these are NOT the Never Trumper types. These are people who have fully thrown their lot in with Trump but are legitimately worried about his receptivity to Flynn and Powell’s ideas and conspiracy theories. One month seems like an eternity in this context. https://t.co/7t5oWkg1ht— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) December 19, 2020
Sources who have gotten used to Trump’s eruptions over four years sound scared by what’s transpired in the past week when I’ve talked to them. https://t.co/oICndCsXIw— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 19, 2020