David A. Graham: Trump won’t just violate the rules again—he’s already doing it
During impeachment, Trump’s critics, including me, warned repeatedly that if he were not impeached and removed, he’d feel empowered to commit the same offenses again. Trump’s current, shambling coup attempt is the price of the Senate’s failure to remove him.
Raffensperger, who seems understandably furious over Trump’s pressure campaign against him, taped the conversation and then released it to The Washington Post after Trump lied about it on Twitter. The president’s MO has not changed since July 2019—in fact, it has scarcely changed over the course of his career. All the hallmarks of the Zelensky call popped up in the Saturday coup call. Trump alternates between wheedling flattery and domineering (though vague) threats. He suggests that Raffensperger owes him one—aren’t they on the same team? He presents a proposed miscarriage of justice as a vindication of justice. Just as he did with Zelensky, Trump runs through a litany of wild and false conspiracy theories.
Trump speaks like a mob boss, making his desire clear but never saying explicitly what he wants, so as to maintain deniability. What he says is, “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.” What he means is, Find some way to throw out valid votes so that I can win. (Never mind that the state’s results have been certified and its electors seated; Raffensperger’s role has concluded.)
David A. Graham: Trump just did it out in the open
Some of the early reaction to the coup call has focused on whether Trump could be held criminally liable. “I understand that the Fulton County district attorney wants to look at it,” Raffensperger himself said on Good Morning America today. “Maybe that’s the appropriate venue for it to go.” Legal experts agree that it is deeply inappropriate, but are mixed on whether Trump could be charged with a crime.
Possible or not, that’s highly unlikely. The president seems to be careful on the call about how he speaks (legally, at least—he’s incoherent in most respects), and anyway, importuning fraud requires one to realize that what one is asking for is wrong, and Trump may very well be deluded enough to believe that he actually won Georgia. He has shown little ability to sort fact from fiction, especially when fiction favors him.
Criminal consequences were always unlikely over the Ukraine plot, too, though it was the subject of a criminal referral. The mechanism for holding a president accountable is not the criminal-justice system but Congress, through the impeachment power. The Democratic-led House dragged its feet but eventually recognized this responsibility last fall, launching an impeachment inquiry. By October 2019, Trump’s impeachment became inevitable.