Trump's coup accomplices in Congress: The House Freedom Caucus is a major problem
Around this time one year ago, Donald Trump was leaning heavily on the Justice Department (DOJ) to help him overturn the presidential election. According to notes taken by top DOJ official Richard Donoghue, after attorney general Bill Barr had abruptly skedaddled out of town before the proverbial manure hit the fan, the president called up the newly installed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and told him "just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen."
That Nixonian "request" was denied by Rosen, since it would have been a bald-faced lie but as we later learned, the White House was also plotting with an obscure DOJ lawyer named Jeffrey Clark to put the heat on Rosen to squeeze state election officials in states Trump claimed without evidence had been stolen from him. Rosen was told that Trump planned for Clark to replace him if he didn't comply but Rosen resisted and Trump backed off after his own White House counsel convinced him that there would be mass resignations at the DOJ if he followed through. Other than one congressman from Pennsylvania, a Republican by the name of Scott Perry who had reportedly called up Donoghue to threaten him into doing Clark's bidding, until now we didn't know exactly who the "R. Congressmen" were. Now The New York Times reports that Trump's accomplices were none other than the members of the House's far-right Freedom Caucus.
The Times names Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louis Gohmert of Texas, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Pennsylvania's Perry, who is described by the Times as the coordinator of the plans to replace the attorney general with the compliant Clark. They all worked closely with one of the original founders of the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina congressman who served as Trump's chief of staff.
The Times reports on a previously unknown meeting that took place shortly after the election which included Jordan, Perry and Meadows along with White House adviser Stephen Miller, Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Jordan claims it was purely a media strategy meeting. But when it comes to The Big Lie, that amounts to a strategy to overturn the election. Everything flowed from that. These Freedom Caucus members were all over TV spreading falsehoods about voter fraud. They pressured Republican officials and ran around chasing rumors of foreign interference. And after Barr announced that the DOJ had found no evidence of fraud, they smeared the FBI and the DOJ in the press. That's when they turned their full attention to overturning the election, focusing on January 6th.
Gohmert sued vice president Mike Pence to force him to nullify the election. (The case was thrown out of court.) Perry forwarded a letter from some Pennsylvania state legislators to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House, asking them to delay the certification which they had no authority to do.
And they met personally with the president to make plans to "stop the sedition."
Great meeting today with @realDonaldTrump and @MarkMeadows and @RudyGiuliani my homies @andybiggs4az @RepMoBrooks @mattgaetz and others. President is resolute. \n\nWe will not accept disenfranchisement of 80 million who cast a vote for @POTUS \nThis sedition will be stopped.pic.twitter.com/HDG8CdUMIL— Paul Gosar (@Paul Gosar) 1608615469
And now we know from the Times' reporting that the PowerPoint coup plot was forwarded to Meadows by none other than Jim Jordan --- who Trump awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom after the insurrection. (That would be the same Jim Jordan who Kevin McCarthy had the chutzpah to attempt to install on the Jan. 6th Committee.)
The "R. Congressmen" were up to their necks in coup plots. But that's not surprising. If anyone had told me five years ago that we'd have an attempted coup in America I would have assumed that the Freedom Caucus would be involved. They've been practicing for years on their own party.
When the Freedom Caucus was formed in 2015, Mark Meadows was one of its founding members. So was Mick Mulvaney, another former Trump chief of staff, and current Florida Governor Ron Desantis among others, like Jordan. They presented themselves as dedicated to fiscal conservatism and re-establishing congressional prerogatives but from the start it was clear that their prime directive was to make the GOP leadership miserable and drive Democrats to drink.
Meadows went even beyond the caucus at times, unintentionally showing the way forward. He challenged then House Speaker John Boehner's leadership by deploying an obscure procedure that hadn't been used since 1910. It failed, but it riled up the right-wing media and the base in a way that only Trump has since mastered. With their in-your-face extremism they managed to create so much chaos in the GOP caucus that House Speaker John Boehner was eventually forced out.
They refused to vote for his assumed successor, Kevin McCarthy of California, helping to doom his candidacy and instead they got Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, an up and coming conservative superstar who had run for Vice President on the ticket with Mitt Romney in 2012. Ryan was considered one of their own at the time, although he wasn't a formal member of the Freedom Caucus. But that didn't really work out all that well either. They made Ryan's life hell too and he ended up quitting politics altogether in 2018.
The truth is that the Freedom Caucus has been running the House Republican caucus in a reign of terror for over half a decade now and if they manage to take the majority in 2022, Kevin McCarthy is likely to have a big fight on his hands. He's never been one of them and despite his desperate attempts to ingratiate himself with Trump, the Freedom Caucus is going to want to put a homeboy in charge for real. That person is almost surely going to be Jim Jordan, the man who helped Mark Meadows plot the attempted coup.
These people have been fighting a guerilla war against their own party for years and were the perfect choice to be Trump's personal henchmen. In many ways they paved the way for his mafioso style of governance. And you can bet that as Trump goes around the country wreaking revenge on all those who betrayed him over the next few years, the Freedom Caucus will be right there with him. When it comes to stabbing fellow Republicans in the back, they are professionals.
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