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“Just Say We Won”: How Trump’s Big Lie Started, and Why It Won’t End Soon

The bill for Trump’s elaborate legal and political ruse is coming due.

Former President Donald Trump leaves after a rally on July 3, 2021, in Sarasota, Florida.

It all started on election night 2020 with four words from Rudy Giuliani: “Just say we won.” According to I Alone Can Fix It, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s new book on Donald Trump’s disastrous final year, Giuliani was in the White House Map Room watching the returns come in from Michigan. The early in-person votes had heavily favored Trump, but that lead was being steadily eroded by an avalanche of mail-in votes that largely favored Joe Biden. According to the book, many in the room thought Giuliani had been drinking.

“Same thing in Pennsylvania,” reports a Washington Post review of the book. “’Just say we won Pennsylvania,’ Giuliani said. Giuliani’s grand plan was to just say Trump won, state after state, based on nothing. [Bill] Stepien, [Stephen] Miller and [Mark] Meadows thought his argument was both incoherent and irresponsible. ‘We can’t do that,’ Meadows said, raising his voice. ‘We can’t.’”

Ultimately, they did, and here we are. What has become known as The Big Lie — the fiction that nefarious pro-Biden forces stole the election from Trump — has become holy writ for a large majority of Republicans, and was a prime motivation for the January 6 sacking of the Capitol building. A significant number of GOP voters believe Trump will somehow be reinstated next month, and almost all of them will have his back if he runs again in 2024.

Today, GOP candidates are being lined up for the 2022 midterms with only one metric to measure their qualifications: Do they support the former president’s la-la-land contention that the election was stolen? Those who do are welcomed into the fold. Officeholders who refuse face daunting primary challenges from pro-Trump opponents. The Republican Party’s basic operating principles — which were never great shakes to begin with — are being rewritten on the back of a MAGA hat.

Enter a clutch of judges who heard Team Trump’s preposterous post-election legal arguments and shot them to pieces like clay pigeons at a skeet-shooting range. Trump’s legal team, comprised of Giuliani and a number of lesser lights like L. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, ranged far and wide peddling dangerously inaccurate, poorly written and ultimately cynical arguments in an attempt to overturn the election while “legitimizing” Trump’s ongoing complaints. Almost uniformly, their petitions were denied. Even the Supreme Court, top-heavy with Trump appointees, wanted no part of it.

Now, the bill for that elaborate legal and political ruse is coming due. Rudy Giuliani was recently stripped of his law license in New York and Washington, D.C., for his part in this farce, not a terrible blow since the former mayor only has one client (Trump), and he still can’t get that sole client to pay him. For Powell and Wood, however, the consequences got a whole lot louder on Monday:

The latest effort to hold former president Donald Trump and his allies accountable for months of baseless claims about the 2020 election played out Monday in a Michigan courtroom, where a federal judge asked detailed and skeptical questions of several lawyers she is considering imposing sanctions against for filing a suit seeking to overturn the results.

U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker said she would rule on a request to discipline the lawyers in coming weeks. But over and over again during the more than five-hour hearing, she pointedly pressed the lawyers involved — including Trump allies Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood — to explain what steps they had taken to ensure their court filings in the case filed last year had been accurate. She appeared astonished by many of their answers.

While their suit aimed to create a broad impression that the vote in Michigan — and specifically Detroit’s Wayne County — had been troubled, the affidavits filed to support those claims included obvious errors, speculation and basic misunderstandings of how elections are generally conducted in the state, Parker said.

Two moments from Monday’s hearing stand out in sharp relief. Judge Parker spent several hours battling her way through the budget of legal nonsense Wood and Powell had foisted on her. At one point, in a moment of perfect exasperation, Parker looked over the petitioners and exclaimed, “This is really fantastical. How could any of you as officers of the court submit this affidavit?”

The best part, for my money, came when the court reporter flipped out on Donald Campbell, who was serving as Wood and Powell’s attorney for the hearing and had been interrupting everything that moved all day.

Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce reports: “’We have been here since 8:30 this morning,’” [the court reporter] thundered, and then ripped all present for talking over each other and making her job 10 times harder than it had to be, adding that if they wanted a transcript that didn’t look like it was typed by drunken marmosets, they should knock that shit off immediately. (I’m paraphrasing.) Judge Linda Parker, who also was fed up, let her court reporter roll.”

It was that kind of a day, and there are more to come. Parker will decide within a few weeks whether to sanction Wood and Powell for their post-election legal shenanigans. Powell appears ready to die on this hill, while Wood — according to Pierce — “spent most of his time at the hearing trying to throw all the others under the entire train. I kept waiting to hear a cock crow.” This fictional drama played out in a number of states, and judges there may also want to share their thoughts — and perhaps a dollop of punishment — for what these fools have put us through.

These potential sanctions, while satisfying to many people who are mortally tired of this seemingly endless Trump-serving hooey, will probably dent the armor of the faithful not one bit. Every loss is further proof of the deep plot against them, every sanction a martyr’s prize … which makes them the prize for people like Trump, who will continue to rake cash from their pockets with hollow promises of victory and vengeance to come. It is very nearly a frictionless fundraising machine now, and won’t stop for a judge or anyone else.

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