Trump Now Bullying Dozens Of Electors Seeking CIA’s Russia Intel Briefing. What’s He Afraid Of?
The Electoral College Wants To Know About Trump’s Bromance With Putin
President-elect(?) Donald Trump is now bullying electors of the Electoral College. An anonymous Republican elector told Salon in an interview that Trump’s team was issuing “threats of political reprisal.”
“We have gotten reports from multiple people,” the elector said, “that the Donald Trump campaign is putting pressure on Republican electors to vote for him based on . . . future political outcomes based on whether they vote for Donald Trump or not.”
The elector emphasized that these reports had come straight from the Republican electors themselves, with the threats steering clear of violence but instead focusing on “career pressure.”
“It’s all political, basically,” the elector said. “If Trump becomes the president, he’s going to be able to put pressure on the state parties and they won’t be involved anymore.”
This is a chilling abuse of power and a display of serious disrespect for the election process. In an ordinary presidential election, the Electoral College rubber stamps the winner of the popular vote in each state. The elections of 1876 and 2000 saw a split between the popular and Electoral votes. But we’ve never seen anything quite like 2016. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, over 2% of all votes cast. But a series of extremely unusual interventions in the process of the election affected the outcome. Russian espionage sabotaged Clinton. Trump actively and publicly encouraged this, which likely violated the Logan Act, critics charge. The Republican leadership failed to make a unified statement to the country and turned a foreign espionage attack on the US into a partisan issue. Right before the election, FBI Director James Comey dropped a non-report about Hillary’s emails in a way that critics charge likely violated the Hatch Act. This combined with Republicans purging voter rolls, and partisan officials blocking a recount in Michigan, all thwarted the process of free and fair elections. These asterisks that must always be applied to Trump’s presidency all conspired to block the democratic will of the voters.
Because of this plot of extremely unusual interventions in America’s election, Trump is about to become the only president in American history who lost the popular vote by as much as he did and who has zero public service experience. However, due to the nature of Russia’s espionage attack on the US election and the extent to which it helped Trump, a group of Electors known as the Hamilton Electors has begun asking for a classified intelligence briefing before they cast their votes on December 19th.
In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton described the Electoral College as a sort of failsafe that would protect the republic against a president who was a demagogue with “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” but not “endowed with the requisite qualifications for the office” and against the “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” There is strong evidence that Trump is precisely what the Founders were trying to prevent with the Electoral College.
On Wednesday, NBC News reported that intelligence officials with access to classified material believe that Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin was “personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.” On Wednesday, the White House said that Trump was “obviously aware” that the hacking was helping his campaign, which may explain why he encouraged Russia.
If the Electors gain access to key information that the CIA has gathered, it could activate their role as a failsafe to protect the American republic for the first time in American history. Dozens of Democratic Electors have signaled a willingness to vote for a compromise candidate, likely Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, in the hopes that at least 37 Republican Electors would do the same. One Republican Elector, Chris Suprun of Texas, has said he will vote against Trump, and called on his Republican colleagues to do the same for the good of the country.
Harvard law professor, attorney and activist Lawrence Lessig has offered free legal counsel to any Elector who goes “faithless” and votes against Trump. Lessig claimed that up to 30 Republican Electors have privately contacted him to discuss their potential willingness to vote to block Trump. A total of 37 faithless Republican Electors would be necessary to stop Trump. If no candidate wins 270 Electoral votes, the House would vote. The Hamilton Electors hope that enough Republican House Reps would join House Democrats in supporting the compromise candidate instead of Trump. Such an outcome would be the first compromise election since the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction.
Many states have laws binding Electors to their state’s popular vote, but critics charge they would violate the individual Electors’ freedom of speech. So Lessig would have his work cut out for him, potentially defending dozens of clients in an unprecedented legal challenge from a vengeful demagogue denied the presidency because of his Faustian bargain.
Evidence is mounting that Republicans are taking this challenge seriously. In Colorado, Republicans are seeking to have Democratic Electors swear an oath and vote for Hillary Clinton (as opposed to a compromise candidate) under penalty of perjury. This could carry a punishment of 6 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, in addition to a misdemeanor charge. Trump’s Putin-style authoritarianism is rubbing off on the Republican party very quickly. In 1952, the US Supreme Court held in Ray v. Blair that a state may require a pledge prior to a vote but not whether or not it can legally be enforced. Justice William Douglas’s dissenting opinion, as well as recent legal scholarship, argue that electors are intended to be individual agents free to exercise their discretion. The US Supreme Court has never ruled on whether or not an elector can be punished for a faithless vote.
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images