“Talk of a Trump Dictatorship Charges the American Political Debate”

Peter Baker for the NYT:

When a historian wrote an essay the other day warning that the election of former President Donald J. Trump next year could lead to dictatorship, one of Mr. Trump’s allies quickly responded by calling for the historian to be sent to prison.

It almost sounds like a parody: The response to concerns about dictatorship is to prosecute the author. But Mr. Trump and his allies are not going out of their way to reassure those worried about what a new term would bring by firmly rejecting the dictatorship charge. If anything, they seem to be leaning into it.

If Mr. Trump is returned to office, people close to him have vowed to “come after” the news media, open criminal investigations into onetime aides who broke with the former president and purge the government of civil servants deemed disloyal. When critics said Mr. Trump’s language about ridding Washington of “vermin” echoed that of Adolf Hitler, the former president’s spokesman said the critics’ “sad, miserable existence will be crushed” under a new Trump administration.

Mr. Trump himself did little to assuage Americans when his friend Sean Hannity tried to help him out on Fox News this past week. During a town hall-style meeting, Mr. Hannity tossed a seeming softball by asking Mr. Trump to reaffirm that of course he did not intend to abuse his power and use the government to punish enemies. Instead of simply agreeing, Mr. Trump said he would only be a dictator on “Day 1” of a new term.

“Trump has made it crystal clear through all his actions and rhetoric that he admires leaders who have forms of authoritarian power, from Putin to Orban to Xi, and that he wants to exercise that kind of power at home,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present,” referring to Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Xi Jinping of China. “History shows that autocrats always tell you who they are and what they are going to do,” she added. “We just don’t listen until it is too late.”….

Mr. Trump once expressed no regret that a quote he shared on social media came from Mussolini and adopted the language of Stalin in calling journalists the “enemies of the people.” He told his chief of staff that “Hitler did a lot of good things” and later said he wished American generals were like Hitler’s generals.

Last December, shortly after opening his comeback campaign, Mr. Trump called for “termination” of the Constitution to remove Mr. Biden immediately and reinstall himself in the White House without waiting for another election.

The former president’s defenders dismiss the fears about Mr. Trump’s autocratic instincts as whining by liberals who do not like him or his policies and are disingenuously trying to scare voters. They argue that President Biden is the real dictator because his Justice Department is prosecuting his likeliest challenger next year for various alleged crimes, although there is no evidence that Mr. Biden has been personally involved in those decisions and even some former Trump advisers call the indictments legitimate….

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“Exclusive: Pro-Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro cooperating in multiple state probes into 2020 fake electors plot”


The pro-Trump lawyer who helped devise the 2020 fake electors plot and already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy in Georgia is now cooperating with Michigan and Wisconsin state investigators in hopes of avoiding more criminal charges, multiple sources told CNN.

In a dramatic turnaround from 2020 – when the lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, was at the center of efforts by former President Donald Trump to subvert the Electoral College and overturn his defeat – Chesebro is now helping investigators in at least four states who are looking into the scheme.

Chesebro’s cooperation in Wisconsin is the first indication the state attorney general’s office has launched its own investigation into the false slates of pro-Trump electors. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, has not publicly announced that an investigation is underway.

Chesebro also recently testified to a grand jury in Nevada, where indictments against six fake electors were announced Wednesday by state prosecutors. Additionally, Chesebro has been in contact with prosecutors in Arizona, where he plans to sit for an interview as part of that state’s ongoing investigation into fake electors.

CNN has previously identified Chesebro as an unindicted co-conspirator in special counsel Jack Smith’s federal indictment against Trump, where the former president is charged with organizing the fake electors scheme “to disenfranchise millions of voters” and unlawfully remain in power. There is no indication Chesebro is cooperating in the federal probe, or that Smith has ruled out charges against him….

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“Appeals Court Upholds, but Narrows, Gag Order on Trump in Election Case”


A federal appeals court on Friday largely upheld the gag order imposed two months ago on former President Donald J. Trump in the criminal case accusing him of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, but narrowed its terms to allow him to go after Jack Smith, the special counsel who has filed two indictments against him.

In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the court struck a cautious balance between protecting many of the people involved in the federal case in Washington from Mr. Trump’s relentless attacks and giving leeway to the former president to speak his mind while he is running for office. The ruling permits Mr. Trump to continue asserting that the prosecution is a political vendetta and to directly criticize Mr. Smith, the public face of the prosecution.

The three appellate judges — all of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents — wrote that they agreed “that some aspects of Mr. Trump’s public statements pose a significant and imminent threat to the fair and orderly adjudication of the ongoing criminal proceeding, warranting a speech-constraining protective order.”

But the order issued by the lower court, they said, “sweeps in more protected speech than is necessary.”

From the court’s unanimous opinion:

Specifically, we affirm the Order to the extent it prohibits all parties and their counsel from making or directing others to make public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding. The Order is also affirmed to the extent it prohibits all parties and their counsel
from making or directing others to make public statements about—(1) counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, (2) members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or (3) the family members of any counsel or staff member—if those statements are made with the intent to materially interfere with, or to cause others to materially interfere with, counsel’s or staff’s work in this criminal case, or with the knowledge that such interference is highly likely to result. We vacate the Order to the extent it covers speech beyond those specified categories. See 28 U.S.C. § 2106. The administrative stay issued by this court on November 3, 2023, is hereby dissolved.

As should be clear, but to avoid any potential doubt, as affirmed in part and vacated in part, the Order also leaves open the categories of speech the district court explicitly stated were permissible under its initial ruling. See Order at 3. Mr. Trump is free to make statements criticizing the current administration, the Department of Justice, and the Special Counsel, as well as statements that this prosecution is politically motivated or that he is innocent of the charges against him. See id.

We do not allow such an order lightly. Mr. Trump is a former President and current candidate for the presidency, and there is a strong public interest in what he has to say. But Mr. Trump is also an indicted criminal defendant, and he must stand trial in a courtroom under the same procedures that govern all other criminal defendants. That is what the rule of law means.

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Indispensable Resource from Federal Judicial Center: “Emergency Election Litigation in Federal Courts: From Bush v. Gore to Covid-19”

It’s hard to overstate how rich a resource this Federal Judicial Center book is going to be. It is totally free online; a hard copy will be available for sale soon:

Robert Timothy Reagan, Margaret S. Williams, Marie Leary, Catherine R. Borden, Jessica L. Snowden, Patricia D. Breen, Jason A. Cantone

December 4, 2023

This collection of case studies illustrates how federal judges managed the time pressures of emergency election litigation in the years 2000 through 2020. The case studies are based on reviews of the court records and interviews with more than one hundred judges. The 513 case studies cover 717 emergency cases and an additional 151 related cases.

Downloadable file:

PDF icon Emergency Election Litigation in Federal Courts: From Bush v. Gore to Covid-19(link is external) 1302 pages

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ELB Podcast 5:4: Ian Bassin & Jess Marsden: Protecting Democracy in 2024…and 2025

New ELB Podcast:

Has the United States done enough to minimize the risk of election subversion in 2024?

How might problems in Congress affect a fair tallying of electoral college votes on January 6, 2025?

How much danger of authoritarian rule does the U.S. face going forward?

On Season 5, Episode 4 of the ELB Podcast, we speak with Ian Bassin and Jess Marsden of Protect Democracy.

You can subscribe on SoundcloudApple Podcasts, and Spotify.

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