Sunday, February 14, 2021

Schrödinger's Poker


Tubalcain Alhanbra, via Shine.

The Senate impeachment trial was suddenly thrown into some kind of turmoil by the surfacing of some sort of new detail on the 6 January siege, from Rep. Jaime Lynn Herrera Beutler (R-WA and one of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach in the House), on the story Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her of his call that afternoon to Trump to beg him to call off his thugs and stop the assault.

It wasn't going to change the outcome of the trial, though it probably should have, but it could have prolonged it beyond bearing: the House managers wanted to call her and, I thought, McCarthy as witnesses, and Trump's lawyer Michael Van der Veen threatened to come back with a call for 100 depositions, just for starters—effectively, to turn the impeachment into Benghazi hearings. 

In the end they made a deal: Herrera Beutler's story will be added to the record, but suppressed from the closing statements, and won't be part of the case on which the senators vote. 

I'd like to spend some time on it all the same. The story also does offer some important clarification for our understanding of what happened, alongside the reporting of Tommy Tuberville's conversation with Trump of around the same time, in which Trump had been urging him to do something to delay the certification of the election results after Pence's announcement that they would be certified in spite of Trump's complaints. In the call Tuberville is said to have told Trump he had to go because the Capitol police were evacuating the Senate chamber as the Senate's president, Mike Pence, was being whisked out of the room.

That was at about 2:13, two minutes after the first rioter, Proud Boi Dominic Pezzola, entered the Capitol building through the window he'd broken, as reported on MSNBC, but not on Fox, which was apparently what Trump was watching at the moment:

Fox in particular was covering the protesters outside. At 2:20 p.m., reporter Griff Jenkins interviewed a Trump supporter who criticized Pence’s decision not to try to undercut the election results

and at 2:24 Trump sent his tweet echoing that,

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

Which seems to have had an immediate effect on the rioters:

But if he'd been having that conversation with Tuberville, Trump also knew the Capitol had been invaded and Pence and the senators forced to flee. That timing was backed up by Senator Mike Lee, whose phone was used on the call (Trump dialed it by mistake), in an interview with the Deseret News:

“Hey, Tommy, I hate to interrupt but the president wants to speak with you,” Lee said.

Tuberville and Trump talked for about five to 10 minutes, Lee said, adding that he stood nearby because he didn’t want to lose his cellphone in the commotion. The two were still talking when panicked police ordered the Capitol to be evacuated because people had breached security.

As police were getting anxious for senators to leave, Lee walked over to retrieve his phone.

“I don’t want to interrupt your call with the president, but we’re being evacuated and I need my phone,” he said.

Tuberville said, “OK, Mr. President. I gotta go.”

Lee said when he later asked Tuberville about the conversation, he got the impression that Trump didn’t know about the chaos going on in the Senate chamber.

Lee now says he received the call much later, at 2:26 (and has a phone record to show it, though I'm confused by the reporting, which makes it sound as if Trump called him at both times), which makes little sense to me, since he and Tuberville weren't in the Senate chamber at that point, but who knows. Either way it seems clear that Trump's lawyers were lying about Trump not knowing his inaction could have gotten Pence killed:

A source close to Pence said Trump's legal team was not telling the truth when attorney Michael van der Veen said at the trial that "at no point" did the then-President know his vice president was in danger.

Asked whether van der Veen was lying, the source said, "Yes." Former Pence aides are still fuming over Trump's actions on January 6, insisting he never checked on the vice president as Pence was being rushed from danger by his US Secret Service detail.

Also because Pence's national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, was at the White House communicating with Pence the whole time.

We don't have any timing for McCarthy's call with Trump—at some point McCarthy called Jared Kushner, asking him to talk Trump into stopping the riot, and maybe he demanded that Kushner pass the phone to Trump—but I think it's likely it may have been shortly after that 2:24 tweet denouncing Pence, which could have thrown McCarthy into a real rage, or panic, as the case may be, if he suddenly realized Trump was literally trying to get Pence killed. It got worse, reportedly:  

Herrera Beutler said she was stunned when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her of a conversation he had with Trump on Jan. 6: “He said to the President, ‘You’ve got to hold them. You need to get on TV right now, you need to get on Twitter, you need to call these people off.’ And he said, the President said, ‘Kevin, they’re not my people.’ ” [In other reporting, he accused them of being "antifa".]

She said McCarthy told the President, “Yes they are, they just came through my windows and my staff is running for cover. Yeah, they’re your people. Call them off.”

In a statement Friday, released via Twitter, Herrera Beutler said: “That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”

CNN reported Friday that Trump’s comment set off a shouting match between the two men. McCarthy, furious, said “Who the f--k do you think you are talking to!?” to the then-president.

Which would explain why Trump posted another tweet at 2:38, vaguely proposing that his thugs should be more respectful, not to the members of Congress, but to the cops:

"Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!"

McCarthy's anger frightened him, and he folded, for the moment, as bullies do. Of course McCarthy, another bully, folded later on, and made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to beg the outgoing president's forgiveness for doubting him. The lowness, the cowardice and abjectness of these men convinced they're so tough is just a subject of continual amazement to me.

More interesting in some ways is that detail about Trump trying to sell McCarthy the story that the Capitol is being invaded by the "antifa" boogey man and then apparently forgetting he'd done it about ten seconds later and not just acknowledging that the "not my people" are in fact personally loyal to him, but chiding McCarthy for being less loyal than they are.

That's one of the things that make him so remarkable as a liar, the way he doesn't even try to keep the story consistent. But at a somewhat deeper level, I think, it shows us somebody who isn't so much a liar as he is lacking any conception of a stable reality. A player of Schrödinger's poker who doesn't believe the identities of the other players' cards are fixed until they're turned over. He can't be sure the antifa monsters aren't there besieging the Capitol, though he knows he didn't put them there himself; but he's happy to drop the idea when McCarthy angrily refuses to play along, and to try the opposite in the hope of making McCarthy feel guilty, which will ultimately succeed.

Something like this was behind the idea of the election "steal" when he first got preoccupied with it back in 2016, and redoubled from the summer of 2020, that you can't really ever know what the vote count was or how it was accomplished, and it's almost certain that somebody was cheating, because he'd be cheating if he knew how, and maybe he is cheating, or his lieutenants are, so why wouldn't anybody be? They might have been cheating, from the moment the polls showed he probably wouldn't win (but he did, against all those hapless primary candidates and then, astonishingly, against Hillary Clinton). It might be true. And if it isn't, it can't be his fault.

No comments:

Post a Comment