Lost in the Sauce: Trump’s ‘strongman con’ to steal the election takes shape

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.


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Trump’s plan to stay in power

Last week, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens…You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster. Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very a peaceful – there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.” (clip)

This goes further than refusing to admit a loss – Trump is saying that he’s actively working to invalidate as many legitimate votes as he can because he cannot win if everyone who wants to vote is allowed to do so.

Then, a few days later, he spelled it out more clearly at a rally, telling supporters: “We’re not gonna lose this, except if they cheat … that’s the only way we’re gonna lose.” (clip)

This sets up his plan, which has been obvious to those paying attention. Trump and his legal team plan to (1) declare victory before all the votes are counted, (2) file lawsuits to stop absentee ballot counting after Nov. 3 and invalidate all those ballots, (3) use Republican judges, including their newly-appointed Supreme Court justice, to tilt the odds of a court win in their favor.

  • Imagine that in Pennsylvania, Trump is barely ahead by Election night. There are still many absentee votes left to count. A majority of these are likely to be for Biden. Contesting these ballots to get them invalidated would not harm Trump, because he was already ahead.

Donald Trump Jr. appeared in a Facebook video last week telling supporters:

“They are planting stories that President Trump will have a landslide lead on election night but will lose when they finish counting the mail-in ballots…Their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election. We cannot let that happen.”

Flashback to Sept. 19, when Trump told his rally crowd:

“We’re going to have a victory on November 3rd the likes of which you’ve never seen. Now, we’re counting on the federal court system to make it so that we can actually have an evening where we know who wins. Not where the votes are going to be counted a week later or two weeks later.” (clip)

Lindsey Graham echoed Trump on Fox News last week (in the middle of begging for financial help for his campaign):

“I promise you as a Republican, if the Supreme Court decides that Joe Biden wins, I will accept the result,” Mr. Graham added. “The court will decide, and if Republicans lose, we’ll accept the result.” (clip)

Strongman Con

Now, it is important to also recognize why Trump’s team wants us to know they’re going to try to subvert the election process: because Trump is losing. Because Trump is weak, but wants to appear strong. Classic autocrat tactic.

Trump would like to turn America into a dictatorship, but he hasn’t yet. For over four years he has waged a sort of psychological warfare on the populace, colonizing our consciousness so thoroughly that it can be hard to imagine him gone. That’s part of the reason he says he won’t leave if he’s beaten in November, or even after 2024. It’s to make us forget that it’s not up to him.

Lawyer and author Teri Kanefield calls this the Strongman Con. It is important to recognize it for what it is. In a Twitter thread, article, a WaPo piece, Kanefield describes the strategy and links it to leaders like Putin and Mussolini:

Remember that one goal of Russian Active Measures is to get people to lose confidence in democracy, because when people lose confidence, they become apathetic, cynical, and then it’s all over. (Article)

If we play into Trump’s hands and act as if he has the power to throw out votes and declare himself the winner of the election, we help give credence to the lie that he is all-powerful, and thus help create a reality based on Trump’s wishful thinking. The way to keep his fantasy from coming true is to avoid panicking and contributing to the hysteria — and to vote him out. (WaPo)

Trump’s talent is controlling the national conversation. He manipulates everyone. Look how easy it is. His ‘legal advisor’ puts something like this forward… Then most of Twitter takes the bait. Twitter peeps instantly (and obediently) begin discussing whether he can. People begin arguing for why it might be possible. Then someone says, ‘we need to prepare for all of these worst-case scenarios!’

Then everyone starts wondering how to prepare for this worst-case scenario. And Trump succeeds. Trump manipulated everyone. He transformed himself from a loser (in the polls) to a scary strongman. He’s a genius at manipulating the media and controlling the conversation. (thread)

Democrats and Biden are preparing for all possible options, including Trump contesting the validity of mail ballots.

Russia strikes again…and again…

A top-secret CIA assessment determined that Putin is “probably directing” efforts to interfere in the 2020 campaign to undermine Biden, support Trump, and fuel “public discord.” The CIA, NSA, and FBI report (non-paywalled) identified Andriy Derkach as part of this operation. Giuliani met with and accepted intel from Derkach; Sens. Johnson and Grassley allegedly used Derkach material in their probes of Joe and Hunter Biden.

  • CIA Director Gina Haspel has reportedly limited the flow of intelligence regarding Russia to the White House.

In 2016, Russian trolls had to create disinformation. In 2020, they simply have to amplify disinformation created by Trump. “In interviews, a range of officials and private analysts said that Mr. Trump was feeding many of the disinformation campaigns they were struggling to halt,” the NYT recounts. The majority of the amplified social media posts have to do with Trump’s false claims about mail-in ballots.

  • Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Trump spreading conspiracy theories about the U.S. election: “It’s making it easy for Vladimir Putin. And I think it’s really important for leaders to be responsible about this because, really, as you know Putin doesn’t create these divisions in our society, he doesn’t create these doubts, he magnifies them.”

Two Trump comments on Putin that speak volumes: Clip: “I like Putin. He likes me.” Clip 2 Asked who he thinks poisoned Alexey Navalny in Russia, Trump refused to answer, saying: “Uhhhh…we’ll talk about that at another time.”

Trump Campaign Uses Russian Footage in Ad—Again

The courts

A New York State Supreme Court judge ordered Eric Trump to sit for a deposition no later than Oct. 7 in the AG’s civil investigation. Letitia James is looking (non-paywalled) into whether President Trump and the Trump Organization committed fraud by overstating assets to get loans and tax benefits. Eric Trump tried to postpone his testimony until after the election, but the court found his application “unpersuasive.”

A three-judge panel heard arguments last week in D.A. Vance’s effort to access Trump’s tax returns. All three appellate judges – two Clinton-appointees and an Obama-appointee – appeared skeptical of the Trump team’s arguments. Judge Pierre Leval questioned why Vance hadn’t already executed the subpoena, saying a previous order allowed him to do so.

President Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, sued him and his siblings for allegedly committing fraud to cheat her out of millions of dollars of her inheritance. “Fraud was not just the family business — it was a way of life,” the lawsuit said.

A federal district court judge ruled that the Census count must continued as planned through October in another loss for the Trump administration. The Commerce Dept. had tried to cut the count short, despite indiciations that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed. The administration immediately filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit and requested a temporary suspension of the lower court order.

  • More: “Order to shorten count wasn’t made by Census Bureau,” ABC News

The DOJ lost their attempts to halt two cases last week: one brought by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and another brought by former FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. The McCabe case, alleging his firing was political retribution, is now moving on to discovery. Page and Strzok sued the Justice Department for allegedly violating the privacy act in releasing their messages to the media in 2016.

Further reading: “Court sides with House Democrats in challenge to Trump’s border wall spending,” WaPo; “Judge removes Trump public lands boss for serving unlawfully,” AP; “White House ‘pressured official to say John Bolton book was security risk’,” Guardian.


The testimony of DHS whistleblower Brian Murphy has been postponed again due to the administration’s failure to provide access to classified material. House Intelligence Cmte Chairman Adam Schiff: “It is now clear that DHS political appointees have commandeered the security clearance process by obstructing and delaying clearances for whistleblower attorneys as part of a transparent effort to impede the Committee’s ability to ascertain the truth about serious allegations involving senior DHS and White House officials.”

Senate Republicans released their report on Joe and Hunter Biden’s involvement with Ukraine last week… it was a dud. The documents were largely a compilation of previously public information, news articles, and “strongly worded insinuations with little evidence to back them up.” The report contains this telling line, revealing that taxpayer money was wasted for no reason: “The extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board affected U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not clear.”

  • Testimony elicited by the Senate’s probe “directly implicated former Secretary Rick Perry in a scheme to undermine anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine,” according to Senate Finance Cmte. Ranking Member Ron Wyden.

Former FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 30. Chairman Lindsey Graham is investigating the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe.


Two months after a federal judge ordered his release, a 61-year-old Mexican man died in ICE custody from COVID-19. Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez, who had lymphoma, diabetes, kidney disease, and hypertension, is the seventh ICE detainee to die this year from coronavirus and the 20th person to die in ICE detention in Fiscal Year 2020. According to the ACLU, FY 2020 is the deadliest for people in ICE custody since 2005.

The House Oversight Committee has found that ICE detainees died after receiving inadequate medical care and that jail staff “falsified records to cover up” issues.

“Amid chilling reports of forced hysterectomies at a Georgia immigration detention center, this report makes clear that the shocking mistreatment of immigrant detainees is far more pervasive than one doctor or one facility. An epidemic of medical neglect and mistreatment at detention centers has caused undue suffering and even death.

Mexico is interviewing at least six women who may have been subject to improper medical procedures, including hysterectomies, at a U.S. immigration detention center in Georgia. Meanwhile, immigration authorities have stopped sending detained women to the gynecologist accused of performing surgeries without consent.

The Trump administration on Tuesday said it is reimposing its “public charge” wealth test for green cards that had been blocked during the pandemic. The rule gives officials more power to deny permanent residency to applicants the government deems rely or could rely on public benefits like food stamps or housing vouchers.

Trump “pressured” government officials to direct wall contracts to Fisher Sand and Gravel – the company that built the now-collapsing section of privately funded border barrier associated with Steve Bannon.

Sources inside the room say the president wanted to know why Tommy Fisher, who promised he could build the wall cheaper and faster, wasn’t selected to build it and “exploded into a tirade.”

They say DHS officials explained to the president that it was inappropriate for the president to influence the bidding process. But according to those sources, the “pressure continued” with a handwritten note from the president, an email from his personal secretary and calls from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.


Trump’s finances: This wasn’t really Lost in the Sauce, it was the Sauce yesterday, so I’m not going to spend much time explaining it: The New York Times published an investigation of Trump’s taxes and financial situation, finding that…

  • Most importantly, the president has a personal liability of hundreds of millions of dollars due within four years and no way to pay it. This has actually been reported previously, leading some to speculate that the NYT likely has more details to release in the future (a NYT journalist has said there is more to come). The main mystery is who owns Trump’s massive debts. These people would have incredible secret power over the country.
  • There is likely evidence of fraud to overvalue his properties on loan applications and undervalue his properties/worth for tax purposes. For instance, the IRS is investigating a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. Additionally: “In 2018, for example, Mr. Trump announced in his disclosure that he had made at least $434.9 million. The tax records deliver a very different portrait of his bottom line: $47.4 million in losses.”
  • Trump paid no federal income taxes for over a decade. In 2017, the first year of his presidency, Trump only paid $750 in federal income tax. Michael Cohen responded by pointing out a passage in his book in which Trump allegedly boasted about how “stupid” the IRS was for giving him a tax refund.
  • Ivanka Trump reported receiving payments from a consulting company she co-owned, totaling $747,622 – the exact sum her father claimed as a tax deduction for unnamed consultants. This scheme reduced the Trump tax bill and was likely illegal.

USPS: As states prepared mail-in ballots, the USPS stopped fully updating a national change of address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current. At least 1.8 Million new changes of address had not been registered.

USPS: A third federal judge on Sunday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to halt changes that have delayed mail delivery nationwide.

USPS: Contrary to the “official story” from the agency that lower-tier leaders outside USPS headquarters were responsible for the changes that slowed mail delivery, WaPo obtained internal documents indicating the plans originated with top USPS executives.

Environment: Oil Companies Are Profiting From Illegal Spills. And California Lets Them.

Environment: Executives caught bragging of cozy government relationships as they sought approvals for controversial Alaskan gold mine

World: The Trump administration has stopped vital technical assistance to pro-democracy groups in Belarus, Hong Kong and Iran, which had helped activists evade state surveillance and sidestep internet censorship.