‘When You Follow the Money, What Do You Find?’ and Other Questions About Trump

Last month, Times Opinion published a graphic mapping out many of the key players in former President Donald Trump’s plot to upend the 2020 election. In response to the project, we received more than 700 questions and comments from readers hungry to know more. Some asked why key players had not yet been charged. Others wanted to know how to prevent future subversive efforts like the fake electors scheme. So we asked Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who drew up the initial list of names and worked on how to arrange them, to weigh in. He started with the questions that, as he put it, “hit hardest for me: questions about who we left out and those who funded the whole shebang.” Reader comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Masterminds and Financiers

Who is financing Mr. Trump’s machine? When you follow the money, what do you find? — Nathaniel Means, Shreveport, La.

Norman Eisen: Nathaniel’s question is key. An army of small donors have shouldered part of the burden, as have more substantial donors to his Save America PAC and other organizations.

There were others who funded aspects of the election overthrow effort. The Rule of Law Defense Fund, an organization associated with the Republican Attorneys General Association, for instance, was involved in promoting the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse. Other donors include Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a Publix heiress who reportedly gave about $300,000 to rally organizers. The special counsel Jack Smith is reportedly continuing to analyze as part of his prosecution fund-raising efforts related to the attempt to overturn the election, though it is unclear if that will include the Jan. 6 rally, so we may see.

If you want more information, you can dig into the Jan. 6 committee’s final report. It includes an appendix entitled “The Big Rip-off,” which explains how the Trump campaign raised enormous sums off its claims that the election was stolen.

And of course, there’s a whole additional piece of this puzzle: the figures who continue to fund the members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election. Public Citizen and Judd Legum’s “Popular Information” newsletter have both done good reporting on this topic. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an organization I co-founded, has also published very good analysis of the major American companies that have or continue to fund these members of Congress. I patronize many of those companies, so I suppose the ultimate answer to your question is that we’re all funding those who enabled or continue to enable Trump, if indirectly.

This conspiracy to “defraud” America seems very decentralized. Who, or what group of conspirators, masterminded the effort and gave it urgency and energy? — Jeff Tarakajian, Narragansett, R.I.

We put Mr. Trump at the center of our graphic with his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, directly to his right because we felt that they were really the masterminds behind this effort. But ultimately, I believe that this was an attempted coup not of soldiers, tanks and guns but of lawyers, cases and statutes. That’s why we depicted lawyers on Mr. Trump’s other side. They too were critical to the overall scheme. So were many others who still seem to be welcomed in polite society, including the R.N.C. chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

Criteria for the ‘Congressional Cowards’

What, if any, consequences will the “congressional cowards” suffer? Are they all just going to get off scot-free? Run for re-election? How can that be possible? — Cheryl Voglesong, Troy, Mich.

The eight congressional cowards we highlighted, and the additional 139 members of Congress who baselessly voted against certifying the 2020 election, do indeed seem to be insulated from consequences so far. These 147 members largely hail from Trump strongholds, which has shielded them from electoral consequences. Exacting legal consequences is also challenging because of the complex set of legal immunities members of Congress enjoy. That makes them tougher to prosecute or even investigate. Just last week, Scott Perry, a congressman from Pennsylvania who had one of the most significant roles in the attempted coup, was able to use this immunity argument to convince judges on the D.C. Circuit that prosecutors shouldn’t be able to access everything on his cellphone. (It was seized by the F.B.I. in August 2022, and he has been fighting back in the courts since.) The D.O.J. may still appeal that decision to the full D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court, but the whole episode highlights the challenge that prosecutors face in attempting to hold members of Congress accountable for their actions.

If you’re wondering why we chose to highlight these eight members of Congress and not the other 139 who voted against certifying the election results, it’s because we felt that, based on a thorough review of the public record, they bore the most profound responsibility. We could have included a generic bubble for the remaining 139, as we did elsewhere in the graphic, but ultimately we chose a simpler approach.

Serious Players Haven’t Been Charged

Based on taped comments that have been broadcast in the media, it would seem both Roger Stone and Steve Bannon were involved in the conspiracy. Why haven’t they been charged? — Kathy Rogers, Whitefish Bay, Wis.

Part of the reason Mr. Stone and Mr. Bannon have yet to be charged is that the American justice system has extremely high standards for prosecution and appeal. It’s one of the strengths of our justice system. So despite their participation in aspects of the effort, including taking part in the infamous Willard war room, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Stone were not charged because prosecutors likely decided the evidence was just not strong enough.

‘Mr. Trump Has Inspired Extreme Loyalty’

One would expect these were all law-abiding people for whom the threat of potential criminal prosecution works as an effective deterrent. Any thoughts about why the politicians and lawyers and bureaucrats risked their own personal well-being for this long-shot effort? — Jon Lipsky, San Francisco

I have wrestled with this question for years, including as the attempted coup was unfolding in real time after the election. I suspect the answer is slightly different for every single one of these people. Mr. Trump has inspired extreme loyalty in millions of Americans, and these leaders appear to be among them. That allegiance sent them down a factual and legal slippery slope that started with baseless arguments but culminated in outright illegal ones.

Pushing Back on Subversive Efforts

What formal mechanisms can be put in place to prevent individual states from putting up slates of fake electors? — Jeff Rosen, Evanston, Ill.

The efforts to overturn the election exploited weaknesses in the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which defined the procedures for certifying a president-elect’s victory at the time. In August 2022, I testified before the Senate Rules Committee in support of comprehensive legislative reform to prevent such shenanigans in the future by targeting the gaps exposed on Jan. 6. I’m pleased to say that these improvements became law in the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022. With 135 years elapsing between the original act in 1887 and the passage of the Electoral Count Reform Act in 2022, this remodel was long overdue, and should restrict future misconduct (although the criminal mind is endlessly inventive).

This network obviously does not care what the public thinks of them, and the progress made by the justice system has been halting at best. How can the average Joe push back on these subversive efforts? — Benjamin Larson, Cincinnati

The ultimate way that average people can push back on election subversion is by making their voices heard at the ballot box, preferably creating margins that are too large to easily overthrow. But it doesn’t stop there. With the multiple criminal cases moving across the country, there’s also a role for average folks in serving on the juries in these matters. Given Mr. Trump’s heated rhetoric, coming on top of the other sacrifices in serving as a juror in the trial of a long case, that is no easy task. But I’m confident that Americans will step up to do that job as well.

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