Opinion: A letter that wasn’t delivered, and a lie that won’t go away

Vice President Mike Pence officiates as a joint session of the House and Senate reconvenes to confirm the Electoral College votes at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Vice President Mike Pence officiates as a joint session of the House and Senate reconvenes to confirm the Electoral College votes at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Credit: Erin Schaff

Credit: Erin Schaff

These paragraphs are about a letter from several Republican state senators to Vice President Mike Pence, asking him to delay congressional action to name Joe Biden the next president.

The letter was composed, signed, and ready for delivery. But it never quite made it to vice president’s dinner table in D.C. — the very one that Pence supped at hours before he was rushed into a hidden room within the U.S. Capitol complex.

To escape an angry mob sent there by President Donald Trump, you see.

This is also about the power of belief in the absence of provable facts.

Some call this faith. If you are Christian and live in the South, you have probably sat through many a sermon on the goodness that can be produced by belief the size of a mustard seed. In the past few days, we have also learned — or better, relearned — that the power of belief can also be harnessed for evil.

Last weekend produced more details about the immense pressure Trump placed on Georgia officials, at all levels of government, to negate the votes of nearly 5 million Georgia voters on Nov. 3.

It turns out that Trump made not one, but two lengthy phone calls to state election officials urging the discovery of enough votes to overturn the Georgia results. Which makes it easier to understand why the second call, to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, was recorded.

We found out that White House officials urged U.S. Attorney BJay Pak to abruptly resign because the president had expressed anger that the top federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Georgia hadn’t promoted Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud.

And that Trump told U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, on the day before she lost her election, that he would “do a number on her” from the stage where they were to fire up north Georgia voters — if she didn’t back his electoral college challenges.

But there was yet another initiative. It flowed from Georgia to D.C. — or at least, that was the intention.

On Sunday, we learned of that letter addressed to Vice President Pence, from a significant portion of the state Republican caucus. At the time, we reported that five senators were involved.

The letter urged the vice president to put off congressional certification of the electoral college votes for 12 days “to allow for further investigation of fraud, irregularities, and misconduct” in Georgia’s election.

It carried a date of Jan. 2, the same day that President Trump arm-twisted Raffensperger on the phone.

The letter indeed went to Washington, but never made it into Pence’s hands. “That was misinformation. I’ve still got the original copy here in my hand. It got leaked by some of our fine colleagues,” said state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, on Tuesday.

Jones is near the top of a short list of Republicans who are likely to be eying statewide races in 2022. But on Wednesday, Jan. 5, Jones was dining with the man whom he had encouraged to run for president in 2016.

“I saw his people and the vice president. I didn’t ask him directly. I was just reading him. I was reading his body language and everything else,” Jones said.

The letter — with 16 signatures, according to Jones — wasn’t on his person. “I had an Uber driver, and I just told him to go on and wait on us. So I had it sitting out in the car. I never did bring it in. I could tell that it wasn’t going to happen,” the state senator said.

Pence indeed had already made up his mind that he lacked the constitutional standing to extend the 2020 presidential contest. Jones left D.C. that night, with his undelivered letter. Trump rallied the next day, and Congress convened. Then came the mob.

The letter was written to encourage Pence to side with Trump.

Many of the GOP senators had been involved in two December hearings held by Senate subcommittees that looked into the Nov. 3 presidential contest. (And for some reason, only that contest.) The second hearing featured Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney and a super-spreader of electoral disinformation. Giuliani wasn’t the only rumormonger. Just the most prominent.

The former New York mayor focused on that video of Fulton County election workers at State Farm Arena, claiming it was proof of nefarious doings. In their letter, the senators did the same.

“We have identified a team of experts who are able to examine the ballots and the voting and counting equipment to determine whether or not the integrity of the vote was violated,” the senators intended to tell Pence.

The matter has been thoroughly investigated and debunked time and again, by people who on Nov. 2 were still considered good Republicans. But belief in the lie lives on.

Aside from Jones, one of the signers was state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who is beginning his fifth term in office and has long been considered a champion of business interests — transportation and economic development. He has supported pari-mutuel betting. He is not someone who usually engages in ideological tussles.

Beach was also among GOP senators (many of whom also signed the Jan. 2 letter) who urged Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special session of the Legislature in December, presumably to select a slate of electoral college members different from the one chosen by voters. Who would vote for Trump.

The Alpharetta senator said he has been inundated by constituents airing their electoral suspicions. He told of a Cobb County poll watcher. “She videotaped a shredding machine truck coming. Now they say they were just extra ballots they were shredding, that were not used. But who knows if that was true or not?” Beach asked.

The answer: We know. Emergency paper ballots are required to be on hand. And they need to be shredded afterward so they can’t be misused. But believing that fact would destroy a valued narrative, and so it is the fact that must be dismissed.

Certainly, neither Jones nor Beach would express anything but outrage at the fatal ransacking of the U.S. Capitol last week. Yet they are among 236 or so state lawmakers who are now gathering at a state Capitol that is armed to the teeth.

The Atlanta campus is a muddy mess, in large part because of the fencing going up around the building. When the decision to install the barriers was made this summer, Black Lives Matter protests were a reason. Today, Capitol police, state troopers and guard units are carrying long guns in response to an FBI warning that well-armed, rightist militia groups are threatening measures at state capitols across the country in support of President Trump.

On Tuesday, from the well of the chamber, state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, drew a straight line between the stories told by many of her Republican colleagues, that Trump’s second term was being stolen — and the violence that shook the nation last week. And the violence that still could come.

“Members of this body aided and abetted the spread of information. They gave oxygen to a lie. Livestreaming on OAN and Newsmax — livestreaming from the fourth floor of this building,” Jordan said.

“Words are powerful, especially when they come from those elected to represent the people. Those with official titles, those with power — and lies have consequences,” she said. “It was done in service to a man — a man, flesh and blood. Just like any of us. Who has somehow made grown men — good men, smart men — turn their backs on their obligations and their country and their state.”

Unbending belief in what is not has been on the minds of others in the Capitol. On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp sat down with my Journal-Constitution colleague Greg Bluestein. Kemp spoke of his conversations with Georgians enraged by his refusal to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.

“I tell them I don’t have the authority to do that, and I explain the laws and the Constitution. But they still don’t believe me. I’ve told some of them, ‘Look, I’m telling you the truth, I’m being honest with you, but I can’t make you believe me.’

“Some people are not at the point where they can believe that yet. That will come with time for most people,” Kemp said.

Or not.

The governor is likely to face a Republican primary challenge next May. Who that might be is uncertain, but he or she will no doubt come from the Trump side of the GOP.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” Upton Sinclair once wrote. It is also difficult to stop believing in an untruth, if that cessation would bring your worldview, or ambition, crashing down.

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