Dead men tell no tales, but their hard drives do. That’s what happened to the late Republican operative Thomas Hofeller, a key figure in Republicans’ project to rig elections in their favor, after his estranged daughter discovered his cache of electronic documents and turned them over to Common Cause.
First we learned that Hofeller had been working with the Trump administration in its effort to add a citizenship question to the census in order to give a political advantage to Republicans and white people — an effort about which they have told repeated falsehoods to the public and even under oath. And now we learn that wasn’t the only piece of Hofeller’s work Republicans were likely lying about:
In 2017, after the Supreme Court affirmed that North Carolina’s GOP-drawn districts were illegally built around race, the state’s Republican leaders told a federal court they couldn’t quickly craft new boundaries in time for a special election later that year. They hadn’t yet started “the laborious process” of creating maps, they said, and still needed to talk to voters.
The court bought the argument, giving the state GOP nearly another year with a supermajority — an advantage it used to appoint judges and push constitutional amendments.
But a trove of once-secret documents from a strategist behind Republican gerrymandering efforts proves that argument was false, a watchdog group claimed in a Thursday court filing. In fact, that strategist, Thomas Hofeller, had already drawn up numerous maps and completed 97 percent of a plan for proposed state Senate districts and 90 percent of a House plan.
The background is that the Republican Party in North Carolina has for the past few years been engaged in some of the most blatant and systematic attacks on democracy to be found anywhere in the country. The gerrymander in question was so obviously intended to take power from African American voters that even the Republican-dominated Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that it had to be thrown out.
A voter ID law the GOP-controlled legislature passed was also ruled unconstitutional, with a panel of federal judges writing that its provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” After a Democrat was elected governor in 2016, Republicans rushed through a bill curbing his power in a lame-duck session.
If there’s a ground zero for the GOP war on democratic representation, North Carolina is it. And every time, Republicans came up with a bogus justification for their actions that they somehow managed to repeat with a straight face.
In this case, it isn’t just whether they could complete new maps that they seem to have lied about. Common Cause alleges that while the state’s Republicans told the court they were not using data on race in order to draw the new maps, in fact, Hofeller was drawing new maps for them with race data that would enable them to once again cut African Americans out of power.
People being dishonest about their real motivations happens a lot in politics, of course. But there are some lies that stand out, those that are so obvious that the one uttering them can only be enjoying themselves watching how flabbergasted everyone is that they’d be so epically mendacious.
What complicates things is that so many in the media feel it necessary to treat those lies as legitimate, if perhaps questionable, claims. So when Republicans say their efforts to disenfranchise African Americans, young people and anyone else too likely to vote for Democrats are actually a product of their deep concern over “voter fraud,” they know exactly how it will be presented in the media. Republicans say this giant turd is actually a fine diamond; Democrats counter that it is, in fact, a giant turd.
Once you’ve gotten away with that kind of lying to the public, it might begin to feel as though you can get away with anything. Such as, for instance, lying to a judge. Sure, it’s technically illegal, but who’s going to find out? It’s not as if this consultant we work with is going to die, and then his hard drives will be found by his estranged daughter, and then she’ll turn them over to one of the organizations fighting us, and they’ll make its contents public. What are the odds of that happening?
Pretty low, no doubt. But in this case, it did happen.
This case made me think of the time when Trump aide Hope Hicks allegedly argued that the president and the White House should keep lying about the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians, because the emails from and to Donald Trump Jr. organizing the meeting “will never get out.”
She was wrong about that, just as North Carolina Republicans were wrong if they thought the same of Hofeller’s files. We’ll have to see if they actually suffer some sort of consequence.