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Opinion Giuliani’s unhinged Jan. 6 rant shows how Trump’s media scam really works

Former Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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The Jan. 6 select committee issued new subpoenas Tuesday suggesting its investigation is focused on Rudolph W. Giuliani’s central role in trying to help Donald Trump thwart a duly elected government from taking power, to seize a second presidential term for Trump illegitimately.

Only hours later, Giuliani scurried into the safe confines of far-right media, where he was granted total free rein to broadcast the deranged alternate narrative that the only Real Insurrectionists who tried to overthrow the government have been Democrats.

This episode neatly illustrates how Trump and his allies will try to manipulate the information environment to help obscure Trump’s misdeeds — and his possible crimes — as the House committee’s work nears completion.

Giuliani’s latest unhinged rantings were delivered on Newsmax on Tuesday night. This came after the committee subpoenaed several figures related to Trump’s effort to get GOP legislatures to appoint sham electors to subvert President Biden’s victory.

Two of those subpoenaed are Trump campaign officials who engaged in a “coordinated strategy” to pressure legislators to execute that scheme, according to communications that the committee says it has obtained.

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The Giuliani connection comes in the subpoena of Laura Cox, the former Michigan GOP chair. The committee cites a Michigan Live story reporting that Cox was present on a video conference when Giuliani pressured state legislators not to certify Biden’s electors, saying this would be a “criminal act.”

In other words, the committee is reconstructing Giuliani’s extensive role in pressuring GOP-led states to help Trump steal the election. As the New York Times reports, Giuliani also helped develop the “legal” strategy by which Trump would exploit the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to pull this off.

A staunch conservative’s urgent warning to the GOP about Trump and 2024

But during Giuliani’s appearance on Newsmax, an entirely alternate storyline unfolded, one hermetically sealed off from the events that actually did unfold. He declared the committee “illegal,” based on one of the dumber right-wing arguments making the rounds.

“Jan. 6 is nothing more than ‘Russian collusion,’ with another name, and a new lie,” Giuliani continued. Then he mimicked what he said were “crazy, exaggerated” claims by Democrats: “It’s worse than September 11th, it’s worse than Pearl Harbor, it’s worse than the Civil War!!!”

As Giuliani’s fake outrage crescendoed, his voice rose to a manic pitch:

Giuliani also unleashed a jumble of other right-wing obsessions, railing about Democratic efforts to hold Trump accountable for pressuring Ukraine to announce a sham investigation of Biden to help Trump win reelection.

But what’s really telling is that Giuliani invoked the latest invented right-wing scandal involving special counsel John Durham, who is probing the roots of the Russia investigation. Giuliani railed that Durham has unmasked Hillary Clinton and her aides as “criminals” who engaged in a “frame up” of Trump over Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That’s pure nonsense. As Glenn Kessler demonstrates, the right has taken a new court filing from Durham and twisted it beyond recognition to insinuate he has uncovered new evidence of Clinton-linked “spying” on Trump’s campaign, which Durham himself doesn’t even claim.

What’s important here is the right’s broader alt-narrative, in which Democrats were the Real Insurrectionists. They tried to overthrow Trump’s government, by backing an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election (which actually happened), and by impeaching him for pressuring a foreign ally to corrupt the 2020 election (which also actually happened).

This hints at the role the fake Durham scandal will play in coming weeks.

As the committee’s latest scrutiny of Giuliani shows, it is seeking to assemble a very comprehensive picture of the degree to which Trump and his co-conspirators actually did attempt to overthrow our constitutional order to install him in power illegitimately, through extraordinary procedural corruption and then by inciting mob violence.

The fake Durham scandal will be chum to muddy up the media water as this full picture comes into view. It’s no accident that Trump himself has been madly pushing the Durham story in recent days. He’s very much in on this scam.

Phony scandals such as this one create a profound dilemma for the media. As New York Times reporter Charlie Savage wrote in a good piece, in the face of right-wing misinformation, news organizations must decide whether it merits coverage at all, since it’s misinformation, but if they don’t cover it, the right attacks them as biased.

The game is to cow the media into injecting pollution and sewage into the information environment. And this has created a badly lopsided situation.

On the right, a huge network of outlets blares forth its own comprehensively sealed off alt-narrative, as we just saw with Giuliani on Newsmax. Meanwhile, as we’re seeing with the Durham tale, news organizations often struggle to debunk right-wing disinformation, a complicated undertaking that often ultimately muddies up the truth simply by virtue of covering it, which is what that disinformation is designed to do.

You can be certain this Durham story will play a big role in the coming effort by Trump allies to obscure and distract from emerging truths about him and Jan. 6. Unfortunately, because there’s no easy answer to this problem, it might prove depressingly effective.