13848: In the Event of Foreign Interference in a U.S. Election (with Gal Suburban)
How turning in an assignment late might have saved democracy.
On its face, Executive Order 13848, “On Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election”—issued on September 12, 2018 by President Donald John Trump—seems perfectly benign:
Although there has been no evidence of a foreign power altering the outcome or vote tabulation in any United States election, foreign powers have historically sought to exploit America’s free and open political system. In recent years, the proliferation of digital devices and internet-based communications has created significant vulnerabilities and magnified the scope and intensity of the threat of foreign interference, as illustrated in the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with this threat.
The key takeaway is this:
Not later than 45 days after the conclusion of a United States election, the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the heads of any other appropriate executive departments and agencies (agencies), shall conduct an assessment of any information indicating that a foreign government, or any person acting as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign government, has acted with the intent or purpose of interfering in that election. The assessment shall identify, to the maximum extent ascertainable, the nature of any foreign interference and any methods employed to execute it, the persons involved, and the foreign government or governments that authorized, directed, sponsored, or supported it. The Director of National Intelligence shall deliver this assessment and appropriate supporting information to the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
As Trump well knows, a hostile foreign power—Russia—did tamper with the election of 2016. Our Intelligence Community should be making sure hostile foreign powers are not tampering with our elections. The threat of foreign interference in elections is a national emergency. President Biden agrees; back in September, he re-upped E.O. 13848 for one more year.
But Trump doesn’t do anything without some ulterior motive. And if Gal Suburban, the crack open-source researcher and today’s guest on the PREVAIL podcast, is right, 13848 was one of the weapons Trump and his seditious brain trust planned to use to nullify the results of the 2020 election. The executive order was an arrow in the fascist quiver—perhaps the arrow that would end democracy in the United States.
The alleged plan, as laid out by Gal Suburban and Jim Stewartson in a series of pieces on MindWar, the latter’s Substack, went like this: Per 13848, Trump would receive the IC’s report on foreign interference 45 days after the 2020 election—December 18, 2020. He would use the findings therein to invalidate the results, ordering the National Guard to seize voting machines. Then he would have a do-over. But this time, the election would be managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent agency of the federal government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance—including running elections in fledgling democracies. (In November of 2020, Trump went to extraordinary lengths to keep the acting head of USAID, a MAGA loyalist named John Barsa, in the job.)
The researchers conclude:
It appears Executive Order #13848 was set to be executed based on fraudulent accusations of foreign election interference, which would have enabled Trump to direct the US National Guard to seize voting equipment in the designated swing states, or any other states of their choosing, and then deploy USAID to function as the “Election Infrastructure.”
This type of operation would be familiar to those who served in the US Armed Forces, specifically during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). One such veteran who would have extensive knowledge of this mission is Michael Flynn, who served as the Director of Intelligence, Joint Special Operations Command at the time.
The timeline of events from early November 2020 through the January 6 insurrection strongly suggests that Trump was willing to move heaven and earth to remain Commander-in-Chief, despite his decisive loss in the election—the popular will of the people, and the Electoral College, be damned.
3 November 2020
Election Day. Despite all the ominous red on the CNN maps, the sabotage of the Postal Service by Louis de Joy, and the media’s reluctance to quickly call the election, it’s clear that Biden is going to win the presidency.
6 November 2020
John Barsa was named acting administrator of USAID in April of 2020. The husband of a lobbyist for ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim advocacy group, Barsa was never formally nominated to the job. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 required that he vacate the position after 210 days. On November 6, then, he was supposed to leave, and the top job was supposed to go to the deputy, Bonnie Glick. It did not. Instead, Trump fired Glick, and replaced her with—wait for it—John Barsa. With this bit of musical-chairs chicanery, a slap in the face of the spirit of the law, Trump made damn sure his lickspittle would remain in charge of USAID through the end of his presidency.
7 November 2020
Major media outlets, including The Associated Press and Fox News, call the election for Biden, interrupting a press conference Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani is holding at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia.
9 November 2020
Barsa and another Trump appointee at the agency, Catharine O’Neill, inform USAID employees that “the only official announcement about an election result that matters is from the head of GSA, so until the head of GSA makes a determination as to who won an election, nothing changes. There is no [presidential] transition in place.” The head of the General Services Administration, which oversees the logistical aspects of the transition, releasing funds and so forth, is a die-hard Trumpist named Emily Murphy.
“The Electoral College has not voted yet,” O’Neill says, “so we are still here, business as usual, working for the president, and making sure that everything that we’re doing is to serve the president of the United States.”
Also on this day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is fired by tweet. Christopher C. Miller is named Acting Secretary of Defense. Miller taps Devin Nunes’ lackey Kash Patel—the guy who just published the pro-Big Lie children’s book—as his chief of staff.
10 December 2020
Trump issues a bizarre executive order, 13964, “Rebranding United States Foreign Assistance To Advance American Influence,” that consolidates the logos of various U.S. foreign development agencies, including USAID.
13 December 2020
Late Sunday night, an obscure attorney named Ken Chesebro sends an email to Rudy Giuliani—“Dear Mayor,” it begins—that comprises the first known attempt by Trump’s legal team to subvert the spirit of the Electoral Count Act into “a day-by-day plan of action,” as U.S. District Court Judge David Carter would later write in his opinion. The memo, Carter determined, “likely furthered the crimes of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
One wonders if, by this December weekend, Trump’s legal team had advance notice of what became public three days later:
16 December 2020
Amanda Schoch, director of strategic communications for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, announces that the report mandated by E.O. 13848 will not be ready by December 18.
“This afternoon,” she tweets, “the DNI [Trump toady John Ratcliffe] was notified by career intelligence officials that the Intelligence Community will not meet the December 18 deadline, set by Executive Order and Congress to submit the IC’s classified assessment on foreign threats to the 2020 U.S. elections. The IC has received relevant reporting since the election and a number of agencies have not finished coordinating on the product.”
If the plan to overturn the election hinged on receipt of that report, the IC’s failure to produce it put a Jeff Goldblum-sized fly in the ointment.
“Had the DNI Report been available, would Trump have had the power to seize voting machines & declare the 2020 Election Null & Void?” Gal Suburban mused. “And did someone in DNI delay the submission in order to protect us from that?”
18 December 2020
On the day the intelligence report was due—oops—an impromptu meeting is held at the White House. Mike Flynn, Patrick Byrne, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and a host of other potential seditious conspirators talk their way into the Oval Office, where they meet with Trump. The powwow goes on for four hours, eventually relocating to the Residence, and may prove to be the critical event in the planning of the January 6 insurrection.
19 December 2020
Trump advisor Peter Navarro releases a 36-page report alleging mass election fraud, maintaining that the election was stolen. Trump tweets out the link, saying: “Statistically impossible to have lost 2020 election. Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
3 January 2021
In an open letter regarding a potential military coup to overturn the election results, all ten living former defense secretaries warn officials who may participate—especially the recently-installed Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller—not to violate the Constitution.
The same day, Miller is ordered by Trump to “do whatever [is] necessary to protect the demonstrators” coming to Washington on January 6.
5 January 2021
Cryptically, Chuck Grassley says he doesn’t expect Pence to preside at the vote certification the next day, echoing Chesebro memo. As the Senate president pro tempore, Grassley is third in line to the presidency, after the VP and the Speaker of the House.
Meanwhile, in an interview on the Alex Jones show, Mike Flynn discusses E.O. 13848:
6 January 2021
MAGA besiegers storm the Capitol.
16 March 2021
The IC report is finally released, and is not at all what the Trump people would have wanted. Its primary conclusion with respect to foreign interference is that Russian operatives, on the orders of Vladimir Putin, attempted to denigrate Biden and boost Trump. The report also debunked the Trump team’s claims of Chinese interference.
But as the Bill Barr cock-block of the Mueller Report made clear, long reports are easy for the bad guys to spin. Denying Trump the report in December as a tool to serve his purposes, the IC, intentionally or otherwise, did our democracy a great service. As Gal Suburban tells me, “I think whoever relayed that information to Radcliffe”—that is, told him that the report would not be ready on time—“probably saved the country.”
Researcher Gal Suburban returns to PREVAIL, where she updates Greg Olear on the situation in Florida, opines on the Uvalde shootings and upcoming January 6 Committee public hearings, and breaks down her theory of how Executive Order 13848 was Trump’s Plan A to overturn the election. Plus: Have you Heard? The verdict is in.
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Photo credit: Robert Scoble. White House at night.