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Norm Eisen: Trump ‘unbalanced’ by 2020 election, fell off tightrope

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Norm Eisen: Trump ‘unbalanced’ by 2020 election, fell off tightrope

Nov 30, 2022 | 4:34 pm ET
By Deena Winter
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Norm Eisen: Trump ‘unbalanced’ by 2020 election, fell off tightrope
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WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 11: U.S. House Judiciary Committee majority counsel Norm Eisen (left) talks with Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, during a committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. House Democrats claim that Trump posed a "clear and present danger" to national security and the 2020 election in his dealings with Ukraine over the past year. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Norman Eisen, an election lawyer who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 2019 to 2020, including for the impeachment and trial of former President Donald Trump, and advised the Obama White House on election law and was 44’s ethics czar, talked to the Reformer on Wednesday about the midterm elections, the red wave that wasn’t and Trump’s legal exposure. Here are excerpts from the conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity.

On the likelihood of a Trump indictment: high

I won’t predict which of the investigations will result in charges but given the sheer amount of the former president’s wrongdoing — which seems to have been concentrated in the period in, around and after he lost the election — it caused him to lose his balance. He had walked a tightrope of, in my view, illegality for his entire career and certainly in the White House. Whether it was civilly on issues like emoluments — constitutionally prohibited cash and benefits from foreign governments — or a criminal and civil violation, Trump managed to walk that tightrope and not fall off. But I think he was unbalanced by the 2020 election and particularly by the loss and in my view, he has serious criminal exposure. Perhaps the most serious is in the state of Georgia. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s said that the Jan. 6 committee is seriously considering additional criminal referrals; who knows what they’re gonna call for?

On our very own special Kim

You know, Kim Crockett, your secretary of state candidate (editor’s note: she was defeated by Secretary of State Steve Simon)… Fortunately, it was repudiated at the polls and at the constitutional officer level, you don’t have election deniers who will be running your elections, but boy, you’ve got them in your legislative delegation — state and federal legislative delegation. So this threat of election denial is not going away.

On election denial and criminality   

Don’t just look at Trump; look at the people he inspires. The Cochise County Board of Supervisors — they won’t certify an election over in Arizona. They are committing crimes. … Election denial leads to criminality. That’s why the Trump investigations are so important. And we’re going to continue to see this propensity. So, that is the problem with the election denial. It’s a continuing danger to our country, and they’re not stopping and so we must celebrate election deniers’ defeat, the successes for democracy, but also remain vigilant.

Team Normal and Team Crazy  

My best friend is a firm Trumper and he keeps telling me that “2,000 Mules” is real.  (Editor’s note: He’s referring to a Dinesh D’Souza documentary filled with debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.) Thank goodness his wife is a normal conservative. You know, there’s Team Normal and Team Crazy. I don’t know what I would do if both of them went over the edge… He’s a very educated, affluent individual. He hasn’t suffered the kinds of understandable stresses that many who voted for Trump did — remember 10 million Trump voters were Obama voters. He hasn’t suffered those kinds of stresses. 

What happens if indictments come down

I believe that there will be grumbling. There’ll be anger. Trump will make noise. But just as we saw in the 2018, the 2020 and the 2022 elections, all of those were referenda on how the country reacted to Trump’s autocratic threats… He is building on a long tradition of autocratic movements and his reaction and the reaction of his followers will be the same as when (Silvio) Berlusconi was prosecuted in Italy (editor’s note: for paying for sex with an underage sex worker)… There can be no doubt that Trump’s autocracy and his criminal election denial was thoroughly rejected across the United States.

Election deniers underperformed regular Republicans

If you look at the underperformance in places like Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Crockett — the way Crockett underperformed other Republicans in Minnesota — you will see that… the American people realize that Trump’s election denial ideology inevitably leads to criminality. They didn’t want to get on that slippery slope with a whole new generation of Trumpists, and they repudiated it. And if you compare, just look at the numbers, how much worse Team Crazy performed than Team Normal in the Republican Party from coast to coast. You will see that there is proof now that the American people won’t stand for it.

On potential violence  

Yes, he’s going to try to stimulate violence of his followers, but we didn’t have widespread violence in the 2022 election. It did erupt in the aftermath of 2020, but we were prepared in 2022. If Trump is charged, the country is prepared to deal with his incitement.

Why not let him be?

But if he’s not charged, what kind of country will we be? The greater danger is if he’s not charged. … Anybody else would be charged for what he did with the Mar-a-Lago classified documents, for the fake electoral slate and the trying to get fake votes in Georgia, for his role in Jan. 6. Any other American would be charged. It won’t be America if one person in virtue of having been a former president can get away with that kind of stuff. That’s why I’m so certain he will be charged because it’s essential to the American rule of law system. 

Are we in the clear?

Trumpism is far from dead. It’s taken over… This is very much a living phenomenon and we’re going to have to deal with it for many years to come. We need to celebrate the defeats of election deniers in many races and in the most important election-controlling races in 2022. But we need to stay vigilant… There were hundreds of election deniers who successfully won office and they’ve taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives. How can that be? … Let’s remind ourselves that in many places, the forest fire is still burning and it can erupt. And there’s an out-and-out high-level conflagration that’s about to explode in the United States House of Representatives. The fire is not out.