Trump’s Lenny Bruce Defense

Never tell them—deny it. They got the audiotape? Deny it!

I don’t mind that President Donald Trump’s lawyers submitted a stupid brief to the Senate defending him against the charge that he incited the January 6 Capitol Hill putsch. But I do kind of resent that they think you and I are stupid, too. Please turn with me to page eight and read silently while I read aloud:

“It is denied that President Trump threatened [Georgia] Secretary [of State Brad] Raffensperger.”

There are lots of other assertions in the brief that are false, but none of them is quite so inarguably false as this.

“Never tell them, deny it—they got pictures, deny it!” Lenny Bruce famously joked about what to do when you get caught cheating. That’s what Trump’s doing here, except in this particular instance, “they” (i.e, we) have it on audiotape. The Washington Post put the tape on the web, along with a transcript.

Let’s look at the parts of the transcript where Trump is supposedly not threatening Raffensperger. I’ve italicized the most relevant portions.

Trump: I think you’re going to find that they are shredding ballots because they have to get rid of the ballots because the ballots are unsigned. The ballots are corrupt, and they’re brand new, and they don’t have seals, and there’s a whole thing with the ballots. But the ballots are corrupt.

And you are going to find that they are—which is totally illegal—it is more illegal for you than it is for them because you know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that’s a big risk.

But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I’ve heard. And they are removing machinery, and they’re moving it as fast as they can, both of which are criminal finds. And you can’t let it happen, and you are letting it happen. You know, I mean, I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen.

But I mean all of this stuff is very dangerous stuff. When you talk about no criminality, I think it’s very dangerous for you to say that.

I think you have to say that you’re going to reexamine it, and you can reexamine it, but reexamine it with people that want to find answers, not people that don’t want to find answers.

Under law, you’re not allowed to give faulty election results, okay? You’re not allowed to do that. And that’s what you done. This is a faulty election result.

One of Trump’s more endearing habits is his tendency to blurt out criminal intent in circumstances where someone with a bit more finesse would merely insinuate it. We can argue, perhaps, about how many times Trump threatened Raffensperger explicitly with prosecution. I count five. Maybe you count three. But nobody with eyes and ears can conclude reasonably that Trump didn’t threaten Raffensperger with prosecution at least once or twice.

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Timothy Noah

Timothy Noah is a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly. He is the author of The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It.