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Federal Politics

Who Is Mike Roman? The Trump Indictee with Canadian Ties

Charged with US election crimes, Roman strategized with Scheer and helped Harper push a global right-wing agenda.

Michael Harris 6 Sep 2023The Tyee

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributor, is a highly awarded journalist and documentary maker. Author of Party of One, the best-selling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

Among the names of 18 people indicted in Georgia along with Donald Trump for allegedly conspiring to steal the U.S. election is one few Canadians know: Mike Roman.

And why should we? He’s never grabbed headlines like some of the others charged — big shots like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani or former presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows.

But Canadians had better get acquainted with Roman — an American whose resume includes preaching to Conservative party insiders and working alongside former prime minister Stephen Harper at a multinational body built to deliver elections for right-wingers.

Roman matters because in Canada, as well as the U.S. and many other countries today, third-party groups, often homegrown and emphatically authoritarian, pose a real threat to democracy. They are helping to elect governments that are subverting basic freedoms in the West.

Roman’s exposed role in the Georgia election scandal should act as a wake-up call to everyone who worries about what can only be called fascist-creep in democracies around the world.

In service of the Big Lie

Roman’s indictment alleges that in late November 2020, he urged other campaign officials to contact state legislators in Georgia to encourage them to appoint Trump electors — after Trump had clearly lost the election.

Roman also organized speakers for a Dec. 10, 2020 hearing before a Georgia house committee to spread false information, namely that the state’s vote was riddled with fraud. Giuliani, also indicted under the same racketeering statute as Roman, was the star of that shit show.

But Roman’s role was even bigger. According to testimony before the select congressional committee probing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Roman handled most of the organizing of the fake electors scheme in seven battleground states.

During his own testimony before the select committee on Aug. 10, 2022, Roman asserted his Fifth Amendment rights at least 130 times. Remember what Trump said? Only guilty people plead the fifth.

Roman’s backstory is a tangled tale, but one worth telling. That’s because in today’s politics, borders mean nothing. What happens in the U.S., and elsewhere, doesn’t stay in the U.S. All politics, like commerce, is globally linked.

After dropping out of the University of Miami, Roman found a career in politics, first as a fixer, later as a dirty-trickster.

One of his earliest claims to fame was his role in overturning the results of a special election for the Pennsylvania state senate in 1993, the same year Stephen Harper won a seat in Parliament in this country.

On behalf of the loser of that election, Republican Bruce Marks, Roman came up with the strategy of taking the case to court, alleging that the election was rife with voter fraud.

And that’s how the ostensible loser in the election became state senator via the courts. This was believed to be a first in American politics, and the GOP establishment took notice of a promising new way to turn losing into winning. Sometimes the courts could give you what the electorate did not — a tactic later tried on steroids by Trump. The key was never to concede defeat.

Roman became something of a backroom boy wonder. He went on to work on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, John McCain and Giuliani.

Despite his claims of being a political researcher and consultant, he was actually a sultan of scaremongering. In the 2008 presidential election, he promoted a video of two alleged members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside a polling station in Philadelphia. One of the alleged intimidators was holding a nightstick.

The video was played on a loop on Fox News. Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California and an expert on election law, made this comment:

“The video was certainly used by political operatives to create this false impression of voter intimidation and fraud being a major problem.”

The racially charged video raised Roman’s profile even higher, both within the Republican party, and with its wealthy supporters. He landed a job with the network bankrolled by the oil magnate Koch brothers, tasked with investigating Democrats, environmental activists and others on the left. He had a staff of 25 like-minded, partisan dirt-diggers, according to Politico.

A 2014 tax return for Freedom Partners, the Koch-supported organization where he worked, showed Roman as vice-president of research, at an annual salary and benefits worth over $285,000.

After working on Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign, Roman joined the White House staff as a special assistant to the president’s director of special projects and research. His office was inside the impressive Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and his salary was $115,000 a year.

Roman left that post in 2018 to begin work on Trump’s re-election campaign. In the run-up to the 2020 election, Roman used social media to repeatedly cast doubt on the integrity of the vote — part of a carefully laid plan to claim voter fraud in advance to allow Trump to remain in office should he lose the election.

And Roman provided another service. Trump had advocated for an “army” of poll watchers to monitor voting in Democratic areas during the presidential election. Under Roman’s direction, the campaign hired full-time staff to organize the “Army for Trump” in 11 battleground states.

Professor Hasen again took note:

“Mike Roman has made many unsubstantiated allegations of fraud and rigging, he has a history and general reputation as someone who stirs things up, so his presence in any election day issues gives me pause.”

Roman’s Canada file

As busy as Roman was with his Republican machinations, he found time to help out the Conservative Party of Canada. On April 11, 2019, Andrew Scheer, then-Conservative leader and leader of the official Opposition, was the keynote speaker at a closed-door event held at a luxury resort in the foothills of Alberta.

At that meeting, the leader and Conservative party strategists talked to oil company executives about political campaigns. Not energy policy, but campaigns.

Then-Conservative party campaign manager Hamish Marshall spoke about what he called “the new third-party campaign model.” In other words, making use of people not directly affiliated with the party who might be able to help the Conservatives win. People flying under the radar of Elections Canada.

(Harper has been obsessed with the effort to allow third-party actors to spend unlimited amounts of money during elections since his days as head of the National Citizens Coalition. He took that fight all the way to the Supreme Court, where he lost in 2004.)

Discussions at the Alberta meeting included topics like “network campaigns” and “campaign techniques.”

Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton spoke about using litigation to “get tough” on environmental groups — in other words, intimidate them.

At the same meeting, Roman had some ideas of his own about how to deal with opponents like environmentalists. He talked about “countering such groups with opposition research.” It was a euphemism for something he was very familiar with — digging up dirt on your opponents. What the Russians would call “kompromat.”

This meeting, that included the leader of the Conservatives, members of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and an American Trump operative, would be concerning under any circumstances. What strange bedfellows for a meeting on campaign strategy. And why bar the public from looking in?

The confab was all the more worrying because it took place just six months before the federal election of Oct. 21, 2019. Why would Scheer be discussing U.S.-style campaign tactics with the oil executives unless, like Harper, he carried a brief for their industry?

And what was Roman, a notorious Republican political operative who had served on the Republican National Committee, doing there? Who invited him?

Roman, Harper and the International Democrat Union

At the time of Roman’s participation in that closed-door meeting in Alberta, the Republican operative was closely associated with an organization named the International Democrat Union. Roman first shows up as the organization’s treasurer, later as assistant chairman. The chairman of the IDU was then, and is now, Stephen Harper.

Harper shares top Republican connections with Roman. On April 7, 2016, Harper travelled to Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas mansion. Adelson, now deceased, was at that time one of the wealthiest donors to the Republican party. He had not yet donated to the 2016 presidential campaign.

After Donald Trump promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a change that flew in the face of international consensus that East Jerusalem belonged to the Palestinians, Adelson endorsed the maverick populist who would soon be president.

During his Las Vegas visit, Harper delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Congress. His subject was how to unite fractured political parties. It was Harper’s first public appearance since losing the 2015 federal election to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Harper was still a sitting member of the House of Commons at the time.

According to a hacked email from Colin Powell to Peter McKay, Harper was also invited to the mysterious, highly secretive and ultra-exclusive Bohemian Grove gathering in July 2016. It is the private club of the most powerful conservatives in the United States. Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger were there the year that Harper attended.

Eighteen months after resigning his seat in Parliament, on Feb. 21, 2018, Harper became chairman of the International Democrat Union. Founded in 1983, the IDU is dedicated to getting right-wing governments elected around the world. Influence or interference? It is a very fine line.

The IDU has its main office in the headquarters of the Christian Social Union in Munich, Germany. The CSU, a founding member of the International Democrat Union, is a socially conservative party created in 1946.

Very little is known about exactly what the IDU does, or who funds it. But a surfaced CIA memo originally produced on July 23, 1985, indicated that at that time, the IDU received half its funding from the 17 European founding member parties of the organization.

Of that group, two West German, right-wing parties and the U.K. Conservative party reportedly “carried the heaviest financial burden.”

The other half of the IDU’s funding came from the U.S. Republican party and the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party. Canada’s former Progressive Conservative party also was a founding member of the IDU.

Since its start 40 years ago, the IDU has expanded dramatically. It now has 84 member political parties, some dedicated to increasingly harsh versions of right-wing politics. India’s ruling right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, joined the IDU in 2016, and Israel’s Likud followed suit in 2018.

Both India’s PM Narendra Modi and Israel’s indicted PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, have made hard turns to the nationalist right. In Netanyahu’s case, his government is pursuing legislation that would give the party the power to overturn rulings of Israel’s Supreme Court by a simple majority vote in the Knesset.

One of the IDU’s members, Victor Orbán’s governing party in Hungary, has been criticized by the European Union for the steady erosion of democratic institutions. The EU has even openly questioned if Hungary is still a democracy.

Human Rights Watch has accused Orbán of sustained “attacks on rule of law and public institutions” by undermining judicial independence and putting journalists under surveillance.

Yet Stephen Harper publicly congratulated Hungary’s right-wing nationalist leader after his most recent electoral victory in April 2022. And on July 6, Harper had a warm and fuzzy face-to-face meeting with Orbán in Budapest.

Harper tweeted that the two men discussed “the importance of centre-right parties strengthening their collaboration.”

Orbán’s tweet left out the word “centre.” “Had a great meeting IDU Alliance Chairman @Stephen Harper. International cooperation between right-wing, conservative parties is more important than ever. Chairman Harper is a great ally in this respect. Thanks for your support, Mr. Chairman.”

Signs of US-style fascism

In the United States, the anti-democratic strain of conservatism that currently dominates the Republican party may already have morphed into fascism. The evidence for that proposition is powerful. The authoritarian playbook is to relentlessly seek to undermine government institutions, educators and the news media, paving the way for cult-like acceptance of the strong-man’s narrative. Namely, that any who dare thwart his will are nefarious nemeses.

As well as trying to overturn an election, Trump has called for the suspension of the constitution and gutting the department of justice and the FBI. He has repeatedly told Americans that journalists are “enemies of the people.”

One of 19. Mike Roman’s mug shot is second from right in the bottom row. He was charged by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis with seven criminal counts related to Trump’s attempt to unlawfully overturn the US presidential election. Photo via Twitter.

Apparently taking his cue from Trump, Republican Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has fired elected state prosecutors for disagreeing with his interpretation of how the law should be applied. He presided over a selective whitewash of how Black history is taught, including the absurd notion that slavery provided useful skills to the enslaved, and the banning of certain books in schools, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Endlessly identifying “enemies within” and dividing the citizenry against itself is a hallmark tactic by would-be fascist leaders. There has been a spate of legislation in GOP-controlled states undermining the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

State Republican governments have criminalized abortion, with Nebraska sending a teenage girl to prison for three months after she induced an abortion by taking a morning after pill. Her mother faces a possible five years in jail for assisting her daughter.

And some state Republicans in Georgia have threatened to remove District Attorney Fani Willis from office to stop her case against Trump and the 18 co-defendants, who include Mike Roman. Never mind that Willis too was elected by voters.

The legislators gave themselves the power to do that last spring, and their new authority kicks in this October. It is not accidental that several members of the state Republican party have also been indicted by Willis, a huge embarrassment for the state GOP. So far, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is publicly supporting Willis.

Questions for Harper

In all, Willis charged Mike Roman with seven criminal counts, including violation of the Georgia RICO act, two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiracy to impersonate a public officer.

As part of his effort to organize the seven slates that came up with fake “Trump electors,” it is alleged Roman even prepared a spreadsheet of their names and addresses.

While Roman was allegedly playing a key role in a giant Batman plot to steal a presidential election, surely the ultimate crime in any democracy, he was a senior official of the IDU. Which raises questions for Stephen Harper.

Did IDU chairman Harper know what his assistant chairman was doing?

Did Harper have any knowledge of Roman’s participation in the meeting with Andrew Scheer and others prior to the 2019 federal election in Canada?

Harper has so far not commented on Mike Roman’s wide-ranging indictment.

That is strange, since Roman was promoted from treasurer to assistant chairman of the IDU while he was allegedly helping Trump to subvert the 2020 election.

Harper might well claim that he didn’t know anything about what Roman was up to in the aftermath of Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden.

There is precedent for such a claim. When Harper advisor Bruce Carson left public service in disgrace, the then-prime minister claimed that he did not know before he hired Carson that his senior advisor had done jail time and been disbarred for defrauding his clients. Perhaps that was true, though it strains credulity given how carefully senior PMO hirings are vetted.

PM Harper also exhibited something less than respect for due process in other circumstances. When Conservative Party of Canada campaign director Doug Finley was under investigation by Elections Canada during the "in-and-out" election spending scandal, Harper appointed Finley to the Senate. Sen. Doug Finley was assistant chairman of the IDU until his death on May 11, 2013.

And if Harper, as head of the IDU, has a commitment to garden variety democracy, you would never know it from his political record.

Three major scandals, involving election cheating, occurred during his time in office. Harper had a surly relationship with the Supreme Court and the press, and legislation like the Fair Elections Act fronted by Pierre Poilievre made it easier to cheat and harder to vote in Canada.

The new legislation was a strange reaction to the voter-suppression robocalls scandal, given that the phone numbers used to mislead thousands of voters came from the party’s own computer system.

And then there is the light that Harper’s business dealings shine on his notion of democracy. Harper has been a major player in AWZ Ventures Inc., a group that finances Israeli surveillance technology systems.

Harper is not only a partner, but president of an advisory board that manages over $350 million in funds. The investment firm also includes former members of Mossad, and various U.S. intelligence agencies.

Why does that matter?

According to CBC reports, AWZ is selling its facial recognition technology to countries not known for their respect for human rights or democracy.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates, where it is a crime to make the slightest complaint against the government. The UAE has been accused of spying on journalists and activists. AWZ’s hollow disclaimer? “AWZ Ventures invests solely in commercial and defensive applications of security and intelligence technologies.”

The absurdity of that claim? Once you sell such potentially anti-democratic, invasive and repressive technology, you don’t get to say how its owners use it. Look what happened with misuse of the Pegasus spyware technology.

This final point about the IDU, Mike Roman and Stephen Harper. On a website where he was once featured as a major player, Roman has disappeared down the memory hole. When you search for him now, you don’t get the former treasurer and assistant chairman. You get a 404 error.

So who is Mike Roman and why should Canadians who care about preserving their democracy know his name?

Consider Roman’s own words, which date back to 2008 but resonate darkly today. “If an election is worth winning,” he wrote in his blog, “then there is someone willing to steal it.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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