Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American <email@example.com>
September 22, 2021
Heather Cox Richardson
CNN’s bombshell revelation of Trump loyalist lawyer John Eastman’s six-point memo of instructions for overturning the 2020 election—discussed in the new book by veteran journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa—seems to be sparking a reckoning with how dangerous the Trump loyalists are to the survival of American democracy.
Eastman responded to the story by saying the released memo was only a draft and then giving CNN the final version, which was longer but no less damning—just how damning was indicated by two separate things.
First, J. Michael Luttig, the former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit whom Pence had asked for advice about whether he could overturn the election results, quickly took to Twitter to distance himself from the story, saying: “I was honored to advise Vice President Pence that he had no choice on January 6, 2021, but to accept and count the Electoral College votes as they had been cast and properly certified by the states…. I believe that Professor Eastman was incorrect at every turn of the analysis in his January 2 memorandum.” Eastman had been Luttig’s law clerk.
Second, former president Trump promptly sued his niece Dr. Mary L. Trump, the New York Times, and three New York Times reporters, claiming they were part of an “insidious plot” to obtain and publish his tax records “to gain fame, notoriety, acclaim and a financial windfall and were further intended to advance their political agenda.” Although the New York Times articles accused Trump of tax fraud, the former president did not claim libel or defamation in the suit. Legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Joyce Alene White Vance noted that to win on that point, he would have to prove that the reporting about his finances wasn’t true, and he was all but conceding he could not do that.
Trump used a lawyer that he has not used before to launch the suit, which Mary Trump, whose doctorate is in psychology, dismissed as the work of a desperate “loser” who was “going to throw anything against the wall he can.”
Eastman was no fly-by-night; he is a senior member of the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (as well as for Judge Luttig). Eastman’s standing in the so-called conservative movement makes it all the more astonishing that, to my knowledge, no leading Republican lawmaker has commented on the revelations of just how close we came to the installation of Trump instead of the duly elected presidential candidate, Joe Biden, in January.
Instead, Republican lawmakers are making headlines by refusing even to negotiate over the debt ceiling, simply saying the Democrats are on their own. They appear to be trying to replace one crisis with another, trying to turn public attention away from Trump’s attempted coup to the idea that Democrats are wild spendthrifts (although the Trump administration added about $7.8 trillion of today’s $28 trillion debt, and during his term, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling three times).
It is impossible to overstate just how momentous are both an attempted coup and an attempt to force the U.S. to default on its debts.
Other news about the Trump administration and the January 6 Capitol insurrection is surfacing, as well.
On Monday, a federal court in Washington, D.C. unsealed an indictment alleging that, with the help of conservative author Doug Wead, Jesse Benton, a political operative from Kentucky closely allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), illegally directed foreign money from a Russian businessman to the 2016 Trump campaign. That the Department of Justice sat on the case for close to five years, even while the question of connections between the Trump campaign and Russians was white hot, suggests political interference with that department.
On Tuesday, the New York Times broke the story that in November 2020, when leaders from the Trump campaign began insisting before television cameras that the election of two weeks before had been stolen by George Soros and Venezuelans using Dominion voting systems, they had already circulated an internal memo debunking that entire conspiracy theory.
It seems they knew what they were alleging was false. The document surfaced in a lawsuit: Dominion has sued Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani for defamation. This memo will not help their case.
Today, Hugo Lowell, congressional reporter for The Guardian, reported that the House select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the U.S. Capitol is considering issuing non-negotiable subpoenas this week for Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and his deputy chief Dan Scavino, as well as Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale.
A far right Republican from North Carolina, Meadows helped to found the Freedom Caucus and was one of Trump’s closest supporters in Congress before taking the chief of staff job. Scavino ran Trump’s social media accounts—including Twitter—and was one of the former president’s closest confidants. Parscale was the Trump campaign’s digital manager after being replaced as campaign manager in July 2020. Subpoenas for the phone records or testimony of these three men would help the committee members figure out what was happening inside the Oval Office on January 6.
Tonight on MSNBC, committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA), a former federal prosecutor who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee and was lead manager for Trump’s first impeachment trial, told anchor Nicolle Wallace that the committee is investigating the activities surrounding January 6 as “a conspiracy to commit a coup.”
Schiff warned that while Trump loyalists tried to undermine democracy on January 6, mounting evidence suggests that through voter suppression and the replacement of nonpartisan election officials with boards of Trump loyalists, Republican lawmakers are continuing that effort today.
"We're going to follow the facts," said Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the committee’s vice chair. "What happened in the run-up to January 6, what happened on the 6th. What happened after the 6th."