They called it the “command center,” a set of rooms and suites in the posh Willard hotel a block from the White House where some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal lieutenants were working day and night with one goal in mind: overturning the results of the 2020 election.
The Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and the ensuing attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob would draw the world’s attention to the quest to physically block Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s victory. But the activities at the Willard that week add to an emerging picture of a less visible effort, mapped out in memos by a conservative pro-Trump legal scholar and pursued by a team of presidential advisers and lawyers seeking to pull off what they claim was a legal strategy to reinstate Trump for a second term.
They were led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon was an occasional presence as the effort’s senior political adviser. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik was there as an investigator. Also present was John Eastman, the scholar, who outlined scenarios for denying Biden the presidency in an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4 with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
They sought to make the case to Pence and ramp up pressure on him to take actions on Jan. 6 that Eastman suggested were within his powers, three people familiar with the operation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Their activities included finding and publicizing alleged evidence of fraud, urging members of state legislatures to challenge Biden’s victory and calling on the Trump-supporting public to press Republican officials in key states.
The effort underscores the extent to which Trump and a handful of true believers were working until the last possible moment to subvert the will of the voters, seeking to pressure Pence to delay or even block certification of the election, leveraging any possible constitutional loophole to test the boundaries of American democracy.
Matthew Seligman for Slate.
Signs that Eastman is getting increasingly desperate to distance himself from his false claims that the election was stolen from Trump and that VP Pence could unilaterally steal it back for him when Congress was supposed to confirm the Electoral College votes:
When Eastman spoke that day, he echoed Giuliani’s claims regarding the conspiracy theory that voting machines had fraudulently changed the vote tallies in Georgia. “We now know, because we caught it live last time in real time, how the machines contributed to that fraud,” Eastman said of the Georgia Senate and 2020 presidential-election results. “They put those ballots in a secret folder in the machines, sitting there waiting until they know how many they need.”
As for the electoral-vote tally at the Capitol, Eastman made the case that “all we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o’clock he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not! We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question!”
But Eastman now tells National Review in an interview that the first of the two strategies Giuliani highlighted on stage — having Pence reject electoral votes — was not “viable” and would have been “crazy” to pursue.
What makes that admission remarkable is that Eastman was the author of the now-infamous legal memo making the case that Pence had that very power — that the vice president was the “ultimate arbiter” of deciding whether to count Electoral College votes….
Eastman says he disagrees with some major points in the two-page memo. That version says that Trump would be reelected if Pence invalidated enough electoral votes to send the election to the House of Representatives: “Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is reelected there as well.”
Eastman’s final six-page memo says Trump would be reelected by the House “IF the Republicans in the State Delegations stand firm.” But Eastman says he told Trump at the January 4 meeting in the White House: “Look, I don’t think they would hold firm on this.” (There were actually 27 delegations under GOP control, but Liz Cheney is the sole representative for Wyoming, Wisconsin’s decisive vote would have been Mike Gallagher, and both Cheney and Gallagher strongly opposed overturning the results of the election.)
“So anybody who thinks that that’s a viable strategy is crazy,” Eastman tells National Review.
When it comes to the legal argument that the vice president is the only person with authority to count the electoral votes, Eastman says: “This is where I disagree. I don’t think that’s true.”
“It’s certainly not been definitively resolved one way or the other,” he adds. “There’s historical foundation for the argument that the vice president is the final say and the argument that he is not. I think the argument that he is the final say is the weaker argument.”
Eastman says that weaker argument “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that we know the vice president is very likely to be one of the contenders for the office that he’ll be deciding.”
“The memo was not being provided to Trump or Pence as my advice,” he insists. “The memo was designed to outline every single possible scenario that had been floated, so that we could talk about it.”…
In other words, a plain reading of both versions of the memo would lead the reader to conclude that Pence had the power to take any of the options outlined in them.
When I pointed out that both memos said it’s a “fact” that Pence is the “ultimate arbiter” and “we should take all our actions with that in mind,” Eastman at first incorrectly claimed he’d only written that in the two-page “preliminary” memo.
“No, that’s the preliminary memo,” Eastman replied. “I don’t think that’s the strongest legal argument or scenario. So that was just the first piece that I’d been asked to look at and put together how that would work if that condition was true. And it was that condition that I specifically told them I thought was the weaker argument, which is why I’m going to give you a more complete assessment of all the various scenarios.”
After I pointed Eastman to identical language near the end of the six-page memo, he argued that he did not mean it was a fact that Pence was the ultimate arbiter of which electoral votes to count. He meant only that Pence was the ultimate arbiter of which ballots to open in a contested election, while he believes that Congress “most likely” makes the final substantive decision.
Readers can read the final memo for themselves, but that seems like a very odd interpretation of a memo that concludes: “The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind.”
A Republican candidate for Michigan Secretary of State is set to speak at a conference organized by prominent QAnon conspiracy theory adherents.
Kristina Karamo, an Oak Park Republican who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, recently announced on Facebook that she would speak at the “For God & County: Patriot Double Down” conference this weekend in Las Vegas. Vice Magazine first reported her participation.
In her Oct. 2 post, Karamo shared a conference logo that included popular QAnon imagery: A seven and queen of hearts cards, a reference to Q, the 17th letter in the alphabet.
But Karmamo “was unaware” of the reference, and she “does not and never has supported QAnon,” her campaign told Bridge Michigan on Wednesday after VICE News first reported on her planned participation in the conference.
While 85% of Americans believe it is very important the United States remain a democracy, 52% believe American democracy is facing a “major threat” according to the newest edition of the Grinnell College National Poll (Grinnell-Selzer). The results of the poll, taken Oct. 13-17, 2021 by Selzer & Company on behalf of Grinnell College, were released on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.
The concern that American democracy is facing a major threat is driven by Republicans (71%) and those age 65 and older (70%). Only 35% of Democrats say they feel democracy is facing a major threat.
“The sense that democracy is under threat is characterized by deep, partisan polarization, with Republicans rather than Democrats describing our democracy as facing a ‘major’ threat,” said Danielle Lussier, Grinnell associate professor of political science. “It appears as though baseless accounts of fraud and a stolen 2020 election have sharply eroded confidence in our system among Republicans and created a sense that democracy is facing a crisis.”
Not sure what’s more troubling about this poll: that so many Republicans believe this (because of the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen) or that so few Democrats do
Courageous Atlantic column from Jeremy:
I am a lifelong conservative. For the past 20 years, I have been a leader in the Federalist Society. I was nominated by President Donald Trump three times to serve as a federal judge, though I never secured a hearing, because then-Senator Kamala Harris blocked my nomination. I did not vote for President Joe Biden in 2020, and I hope he is defeated in 2024 by a principled and ethical conservative Republican.
But I also believe that Biden won the 2020 election fairly. Those who are enabling Trump’s ongoing effort to challenge the legitimacy of the election—John Eastman chief among them—should be rejected by all conservatives who love their country. He and others like him pose a clear and present danger to the health of our republic.
Following the election, Eastman represented Trump in challenging the election results on the basis of unsupported claims of fraud, and urged Vice President Mike Pence to block the electoral-vote count in Congress. These actions crossed a serious line because they sought to overturn the will of the voters. Now he is complaining about supposedly being deplatformed by the Federalist Society. He has specifically called me out, writing, “Some of the more vicious attacks on me have come from Federalist Society leaders like Jeremy Rosen, with no rebuttal opportunity afforded to me.” An email I wrote in the aftermath of the events of January 6, criticizing Eastman, was reported in the press, but I was far from the only conservative to make such points. Thus, I am not sure why he is singling me out….
But what Eastman complains about is not cancel culture. Eastman actively sought to help Trump steal an election he did not win. Had they succeeded, the peaceful and orderly transfer of power that is the hallmark of any democracy would have been threatened for the first time in our nation’s history. Seeking to subvert and damage our democracy is not the same as speaking freely, and it does not warrant any platform. Once our nation’s leaders refuse to be bound by the rule of law, the entire underpinning of our liberal democracy is lost.
The 2020 election was bitterly fought. Many people, including myself, had real concerns about the Biden-Harris agenda. But the fact that one is ultimately unhappy with the winner of a national election does not justify overturning the will of the voters. Principled conservatives should accept the legitimacy of the election, actively oppose Biden’s many bad policy proposals, and work hard to ensure that a Republican wins the next election, fair and square.
This looks good:
Losers’ Consent: How do we stabilize our democracy?
This looks good:
When: Oct. 26, 2021 1:00 PM ET
[Moderator] Matt Germer, Fellow, Governance, R Street Institute
Shaun Bowler, Dean of the Graduate Division, University of California, Riverside
Jason Roberts, Professor, Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Artur Davis, Former U.S. Representative (AL-7)
Sarah Walker, Executive Director, Secure Democracy
Meredith Glacken, Founder and Principal, Foresight Messaging
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was not an isolated incident; rather, it marked the culmination of the ongoing degradation of our political culture. A successful democracy relies upon the consent of its losers—both voters and candidates. But over the last two decades, American political losers have increasingly refused to consent to the winners. What can be done to reverse this trend and develop a healthier political culture? Join us as we discuss this important issue.
Tommy Tuberville had a decision to make. So did the other Republican senators huddling with him in the storage closet.
It was Jan. 6, right-wing rioters were ransacking the U.S. Capitol, but these lawmakers were already in a secured part of the complex and had been milling about a hearing room with a larger group of senators. They weren’t hiding from the mob. They were hiding from their colleagues.
The group, led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), had planned to object to the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential campaign — a gesture of solidarity with President Donald Trump, who had spent months trying to overturn his loss. The siege of the Capitol by Trump’s supporters, however, had some lawmakers thinking that formally objecting to Biden’s victory might be a bad look.
So into the closet they went, for privacy’s sake — around a dozen Republicans, including the Alabama newbie known as “Coach.”
“You’ve got 25 seconds to call a play,” Tuberville said recently, thinking back on the scene. “You can’t call a bunch of timeouts.”
It was the former college football coach’s first full day in the Senate, and already he was being called off the sidelines. Earlier on Jan. 6, Trump had wanted to talk to Tuberville but called Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) by mistake; Lee had handed Tuberville a cellphone in the Senate chamber. Tuberville said he didn’t have time to find out exactly what Trump wanted. Vice President Mike Pence had been whisked to a secure location, and Tuberville and his colleagues had to get moving, too. “I know we’ve got problems,” Tuberville recalled the president saying before the call ended. “Protect yourself.”
Inside the storage closet, a bunker within a bunker, surrounded by stacked furniture, the senators weighed whether the mob’s demonstration of loyalty to Trump that day might affect their own.
“There were twelve of us gathered to talk about what happens now, where do things go from here,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
The mood was “very heavy,” remembered Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
“I do remember saying we have to pull the country together,” said Lankford, “We are so exceptionally divided that it’s spilling into the building.”
“I didn’t really listen to them,” Tuberville said about the closet colloquy.
He does remember a few details. “One thing that was brought up was that people were hurt,” he recalled in one of several interviews with The Washington Post. Plus, Biden was going to end up president, whether they objected or not. “Do we want to continue this,” Tuberville remembered his colleagues mulling, “if there’s not going to be a result we are looking for anyway?”
Some Republican senators changed their minds after the closet huddle, but Tuberville’s vote was not in question. Coach stuck with the play and formally objected to certifying the electoral college votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Nevermind that neither election administrators nor the Justice Department had found evidence of voter fraud at a meaningful scale. Or the subsequent warnings from democracy experts such as Rick Hasen, co-director of the University of California at Irvine’s Fair Elections and Free Speech Center, who told The Post that Tuberville and his fellow defectors had ratified the violent actions of the insurrectionists, and Ian Bassin, executive director of the nonprofit Protect Democracy, who said that they had made it more likely that the next attempt to overthrow an election will succeed.
And nevermind any consideration Tuberville might have owed to his new colleagues. “I see those 13 enablers, along with the president, as trying to destroy this country,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told The Post in February, a few weeks after the attack.
“I wasn’t voting for me, I was voting for the people of Alabama,” Tuberville recently told The Post. “President Trump has an 80-percent approval there. I told them, ‘I’m going to vote how you want me to vote.’”
The Justice Department said Monday that people “lionizing” the Jan. 6 rioters are heightening the risk of future political violence.
“Indeed, the risk of future violence is fueled by a segment of the population that seems intent on lionizing the January 6 rioters and treating them as political prisoners, heroes, or martyrs instead of what they are: criminals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Roman wrote in a court filing, “many of whom committed extremely serious crimes of violence, and all of whom attacked the democratic values which all of us should share.”
The statement came as part of a 28-page argument supporting the pretrial detention of Cody Mattice, a defendant charged with ripping down metal barricades and assaulting police during the attack on the Capitol.
It’s an indirect broadside at Republicans who have sought to whitewash the violence committed by supporters of former President Donald Trump during the assault on the Capitol. Trump himself has argued alternately that his supporters were “hugging and kissing” police — rather than committing the approximately 1,000 assaults prosecutors say occurred — and has baselessly claimed that left-wing agitators caused the violence.
Republicans believe they have a good shot at taking Congress next year. But there’s a catch.
The G.O.P.’s ambitions of ending unified Democratic control in Washington in 2022 are colliding with a considerable force that has the ability to sway tens of millions of votes: former President Donald J. Trump’s increasingly vocal demands that members of his party remain in a permanent state of obedience, endorsing his false claims of a stolen election or risking his wrath.
In a series of public appearances and statements over the last week, Mr. Trump has signaled not only that he plans to work against Republicans he deems disloyal, but also that his meritless claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the White House in 2020 will be his litmus test, going so far as to threaten that his voters will sit out future elections.
“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020,” Mr. Trump said in a statement last week, “Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It’s the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
The former president’s fixation on disproved conspiracy theories is frustrating to many in his party who see it as needlessly divisive at a time when Republicans feel they are poised to take back the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They worry he could cost Republicans otherwise winnable seats in Congress and complicate the party’s more immediate goal of winning the governor’s race in Virginia next month….
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has supported exhaustive audits of the 2020 results to look for evidence of voting irregularities that repeated reviews have failed to produce. Still, she has told colleagues that she was surprised by a recent survey of Republican voters in her district, according to one person who spoke with her about it.
The internal survey found that 5 percent of Republican voters said they would sit out the 2022 election if the state of Georgia did not conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 election — a demand that some of Mr. Trump’s hard-core supporters have made. Another 4 percent said they would consider sitting out the election absent an audit.
The possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans could sit out any election — even one in a solidly red district like the one held by Ms. Taylor Greene — was something Republican strategists said they found alarming.
Since Mr. Trump left office, polls have repeatedly shown that large majorities of Republican voters want him to run in 2024. And roughly 40 percent of Republicans say they consider themselves to be primarily his supporters rather than supporters of the party — about the same share who said so last November, according to the political research firm Echelon Insights.
Many Republicans don’t seem to want to hear anything critical about him. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center, for instance, highlighted the lack of an appetite for much dissent. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans, Pew found, said their party should not be accepting of elected officials who criticize Mr. Trump.
Polizzi spent the rest of the week hunched over a laptop at her parents’ house in New Jersey: “Immediately we were getting incoming from other people: ‘What about this person?’ ‘What about this person?’ ‘What about this person?’” she said. The list set in motion a full-time effort inside the DLCC to identify Republican legislators who attended the insurrection and “call them out” — an old-fashioned name-and-shame campaign. They wanted the lawmakers who had supported a historic assault on democracy — the state reps and delegates and assembly members who had either attended the “Stop the Steal” rally, swarmed past police barricades, or in at least one case, entered the Capitol itself — to be deemed intolerable by their own.
Eight months later, as the Jan. 6 congressional committee struggles to enforce witness subpoenas, and with all but a few members of the GOP dismissing the investigation as a partisan exercise, it is easy to forget those first few hours and days when such a response not only felt feasible, but likely. “We honestly thought that it was possible that some of these folks actually would at least face consequences or step down,” Polizzi said.
Over the month that followed, the DLCC set aside a modest sum to run digital ads about the insurrection in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan — “Republican legislators fanned the flames. Some were even there,” the narrator says over images of destruction. As the campaign grew, expanding to any state lawmakers who propagated claims of a “rigged election” or lobbied the courts to overturn the race, the DLCC’s two-person research team sifted through local news clips, through “Stop the Steal” hashtags on Twitter, through signatures on legal briefs and letters to Congress. They collected email responses to an “insurrectionist” tip line and the video footage assembled and dissected by the obsessives who became known as Sedition Hunters. Ernest Bailey, a young researcher on staff compiled the names in internal spreadsheets.
In the end, the list grew to 21 lawmakers who fit the DLCC’s broad definition of “insurrectionist” — everything from attending the rally to joining the demonstrations on Capitol grounds — and another nearly 600 who promoted “Stop the Steal” rhetoric or signed letters or briefs calling to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Based on the current count of state houses across the country, the DLCC’s group represented more than 15 percent of all state-level Republican lawmakers.
And nothing happened.
As of this month, the only Republican legislator to step down is Derrick Evans, a West Virginia delegate who live-streamed himself entering the Capitol while shouting “We’re in! We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” He resigned after he was arrested on Jan. 8.
Rather than shaming Republican state lawmakers out of office, Democrats found that many of the names on the list avoided pushback from party leaders in their state, grew their political platform and online following, and in at least three cases are now running for statewide office under the banner of former President Donald Trump and his lies about election fraud.
“In terms of seeing any difference on the ground,” Polizzi said, “the only thing that we can point to is awareness of who these legislators are, but I don’t think that it has changed Republicans one iota.”
Voting rights advocates meet once every week or two with White House officials via video conference, and in almost every session, an advocate speaks up to say that President Biden must do more, that American democracy is under threat and the president is not meeting the challenge.
At one such meeting earlier this year, a Biden aide responded that Democrats would simply have to “out-organize” the other side, according to multiple advocates familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting. The comment infuriated advocates, who believe they are watching former president Donald Trump actively and perhaps permanently undermine faith in U.S. elections.
“There’s been a lot of anger and frustration with that line from the White House, which was communicated as a response to advocates wanting the White House to do more,” said Aaron Scherb, legislative director of Common Cause, a longtime pro-democracy group….
Activists want Biden to provide a loud, clear voice against these moves, from prime-time speeches to regular denunciations of especially egregious actions. Beyond that, they say he should throw himself into passing voting rights legislation and more aggressively go after states that are politicizing their election systems.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said the account of the meeting with voting rights advocates was false. “No White House official has ever said that our strategy relied on ‘out-organizing’ anti-voter laws,” Bates said. “The president and vice president’s approach is comprehensive, and it includes passing voting rights legislation and using executive authority, the bully pulpit, the convening power of the White House, organizing, and a host of other tools.”
Still, in the months since taking office, Biden’s time and energy have largely been focused elsewhere…
Biden also makes another argument, one that particularly exasperates activists: The best way to strengthen democracy, he contends, is to show that it works, by passing the infrastructure and other bills.
But even inside the administration, some worry that too much emphasis on enacting Biden’s spending priorities could come at the expense of the need to safeguard democratic institutions.
And the approach is deeply unsatisfying to those who see the threat to democracy as akin to a house on fire. Biden’s hope that Americans will support Democrats, and democracy more broadly, if he delivers results, could be torpedoed by restrictive voting laws that make it harder to cast ballots in the first place — or by undemocratic forces with the power to reject the results of the 2022 or 2024 elections.
“Stacking election administrators and providing access to the means to control the levers of elections” is a growing threat, said Sophia Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Polls suggest that the advocates’ concern is warranted, in that the public’s faith in democracy is being badly eroded.
Surveys consistently find that about 1 in 3 Americans — and more than 6 in 10 Republicans — doubt the legitimacy of the 2020 election, despite overwhelming evidence that it was fairly decided. A CNN poll in September found that 52 percent of Americans were not confident that U.S. elections reflect the will of the people.
And changes are underway across the country that could exacerbate that distrust.
I am struck by how forcefully two very different strategies for defending democracy have been advocated this past week.
First, Ian Bassin on The Bulwark podcast emphasized (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the advice he heard from Europeans combatting rising authoritarianism in places like Hungary and Poland is not to let a pro-democracy coalition of center-right, center-left, and even farther-left forces fracture, because then it can’t work together to oppose far-right authoritarianism. (Bassin’s podcast comments draw upon a piece he wrote for The Bulwark.)
Second, Marc Elias on CNN’s Reliable Sources broadcast went out of his way to label Adam Kinzinger “extreme” in his opposition to voting rights, arguing that Kinzinger’s role on the January 6 select committee does not justify treating him as pro-democracy moderate.
Elias, it’s worth noting, was referring to Kinzinger’s response to a question from Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union earlier broadcast. What I heard in Kinzinger’s response, which Elias did not mention, was Kinzinger’s willingness to work with Democrats to craft a voting rights bill that he could support.
Elias’s approach, which he has also advocated in a recent essay, is to lump all Republicans together, including Kinzinger (and any other pro-democracy Republicans, like Liz Cheney or Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and others), as the opposition to the Democratic Party’s efforts to save democracy all by itself. This approach would seem to be the exact opposite of what Bassin (as well as the Europeans with experience fighting incipient authoritarianism) urges.
History, Elias says, will judge how this generation fights the current anti-democracy forces here in the United States. True. But history might teach that it was a mistake to purge center-right defenders of democracy, like Kinzinger, from the anti-authoritarian coalition that America needs right now—instead of figuring out a way to work with Kinzinger (and others) to build a broader pro-democracy coalition capable of withstanding the present authoritarian threat.