Disclosure: Much of this post depends on information from the Bob Woodward- Robert Costa book, Peril. Woodward and I were friends in college and have had sporadic contact since then. I still consider him a friend, though we do not communicate regularly. Back in the day, a national magazine (not to be named) briefly suspected I might be Deep Throat. As everyone now knows, I was not Deep Throat. I never was.
This post is also inspired both by the column in the Washington Post by Margaret Sullivan [https://wapo.st/3v4LeMv] that asks the question why the “news” has largely ignored or downplayed the revelation that John Eastman, a Trump lawyer (and thus, legally, Trump himself), produced an outline for the steps to overturn the 2020 election and replace the real winner, Joe Biden, with Donald Trump.
The third inspiration is a line in Steven Pinker’s new book, Rationality:
Many facts, of course, are hurtful: the racial history of the United States, global warming, a cancer diagnosis, Donald Trump. Yet they are facts for all that, and we must know them, the better to deal with them.
So we must.
Since I began thinking deeply about this, we have also learned that Trump’s Department of Justice deliberately sat on its hands and did not brief Congress or others in the administration about what it apparently understood could be a day of violence against the government. https://bit.ly/3npJLON
We have also become aware that,
Republican leaders loyal to Trump are vying to control election administrations in key states in ways that could drastically distort the outcome of the presidential race in 2024. With the former president hinting strongly that he may stand again, his followers are busily manoeuvring themselves into critical positions of control across the US – from which they could launch a far more sophisticated attempt at an electoral coup than Trump’s effort to hang on to power in 2020.
… in recent months Trump has emerged as an unashamed champion of the insurrectionists, calling them “great people” and a “loving crowd”, and lamenting that they are now being “persecuted so unfairly”.
A poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of Republicans still believe the myth that Trump won. More chilling still, almost a third of Republicans agree with the contention that American patriots may have to resort to violence “in order to save our country”. [https://bit.ly/3ckbwlq]
As Donald Trump Jr has asserted, the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump. He owns it. His army of sycophants are as loyal to him as ever. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, his people believe the 2020 election was stolen, just as Trump continues to claim.
This is so despite Trump’s admitted bungling of the response to COVID that added significantly to the death toll, his incessant grifting and lying and treasonous acts of disloyalty to the United States, and, of course, his many “ordinary” crimes, such as giving secrets to Russia, extorting the president of Ukraine and a multitude of documented obstructions of justice, among many others. Evidence of cultish blindness to Trumpism is everywhere – mainstream media, Fox Propaganda, Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn and more.
Even with all that, the Eastman memo, unearthed in Woodward and Costa’s book, is shocking. As explained by Sullivan,
Written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman — a serious Establishment Type with Federalist Society cred and a law school deanship under his belt — it offered Mike Pence, then in his final days as vice president, a detailed plan to declare the 2020 election invalid and give the presidency to Trump.
In other words, how to run a coup to overturn the election in six easy steps.
Yet, Sullivan reports, the mainstream media largely ignored it at first. She rightly asks why this was not the multi-alarm firestorm – a presidential advisor casually informing him of the steps needed to undermine the outcome of a national election and claim the presidency that he had clearly lost.
The answer, it turns out, is as disturbing as the memo itself.
As reported by Sullivan, network executives thought the story unworthy because it was “crazy” and unsurprising. In effect, Trump has so normalized the idea of overthrowing the election that evidence of actual work to do so is not important enough to report. Another didn’t address it because “There’s no indication that Pence considered it seriously.” Others responded that there was much other news that seemed more important. What would be more important than an attempt to overthrow the government?
The normalization of the Trump-Republican attempt to subvert the Constitution and reinstall Trump as president, and de facto dictator, is being enabled by publications as venerable as the Wall Street Journal. The Journal published a letter from Trump on October 27. It did so without comment or any attempt to address the truth or falsity of his claims. The grotesque problems with the letter and the Journal’s decision to publish it are addressed in detail by Philip Bump in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3GTiYCg
The obvious and logical, and profoundly disturbing, conclusion is that WSJ supports Trump’s claims of election fraud and his belief that he was denied re-election by widespread vote fraud. Thus, the Wall Street Journal joins the campaign to undermine American democracy and replace it with a Republican autocracy led by Trump and his family.
At the same time, Trump is desperately fighting to prevent the release to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection/coup attempt of a large trove of documents that would reveal his role, and that of his key enablers, in the attack on the Capitol. https://nyti.ms/3wgXYAc His claims of executive privilege have been rejected by President Biden, but Trump maintains he can assert the privilege even though no longer in office. Trump’s claim of privilege fails on multiple grounds, not least of which is that most of the documents sought have nothing to do with this execution of the job of president – they are related to his personal political objective to remain in office despite the electoral outcome.
Thus, Trump continues to maintain his thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud while resisting efforts to uncover facts that might expose his role in trying to overthrow the federal government.
What else does the Woodward/Costa book contribute to our understanding of all this? A lot.
- The chair of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, after plenty of chances to observe Trump’s thinking and behavior as president, agreed with Speaker Pelosi’s observation that Trump was “crazy” and had been “crazy for a long time.” Peril at xxii. Colin Powell, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs described Trump as a “f*cking maniac.” Peril at 106.
- Pelosi characterized the Oval Office under Trump as an “insane snake pit.”Peril at xxiii.
- Referring to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, and under pressure from then-Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump refused to criticize the marchers because “These people love me. These are my people. I can’t backstab the people who support me.” Peril at 8.
- Trump was often unaware of his own actions. He did not know that the money for the border wall in the early 2018 spending bill was an amount he had approved. He finally agreed to sign the bill to prevent a government shutdown. Marc Short, Trump’s legislative advisor told Ryan this chaos was typical of “every day around here.” Peril at 9. Bill Barr, who was committed to run the Justice Department in Trump’s best interest to promote his re-election thought Trump’s big problem was his “pigheadedness and his blindness.” Peril at 71.
- Trump failed to grasp the nature of the threat posed by COVID-19 and refused to accept information that conflicted with his view. Peril at 82.
- Trump rejected advice of Gen. Milley and other senior advisors to rename military bases from Confederate traitors to Medal of Honor winners. Peril at 108-109.
- Even as the U.S. pandemic continued to escalate (approaching 4.9 million cases and more than 160,000 deaths), Trump insisted that it was “disappearing. It’s going to disappear.” Peril at 113.
- Trump tweeted that the “deep state” was interfering with the development of vaccines. When his own appointed head of the FDA tried to explain the process, Trump changed the subject. “the president had no idea how the FDA operated and had made no effort to find out.” Peril at 113-115.
- Aware of his failing election campaign, Trump primed his followers for the possibility of defeat by repeatedly claiming that the only way he could lose was a rigged election. Peril at 131.
- As soon as Trump’s defeat was reported, he announced from the White House that the election was a “fraud on the American public.” Peril at 133.
- Even Michael Pompeo, one of Trump’s most loyal sycophants, told Gen. Milley that “The crazies are taking over,” referring to Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn and Mike Lindell, the key players on Trump’s legal defense team. Peril at 150.
- On November 10, following Trump’s firing of the Secretary of Defense, Gina Haspel, the CIA Director, presciently predicted, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Peril at 152.
- Mark Meadows made repeated efforts to install a Trump super-loyalist into a leadership position at the FBI and, stymied by Barr, later at the CIA, stymied by Haspel. Peril at 154-156.
- Trump acknowledged that Giuliani was “crazy” but claimed that “sane lawyers” would not represent him in attacking the election. Peril at 164. Trump’s AG Barr referred to Trump’s legal team as a “bunch of clowns.” Peril at 170. See also Peril at 180.
- Trump’s team of incompetents had no plan to efficiently distribute COVID vaccines. Peril at 187.
- Steve Bannon advised Trump to focus on January 6, the day the Electoral College votes would be certified by Congress, the last step to elect Joe Biden as President:
We’re going to bury Biden on January 6 …. If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden’s victory on January 6 … it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again. “We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib… [Peril at 207-208]
- Trump directly threatened VP Pence if he refused to reject the Biden Electoral votes and hand the election to Trump. Peril at 229-230.
The above references are just a small taste of the astonishing revelations in Peril. Most of the rational people in the White House at the time of the election and its aftermath appeared to believe that Trump was mentally unstable, incapable of and uninterested in the complexities of governing and focused only on retaining power. There was palpable fear, even among some Republican leaders, that Trump was so unhinged and desperate that he might start a war or try to use the military to retain power. His distraction likely played a role in the continued spread of COVID and his administration’s failure to respond appropriately.
These concerns, which continue in the wake of the January 6 insurrection that Trump inspired and encouraged, raise the gravest questions about the capacity of the American democratic republic, and the Constitution on which it is based, to survive the presidency of an incompetent psychopath like Trump.
Thus far, the only action against the insurrectionists has been to arrest just over 700 of the perpetrators out of what appeared to be several thousand involved in the assault. No charges have been leveled against anyone in Congress or the Trump administration in relation to the attempted coup. Trump continues to claim in every available forum, without any factual basis and in the face of more than 60 defeats in legal proceedings, that the election was stolen. His supporters in Congress continue to obstruct President Biden’s efforts to end the pandemic and restore the economic health of the country.
Republicans around the country continue to alter election rules, gerrymander districts and prepare to overturn the results of any election defeats they may experience in 2022 and 2024. The Doomsday Clock on American democracy is ticking down and, as far as can be told, more than a year after Joe Biden’s election, no meaningful actions to hold the real leaders of the January 6 coup attempt accountable has been made.
Watch this video, produced by Don Winslow Films, listing 19 critical questions central to the January 6 insurrection, that remain unaddressed as far as anyone can tell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2cG1PIhLIA
We are told we must be patient, that building a solid criminal case against a former president requires time. To a lesser extent the same “principle” is offered regarding the members of Congress who actively promoted the insurrection and have worked very hard to sustain a ludicrous phantasmagorical version of what occurred on January 6.
I understand the need for careful preparation, but in a little over a month we will have reached the one-year anniversary of the attack on Congress. I ask what evidence of conspiracy, perjury, sedition and obstruction of justice, to mention just a few of Trump and team’s major crimes, is missing? Has a grand jury been impaneled?
As Don Winslow’s video compellingly asks, why have so many key witnesses not been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee and placed under oath? What kind of investigation is this? Are we going to get another version of the Mueller Report that says we can’t find enough evidence to indict but neither do we exonerate? How could such a conclusion be reached without a full investigation? Mueller failed to fully investigate, as revealed in Andrew Weissmann’s book, discussed at length in an earlier post in this blog, “Lawless White House” – the Mueller Report – “Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave …” https://bit.ly/32GUDA1
Trump is infamous for using legal processes to stall and delay investigations and actions against his multi-various criminal activities and civil offenses. If the government takes much longer, there will be no chance for meaningful action while Republicans scheme to undermine the democratic process whose survival is central to a full accounting from Trump and his enablers. I am encouraged, not much but more than zero, by the fact that the Biden administration has not announced that it is closing any investigations but that is not sufficient.
Winter for American democracy is theatening and once it is here, there may be no chance for a renewal.