The evidence we have now about the blueprint for Trump’s coup attempt is utterly damning
On January 2, Trump lawyer John Eastman called into Steve Bannon's War Room podcast to explain how to steal the election. Eastman told Bannon that Vice President Mike Pence could still overturn Biden's victory. The interview was part of an extremely public campaign by Trump and his closest allies to lobby Pence to steal the election during the certification ceremony.
One of Eastman's crackpot theories was that the vice president has the unilateral power to accept or reject electoral votes at his whim, or failing that, to somehow "send the election back" to Republican-controlled swing state legislatures that would disregard the will of their people and replace Biden's electors with Trump's.
Eastman was Trump's master of self-serving constitutional bafflegab. His job was to spin elaborate pseudo-legal theories to justify Trump's assault on democracy. It was Eastman who wrote the notorious memos outlining his fanciful legal arguments for why the vice president has the power to unilaterally reelect himself. Eastman also co-wrote a blueprint for how Trump could use the military, the police, and criminal gangs to hold onto power after a disputed election. Eastman even spoke at Trump's rally on the Ellipse, making wild allegations of election fraud before Trump set the mob on the Capitol.
To understand January 6, you have to think in terms of an inside game and an outside game. The inside game was to steal the election procedurally. The outside game was to gather a mob to terrorize officials into going along with it. Eastman was a conceptual architect of both the paper coup attempt and of the plan for the political repression that Trumpists expected to follow in the wake of the theft.
It all comes back to the Big Lie of massive Democratic voter fraud in the swing states. Trump used the fantasy of a stolen election to gather his supporters in Washington for a "wild protest" on January 6, whip them into a rage and set them on the Capitol. Eastman used the same lie to justify his schemes to overturn the election procedurally.
In his various memos and public appearances, Eastman presented several paths to overrule the will of the people, but his ultimate justification was always the same: Democratic "fraud" in the swing states invalidated their certified slates of Biden electors.
Therefore, he maintained, Mike Pence was entitled to unilaterally cast aside the electoral votes and count alternate slates of fake electors in their place or discard the votes from those states altogether, denying either candidate the necessary 270 votes and throwing the election to the state delegations in the House.
As Eastman wrote in his second memo, Trump would prevail, "if the Republicans in the State Delegations stand firm." At the time, the GOP caucus was deeply divided over whether to back Trump's paper coup, and Pence was signalling he was not willing to play his assigned role.
Hence the need for extra muscle on the outside.
This fits with what another key conspirator has said about his reason for gathering a mob on January 6. "We […] schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," said Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander, regarding his motives. He wanted to "change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."
After an extended rant about the cowardice of Mike Pence, the last order Trump gave the mob before sending them down Pennsylvania Avenue was that they must give "boldness" to "weak Republicans."
Trump's command echoed Eastman's language in the longer of the two memos in which he described his own scheme as "BOLD, certainly."
The label "coup" conjures up images of a military takeover, but a procedural coup under the threat of violence is still a coup.
Denialists try to mislead by pointing to the insurgents' relatively light weaponry and saying: "You don't think they meant to overthrow the US government with that, do you?" But the plan was never to physically seize control of the government. Insurgents just had to bully Pence and House Republicans into reversing the election for Trump.
Trump's advisors were well aware that reversing a free and fair election would provoke national outrage and widespread protests. Eastman's blueprint for leveraging the military, the police, and criminal gangs to hold onto power would work as well or better after a procedural coup as it would after an uncertain Election Night (the scenario nominally entertained in the report). A stolen election would put Biden supporters in the streets where the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would be waiting for them, prepared to start or escalate violence wherever they could. This kind of unrest was exactly what Eastman warned local officials to be prepared to suppress.
We eagerly await what Bannon and Eastman will tell the January 6 committee, but what they've already said is utterly damning.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she's a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.