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The Trump Lawyer Plotting the Next American Coup

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How close did America come to constitutional collapse on January 6? Closer than we knew. Earlier this week, CNN obtained a disturbing memo written by one of Trump’s legal advisors during the two-month period between Election Day and January 6 last year. Conservative lawyer John Eastman proposed that then-Vice President Mike Pence could try to overturn the election results during the joint session of Congress and give Trump a second term. In practical terms, it describes a plan for carrying out a coup d’etat—one in which Pence would single-handedly throw out legitimate votes for Biden until Trump had enough to win.

According to a new book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Trump used Eastman’s arguments to try to convince Pence to carry out the scheme. Pence did not reject it out of hand; he reportedly consulted fellow Hoosier and former Vice President Dan Quayle, who emphatically told Pence that he had no power to exclude electoral votes. Pence ultimately agreed and drew Trump’s fury at the perceived betrayal. From there came Trump’s incitement of a mob, the mob’s attack on the Capitol, and the end to a two-century tradition of peaceful transitions of American power.

Last weekend in Washington, D.C., supporters of those who attacked the Capitol that day staged a planned rally in front of the U.S. Capitol. It ended up being a more subdued spectacle, with seemingly more media in attendance than Trump loyalists and Proud Boys. One might take comfort from the fact that the same violent urgings failed to materialize. But what the Eastman saga shows is that future coup attempts aren’t likely to come from pitched battles with mobbed-up insurgents inside the halls of government. They’ll be conducted by memoranda between ideologues who understand that our democracy is not self-enforcing, but rather built on the willingness of people in power to accept and defend it.

Who is John Eastman and how did he almost destroy the republic? The 61-year-old lawyer’s resume features some of the top credentials of the conservative legal movement: clerkships with former Judge Michael Luttig and Justice Clarence Thomas, the chairmanship of the Federalist Society’s Federalism and Separation of Powers Practice Group, and the directorship of a public-interest legal group to advance conservative goals under the aegis of the Claremont Institute. He also worked as a tenured constitutional law professor at Chapman University until retiring under intense pressure after he spoke to a pro-Trump rally in D.C. on January 6.

You might have seen his work before. In August 2020, Eastman published an op-ed in Newsweek arguing, in a just-asking-questions fashion, that Kamala Harris might be ineligible for the vice presidency because her parents were not U.S. citizens at her birth. A casual glance at Harris’s Wikipedia page tells us that she was born in Oakland, California, in 1964. A passing familiarity with American history reminds us that Oakland and the rest of California have been part of the........

© New Republic

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