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The Puzzle Pieces of Trump's Attempted Coup Are Falling Into Place

The Puzzle Pieces of Trump's Attempted Coup Are Falling Into Place
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

This past week brought to the fore new revelations of legal memos and Department of Justice communications surrounding the Trump White House's efforts to subvert the election, thanks to a waiver of executive privilege by the Biden White House. We now possess a clearer roadmap to how an inside group of plotters planned to seize power despite their candidate losing the election.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering also sheds important light on some of the very public moves the former administration was making late last year. Back in December 2020, the Trump campaign made efforts to assemble slates of "alternate" electors in several key battleground states.

White House advisor Stephen Miller went on Fox & Friends to announce the move:

"As we speak today, an alternate slate of electors in the contested states is going to vote, and we're going to send those results up to Congress."

Doing so meant their "legal remedies remain open," he claimed, noting that Congress could validate the Trump electors if any of their lawsuits pan out. So-called "alternate slates" popped up in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan, where Republicans followed the White House's lead, making or discussing moves to form their own competing slates of pro-Trump electors.

Legal and election experts quickly dismissed these slates, however, with the New York Times declaring them "a theatrical effort with no legal pathway" because "Electoral College slates are tied to the winner of the popular vote in each state, and all five of those states have certified their results in favor of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr." Other media outlets also quickly fact-checked and disproved the claim that alternate electors could change the outcome.

With hindsight, these quick dismissals betray a naïveté about the true threat. What the Times and other observers didn't grasp was that the legality of the alternate electors was unimportant, at least to the plotters inside the White House. The coup organizers understood that they only needed the appearance of process and the creation of sufficient doubt among the base to forward their plans.

As John Eastman advised in his now infamous memo—the very kind of "legal remedy" to which Stephen Miller likely was referring—Vice President Pence could simply declare that the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional, that there were multiple slates of electors, and that therefore the votes of seven states were in dispute and could be disregarded. Vice President Pence would get the jump on the Democrats by simply naming Trump president based on the majority of undisputed votes, giving the White House all it needed by way of official imprimatur to stay in power.

We also learned from internal communications that we were also a hair's breadth away from the administration stepping into the election fraud claims with the full power of the Department of Justice. The proposed communication would have advised the Georgia legislature that the Department was investigating "various irregularities" in the 2020 election and had "significant concerns"—with the result that half of America would now have something official on which to hang their doubts. Worse yet, the proposed letter would state that the Department believed the Georgia governor or the Assembly could and should call the legislature into special session "for [t]he limited purpose of considering issues pertaining to the appointment of Presidential Electors." In other words, the White House was seeking a way to make alternate slates a reality using the power of a GOP-controlled state government, backed up by the prestige of the Department of Justice.

Had the plotters been successful in Georgia, the contagion could have quickly spread to GOP-controlled legislatures in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, creating the very kind of chaos that would have vindicated the illegal move by Vice President Pence. If the Vice President or the acting Attorney General had been any more compliant, the plot would have lurched forward, and we'd be in electoral chaos, facing an autocoup by the former president.

We also learned just this week that the Trump campaign actually knew that the allegations of election fraud, specifically around Dominion voting machines and that company's supposed connections to Venezuela and George Soros, were completely fabricated. Despite top communications directors of the campaign having vetted and disproven these claims, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell went before cameras just days later and reiterated the false claims, doubling down on the Big Lie and spawning endless conspiracy theories while raking in donations.

This newest revelation proves what we already believed: This was never about fighting for an election they honestly believed they had won. Rather, it was only ever about doing everything to stay in power, including lying to and fleecing their base. To this day, a majority of Trump voters refuse to accept the fact that the election was not stolen from their candidate.

And so we are not out of the woods. The Trump forces within the GOP are actively working to subvert upcoming elections by placing MAGA cronies in key election-related positions, from county election commissioners to Secretaries of State. In Georgia, for example, a former Congressman and Trump loyalist who voted to subvert the electoral college count is now running for Secretary of State with Trump's backing, hoping to unseat Brad Raffensperger, who insisted after three audits that Georgia's election was free and fair and that Trump had lost. It would not take much by way of "officials" in key states like Georgia casting doubts upon an election to cause whole sets of electors to be suspect or disqualified in 2024. And should the GOP regain control of the House and Senate, a simple majority vote by both chambers would be enough to sustain an objection to those electors, throwing the election to the Republican nominee who might very likely be Donald Trump.

It is therefore no stretch to say that the 2022 midterms are a pivotal moment for our nation and system of governance, which is under serious attack from within. A majority of elected GOP House members have demonstrated a willingness to destroy democratic principles in order to gain or retain power, in much the way the former Confederate Democrats did some 150 years ago.

The people ultimately voted the anti-democratic Confederates out of power. Democrats must do no less than the same today with the GOP.