As the House select committee on Jan. 6 heads toward its next public hearing, the focus is expected to turn toward the scheme created by Donald Trump and attorney John Eastman to set aside the results of the election. That plan, in which then-Vice President Mike Pence would simply refuse to count the electors in seven states and then attempt to declare Trump the victor, has been detailed in reporting by Brandi Buchman.
However, a group of emails obtained by the Jan. 6 committee and covered by The New York Times reveals another aspect of the scheme going on in the White House: Eastman, in exchanges with Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro, claimed that there was a “heated fight” among the justices of the Supreme Court over whether to hear one of Trump’s claims of election fraud, which would help bolster Eastman’s plan. The two attorneys then discussed how they might get another case in front of the Supreme Court before Jan. 6, with Eastman claiming that there was an argument among the justices over supporting such a scheme.
Included in that exchange is an indication that Trump’s “Be there. Will be wild!” tweet was intended not just to inflame his supporters, but to pressure the court into action. And the whole exchange seems to have been predicated on Eastman’s “personal knowledge” of the Republican justices—a personal knowledge that included a series of emails with Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.
On Thursday, the House Select Committee on January 6 made it clear that they want to speak with Ginni Thomas. Thomas claims she will cooperate.
As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday evening, in addition to the emails exchanged between Eastman and Chesebro, the House select committee has also obtained a series of emails between Eastman and Ginni Thomas. As Aysha Qamar reported last week, it was already known that Clarence Thomas’ wife had attempted to pressure Arizona legislators to replace the electors selected by the voters with their own electors who would support Trump. It was also known that Ginni Thomas sent a series of texts to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows urging him to pursue efforts to overturn the election.
The new emails show that Ginni Thomas’ involvement in Eastman’s scheme was even more extensive than previously known. Most critically, the letters between Ginni Thomas and Eastman indicate that the plan to overturn the election extended into an attempt to sway the Supreme Court—an effort in which either Eastman or Ginni Thomas was apparently in direct communication with those on the court.
By the time of the Chesebro-Eastman exchange, two of Trump’s baseless lawsuits had already been appealed enough times to reach the Supreme Court. That included one pushed by Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, which was rejected on Dec. 8, and a second case pressed by frothing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that the court turned down on Dec. 11. These results would not suggest there was any kind of “fight” within the Supreme Court as neither case found four justices willing to sign on to hear it.
But the exchange between Chesebro and Eastman ignores any thought that they will win the case, or even get on the court docket, based on the merits of the case. Instead, it makes it clear that this is explicitly about getting Supreme Court justices to go beyond the law and participate directly in Eastman’s plan to end democracy. The effort, wrote Eastman, was not “based on the legal merits but an assessment of the justices’ spines, and I understand that there is a heated fight underway.”
Eastman wrote this on Dec. 24, well after the court had rejected the two election-related cases. Apparently, the Trump attorneys felt that something had changed in the weeks since the court rejected Trump’s last attempt to overturn the election with no sign of any argument. That something was all about those justices’ “spines.”
We talk to expert Brandi Buchman about everything you need to know for the Jan. 6 committee, hearings, and investigation on Daily Kos' The Brief podcast
As Cheseboro makes clear in his communications, Eastman claimed to have “personal insights” into the conservative justices. Some of that insight might be expected because Eastman once clerked for Clarence Thomas. As is now clear, Eastman was also in direct communication with Ginni Thomas. However, the claims to knowledge about multiple Republican-appointed justices and about discussions going on inside the court shows that Eastman was operating on more than just his experience with Clarence Thomas. He was, at the very least, claiming to have a direct pipeline into the court, the nature of which has not been fully disclosed.
And there was this assertion in a reply from Chesebro that “odds of action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.”
That reply appears to specifically address Trump’s tweet promising things “will be wild.” That word was immediately taken up not just by groups like the Proud Boys, but by the “Stop the Steal” organization closely aligned with the Trump campaign, which advertised their Jan. 6 gathering as the “Wild Protest.”
The mention of this in the Chesebro-Eastman exchange strongly suggests that the word “wild” was used not just as a way to encourage violent protest among Trump’s supporters, but was a premeditated part of the overall scheme to place pressure on Pence, on Congress, and on the Supreme Court. By setting up Jan. 6 as a date on which his supporters could be encouraged to engage in violence against the electoral process, Trump’s team appears to have used the threat of that violence as leverage to forward their scheme to overturn the election.
What’s been revealed about these email exchanges so far fails to answer critical questions:
- Did Eastman or other Trump attorneys have direct communication with any Supreme Court justice?
- To what extent did Ginni Thomas share communications from inside the court with Eastman, and how much of the Trump-Eastman plan did she share with her husband?
- In what ways was the threat of violence on Jan. 6 used to pressure the court—or Pence, or legislators—into falling in line?
- Most importantly, what information did Eastman have when he indicated that a number of justices were ready to act not on “legal merits” but on “their spines” to directly interfere in the outcome of a presidential election?
One thing is clear: If anyone was in communication with multiple Supreme Court justices in an attempt to engage them in a scheme to overturn the election, then the resignations should only start with Clarence Thomas.