On the heels of the public exposure of a memo from lawyer Kenneth Chesebro proposing what would become the central strategy of Donald Trump's attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, Politico has a new overview of Chesebro's role in the conspiracy that's worth a read.
Chesebro only made it to Co-Conspirator 5 status in Trump's newest federal indictment, overshadowed by figures such as hoax architect Rudy Giuliani and lawyer John Eastman, but in memos it was Chesebro who laid out each of the core elements of the plan for then-Vice President Mike Pence and Congress to simply nullify the election's results come Jan. 6. Eastman appears to have been the one who packaged it all up for sale to Trump and the rest of the White House team.
In the Dec. 6 Chesebro memo revealed Wednesday, he proposes a plan to create fake, uncertified electoral slates in multiple Joe Biden-won states that would then be passed to Pence, who would announce them as the "true" electors using an allegedly unilateral constitutional power that allows the vice president to count up the electoral votes literally however he or she wants. That version of the plan was the one the co-conspirators and conspiring Republican members of the House and Senate worked towards, creating the fake electoral slates. It was Sen. Ron Johnson who appears to have been the volunteer who would smuggle the fake electors to Pence on the day of the vote.
Pence foiled the scheme by refusing to be a part of it even though Trump and Trump's team had pressured him intensely. He was retaliated against on Jan. 6 when Trump singled out Pence as his enemy even as violent pro-Trump insurrectionists hunted for targets in the halls of the Capitol.
But Chesebro had alternative plans as well. All of them hinged on the conservative Supreme Court being sufficiently crooked enough to come up with a legal facade for ignoring the certified electoral slates of multiple states purely on Republican say-so. Or at least for the court to put a pause on the electoral counting that would, in the eyes of the public, help justify other extreme actions to overturn the results.
A week after the Dec. 6 memo proposing the original plan of Pence unilaterally altering the counts himself, Chesebro had already brainstormed a fallback position that would have the same effects.
On Jan. 6, Chesebro said, Pence would announce his recusal from presiding over the joint session of Congress, citing the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Count Act as well as a conflict of interest because of his candidacy for reelection. This, Chesebro contended, would “insulate” Pence from charges of making a self-serving decision and leave the matter ostensibly in the hands of a senior Republican senator. Then, after beginning to count electoral votes from an alphabetical list of states, that senator would refuse to count the votes from Arizona, citing the competing slates of electors. If Arizona wants to be counted, this senator would say, it would either have to “rerun” its election or allow for more judicial review of the outcome.
It's important to acknowledge here that this plan, too, was absolutely batshit crazy. The plans concocted by Trump's alleged "legal" team all hinged on a supposed ability for a vice president or temporary acting Senate president to simply declare that they weren't going to count the votes of states that the Republican candidate didn't win because fuck you, that's why. This was in accordance with the theory that power is unilaterally invested in the vote-counter and there is not a damn thing anyone else in the entire country can do about it.
This was entirely batshit crazy for a whole host of reasons, and perhaps especially for the complete indifference shown towards what 330 million people might think—or do—when they learned that their entire constitutional democracy was a fiction. Chesebro himself continued to recognize that his plan was so destructive and batshit crazy that the Supreme Court could very well not go along with it. Again, this is a plan that would end with Chesebro and the others facing a firing squad at pretty much any other point of history or in any other country. At some point even the Supreme Court would have to decide whether this was a stunt worthy of forcing the most powerful military on the planet into choosing sides.
But Chesebro still held out hope that the resulting batshit chaos would somehow result in a miracle occurring. Perhaps the election would be thrown out, making House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the acting president. Or perhaps not. Spin the wheel and take your chances, America. The rancid sacks of shit proposing this plan were willing to risk everything for the slightest chance to erase an election.
But another outcome, he said — one that appears even more far-fetched in hindsight — might play out: Trump could quit the race in exchange for a negotiated deal to make Pence president.
“In this situation,” Chesebro wrote, “which would be messy and unpalatable to many … it doesn’t seem fanciful to think Trump and Pence would end up winning the vote after some legislatures appoint electors, or else that there might be a negotiated solution in which the Senate elects Pence vice president and Trump agrees to drop his bid … so that Biden and Harris are defeated, even though Trump isn’t re-elected.”
First off, fuck this dude sincerely for his willingness to throw all of democracy against a wall in the off chance that the debris would make a pretty pattern that he, personally, might like. But the notion that Donald Trump would "quit the race" in a ploy to make Pence president may be more delusional than the plan to assert dictatorial Pence powers. Trump has never done anything in his life unless it would benefit Trump. Just how were Giuliani, Eastman, and the other seditionists going to convince Trump to drop his claims of winning the election so that Pence could sit behind his desk? Were they going to offer him Alaska? Delaware? Agree to convert our newest aircraft carrier to a floating Trump-branded resort?
And no matter how many Trump lawsuits fell because each of them were based on craptacular hoaxes that fell apart upon even the most cursory examination—which has landed multiple lawyers in Trump's orbit in deep professional trouble, and that is putting it mildly—Chesebro and Eastman and the others just kept pressing forward. As the House select committee that investigated the coup discovered, Justice Clarence Thomas was widely seen as the coup's most likely Supreme Court ally. As Trump pressured Pence, the coup's architects hunted for cases that might give Thomas the means to at least temporarily block a state's results from being counted.
“Possibly Thomas would end up being the key here — circuit justice, right? We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt,” Chesebro wrote. “Realistically, our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress, is from Thomas — do you agree, Prof. Eastman?”
This was just one week before Jan. 6, after courtrooms across the country had thrown out the team's farcical "evidence" of fraud over and over again, leaving the seditionists with no remaining legal fig leaves that would justify their plan. But when not even Thomas gave them the justification they sought, the plan didn't change.
Trump and his allies even scheduled a "march" on the Capitol to coincide with the counting of electoral votes, another means of potentially delaying the vote or creating enough chaos to justify throwing out or "redoing" the election's results.
The reason Trump stood by as the violent mob attacked police and ransacked the building is self-evident: This was the delay the team had been trying to make happen. Trump and the coup planners indeed used the delay caused by the evacuation of Congress to again work the phones, pressuring individual lawmakers to go along with the plan.
What the Chesebro and Eastman memos have spelled out, much too plainly, is that from at least Dec. 6 the plan was to nullify Trump's presidential election loss through Republican fiat, either through Pence or through other House and Senate accomplices, and the co-conspirators all recognized that a likely result of their plan would be massive public unrest and almost certain violence. And they did not care. At all! The "plan" was for Trump to declare that the Insurrection Act allowed him to put down public protests by military force, and he was to give those orders, and the coup planners were willing to spin the wheel on what would happen after that as well.
There was seemingly no jumping-off point where Trump's team of true believers proved unwilling to risk mass violence, military violence, or a new civil war on the vaporous chance that they could erase a Republican election loss. The memos are banal in tone: Things might get "messy" after their "bold" strategies were employed, but oh-fucking-well, those were simply the risks of overturning a democratic election and installing a Republican winner regardless.
It was seditionist from the start. The plan was never to prove actual fraud in any state, it was to unilaterally declare "fraud" and announce that the results were invalid because Pence said so. The Supreme Court would hopefully declare the moves "nonjusticiable" because it was Congress doing them, after which the only remaining concerns would be enforcing order as the public objected.
These ratbastards and their allied Republicans intended a coup from the beginning. It was a stupid plan, mind you. It was premised on a great deal of wishful thinking, and with never a thought to what would happen if Trump called up the military and some member of the military dropped a missile onto the White House in response, but it was a coup by design.
It's hard to imagine what justice can even be meted out here against a team of conspirators whose communications show complete indifference to the damage caused by their schemes.
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