The infamous 'Eastman memo' shows how close Georgia GOP chair came to enabling Trump coup

Eleven months after the election, and nine months after the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, we are only now beginning to understand how organized, intentional and dangerous the Trump coup attempt had been, and how dangerous it remains.

Take, for example, the events of Dec. 14 at the Georgia State Capitol. On that date, Democratic electors met in the state Senate chambers to formally commit the state's 16 electoral votes to Joe Biden. The event was ceremonial in nature, yet required under the U.S. Constitution.

Largely overlooked at the time – there was a lot going on – was a second meeting held that day in a committee room at the Capitol, this one convened by Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer. In that meeting, Shafer and his fellow Republicans approved a fake second slate of pro-Trump electors to be sent to Washington, on the grounds that Trump had really carried Georgia and that Biden's victory was based on fraud.

There was, is, and never will be any evidence whatsoever of that claim, as multiple recounts, investigations and court cases have demonstrated. But as we'll see, the legitimacy of that fake slate of electors didn't really matter. What mattered was the ability to claim that the competing slate existed.

We know that because of last week's publication of a memo from John Eastman, a now discredited constitutional law professor who also served as a top legal advisor to Trump. It's pretty much a how-to booklet on ending American democracy.

In that memo, Eastman lays out a step-by-step scheme by which Vice President Mike Pence could single-handedly overturn the results of the presidential election and ensure that Trump stayed in office, despite having lost the election. Trump embraced the strategy wholeheartedly, as subsequent events have proved.

A 'majority of the electors appointed' would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.

– John Eastman, a top legal advisor to former President Donald Trump

The key to that scheme was the creation of “competing slates of electors" in Georgia and six other supposedly “disputed" states. Again, it didn't matter whether those competing slates were legitimate. All that mattered was that a useful fiction was created, that those slates could be said to exist. According to the plan laid out by Eastman, Pence would unilaterally announce to a joint session of Congress on January 6 that “because of the ongoing disputes in the seven states, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those states." Using that excuse, all votes cast in those states would be canceled and their electoral votes would not be counted, thus reducing the total number of available electoral votes from 535 to 454.

As Eastman explains in that memo:

“A 'majority of the electors appointed' would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected."

They also had a Plan B, and even a Plan C and D.

If their attempt to manipulate the electoral math somehow failed, Plan B called for Pence to then declare that since no candidate had a majority of electoral votes, the question of our next president would be decided by the House, with each state's congressional delegation getting one vote. The candidate who had the most state delegations would be our next president.

“Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote," Eastman wrote. “President Trump is re-elected there as well."

And if that didn't work, if we still didn't have a president, Eastman writes, “That creates a stalemate that would give the state legislatures more time to weigh in to formally support the alternate slate of electors, if they had not already done so."

In other words, by illegally and unconstitutionally delaying the electoral count, and putting pressure on Republican legislators to reverse the voters' decision, Trump wins yet again.

And Plan D? We saw that play out on live TV on January 6, when a mob of protesters summoned to Washington by Trump attacked Congress to try to stop the counting of electoral votes. Even if the insurrectionists couldn't force Congress to anoint Trump to another term, they could delay the official counting of votes and again give sympathetic GOP legislatures more time to toss the certified slate of electors and replace them with Trump electors. Indeed, even in the midst of the riot, as members of Congress were taking shelter in undisclosed hiding places, Trump and Rudy Giuliani were calling Republican senators, plotting how to delay the vote.

This is not all behind us; it is not merely history.

As recently as last Friday, Trump again called upon Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to decertify the 2020 election, calling Biden an “illegitimate president" and urging Raffensperger to “announce the true winner." And in a recent CNN poll, 59% of Republicans said that believing Trump won the 2020 election was central to being a Republican.

Trump is also working hard to ensure that when 2024 rolls around, he has people in place to do his bidding. Under Shafer's leadership, for example, the Georgia GOP lost the 2020 presidential race in Georgia as well as two U.S. Senate seats, which is an astonishingly poor performance. But when Shafer ran for re-election as party chair, that didn't matter. “No one in Georgia fought harder for me than David!" Trump announced. “He NEVER gave up! He has my Complete and Total Endorsement for re-election." Shafer won easily.

Trump has also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who remains a rabid, irrational advocate of overturning the election, to replace Raffensperger as secretary of state. If Hice wins in 2022, he would oversee the 2024 election. Trump has also endorsed state Sen. Burt Jones, who last year demanded a special session of the state Legislature to officially replace Biden electors with Trump electors, in his race for lieutenant governor.

So no, this is not a storm that has passed. This is at best the eye of the hurricane, the deceiving pause before the storm resumes.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Unhinged threats against nurses and school boards rage on as mainstream GOP stands by

In a press conference at the state Capitol this week, Georgia's public health commissioner condemned a campaign of bullying, intimidation and threats directed at health care workers attempting to improve the state's abysmal vaccination record against COVID- 19.

This article was originally published at Georgia Recorder

“Many of our line workers are receiving threats, are receiving hostile emails, harassing emails," Dr. Kathleen Toomey said. “That's something that has happened to me early on. Maybe it comes with the territory of someone in my position, but it shouldn't be happening to those nurses who are working in the field to try to keep this state safe."

According to Toomey, the harassment has become so threatening that one mobile vaccination effort in north Georgia had to be shut down entirely. “Aside from feeling threatened themselves, staff realized no one would want to come to that location for a vaccination under those circumstances, so they packed up and left," Toomey's spokeswoman, Nancy Nydam, later explained.

Think about that: These people are not only refusing to get vaccinated themselves — and by doing so facilitating the spread of this deadly virus — they are using harassment and intimidation to try to prevent other people from getting life-saving vaccination. That's outrageous. Yet later in that same press conference, when Gov. Brian Kemp had the chance to strongly condemn such behavior and promise that it would not be tolerated, that it would be investigated aggressively by law enforcement and prosecuted, he did not meet the moment, issuing only a mild call for “unity."

A few months earlier, at the very spot in the Capitol where Toomey and Kemp stood, Gabe Sterling of the Georgia secretary of state's office had been far more courageous. State and local elections workers were being threatened, harassed and intimidated by people who bought into false claims by Donald Trump that the election had been stolen from him, Sterling said, and it was up to leaders to intervene.

“You need to step up and say this … stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence," Sterling said, addressing Trump directly. “Someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going to get killed, and it's not right."

As we know, Trump did not condemn the violence, and people did get killed.

We're also seeing similar threats of violence directed at school boards around the country, both over mask mandates and the manufactured controversy over “critical race theory." Again, the idea seems to be that what cannot be won at the ballot box or through debate can and should be won through physical intimidation, even violence. In Pennsylvania, to cite just one of many examples, a GOP candidate for county executive bragged in a campaign video that he would confront the local school board over its mask mandate not with facts or data, but with “20 strong men."

“I'm going to speak to the school board, and I'm going to give them an option: They can leave or they can be removed," Steve Lynch said.

Not surprisingly, Lynch is a Trump supporter who attended the January 6 rally that ended in an assault on our nation's Capitol. Instead of an act of shame, that attempted coup is increasingly being described by Republicans such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia as an heroic act of patriotism, with the attackers cast as champions of freedom.

In North Carolina over the weekend, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn told a campaign rally that if he knew where those arrested in the coup attempt were being imprisoned, he might try to “bust them out." He also told the crowd that the 2020 elections had been stolen from Republicans, and “if our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it's going to lead to one place — and it's bloodshed."

These are people who have been told for decades that they have an inherent right to rule this country, that if they are losing election after election it is only because those elections are rigged against them, and that they have not just the right but the obligation to turn to violence to correct that injustice.

You could argue that this is only the lunatic fringe of the GOP, but we have seen too many times how yesterday's GOP lunatic fringe becomes tomorrow's GOP mainstream. And the people who might be able to rein it all back in remain in ominous silence.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Trump DOJ official's letter staked out Georgia as path to a coup

On Dec. 28, a top official in the Trump Department of Justice circulated an extraordinary, potentially history-altering letter to his colleagues, writing that “I see no valid downsides" to issuing the letter and proposing that they “get it out as soon as possible."

In that letter, reported this week by ABC News, Jeffrey Clark falsely claimed that there were such “significant concerns" about the legitimacy of the election in Georgia that Gov. Brian Kemp ought to call the state Legislature into special session to overturn the results and give Donald Trump the state's 16 electoral votes.

That of course was a lie, a lie created to foment a coup.

“Given the urgency of this serious matter … the Department believes that a special session of the Georgia General Assembly is warranted and in the national interest," the draft letter stated. It also argued that if Kemp balked at calling a special session, the Legislature has “implied authority under the Constitution" to call itself into session and act.

At that point, and at several others in the week of Dec. 27, history teetered, putting the fate of our democratic republic in true jeopardy. It was preserved only because a handful of people in crucial positions made the right decisions.

Different people, willing to make different decisions, might have brought it all tumbling down.

For example, if Clark's proposed letter had been made public, throwing the prestige of the DOJ behind claims of electoral fraud, it would have added enormous, perhaps overwhelming pressure on Kemp and Republican legislative leaders to call that special session, and to alter the election outcome. Because as we've learned, Georgia was considered key. The Trump campaign clearly believed that if they could bum-rush Georgia into throwing out the vote of the people, based purely on nonsensical “evidence," other GOP-leaning states such as Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania would be pressured to do the same. If Georgia fell, Trump may have been well on his way to remaining in power despite being clearly, and fairly, defeated under the rules laid out in the Constitution.

As we know, that did not happen, but it is only now that we can appreciate how close it may have come. It did not happen only because Clark's superiors in the DOJ – acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his top deputy — refused to allow release of that proposed letter, understanding that it had no basis whatsoever in fact or law.

We also now know that the day before Clark sent his inter-office memo, Trump himself had contacted top officials at DOJ to pressure them. According to notes of one conversation taken by Rosen's deputy on Dec. 27, Trump told the acting attorney general that he didn't have to try to overturn the whole election. “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen," those notes quote Trump as saying.

As that week went on, Trump continued his focus on Georgia.

On Jan. 2, he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for an hour-long phone call, insisting that Raffensperger “find" the necessary votes to make him the winner, and hinting that a failure to do so might result in his criminal prosecution. (On Dec. 23, Trump had also personally called Raffensperger's lead elections investigator, urging her to find fraud.)

On Jan. 3, Trump tried to remove Rosen as acting attorney general and install his flunky Clark to lead the DOJ, but was blocked by White House counsel and other members of his administration. On Jan. 4, the U.S. attorney for north Georgia, BJay Pak, resigned suddenly because – as we have since learned – he too was being pressured to declare that Georgia's elections were corrupt when in fact he knew they were not. (Pak will almost certainly be subpoenaed to tell that tale to Congress, adding yet more detail to the attempted coup.)

And then, of course, came the events of January 6.

It is good that when needed, people filling critical roles in federal and state government were willing to stand up for the sanctity of the law and Constitution. But we, as a nation, should never be in a situation when a handful of people can either save or destroy our democracy.

And as we learn more and more about how close we came to disaster, the post-election changes in state election law that have been implemented here in Georgia become more ominous.

Through those changes, the system of independent checks and balances that helped avoid disaster in 2020 have been weakened, not strengthened, with highly partisan state legislators now wielding considerable more power over how elections are conducted and how – and whether — the votes are counted afterward. Furthermore, the conspiratorial, falsehood-ridden rhetoric that those legislators have used to justify their power grab does not exactly engender confidence in their judgment should they get to decide whether the rule of law or the law of the jungle applies to future elections.

What we need is the truth. We need to expose those who were willing to subvert the law and the Constitution. We need to prosecute anyone who may have acted criminally. We need to sanction lawyers who threw aside their obligations to the law.

We need to know what happened. All of it.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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