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More election smoking guns and a grim COVID milestone
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Last week, I wrote about the Powerpoint presentation in Mark Meadows’s documents that were handed over to the January 6 commission. Slides in the presentation laid out a plan for Vice President Pence to refuse to accept electors from contested states and recommended declaring a national emergency to throw out electronic votes from across the country. This presentation represented damning evidence of a serious attempt to steal the election with what can accurately be called a coup attempt against the president-elect. Since the revelations last week, however, new details of the plot have not stopped coming.
First, Politico reported that Jenna Ellis, a lawyer for the Trump campaign and a prominent name in the many election lawsuits filed around the country last year, authored two memos in the days leading up to the insurrection that closely mirror the strategy laid out in the Powerpoint. In the first memo, dated December 31 and delivered to Trump’s office, Ellis argued that Pence should simply refuse to open ballots from states that the Trump campaign deemed to be fraudulent. In a second memo addressed to Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer and chief counsel of the American Center for Law & Justice, Ellis argued that the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional and the electoral vote count should be halted when the count reached Arizona. That memo was dated January 5.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because a similar memo was revealed back in September. This memo, authored by John Eastman, another Trump lawyer and a speaker at the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, laid out a scenario that was almost identical to the Ellis memos and the Meadows Powerpoint.
The Powerpoint itself has been traced to Phil Waldron, a retired US Army colonel, who was reportedly working with Trump’s legal team. The Washington Post reported that Waldron “said that he visited the White House on multiple occasions after the election, spoke with President Donald Trump’s chief of staff ‘maybe eight to 10 times’ and briefed several members of Congress on the eve of the Jan. 6 riot.”
Waldron denies that he was the person who sent the Powerpoint to Meadows and George J. Terwilliger III, a lawyer representing Meadows, told the Post that it was not clear that Meadows did anything with the Powerpoint after receiving it by email. We do know, however, that Meadows pressed the Justice Department to investigate claims that votes were changed by an Italian military satellite, so it is by no means clear that the former chief of staff would not have acted on the legal claims in the memos and the Powerpoint. (The full presentation is available on the web here.)
I’m sure that you are wondering which members of Congress were allegedly briefed on the plan. The Post reports that Waldron claims to have briefed Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Neither of those senators has responded directly to the allegation that they were privy to the seditious memos or Powerpoint.
But wait! There’s more!
The January 6 commission also got a trove of emails and text messages from Meadows. Many of these messages were exchanged while the Capitol attack was occurring.
Some of the messages from an anonymous Republican lawmakers advocated for having Republicans from contested states send alternative slates of electors to Washington. Meadows reportedly responded, “I love it.” Others showed support for the quest to disenfranchise millions of voters. The last seems to be an attempt to get Meadows’s attention during the riot.
CNN reporting on the messages says that Meadows was in direct contact with organizers of the “Stop the Steal” rally. One of these people texted Meadows for help on January 6, saying “'[t]hings have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction.’”
The messages, most of which have not been made public, may answer a lot of questions about what Donald Trump was doing during the Capitol riot. For instance, CNN reported that the commission cited an email in which Meadows said before the rally that “the National Guard would be present to 'protect pro Trump [sic] people' and that many more would be available on standby." A major question that needs to be answered by the investigation is why these National Guard troops were not dispatched immediately to put down the riot, but Meadows’s statement that they were there for the protection of pro-Trump demonstrators may be a big part of the answer.
Among the other messages were texts from Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. The pair acknowledged that it was Trump supporters who were ravaging the Capitol, not Antifa as some would later claim, and that Trump’s inaction was damaging his legacy. The concern expressed by the Fox hosts on January 6 is a sharp contrast to how they have rationalized and downplayed the riot in the months since.
After Meadows turned over the documents in question, he stopped cooperating with investigators. As a result, the House voted to hold him in contempt yesterday. Only two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), voted to hold Meadows accountable.
With revelations like we have seen so far, it is no wonder that Republicans didn’t want a January 6 investigation. The details are deeply embarrassing to the party and to supporters of The Former Guy.
Still, holding coup plotters and insurrectionists accountable should not be a partisan issue. What is at stake is the Constitution and our electoral system itself. Whether it is their intention or not, those who would give Trump and his minions a pass on January 6 run the risk that such an attack on the foundations of our Republic will happen again.
And it may not be Republicans to blame next time. Just as Gavin Newsom can learn from the Texas abortion bill and use the same strategy to attack the Second Amendment, a corrupt Democrat could follow the Eastman-Ellis model for throwing out inconvenient Electoral votes.
The fundamental problem is that everyone knows that the trail leads to Trump. Meadows did not go rogue and come up with a plan to steal the election by himself. Donald Trump’s fingerprints are all over the attempt to stop the Electoral vote count, and Trump still holds the Republican Party within his hypnotic grasp, much as Zach Galifinakis used his mind control powers on Steve Carell in “Dinner for Schmucks.”
As a result, the Republicans will continue to be hammered by a prolonged series of revelations about January 6. It is true that Republicans are on track to win control of the House in next year’s midterms, but that still leaves more than a year for investigators to dig up dirt and there are a lot of skeletons hidden in Republican closets and backyards.
I release you.
The United States passed another COVID milestone recently with the death of 800,000 Americans since the pandemic began. US News put that number in perspective when it noted that one out of every 500 Americans has died of COVID-19. The previous milestone of 700,000 deaths was reached only two and a half months ago in early October.
What makes this marker all the more tragic is that the vaccines for COVID-19 have been widely available for more than six months. While the Delta variant was somewhat more vaccine resistant than the original alpha strain, vaccines still protected against serious illness and hospitalization. The vast majority of American deaths from COVID since last spring could have been prevented.
The people who have spent the last two years scaring people away from vaccines and arguing that masks are tyranny have blood on their hands.
The pandemic is a powerful argument for competence over ideology in government officials, although in a perfect world we’d be able to pick from a competent candidate with our preferred ideology. A nation the size of the United States would have suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths regardless of who was in charge, but there can be little doubt that Donald Trump made the pandemic worse.
Trump famously declared the pandemic over after just a few months in 2020 and then advocated business as usual, even as people kept dying by the thousands. Dr. Deborah Birx, once a staple of Coronavirus press briefings, believes that Trump’s policy of denial cost as many as 130,000 lives.
This argument extends to the states. Per capita death data shows that the top 10 hardest-hit states are dominated by Republicans, whose skepticism about the pandemic made it difficult to enact public health measures. The only two blue states in the top 10 were New York and New Jersey, which were ground zero for the US pandemic and which didn’t have a chance to implement protective measures in the early days.
A pandemic of a deadly infectious disease is going to be bad. Such a pandemic without effective leadership and with widespread conspiracy theories and partisans actively undermining mitigation efforts is going to be much worse.
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