When I tuned into the latest January 6 hearing, I knew John Eastman — as the principal architect of various bizarre schemes to steal the 2020 election from Joe Biden — would play a major role. Bob Woodward’s and Bob Costa’s book “Peril” put Eastman right at the center of it months ago.
What I couldn’t have guessed was that Eastman would turn out to be a leading villain of the piece, neary overshadowing Donald Trump himself. The hearing was yet another Eastman-inspired embarrassment for the University of Colorado, which had hired him (and then sort-of fired him) as its — let’s see if I have this right — first Visiting Professor of Conservative Policy and/or Overthrowing American Democracy.
And it’s maybe even worse for Heidi Ganahl, running for governor in the Republican primary. A big talking point for her campaign has been the role she played on the CU Board of Regents. What she doesn’t like to talk about is whether Eastman and Trump tried to defraud American voters, although she did say she would welcome Trump’s endorsement. .
The heat must have gotten just hot enough — damn that global warming — that Ganahl finally told the Colorado Sun and News4 she wished Eastman “had not involved CU in the whole conversation on what happened with Jan. 6 and the president. But I also believe in academic freedom (note to Ward Churchill) and we’ve got to let these things play out.”
She also said Eastman had a “stellar” career before CU hired him, a notion that, let’s say, is not unanimously held.
The heat even reached the point that Ganahl finally felt she had to give an answer on the 2020 election question. She said that though there were issues regarding the election (editor’s note: there weren’t), she didn’t “believe there was enough fraud that would have flipped the election.”
That certainly isn’t Trump’s view. And the theme of the Thursday hearing — another effective session — was how Mike Pence stood up to being pressured, by Trump and Eastman and others, to single-handedly, if illegally and unconstitutionally, stop the Electoral College from naming Biden president, and by whatever means possible.
If you’ll remember, the vote came on Jan. 6, the same day as the violent storming of the Capitol. The same day that began with Trump phoning Pence and calling him a “wimp” and a “pussy” for his, uh, cowardice.
And the same day when the mob’s intention, aside from its apparent desire to lynch Pence for refusing to obey Trump, was to also stop the counting of the Electoral College vote. During the hearing, we learned that the mob apparently came within 40 feet of Pence and his family as they were being rushed by the Secret Service to a secure location.
Forty feet. A few big steps for horned insurrectionists, a narrow escape from anarchy or worse.
The vote is, of course, supposed to be a formality. Everyone knew Biden had won the election, including — guessing here — Trump. I’m guessing even Rudy knows the truth when he’s drinking only Diet Pepsi.
But, in Trump’s view, the Big Lie can’t be allowed to die. As long as the Big Lie lives, so lives the chance he could trample the will of the people and somehow remain president. The Big Lie is among the big issues in Republican primaries across the country. We’ll see how it plays out in Colorado in a little over a week.
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How seriously should we take this? I mean, shouldn’t we at least know how CU hired Eastman?
U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, in ruling that Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University before coming to CU, must turn over certain materials to the January 6 committee, told us the score way back in March. He said Eastman’s and Trump’s schemes were not only “more likely than not” to have been criminal, but described those schemes as “a coup in search of a legal theory.”
How seriously should Biden and team take this? Well, if I’m Attorney General Merrick Garland, I’m putting everyone on the staff on double-overtime.
The star witness that day for the committee was Greg Jacob, a Pence attorney, who, along with every other member of the Pence team, was warning Pence to stand up to Trump while debating the merits of Eastman’s plot, as if there were any, with Eastman himself.
Jacob ridiculed the schemes that would call for Pence to either reject electoral votes in swing states that Biden won and declare Trump the president or to send the so-called disputed delegates home for their state legislators to decide. Then Congress could be called in for a special session to presumably name Trump president.
It wasn’t only Pence and his advisers who knew neither plan could pass court muster. So … did … Eastman. I swear to you. Or at least Greg Jacob literally swore to it.
On Jan. 5, Jacob said he told Eastman that if this scheme were put in place and finally went to the Supreme Court, it would be rejected 9-0. At first, Eastman disputed that number. According to Jacob, Eastman said, ‘Well, I think maybe you would lose only 7-2,’ and after some further discussion acknowledged, ‘Well, yeah, you’re right, we would lose 9-nothing.’”
Eastman was probably counting on Clarence Thomas, for whom he clerked, and probably Sam Alito before realizing that no one, outside of Trump, would countenance this. Eastman also said there was heated discussion on the Supreme Court about whether it would even hear such a case. And then we learned that Ginni Thomas, wife to Clarence Thomas, was in email conversation with Eastman.
Look, even Trump was told it was illegal. According to Jacob, Eastman told him so in a Jan. 4 meeting called to try once again to persuade Pence. Or it might have been in the Jan. 5 meeting. Versions differ, but not the fact that a rogue lawyer and a rogue president were plotting a scheme they knew was illegal.
As you might guess, illegality is not a problem for Trump. Even getting caught isn’t a problem. He has always weaseled his way out of trouble, hasn’t he? He was all in, even if some of the usual suspects — even those like Mark Meadows — seemed to have had some doubts.
In his testimony, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told Eastman in the days before January 6 he was “out of his effin’ mind,” and that there was real danger that this would “cause riots in the streets.” According to Herschmann, Eastman “said something to the effect of ‘There’s been violence in the history of our country to protect the democracy or to protect the Republic.’ ”
Jacob said he told Eastman much the same about the potential for violence and that Eastman remained unmoved.
And when Trump’s January 6 rally was over and the storming of the Capitol had begun, Jacob got back in touch with Eastman, telling him that he was a “serpent in the president’s ear” and “thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.”
Eastman did testify on videotape in a deposition for the committee and was asked these questions. He took the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times and answered no questions of consequence. You think he had Judge Carter’s words ringing in his ears? Let’s just say that one of the revelations from the hearing was that the day after January 6, Eastman asked Rudy Giuliani if there was still a Trump pardon list and, if so, could he be given a place on it. Turns out, he didn’t get one.
I’m not ready to call Pence a hero, as the committee did. He did do one brave thing. But as The Nation’s John Nichols pointed out, “Coup plotters came to Mike Pence with a plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He did not go public to expose the scheme. He did not alert the FBI or other authorities. He called Dan Quayle for advice on whether he could go along with the coup.”
Even Quayle knew enough to warn him against it. If Pence wants to be a hero, let’s see him testify before the committee. He could clear up so much.
On the night of January 6, when the Senate was finally back in session following the riot, Eastman was still plotting, still trying to persuade Pence to do something to disrupt the count. The day after the assault, Eastman was still plotting. But in a call that day with Herschmann, he got some great legal advice, which he apparently has finally taken.
“Get a great f’ing criminal defense lawyer,” Herschmann said he told Eastman. “You’re gonna need it.”
That’s a good bet. The question that the committee wants the Department of Justice to answer is whether Eastman’s co-conspirator, Donald Trump, will need one, too.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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