Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
September 20, 2021
So many stories landed today that some will have to wait. Tonight’s news, though, boils down to Republican attempts to retake control of the government in the 2022 elections…and, if Trump has his way, even earlier.
This morning, CNN revealed another bombshell story from the forthcoming book by veteran reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa: a six-point memo from pro-Trump lawyer John Eastman laying out a plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to steal the 2020 election for Trump.
The memo started by falsely claiming that seven states had sent competing slates of electors to the President of the Senate; in fact, Trump loyalists demanded their own electors, but each state had certified one official slate of electors. If Pence—or, if Pence recused himself, the then–Senate president pro tempore, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—rejected the ballots from those seven states, Eastman claimed, Trump would have ten more electoral votes than Biden and would win the election.
When Democrats howled, Pence could instead assert that neither candidate had a majority and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state would get a single vote. Since 26 of the 50 states were dominated by Republicans, Trump would win there, too.
“The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter,” Eastman wrote. “We should take all of our actions with that in mind.”
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to convince Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to back the scheme; someone also ran the idea past Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah. Both dismissed it. But, notably, neither revealed this extraordinary attempt to destroy our democracy.
When Pence ultimately refused to go along, Trump turned on him and told attendees at the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that “if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.” He explained that “the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country,” had offered a plan, and that “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us….”
Aside from the obvious, Eastman’s memo raises three interesting points. First, it refers to the idea that Pence might hand over the count to Grassley, a plan that needs more investigation. Second, it relies on the work of emeritus Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, who tweeted that it took snippets of his work out of context to create “a totally fake web of ‘law’ that no halfway decent lawyer would take seriously…. Ludicrous but scary as hell. Think 2024. Those guys mean business….” And, third, it debunks the current right-wing talking point that Trump wanted only to question the results of the election. Clearly, he wanted to be declared the winner.
Even after President Joe Biden was sworn in, Trump supporters continued to insist that the election had been fraudulent. Famously, the Arizona state senate hired a company called Cyber Ninjas to reexamine the votes from Maricopa County, although the county board of supervisors, a majority of whom were Republicans, had already audited the ballots and the machines and found no problems. The county board strongly opposed the new “audit.”
The Cyber Ninjas examined ballots for bamboo to see if China had hacked the election, used insecure practices, rejected observers, and finally sent voting information to Montana for analysis. Documents released by the state senate under a court order in late August revealed that groups backed by pro-Trump loyalists Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and two correspondents from the One America News Network paid for the Arizona investigation.
Last week, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the state senate and the Cyber Ninjas had to release the records concerning their activities. Cyber Ninjas is refusing to do so, offering as a reason—among others—that it is busy writing its report (which is already four months late) and document production will take time away from that effort. Its lawyer says it will “produce documents out of goodwill and its commitment to transparency” when it has time, but does not recognize any legal obligation to do so.
Seeking an Arizona-type “audit” in Pennsylvania, Republicans in that state’s legislature last Wednesday voted to issue subpoenas for personal information of about 6.9 million state voters, including names, addresses, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Republicans say a private company needs that information to fix issues in election procedures uncovered in 2020, but the Republican leader of the investigation has declined to say how the information will be used.
Democrats sued Friday to stop the release of the voter information, and two Democratic representatives to Congress have asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether the subpoenas could violate federal laws by leading to voter intimidation.
A new story sheds more light on the election reform Republicans are talking about. On May 6, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised eyebrows when he signed a new election law in front of television cameras for the Fox News Channel, excluding all other media. While Republicans insisted they wrote new election laws to prevent voter fraud—despite the lack of evidence of any such widespread fraud—internal emails and text messages from Florida Republicans revealed today by Politico show that their concerns were actually about gaining advantage in the 2022 elections.
Joe Gruters, the state senator who chairs the Florida Republican Party, repeatedly said in public that the new bill would “make it as easy as possible to vote, and hard as possible to cheat.” But in private text exchanges with state representative Blaise Ingoglia, the former chair of the Florida party, Gruters called for getting rid of existing mail-in ballot requests, saying that keeping them would be “devastating,” since Democrats used them more frequently than Republicans. “We cannot make up ground,” Gruters wrote. “Trump campaign spent 10 million. Could not cut down lead….” Ingoglia told Politico: “This was a policy decision all along and had nothing to do with partisan reasons.”
Finally, tonight, the immigration issue is back in the news. Republicans have tried to make immigration their key issue for 2022, but the terrible surge in coronavirus in Republican-dominated states like Texas has captured the news cycle. For the past few days, though, the rise in Haitian refugees on the U.S. southern border has reclaimed headlines. Haitians have long come to the southern border for admission to the U.S., but the recent earthquake in Haiti, along with the assassination of the country’s president and hopes that the Biden administration will be welcoming, has brought 12,000–15,000 Haitians in the past few weeks.
The situation there remains much as it has always been under Biden: the administration kept the public health guidelines established during the pandemic under former president Trump, and it is turning away most adult immigrants and refugees. It has been returning Haitians to Haiti by plane, with seven flights daily set to begin on Wednesday.
But right-wing media is, once again, insisting that Biden is allowing a flood of immigrants to overrun the U.S. At the same time, images of white border patrol agents on horseback riding down Haitian migrants, with their reins swinging, has horrified those who see in them the history of southern slave patrols hunting enslaved Americans. The Biden administration will have to thread a very thin political needle: disavowing the actions of the border patrol agents without opening itself to Republican attacks that it is “soft” on immigration. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has launched an inquiry into the agents’ behavior.
For his part, Trump does not want to wait until 2022 for a change in government. On Friday, he wrote to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger charging that 43,000 Georgia ballots were “invalid.” He called for Raffensperger to decertify the 2020 election “and announce the true winner,” warning that the nation “is being systematically destroyed by an illegitimate president and his administration.”
Trump is under criminal investigation in Georgia for his previous attempts to overturn the state’s election results.