John Eastman, one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys leading up to and during the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol, has yet to become a household name. But perhaps he should be because Eastman is the person who drafted a now-infamous memo outlining how Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence could and should overturn the results of the 2020 election and deny Joe Biden, the president-elect at the time, his landslide victory in the Electoral College.
First, we should take a look at the six steps that Eastman concocted as a roadmap for Trump’s failed coup:
- VP Pence, presiding over the joint session (or Senate Pro Tempore Grassley, if Pence recuses himself), begins to open and count the ballots, starting with Alabama (without conceding that the procedure, specified by the Electoral Count Act, of going through the States alphabetically is required).
- When he gets to Arizona, he announces that he has multiple slates of electors, and so is going to defer decision on that until finishing the other States. This would be the first break with the procedure set out in the Act.
- At the end, he announces that because of the ongoing disputes in the 7 States, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States. That means the total number of “electors appointed” – the language of the 12th Amendment — is 454. This reading of the 12th Amendment has also been advanced by Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe (here). 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.
- Howls, of course, from the Democrats, who now claim, contrary to Tribe’s prior position, that 270 is required. So Pence says, fine. Pursuant to the 12th Amendment, no candidate has achieved the necessary majority. That sends the matter to the House, where the “the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote . . . .” Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is re-elected there as well.
- One last piece. Assuming the Electoral Count Act process is followed and, upon getting the objections to the Arizona slates, the two houses break into their separate chambers, we should not allow the Electoral Count Act constraint on debate to control. That would mean that a prior legislature was determining the rules of the present one — a constitutional no-no (as Tribe has forcefully argued). So someone – Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, etc. – should demand normal rules (which includes the filibuster). 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.
- The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission – either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court. Let the other side challenge his actions in court, where Tribe (who in 2001 conceded the President of the Senate might be in charge of counting the votes) and others who would press a lawsuit would have their past position — that these are non-justiciable political questions – thrown back at them, to get the lawsuit dismissed. The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind.
With this in hand, Trump pressured Pence to declare him the winner.
Although Eastman’s history with Trump was short, The New York Times wrote on Saturday, their relationship triggered immense concern among some of Trump’s closest advisors, primarily because Trump was enraptured by Eastman’s fringe conspiracy theories and was hellbent on following through with them.
“After Election Day, Mr. Eastman served as a behind-the-scenes legal quarterback of sorts for Mr. Trump, alarming some of Mr. Trump’s aides, who feared he had found someone to enable his worst instincts at one of the most dangerous moments of his presidency. And it surprised many of Mr. Eastman’s longtime friends and others, who questioned whether his access to power had skewed his vision of reality,” the paper revealed. “Mr. Eastman had put himself on the radar of Mr. Trump’s political aides during the election when Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, had shared on Twitter an article Mr. Eastman had written. The article, in an echo of racist questions stoked by Mr. Trump about where President Barack Obama had been born, questioned whether Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, could legally become president because her parents had not been born in the United States.”
Ultimately, Pence decided against yanking the killswitch to America’s democratic experiment after consulting with ex-Vice President Dan Quayle.
We remember what happened afterward.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.