Trump's coup plot was worse than anyone knew

Republicans are trying their best to make attempted coups now normal politics in America

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 8, 2021 10:03AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

It seemed odd last December when then-Attorney General Bill Barr resigned before the end of President Trump's term. Barr had been such a loyal soldier throughout, defending Trump's misdeeds and corrupting the Department of Justice (DOJ) on his behalf over and over again. Barr had broken DOJ protocols repeatedly as well, most recently ordering the department to investigate claims of voter fraud before any suit or legal proceedings had been initiated. But it all fell apart when Barr said in an interview that he had not actually seen any evidence of such fraud. The president was very displeased. Barr later told him to his face that the claims were "nonsense" and a major rift developed between the two.

Nonetheless, Barr apparently still tried to appease Trump and later told the U.S. Attorney in Georgia to look into Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani's wild claims and make it a priority. But within a few days, Trump announced that Barr would be leaving his post and he was gone by the end of the month, replaced by his deputy Jeffrey Rosen.

I don't think we know the full scope of what was going on with Barr and Trump during this period despite Barr's self-serving recitations to several authors of books on the final days. But it's clear that he knew that Trump was out of control and he decided to jump off the sinking ship before it went under.

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On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released an interim Senate Judiciary Committee Report covering the testimony of various high-level Department of Justice officials during that period between the election and the insurrection and it is a blockbuster. It's titled "Subverting Justice: How the Former President and His Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election," which pretty much says it all.

We knew quite a bit of this already. There was earlier reporting about how Trump had called Acting Attorney General Rosen to instruct him to "just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen." And we knew that an obscure Justice Department lawyer in the civil division by the name of Jeffrey Clark had somehow found his way into Trump's inner circle and was pushing some corrupt schemes to overturn the election which Trump liked very much. But until this report we didn't know the scale of this plotting to get the DOJ to step in and use its muscle to carry out Trump's coup.

Trump worked hard to twist Rosen's arm. He had Clark calling him with threats that he was going to replace him and demanding that he send a letter to Georgia and other states to advise them of "serious irregularities" in their elections, telling them to call special sessions of their legislatures and deal with the electoral votes however they chose. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was haranguing him as well demanding that he look into Giuliani's crazy conspiracy theories, as well as odd lawyers involved in Trump lawsuits around the country, one of whom told Rosen "you're going to force me to call the President and tell him you're recalcitrant," as if that would frighten him into compliance.

Trump himself inappropriately called Rosen and his deputy nine times, and met with him personally several more, the final denouement coming just days before the January 6th insurrection in which he literally said, "one thing we know is you, Rosen, aren't going to do anything to overturn the election." As usual, he said the quiet part out loud.

The report is damning. The president of the United States tried for weeks to get the Attorney General to overturn the election. That is the definition of an attempted coup.

The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, R-Ia, issued a GOP rebuttal to the report. It is truly mind boggling and makes you wonder if the Republicans even bothered to read it. It suggests that Trump was right to be skeptical of Rosen and Donohue because of Carter Page and the FBI and some other irrelevant nonsense from the Russia investigation. This was pure red meat for their base, of course. But this line is so fatuous you have to wonder if they were just trolling for laughs:

"The available evidence shows that President Trump did what we'd expect a president to do on an issue of this importance: He listened to his senior advisers and followed their advice and recommendations,"

Yes, we expect our presidents to refuse to admit they lost elections and plot a coup to stay in power. It's perfectly normal. And yes, he did back down on firing Rosen and replacing him with his lackey — only once his White House counsel's office and the entire top level of the Department of Justice said they would quit en masse if he did it. I guess you can call that "advice and recommendations" but Trump's White House counsel had another term for it: "a murder-suicide pact."

And anyway, once that part of the plot was foiled, he just switched to plan B — the right-wing lawyer John Eastman's plot to have Pence refuse to count the electoral votes. At the same time, he had his crack legal team of Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani all over the country filing half-baked, embarrassing lawsuits and was egging on activists to come to the Capitol on January 6th saying it was going to be "wild." He was juggling several coup plots at the same time. And he's still at it today, calling for "forensic audits" even in states he won! This deranged plot is still unfolding even though he's been out of office for nine months.

That Senate Republicans would actually defend these actions is outrageous. It's also chilling.

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It's quite clear that that brief moment after January 6th when the Republicans seemed shaken by Trump's incitement of a violent insurrection passed very quickly and they have comfortably settled back into rationalizing their complicity by saying that it's no harm no foul if the president tries to extort foreign leaders to help him sabotage a rival's campaign or plan a coup to overturn an election if he doesn't manage to pull it off.

Grassley is appearing with the former president at a rally this weekend where Trump will no doubt insist that he actually won the election. Grassley won't blink an eye, apparently believing that if Trump gets back in power, it will be perfectly fine if he behaves exactly the same way as he did during those insane final weeks of his term. This is how pathetically corrupt and compromised the GOP's moral reasoning has become. According to one of the major political parties in the country, attempted coups are now normal politics in America.  And as a result we can be quite sure this isn't the last time that will happen. The only question is whether they can corral enough accomplices to actually succeed next time. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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