This column has been updated.
So President Donald Trump’s Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18, 2020, has always been particularly revolting to me. The day before, former national security adviser Michael Flynn had appeared on the conservative cable network Newsmax to argue that Trump could deploy the military to rerun the 2020 presidential election. The next day, Trump had Flynn into the Oval Office to discuss the idea. According to an account in The Post, then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone pushed back “strenuously” against a military takeover of the electoral process.
I know that elected Republicans who stick up for Trump have sacrificed their honor and conscience too many times to feel any stirring of shame. But maybe just a specter of sanity still haunts their lonely hours. They are actively defending a man who stained the history of the presidency with a meeting at which martial law was on the agenda. They are enablers of a political figure who hates our system of government whenever it conflicts with his interests.
The revelations keep coming about Trump’s subversion of his office and the Justice Department in a desperate and lawless attempt to retain power. We know that Trump contemplated having the federal government seize voting machines in key states. We know he pressured local election officials to “find” more votes and urged state legislators to overturn legitimate election results. We know he gathered protesters, and incited and sent them to the U.S. Capitol to threaten members of Congress if they did not overturn the election.
Now, from detailed reporting in The Post, we know that Trump — both directly and through proxies — pressured employees of the Justice Department to investigate a raft of bogus election fraud claims. He had a draft Supreme Court filing sent to the acting solicitor general that would have disputed the election results in six states. He considered elevating a senior staffer at the Justice Department who was open to his absurd claims to the role of acting attorney general (and was dissuaded only by the prospect of mass resignations at Justice).
It is astounding to see emails marked from the EOP (the executive office of the president), with the subject line “From POTUS” (the president of the United States), spreading absurd propaganda, urging unethical actions and abusing power in open defiance of all constitutional norms.
It is astounding to see the chief of staff to the president, Mark Meadows, pressing a series of insane conspiracy theories with the Justice Department — including one alleging the election had been stolen by military satellites controlled in Italy. The two chiefs of staff I worked for in the White House would have laughed at such garbage and resigned if ordered to spread it. This is because they were principled public servants. Meadows is a man without character who betrayed the institution of the presidency by obeying hilariously dishonorable orders.
It is astounding that the then-head of the Civil Division at the Department of Justice, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, should be sympathetic to Trump’s entirely baseless claim of fraud in the Georgia outcome, and internally advocate a theory justifying the appointment of alternate electors. How must it feel, in a vast building full of reputable lawyers, to be the only senior figure without adult judgment or an ethical compass?
And despite all this, the vast majority of elected Republicans have chosen to stand with a president who would have conducted a coup if it had been within his power. Despite all this, 175 House Republicans, along with 35 GOP senators, voted against a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Conservative media is in full, “big lie” swing, blaming liberal activists or the FBI for inciting Trump’s violent crowd, or denying that the day was violent at all. Twenty-one House Republicans refused to support awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 — effectively siding with the forces of sedition.
It is clear what these Republicans are saying to Americans: Serving the country has ceased to interest them, and their deepest loyalty now belongs to power alone. It is also clear what they’re saying to Trump: He has their full permission to assault, once again, the political system he tried and failed to destroy.