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Opinion Mark Meadows has already established a coup plot. Do we care enough to save the republic?

The House's Jan. 6 committee is voting Monday whether to recommend former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows be subjected to criminal contempt of Congress charges. (Alexander Drago/Reuters)
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Multiple pieces of evidence have emerged pointing to a deliberate effort to overthrow our democracy. And it is former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who is key to piecing them all together.

Now, we just need to see if the country cares enough to hold all those involved accountable.

Start with the two memos from John Eastman, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, who sketched out a plan for Vice President Mike Pence to block Joe Biden from assuming the presidency. After making false accusations of election fraud, Eastman suggested Pence could simply refuse to accept electoral college votes when Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the results, making Trump the “winner” or throwing it to the House where Republicans on a unit vote (one per each state delegation) might have crowned Trump president.

Two additional memos from Trump campaign counsel Jenna Ellis, one on Dec. 31 and one on Jan. 5, have also surfaced. Politico reports: “In the Jan. 5 memo, Ellis argued that key provisions of the Electoral Count Act — limiting Pence’s authority to affirm or reject certain electors — were likely unconstitutional. She concluded that Pence, while presiding over lawmakers’ counting of electors, should simply halt the process when their alphabetical proceeding reached Arizona.” This, of course, would be patently illegal. (Has her state bar been contacted?)

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We also know of Trump’s efforts to force the Justice Department to declare the election was corrupt and “leave the rest to me" and Republicans in Congress. And we have seen the mind-boggling 38-page PowerPoint plan to conduct a coup, including a declaration of “national security emergency” that could halt the voting, if needed. As bizarre as the document was, even more bizarre are the alleged meetings that Meadows and lawmakers had with the plan’s author, none of whom had the common sense and loyalty to report it to the FBI.

The House select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection, in its document release in advance of the contempt vote for Meadows’s failure to appear for his deposition, sets out a list of questions it would have asked Meadows. In doing so, they provided the outline of the coup plot:

“We would’ve asked Mr. Meadows about emails about the Electoral Count Act and the prospect of State legislators sending alternate slates of electors to Congress, including a November 7th, 2020, email with attachments,” the committee writes. “We would’ve asked him about emails reflecting the Trump campaign’s effort to challenge election results.” Those documents include evidence that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani “was put in charge” of the effort to reverse the electoral count result, suggesting the undertaking was a private scheme that Trump devised to retain power.

The committee also would have asked “about emails from Mr. Meadows to leadership at the Department of Justice on December 29th and 30th, 2020, and January 1st, 2021, encouraging investigations of suspected voter fraud, including claims that had been previously rebutted by State and Federal investigators and rejected by Federal courts.”

The media has seized on one potential line of questioning regarding a Jan. 5 email from Meadows indicating that the National Guard would be at the U.S. Capitol to “protect pro Trump people,” but potentially more damning are, as the committee writes, “text messages regarding efforts to encourage Republican legislators in certain States to send alternate slates of electors to Congress.” Even if Trump’s team had no part in setting off the violent attack, it was still directing a coup by nonviolent means.

The snippets of questions offer a peek into the universe of evidence the Jan. 6 committee is uncovering. The treasure trove of evidence is stunning, leading to several conclusions.

First, contrary to complaints that the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation is “static” or not doing enough because they are not conducting open hearings, the committee appears well on the way to detailing indisputable evidence of Trump’s role in attempting to override the Constitution. This would expose the jaw-dropping complicity of Republicans who continue to tout the “big lie” of a stolen election and support Trump as their leader.

Second, the fear that any one or even several witnesses will be able to “run out the clock” is overblown. What the committee already has and can obtain through multiple lines of evidence will likely be sufficient to provide a granular outline of the events leading up to Jan. 6.

Third, one would think that sentient Republicans would understand what is coming and start inching away from Trump. It won’t be one witness they have to smear or write off, but rather a mound of evidence including documents.

Fourth, the committee is not compiling a criminal case, which requires evidence that is admissible (not hearsay) and beyond a reasonable doubt. The Justice Department might decide this amounts to a criminal case, but demands that Justice officials proceed now are unserious and premature. The committee is acting as the investigative team; Justice Department lawyers will need to see what they’ve found before making an informed decision on prosecution.

Finally, the failure of President Biden, Democrats and the media to make this the top story looks even more inexcusable in light of the depth of evidence. Given the number of people involved in the coup attempt and how perilously close we came to constitutional disaster, the scheme amounts to the most astounding political story in our lifetimes (or perhaps in history).

That those involved in the plot might return to power is unimaginable; that the GOP continues to embrace Trump is shameful. If we cannot collectively recognize that threat to the republic, then, to Benjamin Franklin’s disappointment, we cannot keep it.