The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s open confession will loom large at today’s Jan. 6 hearing

Former president Donald Trump. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)
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It is often observed that Donald Trump perfected the art of admitting to his most corrupt schemes right out in public. This tended to have a disarming effect: Surely there couldn’t be anything seriously wrong with presidential conduct that Trump blithely advertised to the whole world, could there?

But if there were ever a time to resist being seduced by this tactic, Tuesday’s Jan. 6 select committee hearing is it. The hearing will focus on efforts by Trump and his co-conspirators to get GOP legislatures to certify presidential electors for him in defiance of their state’s popular voting.

Trump is publicly telling us he fully intends to do this again. Last Friday, after the committee forcefully detailed Trump’s pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to delay the electoral count on Jan. 6 so states could send new electors for Trump, he lashed out at Pence — for resisting that pressure.

“Mike did not have the courage to act,” Trump railed, while also teasing a possible 2024 run for reelection.

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For Trump, the only takeaway from the Jan. 6 hearings that matters is that Pence was too much of a coward to carry his scheme to fruition. Crucially, the fact that the committee has now demonstrated that Trump had good cause to know that would be illegal hasn’t impacted him in the slightest.

This is akin to an open confession of intent to do it all again. Which should loom over Tuesday’s hearing, and the lessons we take from it, in a big way.

That’s because in certain respects, this hearing might be the most important one of all. More directly than the others, it will detail Trump’s efforts to carry out a scheme that might actually have a better chance of succeeding for him next time.

According to committee members, this hearing will detail pressure on GOP state legislators to certify electors for Trump despite him losing the popular vote in their states, and also a separate effort by Trump loyalists to submit fake electors for him. It will apparently detail that Trump’s own lawyers understood that to be legally dubious.

Those efforts were critical to the overall coup plot. Trump and coup-blueprint author John Eastman pressured Pence to illegally delay the electoral count in Congress, to buy time for states to revisit vote counts and certify electors for Trump.

Separately, Eastman and others around Trump saw the fake-elector scheme as a way to manufacture doubt around which electors were the real ones, as The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman reports. This might also have given Pence a pretext to delay the count.

Everything else flowed from this: Trump and his advisers pressured the Justice Department to fabricate an aura that the election was fraudulent, to create that pretext. Trump directly pressed the Republican secretary of state in Georgia to “find” votes for the same purpose.

Fortunately, Pence and some of these state legislators and officials resisted all this pressure. But the conditions are likely to be different next time.

First, Republicans will likely control the House in 2024 and 2025. This means that if a state legislature or governor does certify electors in defiance of their state’s popular vote, the GOP House can count them on Jan. 6, 2025. Under the current Electoral Count Act, they would stand, possibly shifting a very close election.

Second, many Republicans loyal to Trump are running for positions of control over election machinery across the country. In Pennsylvania, the GOP nominee is running on a barely disguised promise to use gubernatorial powers to certify electors for a losing Republican candidate — essentially a vow that no Democrat will win the state as long as he is governor.

Given all this, Trump’s open telegraphing of intent to rerun his coup plot should frame how we understand Tuesday’s hearing.

Let’s hope 10 Senate Republicans take it this way, even if they don’t say so publicly. If so, they have the option to help revise the Electoral Count Act so such a scheme will be much harder to pull off, by requiring Congress to count the slate of electors deemed legitimate by the courts.

Even if you think it’s unlikely another coup plot will be attempted — let alone that it might succeed — reform is still imperative as a safeguard against the worst. That would also make it less likely that Trump — or an anointed successor — will attempt such a scheme again, minimizing the possibility of more instability, violence and full-scale crisis.

If given the chance, Trump will do it all again once more pliable actors are in place. And the dark truth of the matter is that next time, more pliable actors will be in place.