The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

We’ve reached the ‘Yeah, it was pretty much an attempted coup, so what?’ stage of the Jan. 6 probe

Peter Navarro speaks during a briefing in April 2020 as President Donald Trump looks on. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It’s been a familiar exercise throughout much of the Trump era.

Something would emerge that was objectionable — say, expressing openness to Russia’s help in the 2016 election or attempting to use Ukraine for help in the 2020 election. Then would come the denials, that it was not what it looked like. Then would come the confirmation from those involved that it was pretty much what it looked like, whether that amounted to “collusion” (Russia probe) or a “quid pro quo” (Ukraine impeachment).

Now comes yet further confirmation that the Trump team’s brazen attempt to overturn the 2020 election result was what we thought it was.

In an interview with Rolling Stone and in his new book, Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro lays out the plot to overturn the election. According to him, the “Green Bay Sweep,” as he called it, involved getting Congress to debate the electoral results of six swing states that went for Joe Biden for four hours each — a 24-hour made-for-TV spectacle — after which the results of the election would be declared in-dispute and Congress would revert to the fallback in such situations: the House picking the new president with one vote per congressional delegation. Republicans would hold a majority of congressional delegations and thus would “likely” win in that scenario, Navarro deduced.

Trump adviser Peter Navarro published a book in which he unveiled the plan to keep Trump in office. (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

There are reasons to be quite skeptical about much of what Navarro says — especially while trying to sell his book — and also that the plot came anywhere as close to succeeding as he indicates. (Navarro suggests the plan was basically only thwarted by the Capitol rioters giving GOP leaders an excuse to pull the plug.) As we’ve laid out, it’s unlikely it would have ever gotten to the point where the delegations would vote, and even if they did, it would have required almost every Republican to toe the line on overturning the result.

(Rep. Liz Cheney, for instance, would have controlled Wyoming’s vote as its sole House member. And just one other Republican voting the wrong way in the right state could have torpedoed the whole thing.)

But even acknowledging all of those caveats, what’s remarkable here — while also familiar — is how forthrightly Navarro is copping to the plot, as if it was no big deal, really.

It’s been no secret that President Donald Trump tried to leverage Vice President Mike Pence’s historically ceremonial role overseeing the counting of electoral votes in his effort to overturn the election. But it wasn’t until September that we got a sense of the full scope of the plan. That’s when The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa detailed Trump lawyer John Eastman’s memo laying out multiple scenarios for how the election might be overturned.

When the two-page memo was revealed, Eastman awkwardly sought distance from some of its, shall we say, bolder ideas — like having Pence unilaterally attempt to declare Trump the winner. Eastman tried to argue that he was merely providing lawyerly advice, even as the memo advocated for even the boldest of the steps laid out. Eastman later called the unilateral Pence strategy “crazy,” even as his memo said Pence was the “ultimate arbiter” of the process. He pointed to a later six-page memo that was somewhat more circumspect in its prescriptions but still included that “ultimate arbiter” language.

“The memo was not being provided to Trump or Pence as my advice,” Eastman told the National Review’s John McCormack. “The memo was designed to outline every single possible scenario that had been floated, so that we could talk about it.”

Eastman’s employer, the Claremont Institute, also sought to distance itself from the most brazen of the proposals, arguing that his memo had been distorted. Both he and it suggested this was merely about hearing objections to the electors and potentially giving Congress time to hear from state legislators about whether they might send alternative slates of Trump electors for Congress to consider.

Eastman went so far as to say, “Call me the white-knight hero here, talking [Trump] down from the more aggressive position.”

Navarro doesn’t bother with the pretense that this was anything other than an effort with a predetermined outcome. Here are a couple of his comments from his Q&A with Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson:

  • “One of two things could happen. They go back there [to the states], they look at it and they say, “Nope. It’s certified.” [The votes] come back, and that would be it. Fair enough.”
  • “But the more likely scenario based on our assessment of the evidence was that states would withdraw any certification. And the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives. And even though the House is controlled by Democrats, the way votes would be counted in a presidential election decided by the House, Trump would almost certainly win.”
  • “It started flawlessly when [Arizona Rep. Paul] Gosar and [Texas Sen.] Cruz promptly at 1 p.m. called for scrutiny on the Arizona vote. Arizona was one of six battlegrounds: They were Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. And it started flawlessly, but the violence overtook that event. The rest, as they say, is history.”

The reason Navarro is saying this is pretty evident: First, he’s got a book to sell, and second, it makes it look like the Capitol insurrection wasn’t actually part of the plan all along. His contention that it messed up the plan is certainly highly questionable, given that Trump declined to call immediately for a halt to the violence and seemed quite impressed by the show of support from his allies.

But more than anything, pay attention to the progression. We’ve gone from those involved pitching this as something of a Hail Mary to the details of the plot being fleshed out but downplayed to a top Trump adviser effectively saying (however implausibly) that the effort to overturn a democratic election based upon bogus claims of voter fraud was warranted and on the cusp of succeeding — and seeming to take pride in that.

And in doing so, Navarro invites a host of questions about just how much any number of people involved in the “Green Bay Sweep” had also preordained the outcome. These lawmakers, after all, weren’t generally speaking in terms of “the election must be overturned” but rather merely raising questions about supposed irregularities.