The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Peter Navarro wants you to know they only intended to overthrow the government peacefully

Peter Navarro speaks at the White House in April 2020 as President Donald Trump listens. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The first thing former Trump aide Peter Navarro did during a contentious interview on MSNBC on Tuesday night was try to differentiate his efforts to keep Joe Biden from taking office from those of the putsch that overwhelmed the U.S. Capitol one year ago.

“Great to be with you,” he said to host Ari Melber, then quickly pivoted to his talking points. “The ‘In Trump Time’ book” — he has a book! It is for sale! — “shows unequivocally that both [former Trump adviser] Stephen K. Bannon and President Trump should be exonerated of any violence on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.”

After all, Navarro continued, their plan — the middle-aged-guys-who-like-action-movies-named “Green Bay Sweep” — was in place, with scores of Republicans ready to object to the results of the 2020 presidential vote in six states. “All this required was peace and calm on Capitol Hill,” he added, pointedly, as though the riot that unfolded on Capitol Hill was an unwelcome detriment to Trump’s otherwise sober effort to steal the presidency.

He played the same card in an interview with the Daily Beast last month, telling the site’s Jose Pagliery that the “sweep” “was a perfect plan. “And it all predicated on peace and calm on Capitol Hill. We didn’t even need any protestors, because we had over 100 congressmen committed to it.”

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It’s admittedly hard for me to hide my complete disdain for this line of argument. Just on its face, the distinction being drawn is next to useless, the equivalent of a guy opening fire on someone and then trying to absolve himself of blame by arguing that it was someone else’s bullet that dealt a fatal wound. Oh, your plan to overthrow Biden’s victory had the same intended outcome but would have resulted in 100 percent fewer broken windows? Well, our collective apologies for inconveniencing you with any questions.

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)

But, more broadly, Navarro’s assertions about both cause and effect are complete nonsense. He trotted out a familiar rationale for the desire to object to the election results: long-debunked claims of voter fraud, frustration that the courts had rejected those claims as inconsequential, and the idea that the vote was tainted in six states that preferred Biden to Donald Trump and demanding congressional intervention.

Speaking to Melber as the self-described guy who had “done the homework,” Navarro claimed that, on Jan. 6, the “election was still in doubt and would be until it was certified.” Neither of those things was true; there was no doubt about the election result, as multiple reviews of those results and the utter inability to demonstrate evidence to the contrary made clear. Nor was the election “not certified”: Each state had certified its results and submitted its electoral votes with an accompanying “certificate of ascertainment” to Washington to be counted. There is a shaky procedure in place for contested electoral votes to be adjudicated, but the Trump-Navarro-Bannon (and -John Eastman) plan was a novelty, letting Republican-led legislatures have a do-over on what their electorates had already decided.

“Do you realize you are describing a coup?” Melber asked Navarro at one point.

“No, I totally reject many of your premises there,” Navarro responded. How could Melber claim that secretaries of state had validated the election results when, in some states, “they were put in power by George Soros for the express purpose of shifting the playing field to the Democrats”?

That’s what he said. On television. In defense of the effort to steal the election.

One of Navarro’s plays has long been that he had been studious about his consideration of the fraud claims. The image he hopes to convey is that of a serious person, sitting down in objective consideration of whether he and his immediate boss were going to lose their jobs. And, lo, he determined that fraud had occurred! To Melber, he touted his “three-volume report” documenting the evidence he uncovered.

We looked at the first volume more than a year ago. In an article then, I described it as being perhaps the “most embarrassing document created by a White House staffer.” It was riddled with wild speculation and clearly dubious assertions, and even, at one point, took an article I myself had written out of context to bolster a point that didn’t do anything to prove fraud in the first place. A total mess born of motivated reasoning.

Yet Trump decided to share that report with his millions of Twitter followers a few weeks before the events at the Capitol. Here, from Factba.se, is that now-deleted tweet.

You may not have been familiar with the first part of that tweet, but I suspect you’re familiar with the latter part. And that, of course, is the other important factor to consider when evaluating Navarro’s insistence that Trump bears no blame for the events of Jan. 6. He, with Navarro’s help, repeatedly hyped obviously false claims about the election and then actively encouraged as many people as possible to show up in Washington that day. If the “sweep” “didn’t even need any protestors,” as Navarro told the Daily Beast, Trump sure spent a lot of time making sure there were protesters there anyway. And then, enraged by his rhetoric and by Navarro’s, they took it upon themselves to try to undo the results of the election.

It’s obviously understandable why Navarro would like the world to believe that his plan was 1) legal and 2) not only peaceful but damaged by the violence that unfolded. But his plan 1) was rooted in obvious falsehoods, 2) provided foundational support to the violence that actually occurred, 3) depended on an interpretation of legality that most observers consider dubious at best and, most importantly, 4) led to the same outcome: a rejection of the will of the electorate to retain power.

I wish the best of luck to Mr. Navarro in his efforts to convince the world that the way he wanted to submarine American democracy and enact a coup against Biden didn’t necessarily require beating police officers into unconsciousness. Maybe he’ll sell a few books along the way.

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