homepage logo

Witcover: Republican Party operatives helped fuel Capitol insurrection

By Jules Witcover - | Nov 1, 2021


WASHINGTON — Overshadowed by Facebook revelations of Donald Trump’s role in publicizing the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Republican Party activists also joined in. The Washington Post has reported they convened a “command center” a block from the White House in the stately Willard Hotel, from which they conspired to “Stop the Steal” of the presidency from Trump in the totally fraudulent claim that various election irregularities had put Joe Biden in the November contest.

The plan was run, according to The Post, by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and Steve Bannon, the campaign’s former chief strategist, who has been subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. A former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, also attended. He reported his firm had billed the Trump campaign more than $55,000 for rental of the Willard rooms.

At the core of the scheme was a contention mounted by one John Eastman, described as a legal scholar, who argued speciously that seven states had sent conflicting slates of electors to the president of the Senate, Mike Pence. In Eastman’s scheme, Pence, designated to preside over the Electoral College tally as president of the Senate, would would set aside those seven states in the vote count, tallying all the other electoral votes, which would put in the lead. He would declare the electoral preferences of the seven disputed states inconclusive, and declare Trump duly reelected.

But Pence turned out to be the fly in the ointment. To his personal credit, he declined to go along with the scheme, and Biden was duly certified to be the next president.

A former minor Trump White House aide told The Post: “I firmly believed then, as I firmly believe now, that the vice president, as president of the Senate, had the constitutional power to send the issue back to the states for 10 days to investigate the widespread fraud and report back well in advance of inauguration Day, January 20th. Our efforts were focused on conveying that message.”

But it should have been clear from the start that such a rationale was an obvious stalling tactic, in the hope of sending the matter to the interminable court system.

Eastman, a conservative former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, took his argument public. On the day of the insurrection, he spoke at the rally at the Ellipse near the White House where Trump called on the protesters to march to the Capitol.

On that same occasion, Eastman told the crowd: “All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is … he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not! We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question!”

After the violence started at the Capitol, Trump called on his supporters to “Stay peaceful.” But he didn’t tell them to go home until after 4 p.m., whereupon he tweeted: “I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election stolen from us,” adding: “We have got to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party continues to disintegrate. About a dozen hardy souls in Congress are now beginning to confer on how they might possibly reclaim its soul, but with no inspirational figure yet to show the way. As long as Donald Trump holds on to the public spotlight, an end to his reign of hate-mongering and incompetence is not yet in sight.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)