They Planned the Coup for Trump on PowerPoint
Authoritarianism on the rise
Hey there, Ari here with a piece on the coup PowerPoint heard ‘round the world…
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They wrote down the coup plan
Donald Trump is too canny to write down plans for a crime. A cascade of investigations and lawsuits have run into a consistent hole—the lack of hard evidence linking him directly to schemes, plots and crimes that benefit him.
To pick a simple example, the man won’t even sign his own NDAs.
So even when Trump’s top lawyer, Michael Cohen, was convicted of a campaign finance crime for Trump’s benefit, there was virtually no written evidence from Trump himself. Cohen went to prison for the crime of undermining an election for Trump, with a small amount of money, while prosecutors did not get enough hard evidence to go after Trump for it.
Now, contrast that to the crime of trying to overthrow a presidential election and end American democracy. That’s what Trump demanded after losing the election in November 2020.
He backed many means, ranging from the legal - filing lawsuits; to the debatable - pushing officials to cite “fraud” and reject Biden electors; to acts that are crimes if carried out - demanding Georgia change vote tallies, or that Vice President Pence lead a coup in the Senate, or backing the insurrectionist mob on January 6, 2021.
Trump’s aides wrote parts of these plots down. There are “legal memos” that claim to give the client deniability. Trump’s supporters wrote these plots down, and screamed about them in public, while the White House insisted it was not responsible for what people did at the Capitol.
And then came the PowerPoint.
Written by Trump supporters with links to the White House, the House insurrection probe has now established that a detailed, written coup plot, in PowerPoint, made it to the highest levels of the White House, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. And to Republicans on the Hill. That is really bad.
“Declare a National Security Emergency”
The PowerPoint plot was pushed by a former army colonel, and election denier, named Phil Waldron. He was not some “rando” operative. He went to the White House. He had access to Giuliani and Meadows, talking to the chief of staff over eight times before Jan. 6. He met with Congressional Republicans.
His coup plot, with the dry title, “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference, & Options for 6 JAN,” sketches out a plan to falsely question the election, and abuse security powers to try to override it.
The idea was to create “doubt” around the outcome, with lies about foreign interference. Then use Trump officials’ powers to create “procedural” confusion, by claiming VP Pence could seat fraudulent electors for Trump in states he lost. Then Trump would announce some kind of “National Security Emergency” to stop the transfer of power.
These are nonsensical claims. But that doesn’t make them less dangerous.
The goal was not making claims that would “hold up in court.” The goal was to illegally seize power by overriding the rules of the branches of government -- the judicial and the legislative. That’s why it’s a coup plot.
Waldron says Meadows was supportive at the time, asking him, “What do you need? What would help?” Meadows’ lawyer, for his part, argues the PowerPoint just hit his inbox, and was not important.
Meanwhile, Meadows is defying the House probe, which just voted to hold him in criminal contempt. (That sets up another decision for the Justice Department, whether to indict him, like Steve Bannon, or not.)
It will take time to get the full factual context of this coup plan. It’s possible some people in the White House objected to it, or that other information might make Meadows “look” better on this score. (A wave of secret text messages show top Republicans pleading for his help to have Trump call off the attack, and him claiming he was trying to do that.)
Right now, the coup plan is only public because Meadows did not try to claim it’s covered by executive privilege.
I asked Jan. 6 committee member Adam Schiff about all this—and he actually leans against “interpreting” much from the PowerPoint at this time.
“We're still trying to determine what was the involvement of the White House in the planning of January 6,” he told me.
Schiff is basically emphasizing that the Committee only discussed this evidence within the effort to get Meadows’ cooperation—not to draw conclusions. (He also says Meadows has waived the privileges he’s trying to claim, by writing a book about the same events.)
This is where reporting and proportion come in—it’s notable that even a dogged critic of Trump, impeachment manager Schiff, sees the written plot as something to weigh in a larger set of facts, not to seize on as a “smoking gun” before we know how seriously it was taken inside the White House.
Who heard the plot in Congress?
Then there’s Congress.
The Times and Post have reported this PowerPoint was presented to Republican lawmakers on the eve of January 6.
That raises key questions about what Congressional Republicans were trying to to do. Like it or not, members of Congress can choose to vote to certify election results, or vote against them. That itself is not a criminal matter.
If some were briefed on a coup plan, however, and they viewed themselves as acting to help it, that’s a whole different story.
“What is happening…”
All this tracks with something an expert on authoritarianism has warned about—that powerful people the Republican Party (not all Republicans, but many who matter), are actively working for then next coup:
We should be thinking about this [next coup] as what is happening, and then ask ourselves, What can we do to prevent it?
There are ways to safeguard democracy. Facing facts is a first step. There are others, and I’ll be writing about other historical lessons, and policy options, in future pieces in this newsletter.
Overall, even with the need for further fact-finding, it’s clear that we are living in a nation with a growing, organized effort to end democracy. It has some public support on the Right. It has powerful allies. And in its often absurd advocacy—conspiracy theories, illogical screeds and seemingly “banal” PowerPoints—it is actually mainlining its premises as arguably “normal” when they are actually extreme, dangerous and profoundly un-American.
Today's newsletter was amazing, you have such a wonderful way of explaining everything in such detail. I read it twice, I didn't want to miss anything new that you hadn't reported before. The former guy knew every detail of what was happening and what the plan was for January 6th. He was loving every minute of the whole insurrection, because he was the instigator. Michael Cohen did say he talks in code, so I'm sure he did send many "messages" to his minions. I hope and pray that the DOJ will pursue these treasonous criminals, and hold them accountable. There is so much evidence against them, but the time is now. They have gotten away with so much for years. Our democracy is in such danger, and it's terrifying. Thanks again Ari!!!🙏
Wow, Trump’s minions used PowerPoint to plan coup d’état? They (Trump and his fellow traitors) knew what they were doing and brought in key players to plan and carry out this insurrection (coup d’état). I have not heard of this traitor (former army colonel), Phil Waldron. You made a good point that I never thought about and clearly explains how/ why Trump always skates through his legal battles (not writing down plans for a crime) and evades any legal consequences. Because of this, the offense comes off as a "hearsay".
I am no legal expert like you, Ari but I still think that Trump and his followers should be held accountable (punished) for treason, insurrection (coup d’état) and other crimes. This PowerPoint should be (is) one of the evidence to support the insurrection planning.
I cannot wait to read on historical lessons and policy options in your future newsletters.
Our democracy is truly on shaky ground and if no actions/ drastic measures are not taken to maintain democracy, I am afraid that our country will be run/ ruled by authoritarians.
I will never see PowerPoint the same again🤔