Unpacking the pro-coup PowerPoint that wound up in Mark Meadows's emails
I read all of the potentially democracy-ending document. Here's what I learned.
Thanks to the work of the January 6 committee, the gaps in our knowledge of what happened in the weeks leading up to the insurrection are finally being filled. In fact, as I write this newsletter late Sunday, a major story just broke about a January 5 email from then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows advising an unnamed person that the National Guard was on standby to “protect pro Trump people.”
That obviously sounds bad, but the extent to which then-President Trump tried to subvert the military to help him overturn his election loss (and thereby essentially end democracy in the US) remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. A White House document that surfaced as a result of the committee’s subpoena of Meadows, however, indicates the National Guard comment was more than idle chatter.
The document I’m referring to is a PowerPoint presentation that circulated around Trumpworld ahead of January 6 and was part of the emails Meadows turned over to the committee. And unlike the often dull PowerPoints you are I are familiar with from offices or academic settings, this one was basically a blueprint to a coup.
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Some key details remain unknown — such as who authored the presentation and to what extent it embodied the White House’s thinking — but the man who circulated it around the White House, a retired US Army colonel named Phil Waldron, was influential enough to reportedly work alongside Rudy Giuliani, be in meetings with Trump, and brief multiple members of Congress about the contents of the PowerPoint ahead of January 6.
On Sunday I put together a Twitter thread sharing notable details from the 36-page document. You can check out the whole thing starting here. But to boil it down, it outlines a fantastical, fact-free, debunked conspiracy theory about China being behind a global conspiracy to get Donald Trump out of the White House, then cites that conspiracy as a pretext for Trump to throw out the election results.
The details of the conspiracy aren’t really important. A flood of official investigations and lawsuits (not to mention a number of former Trump administration officials) have affirmed time and time again that Biden’s win was fair, and nothing in the PowerPoint will persuade anyone who isn’t already guzzling the MAGA Kool-aid. All that matters is it provided a cover story for then-Vice President Mike Pence to take extraordinary steps to prevent the election from being certified.
Pence, of course, refused to do this, and hours after the deadly insurrection, Biden’s win was belatedly certified. But some of the PowerPoint slides raise the specter that Trump could have gone even further in his effort to overthrow the election.
One scenario in the “Recommendations” section, for instance, advises that Trump-supporting members of Congress be briefed on the wild China conspiracy — briefings that a Washington Post report indicates actually happened — and that then-President Trump take a page out of the classic dictator playbook by declaring a “National Security Emergency” to give himself extraordinary powers.
Later slides make clear that the idea was for Trump to then appoint a “Trusted Lead Counter” who, with help from law enforcement, DHS, and the military, would oversee some sort of recount aimed at throwing the result for him.
Trump never took that step. And while the reasons he didn’t remain a matter of speculation, the PowerPoint memo underscores the crucial importance of the statements Joint Chief Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and then-Attorney General Bill Barr made trying to cut Trump’s coup off at the knees in the weeks leading up to January 6.
But one thing I want to emphasize is that we don’t need this PowerPoint or the Eastman memo that makes a similar pro-coup case in a more polished way to understand what Trump was up to. The incendiary speech he gave hours before the attack on the Capitol — one that included lines such as “we're gonna have to fight much harder and Mike Pence is gonna have to come through for us” and “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing” — made clear that even at that late hour, Trump was hoping his vice president would take drastic steps to prevent Congress from certifying his election loss.
So while the details we’re learning about the circumstances surrounding January 6 are of vital importance, remember as more emerges that the big picture has been clear for nearly a year now. Trump took extreme and increasingly desperate steps to overthrow an election he lost because he wanted to stay in power. He received help in this effort not only from fringe characters like Waldron, but from prominent officials like Meadows and Ted Cruz. And he might’ve gotten away with it had Pence decided to go along with the PowerPoint.
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Rand Paul’s heartless opposition to disaster relief comes back to bite him
In the wake of tornadoes that tore across six states and killed at least 90 people on Friday night, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called on the federal government for help. It’s a request that anyone with a basic sense of morality supports — one of the core functions of government, after all, is helping people in need.
Paul, however, only seems to display this basic sense of morality when the affected area includes his state. When Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey and New York area in 2013, for instance, he sang a very different tune.
“They’re precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and they're ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme — give me all my Sandy money now,’” Paul said back then, referring to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and then-Rep. Peter King (R-NY). “Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.”
In 2017, Paul made similar comments before the Senate approved a $36.5 billion hurricane-related disaster relief bill.
It’d be nice to think that Paul is capable of learning the error of his ways, but a statement released by his spokesman in response to a Newsweek report about his previous statements indicates he isn’t.
Kentuckians across the commonwealth are suffering and grieving today. This tragedy is uniting everyone around the common goal of helping and healing. Politicizing that suffering would be low for even the deepest partisan, yet here the corporate media is trying to do exactly that. Newsweek should be ashamed of themselves.
The irony is that the very reason Paul is getting dragged is because he has politicized the suffering of Americans who don’t happen to be his constituents.
Chris Wallace suddenly departs Fox News
The biggest story out of the Sunday morning news shows was the sudden departure of Chris Wallace from Fox News, where he was perhaps the last interviewer with a modicum of credibility extending beyond Trumpworld.
Wallace announced the news at the end of Fox News Sunday:
A short time later, CNN announced that Wallace will be joining its streaming service.
Wallace is a tough interviewer who isn’t afraid to ask hard-hitting questions — consider how effectively he exposed Trump during their interview in the summer of 2020 — but there’s no doubt that some of his positive reputation is relative, i.e. he shined in comparison to the sycophants and propagandists who were his colleagues at Fox News. As if to illustrate this, Wallace spent 10 minutes of his last Fox News broadcast doing an interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham in which he never asked Graham about the PowerPoint coup memo Graham was reportedly briefed about.
As a longtime watcher of Fox News Sunday, one of the best things about it was Wallace’s ability to conduct relatively combative interviews with elected Republicans who wouldn’t normally think of going on CNN or MSNBC. If he’s still able to persuade the Grahams and Greg Abbotts of the world to talk to him — and proves more willing than he was on Sunday to ask them probing questions — this could be a good get for CNN.