PowerPoint to overthrow democracy tracks Trump's public statements
A 38-page PowerPoint that lays out a brazen plan to overthrow democracy landed in the inbox of former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 5. Meadows turned over the information to the special Congressional committee that is investigating the events that preceded the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
While it is a remarkable document, a close examination of the chaotic days following the 2020 presidential election reveals the core arguments of the PowerPoint largely track what Trump was saying publicly. The media, however, has characterized the contents of the PowerPoint as "extreme," and "wild," casting doubt whether its recommendations were "seriously… considered." This is revisionist history.
Meadows, through his attorney, attempted to wave off interest in the document. Meadows' lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III, told reporters that Meadows "merely received it by email in his inbox and did nothing with it." But Phil Waldron, a retired colonel who was involved in producing the PowerPoint, told the Washington Post that he spoke with Meadows "eight to 10 times" and briefed numerous members of Congress on the PowerPoint before January 6.
While the 38-page PowerPoint has not been released, a 36-page version — that is reportedly almost identical — has surfaced online. One key slide is the list of "Recommendations" that appears on page 23.
"Brief Senators and Congressmen on foreign interference"
The first recommendation — briefing members of Congress on alleged "foreign interference" — actually happened, Waldron said. Waldron told the Washington Post that he briefed Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and other members of Congress who he did not identify. Neither Johnson nor Graham denied Waldron's claims.
"Declare National Security Emergency"
Trump did not ultimately "declare" a "national security emergency." But Trump did, in his speech on January 6 that preceded the riot, cast the recognition of Biden's victory as a "national security" threat.
We won — we won in a landslide. This was a landslide. They said it's not American to challenge the election. This the most corrupt election in the history, maybe of the world...In fact, it's so egregious, it's so bad that a lot of people don't even believe it. It's so crazy that people don't even believe it. It can't be true. So they don't believe it. This is not just a matter of domestic politics, this is a matter of national security.
These comments may have been setting the stage for a declaration if his plans for thwarting the certification of Biden's victory on January 6 succeeded and he was able to secure the cooperation of the national security apparatus.
On Twitter, Trump publicly called on the Governor of Georgia to use his "emergency" powers to reverse the outcome of the presidential vote in that state.
"Foreign influence and control of electronic voting systems"
Trump spoke repeatedly, without evidence, about "foreign influence and control of electronic voting systems." In a November 29, 2020 appearance on Fox Business, Trump said that votes recorded on Dominion voting machines "are counted in foreign countries." He repeated the same claim in a recorded speech released on December 2, 2020.
On December 22, 2020, Trump promoted a tweet in his feed encouraging Pence to reject the electors certified by the Electoral College in order to defend the country from "China, Russia, Iran."
"Declare electronic voting in all states invalid"; "Legal & Genuine paper ballot counts"
Trump did not personally have the power to invalidate all electronic votes. But he did declare that all electronic voting was invalid, falsely claiming it was tainted by fraud. In a Thanksgiving speech to troops around the world on November 26, 2020, Trump said that electronic votes were "rigged" and only paper ballots are accurate.
[P]aper ballots are, frankly, the only thing that really you're going to get an accurate tab on because those machines are fixed, they're rigged. You can press Trump and the vote goes to Biden. All you have to do is play with a chip, and it's shown all the time. All you have to do is play with a chip, and they played with a chip, especially in Wayne County and Detroit. You take a look. In Philadelphia, you take a look. We've had excellent meetings with senators from Pennsylvania, Republican senators and others, and they're seeing things.
Trump made similar claims on December 2, 2020, when he told the nation that none of the electronic results can be trusted and the nation must "go to paper."
It's name is Dominion. With a turn of a dial, with a change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and the vote goes to Biden. What kind of a system is this? We have to go to paper. Maybe it takes longer. But the only secure system is paper, not these systems that nobody understands including in many cases the people that run them.
"Options for 6 JAN"
The other key slide in the PowerPoint appears on page 34 and covers "Options for 6 JAN."
All three options involve Pence refusing to count or recognize some or all of the electors presented to him. That, of course, was precisely what Trump publicly called on Pence to do. On January 6, Trump spent much of his speech browbeating Pence to take action:
Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do -- All this is -- This is from the No. 1, or certainly one of the top Constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We're supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our Constitution, and protect our constitution.
...I just spoke to Mike. I said, "Mike, that doesn't take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing, that takes courage." And then we're stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We're just not going to let that happen.
It is unclear what influence, if any, the PowerPoint had on Trump or his inner circle. But that is not because the PowerPoint outlined a strategy that was more "extreme" or "wild" than the one Trump pursued. It was largely the same. Trump did not lack the will to overturn the democratic process; he lacked a way to execute a plan.
In 2020, Trump needed cooperation that he didn't have from Pence, state officials, Congress, and the national security apparatus. The next time might be different. As 2024 approaches, Trump is pursuing a more sophisticated strategy to install his allies at all levels of government.