Courtesy of Ted Eytan via Flickr under CC BY-SA

“Hang Mike Pence!” The events of Jan. 6 shocked the nation. Never before had a violent mob stormed the capital and threatened the lives of elected officials. More shocking, still, is that this mob had the full support of the sitting president, Donald Trump. Most egregiously, former President Trump had relentlessly cast doubt on the 2020 presidential election for months leading up to this point. Screeching about the evils of at-home voting, fake ballots and dead voters, even before the election, some in Trump’s base were primed for a revolution. 

While many might dismiss Jan. 6 as a harmless mob storming the capital, the Jan. 6 House committee has revealed a much more expansive plot to steal the election. These plans to invalidate key swing states under the guise of “election fraud” are clearly unconstitutional, and worse yet, a blatant attempt to destroy democracy. Failure on the part of Biden’s Attorney General, Merrick Garland, to prosecute the former President risks everything our democratic institutions stand for.

As outlined by testimony shared in recent house hearings, President Trump had a comprehensive step-by-step plan to steal the 2020 presidential election. Specifically, the Jan. 6 committee focused on a memo written by conservative lawyer John Eastman on the President’s behalf. When certifying a presidential election, it is a formality for the sitting Vice President, in this case Mike Pence, to lead this process. In a break from the norm, Pence would personally count each state’s ballots. Usually, this process is done by “tellers,” not the vice president.  Pence would then be instructed to declare seven key swing states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as invalid. Pence would justify this decision by stating that these key states had “multiple slates of electors.” As a result, Trump would be declared re-elected, since he would have a majority of the electoral votes. If this ruling were contested, the presidential election would then move to the House of Representatives in a special vote. 

The Senate would decide the VP, and this would not be the first time in U.S. history that a presidential election would be decided by Congress. Notably, the House would divide into “state delegations,” where each state has a single vote in deciding the next president. At the time, Republicans commanded a 26 to 24 majority of these delegations. Eastman further outlines how Republican state legislatures could “formally support the alternate slate of electors,” and thus give the election to Trump.

Eastman’s memos are deeply disturbing, and legally shaky at best. Had former Vice President Pence backed this plan, it likely wouldn’t have gone very far. The vice president has far less control over election certification that Eastman suggests, and Democrat opposition would be unfathomable. Coupled with a complete lack of evidence for any of their claims, Trump’s administration would have no chance of actually stealing the election. Even Trump’s own appointees agree that there was no justification for tossing the aforementioned swing states.  The Department of Homeland Security called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.” 

Regardless of how ineffective the coup attempt was – and it was a coup attempt – the Eastman memos reveal Trump’s disregard for democracy, and a failure to prosecute normalizes further attempts in the future. Over a year after Jan. 6, roughly 70% of Republicans think the election was stolen from President Trump. With numbers like these, Liberals should take seriously the threat to democracy posed by demagogues like Trump. Consider: if someone truly believes that a democratic election was stolen from them, wouldn’t it be perfectly acceptable for them to stage a coup to install the true winner of said election? This is why it’s so important for the media and congress to expose the lies put forth by Trump and his administration. This is also why Merrick Garland needs to formally prosecute former President Trump. At this point, it’s clear that he was not only aware of – but pushed – for a coup over the 2020 election. If Garland fails to prosecute, it sends a signal to people like Trump that they have the freedom to overturn the democratic bedrock of this nation.