Commentary

Unholy night – A Trump White House Christmas coup caper

November 21, 2023 4:15 am

Columnist Jay Bookman revisits the 2020 Trump White House Christmas party, where plans to overturn the previous month’s presidential election were in full swing. (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

It was a Christmas party at the Trump White House, and despite the festive decorations, the trees and the wreaths and the red-and-green bunting, the mood must have been grim.

A few days earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had firmly rejected a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas seeking the overthrow of election results in Georgia and several other states. That seemed to have been Donald Trump’s last, best hope of staying in office, and with that decision reality was setting in.

Over drinks, Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis apologized for the failure to Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s social-media alter ego. But as Ellis later recounted the conversation to Fulton County prosecutors, an excited Scavino told her not to fret:

SCAVINO: “Well, we don’t care, and we’re not going to leave.”
ELLIS: “What do you mean?”
SCAVINO: “The boss is not going to leave under any circumstances. We are just going to stay in power.”
ELLIS: “It doesn’t quite work that way, you realize?”
SCAVINO: “We don’t care.”

Think about that: “The boss is not going to leave under any circumstances. We are just going to stay in power.”

The question is, how? How did they think they were going to pull that off?

By that time all the votes had been cast, counted and certified. Dozens of judges in dozens of courtrooms across the country had rejected legal challenges. Local, state and federal investigators, including firms hired by the Trump campaign, had all concluded there was no fraud to be found. After all that, how was it still possible to think that “The boss is not going to leave under any circumstances?”

Because a coup attempt was already underway.

The timing of the Ellis/Scavino conversation tells us a lot. Just the day before, on Dec. 18, 2020, Trump had sent out a tweet demanding that Gov. Brian Kemp call a special session of the General Assembly to overrule Georgia voters and hand Trump the state’s 16 electoral votes.

“So easy to do!” Trump had tweeted. “It will give us the state! MUST ACT NOW!”

But Kemp, with the agreement of House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, would not bow to that demand, would not “give (Trump) the state.”

Later that same day, a frustrated Trump and his co-conspirators met in a highly emotional, hours-long strategy session at the White House, a meeting that Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson later described as “unhinged.” Rudy Giuliani was there; Mike Flynn was there; Sidney Powell was there. With all those clowns you should expect a circus, and that’s what they got.

There had been screaming. Shouting. Insults. Accusations that those not willing to overturn the election on Trump’s behalf were guilty of treason. Accusations that those who did want to overturn the election were traitors.

It was “nuts,” as another participant described it under oath.

The meeting went on late into the night, with not much apparently decided. But in the early morning hours of the next day, at 1:42 a.m., Trump sent out a fateful tweet: “Big protest on Jan. 6,” it read. “Be there. Will be wild.”

With that the fuse had been lighted, and it still burns today.

Without the investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, we would not know of the Scavino conversation. Without the House Jan. 6 committee and special counsel Jack Smith, we would not have heard the damning first-hand accounts or read the incriminating email and message threads that have uncovered so many aspects of the coup attempt. I have no doubt that those sources still have much to teach us.

But we already know what matters. We already know that Trump has no respect for our democracy, no respect for the Constitution, that he would trash it at his next opportunity, and that next opportunity may come a year from now, in November 2024.

It is not an accusation to say that Trump would trash the Constitution. It is not a matter of opinion to be debated. It is plain fact, unassailable on any grounds. We know it to be true because Trump has told us it was true. A full two years after the election, after enough time had passed for passions to cool and with no evidence of fraud in hand, Trump was still demanding that he be reinstated as president, immediately.

“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump tweeted in December 2022.

“… even those found in the Constitution.”

If put back into office by voters, Trump is promising retribution against all who have dared to oppose him, whom he degrades as “vermin.” He has said he will weaponize the Department of Justice and the Defense Department, filling them with appointees whose only loyalty is to Trump himself, not to the Constitution. Those convicted in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will be pardoned and get official apologies. Those in his first administration who attempted with mixed success to keep Trump’s worst instincts at bay, who might tell him “You can’t” or “You shouldn’t,” will be purged and replaced with those who will do his bidding without question.

I understand that there’s a lot of anger and distrust out there, directed both at our elected leaders and our fellow citizens. But I have to ask:

Is your anger at your fellow Americans so profound, so blinding, that you are willing to be an accomplice in the overthrow of our 250-year-old republic? “Freedom is always one generation away from extinction,” Ronald Reagan once warned us, and once forfeited it is extremely difficult to regain.

Are we to be that generation, the generation that in a fit of pique tosses away the work and sacrifices of who came before us, and on behalf of a man like Trump?

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.

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