COLUMN: Jan. 6 panel clarifies Trump's attempted coup

Brent Been

In the days of Watergate, it was a battle of the lawyers. There were Nixon lawyers who were convicted and served time like John W. Dean III. And there were lawyers on the side of the moral, legal, and ethical who served on the Senate televised committee on Watergate, like Chief Counsel Sam Dash.

We are witnessing another contest between lawyers. And on Jan 3, then-President Donald Trump met with lawyers to ascertain if there were any avenues left to overturn the election of 2020. Trump was able to locate at least one Justice Department official to do his bidding, and this was Jeff Clark, whom Trump wanted to appoint as attorney general. Seventeen days left in Trump's presidency at that point, and he was still searching desperately to prevent President Joe Biden's certification.

During Watergate, Dean was in charge of the coverup that Nixon approved regarding hush money payments to silence the five burglars. Lead burglar and ex-CIA agent James McCord blew the lid off the case because of McCord's letter to Judge John Sirica. We've heard from various former Trump operatives over two days of the Jan. 6 hearings who have also opened up a trove of proof that Trump pulled out all stops to hijack the electoral returns. And he couldn't succeed.

Why did Trump not fare well with the Clark draft about alternate slate of electors while the DOJ would announce an investigation to present legitimacy to America regarding fraud when there was no electoral fraud? The answer is the threatening of resignations en masse by DOJ lawyers. A Trump White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, did inform the Green Bay Sweep architect John Eastman that "orderly transition" was the only thing he wanted to hear from his mouth. And on Jan. 7, 2021, Herschmann informed Eastman to "get a great lawyer, because you will need one!"

Dean eventually cooperated with Sen. Sam Ervin's committee. And perhaps the most riveting testimony during the 1973 hearings was the deliberate monotone testimony of Dean, who revealed the extent of the Nixon White House involvement in Watergate. Dean had told Nixon of a cancer on the presidency that was growing. The cancer on the Trump presidency regarding the pushing of a stolen election began many months before the election - as far back as spring 2020, when Trump painted the picture of mail-in ballots as fraudulent.

Bill Barr pushed the false concern about voter fraud until Trump asked Barr to take heed of Trump's claims of a rigged election that involved conspiracy theories that were too ludicrous to be taken seriously. It was only at that point that Barr refused to acquiesce to Trump, and Barr said, "That's it; I'm out of here." The chief law enforcement officer of the land was willing to go along with MAGA conspiratorial nonsense in the pre-election phase until the aftermath of the November 2020 race.

Ultimately, Trump did not need Barr to implement a coup. Trump needed those who would go that far, like Clark and Eastman. We have lawyers in Watergate, and in the wake of Jan. 6, who serve as a safeguard against tyranny. We have lawyers in both situations who defended the indefensible. And like the disgraced Watergate lawyers who were convicted, there will be Trump lawyers in prison cells full of self-loathing, as well as regret.

Chuck Colson, Nixon domestic policy adviser, once recalled a reality hit as he was sobbing uncontrollably, and could not even put his keys into the car ignition one day. I think that reality has set in for Eastman.

Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator with an emphasis on civics and history.

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