Senators Graham and Lee Owe us an Explanation

Really, they owed (and still owe) us better behavior.

The dribs and drabs of news from the Woodward and Costa’s Peril keep coming. In this case, it is reporting on a memo prepared by a Team Trump attorney, John Eastman, that outlined a theory of how Vice President Mike Pence could have blocked electoral votes in seven states and sending the final vote to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for a vote. The text of the memo is here, so one does not have to rely solely on the reporting in the book (and, for that matter, contemporaneous reports place Eastman in the Oval Office discussing this topic).

The basic plan as detailed in the memo is not new, although it is still kind of shocking to see it articulated in a formal memo written to the sitting President of the United States. But what strikes me about the CNN piece reporting on it, is that the memo was sent to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC).

The reports state that neither Graham nor Lee supported the contentions in the memo. Good for them, as the memo’s contentions are nonsense. Nonetheless, while rejecting Eastman’s theories was the correct thing to do, it was not enough. To have an ally of the sitting president float such theories is dangerous and a demonstration that said president is opposed to democracy. That is the kind of thing that ought to alarm US Senators enough that they would go beyond partisan affiliation and instead alert the public.

However, Lee and Graham did not do so. And they owe the American people an explanation as to why.

Note, I do not expect that they will do so.

I cannot find, by the way, any reactions from Lee of Graham to these reports.

Graham did briefly step back from Trump after the events in January, but that didn’t last. Indeed, as the WaPo write-up on the story notes about Graham:

it wasn’t until after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol that Graham, speaking on the Senate floor, said, “Count me out. Enough is enough. I’ve tried to be helpful.”

He has since tacked back, visiting Trump at Mar-a-Lago, speaking to him regularly and saying the GOP “can’t grow” without the former president. Still, he has continued to deliver criticism directly to Trump, according to the book. In a phone call this summer, he bemoaned Trump’s volatility and focus on voter fraud, telling the former president, “You f—ed your presidency up.” Trump abruptly hung up on him. A spokesman for Graham declined to comment.

It should be noted that Eastman spoke at the January 6th “Save America” rally that helped spark the insurrection. This lead to his resignation from his professorship at Chapman’s law school (where he once served as dean). As per InsideHigherEd: Eastman Out

Chapman University and John Eastman, a professor and former dean of the law school, have agreed that Eastman will resign, effective immediately.

The announcement came one week after Chapman, the Henry Salvatori Professor of Law and Community Service, spoke at the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. — and after students and colleagues accused him of helping incite the riot at the Capitol that followed.

At the rally, Eastman appeared onstage next to Rudy Giuliani, saying, “We know there was fraud” and “dead people voted” in the 2020 presidential election. Voting machines contained a “secret folder” of ballots, challenging the “very essence of our republican form of government,” he said.

Eastman asked Vice President Mike Pence to delay that day’s Electoral College certification vote. Giuliani called for “trial by combat,” which he has since said was a reference to the “documentary” Game of Thrones.The rest, as they say, is now history.

Eastman had already run afoul of his colleagues by floating a birther-style theory about Kamala Harris:

Eastman’s fellow professors at Chapman have previously spoken out against his debunked legal theory that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris may not be eligible to serve in that role as the daughter of immigrants. Chapman faculty members also objected to Eastman’s ignored request that the U.S. Supreme Court nullify millions of votes in the recent election.

But in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, 169 professors and three members of Chapman’s Board of Trustees said his involvement in the rally represented a new low requiring urgent action on the university’s part.

Eastman was, at the time of the rally, also a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization. That gig, too, went sideways. See, The Bold: CU Boulder’s rescinds visiting scholar John Eastman’s speaking and outreach duties after claiming election fraud.

So, he then focused on his fellowship at the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank that has been a source of pro-Trump nonsense. See, for example, this piece from The Bulwark this summer (which also notes Eastman’s 1/6 performance): What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute?

one place where he is still welcome is the Claremont Institute. Eastman is a senior fellow at the four-decade-old conservative think tank; a member of its board of directors; and the founding director of its Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a shingle under which he sporadically files lawsuits and amicus briefs. When Eastman resigned from Chapman, he defended himself in the American Mind, a Claremont web magazine. In Claremont’s flagship publication, the Claremont Review of Books (CRB), one of the institute’s foremost scholars, Charles C. Kesler, defended him in turn. Eastman may be persona non grata at institutions wary of anti-democratic conspiracy theorists, but at the Claremont Institute he fits right in.

The piece is long and worth a read (although it isn’t perfect–for example it treats the Heritage electoral fraud database seriously in ways that I have warned against).

Side note: I wrote about Claremont luminary Michael Anton’s views on the election here. Spoiler: I was unimpressed.

Back to Eastman, he is scheduled to be on two panels at the upcoming America Political Science Association meeting, which has sparked uproar amongst APSA members. For example, see this open letter from David Karpf, Associate Profess of Political Science at GWU). See also, Trump lawyer who planned election overthrow to speak at conference despite objections. The entire affair is drawing negative attention to the Claremont Institute’s practice of selling sponsorships of their APSA panels. (Full disclosure, I am not currently a member of APSA< but have been in the past).


So, the good news is that Chapman and UC Boulder rejected Eastman. The bad news is that the Claremont Institute is still producing what it is producing. The worst news is that elected officials like Lee and Graham don’t see the need to thoroughly and directly condemn things like the Eastman memo.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    That is the kind of thing that ought to alarm US Senators enough that they would go beyond partisan affiliation and instead alert the public.

    However, Lee and Graham did not do so. And they owe the American people an explanation as to why.

    Note, I do not expect that they will do so.

    Yes. Given how Lee and Graham behaved previously, expecting them to do the right thing as opposed to the politically expedient thing is like expecting zebras to change their stripes.

    “What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute?”

    Pretty much the same thing that happened to nearly all ‘Conservative thought institutions’. It was never exactly unforeseen that many of these were set up with practical utility of proving intellectual cover and smokescreens for the less salable undersides of their political fellow-travelers.

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  2. Scott F. says:

    Note, I do not expect that they will do so.

    Ha!

    As you so wryly note, there will be no shaming the shameless. The country needs criminal charges. IANAL, but doesn’t this memo in combination with the January 6th rally rise to the level of seditious conspiracy? One of the co-conspirators has already been impeached for these activities.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    Completely off topic, but the recent Robert Kagan column at WAPO raised a history/Poli Sci question I would love your input on if you care to address it. It’s a commonplace that the Founders failed to anticipate national political parties. Kagan says this was because they expected rivalries to be mostly state v state and politicians to have presence and power largely limited to the state level. Is this a valid point? If so, it seems inconsistent with the Federalists’ immediate reliance on the national stature of George Washington. But perhaps they thought that sui generis.

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  4. CSK says:

    Jack Posobiec was a 2019 Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute,which pretty much says it all.

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    This is just another illustration of my maxim that Trump is the devil. Not literally, of course. But, like the devil, he persuades people to indulge their worst instincts, to sell their souls for his empty promises, to bow to him in the electoral desert. Eastman is just the latest in a long string of lawyers, politicians, writers, pundits and supporters who sold his soul to Trump.

    The big problem, of course, is that the price will be paid by all of us, not just those who sold out.

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  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The worst news is that elected officials like Lee and Graham don’t see the need to thoroughly and directly condemn things like the Eastman memo.

    Given, as you yourself have noted before, the extreme partisan nature of the system and also noting, as I have in the past, that I did not weep bitter tears at Nixon’s perfidious actions in the runup to his 2nd term, I find the actions of people who value winning by whatever means are necessary simply a part of the current political climate. I can certainly agree that the news of Senators Lee’s and Graham’s inaction is bad, but I’m at the point of being mystified that anyone should expect better. Especially from a party that eschews governing is wisdom and justice even when it is put in power. Dysfunctionals gonna dysfunction just as surely as grifters gonna grift and rain is gonna be wet.

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  7. Scott F. says:

    @Hal_10000:
    Isn’t the literary trope that the Devil corrupts otherwise good people in their moment of weakness? If so, I think that’s a poor fit for Trump, as Trump’s biggest fans are people, like Eastman, Graham, and Proud Boys adjacent voters, whose worst instincts already outweigh their better instincts.

    I think Trump is more of a Walter Peck, the pompous EPA official from the original Ghostbusters movie. He’s a self-serving fool who in his arrogance releases all manner of evil (that has been previously contained) to wreak havoc out into the world. The devil is a clever trickster deceiving the vulnerable. Trump is a dull narcissist enabling the already corrupted.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    Trump only attracts seedy, corrupt people. No one else can stand to be around him.

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  9. Hal_10000 says:

    @Scott F.:

    I wrote a long post on this subject. Trump has always had one real skill: fooling people. He fooled the NY media into believing that he was a great businessman. He fooled bank after bank into loaning him money and partner after partner into going into business with him. He’s a good con man; always has been.

    The GOP in 2016 was ripe for a con. They were out of ideas, almost all of them having been implemented or adapted wholesale by the Democrats. Hell, Obamacare was their healthcare plan. And like most people in crisis, they were ripe for the picking.

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  10. Scott F. says:

    @Hal_10000:
    To my mind, the tenuous place American democracy sits at right now has much less to do with Trump than it has to do with the GOP.

    Sure, Trump is a good con man; always has been. But, the GOP weren‘t (and are not now) dupes being played. The GOP leadership is complicit and a “the devil made me do it” framing doesn’t give them the agency which they surely have. As this specific post makes abundantly clear, Trump wasn’t playing some long con in which the confidence man doesn’t reveal the grift until it’s too late. Graham and Lee were told that they were being taken and they LET IT HAPPEN ANYWAY. That’s not the behavior of “marks.” That’s the behavior of co-conspirators.

    Let Trump go to jail (fat chance) or be civilly sued to bankruptcy (slightly better chance) because of his fraud and self-dealing. The murder of democracy in broad daylight is on the Republican Party.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.: Trump is a self proclaimed billionaire pretending to be a populist. Charles Koch is a for real billionaire paying pols to pretend to be populist, and has been doing so for years. Trump didn’t change the Republican game, he only happened to be particularly good at it.

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  12. @gVOR08:

    it seems inconsistent with the Federalists’ immediate reliance on the national stature of George Washington. But perhaps they thought that sui generis.

    They definitely thought Washington was sui generis and that is why they thought it would be common for the EC to be unable to reach a majority decision and, therefore, that the House would choose the president. And yes, they did think that the states would be the centers of interest, rather than parties (and Madison thought it would be shifting allegiances of fluid factions).

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Hal_10000:

    He fooled the NY media into believing that he was a great businessman.

    I don’t think that’s fair, at least when it came to the non-tabloid print media. Trump’s father fooled the media into thinking his son was actually running the empire he built. But once Trump was actually calling the shots he was exposed as a loser and a buffoon pretty quickly.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: I think NYT knew all along he was a conman. And that he was mobbed up, foreign and domestic, and had laundered money. But in 2016 they didn’t seem to see any need to mention it. Perhaps because they couldn’t entirely prove it. Perhaps because they thought everyone in NY already knew it. Or perhaps because they needed the column inches for Hillary’s emails.

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  15. Michael Cain says:

    @gVOR08:

    I think NYT knew all along he was a conman.

    Living there for some of it, I would be less inclined to say conman as to say media personality. If his real estate dealings generated enough cash flow, it didn’t matter if they produced wealth. He sold a lifestyle image and monetized it. The Kardashians didn’t invent their shtick, they stole it from the Donald.

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  16. Barry says:

    @gVOR08: “I think NYT knew all along he was a conman. And that he was mobbed up, foreign and domestic, and had laundered money.”

    Trump had been shitting where he ate – the NYC area – for decades; the NYT senior guys would have known how dirty he was.

    They just did not care.

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  17. Ken_L says:

    The comparative silence in the media about the Eastman memo – indeed the comparative silence from the Democratic Party – speaks volumes about the sickness that has infected American politics. It was a plan for a coup. The evidence suggests Trump applied every bit of pressure he could to Pence to implement it. Republicans sworn to defend the constitution, like Lee and Graham, knew about it and said nothing. Presumably they would have happily supported the second unconstitutional Trump administration if Pence had pulled it off. Cruz and 11 other Republican senators openly proposed a motion that supported it.

    But nobody seems all that upset about it, even though Trump seems intent on running again in ’24 with a more compliant electoral process to help him. It’s as if a bomb went off at the Biden inauguration, narrowly failing to wipe out the incoming administration; it was subsequently proved that Trump Republicans had been responsible; and the political establishment had been so embarrassed they didn’t know which way to look, so they just ignored the whole event.

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  18. David S. says:

    @Hal_10000: I would be interested in reading a story where some random demon comes to the Devil with a 6-point plan on how to overthrow Hell.

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  19. Cthulhu says:

    “He has since tacked back, visiting Trump at Mar-a-Lago, speaking to him regularly”

    Yeah, because he saw that there was no price to be paid for treason and insurrection. So he’s safe to continue being the remora he is.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @David S.:
    I have a book/TV idea very like that I’m calling The CEO of Hell. Satan’s management skills are lacking, he’s not coping with the numbers, so GTF (God the Father) hires a replacement. No chance of selling it, of course.

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