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Trump lawyer outlined plan to overturn election in newly disclosed memo

The newly disclosed Eastman Memo sketched out a six-step scenario to overturn the election and keep Trump in power. It effectively outlined a coup.

By any fair measure, John Eastman is not a household name. But in far-right circles, he's earned a reputation as a Republican lawyer willing to make unusual arguments.

Eastman's background may suggest a degree of credibility. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, before taking on prominent roles at the Federalist Society and the Claremont Institute. He was even the dean of a law school in California.

But Eastman's record is littered with controversies. Right Wing Watch explained late last year that the Republican lawyer "has long advanced positions on the far-right fringe of the legal community on issues ranging from immigration to LGBTQ equality to separation of church and state."

Eastman's work with Donald Trump, however, is another matter entirely.

It was last summer when Eastman published a bizarre piece that argued that Vice President Kamala Harris was ineligible for national office because her parents are immigrants. Soon after, he began working with Trump, including filing the brief last December on the then-president's behalf that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 presidential election. (It was filled with factual errors — including an obvious one literally on the first page.)

What we didn't know until this week is what else Eastman was up to around this time. USA Today reported this morning:

An attorney for former President Donald Trump outlined a six-point plan for overturning the 2020 presidential election results in a memo to then-Vice President Mike Pence, according to new reporting by journalists at The Washington Post and CNN. The two-page memo from attorney John Eastman first was reported in the new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa; CNN also obtained a copy of the plan, which hinged on Electoral College votes in seven states.

The two-page Eastman Memo — the veracity of which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News — fleshed out a ridiculous six-step scenario in which then-Vice President Mike Pence, rather than honor the results of the election, would exploit ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act and set aside the Electoral College votes of seven states. That would put Trump in the lead, but it would also leave both candidates short of a majority.

From there, under Eastman's reported plan, the election would shift to the U.S. House, where Republicans controlled enough state delegations to keep Trump in power, despite his defeat.

This was, in other words, an apparent document — written by a lawyer representing the then-president — that effectively outlined how Republicans could execute a coup. Eastman even pushed his vision on Jan. 6, speaking at the pro-Trump rally ahead of the insurrectionist riot.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it's been obvious for months that Trump wanted to hold illegitimate power in the wake of his election defeat, but the specific nature of his plan always seemed murky. What was it, exactly, that the former president thought would happen? What was the plan? Who would implement it and how?

But more than 300 days later, the blueprint continues to come into focus. We learned last month, for example, that Trump privately urged the Justice Department's top two officials at the time to lie about the election. "Just say that the election was corrupt [and] leave the rest to me" and to Republican members of Congress, the then-president told Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general, and his deputy, Richard Donoghue.

A day later, Jeffrey Clark — at the time, the acting head of the Justice Department's civil division — sketched out a map for Republican legislators to follow in which they could try to overturn the will of the state's voters.

It was around the same time, that Eastman sketched out a similar map for Pence to follow in order to overturn the election on Capitol Hill.

As MSNBC's Chris Hayes recently put it, "[T]here was an actual, cognizable plan to overturn the election. An actual strategy to get Donald Trump declared the winner of the election, not just throwing stuff against the wall and tantrum tweeting and easily dismissed farkakteh lawsuits."

And we continue to learn more about this actual, cognizable plan all the time.