Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
A coup. That’s what Donald Trump Jr. was advocating for in a text message to his father’s then-chief of staff Mark Meadows that laid out ways to subvert the Electoral College process and keep his father in power.
There are many alarming – and even bone-chilling – aspects of Trump Jr.’s November 5, 2020, text message.
But the most jaw-dropping is that the text was sent just two days after the 2020 election, when the result was still too close to call. That Trump Jr. was already pushing for several strategies – from pressing Republican state legislators to put forward slates of fake “Trump electors,” to firing the FBI Director and replacing him with a loyalist who would do Trump’s bidding – reveals the level of preparation and dogged determination within Trump’s inner circle to keep him in power, no matter the outcome.
On November 5, 2020, two days before news outlets finally projected Biden won, votes were still being tallied in key states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Yet Trump Jr. was texting Meadows: “We have operational control Total leverage. Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now.”
How was Trump supposed to start a second term when the election hadn’t been called – and he was still trailing Joe Biden by 40 electoral votes?! The complete lack of regard for the will of American voters is in plain view in these texts.
Of course, President Trump started lying about the specter of election fraud in the spring of 2020 – an insurance policy he likely planted because he was trailing in the polls and desperately feared losing. But there was no credible evidence of widespread election fraud then, and none has been found since. Even Trump’s own Attorney General Bill Barr said in December 2020, “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Let’s be clear: There was never a credible argument behind the attempt to overturn the 2020 election results. It was all a lie to keep Trump in power.
Reading some of the contents of Trump Jr.’s text is literally jaw-dropping. He called for firing the FBI Director Christopher Wray and making Trump loyalist Richard Grenell, former acting Director of National Intelligence, interim head of the FBI.
The text called for politically weaponizing the Department of Justice by calling on Attorney General Bill Barr to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the “Biden crime family.” This is not something that should ever happen in our nation – then again, the same can be said of the January 6, 2021, attack on our Capitol and Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The text also made reference to filing lawsuits and advocating recounts in swing states to prevent the certification of the results – a strategy the President and his allies used in the ensuing months after the election.
In a statement to CNN, Trump Jr.’s lawyer Alan S. Futerfas said, “After the election, Don received numerous messages from supporters and others. Given the date, this message likely originated from someone else and was forwarded.” Even if true, here was the son of the President sending the President’s chief of staff ways to upend the election results and abuse the power of the presidency in Trump’s remaining months in the White House.
Just last week, US District Court Judge David Carter wrote an opinion in response to Trump’s former lawyer John Eastman, who asked the judge to withhold certain documents requested by the January 6 House select committee. In it, Carter wrote that Trump and Eastman had “launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history.” But there’s one line in particular that truly resonates upon reading Trump Jr.’s text messages: “It was a coup in search of a legal theory.”
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Thanks to the newly revealed text message, we now know the seeds for a coup were planted even before the election results were announced. Would Trump have continued harping on about election fraud had he been declared the winner of the 2020 election? Of course not. It was never about election fraud – or any facts for that matter. Their goal was straightforward: Reinstall Donald Trump and end our democracy.
If we hope to keep our democratic republic, every single person involved in this coup attempt must be criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Anything less will only embolden Trump and others to engage in the same conduct – and given how close they got this time, they may just succeed next time around.