There’s no debate over who the worst actor in the “stop the steal” saga was, but we could have a spirited argument over who was number two. Some would say it was Rudy Giuliani or Sidney Powell, leading Trump down the primrose path towards believing in a vast phantom conspiracy to hack voting machines.

I disagree. Rudy and Powell each seem too addled, in different ways, to be maximally culpable.

The second-worst actor, I’d argue, was John Eastman. The start of Eastman’s legal career was glittering — a law degree from the University of Chicago, clerkships with Michael Luttig and Clarence Thomas, eventually a law professor at Chapman. There are many federal judges whose professional credentials aren’t that impressive. It’s the sort of resume that might eventually land you on a federal circuit court somewhere, if not SCOTUS itself.

As it is, Eastman was the villain at today’s January 6 committee hearing. A hearing at which his old boss, Luttig, testified eloquently about how Trump and Eastman had nearly toppled America’s system of government.

Eastman is the man who wrote the memos circulated to Trump and Pence that contrived to overturn the election by hook or by crook. He concocted a plan by which Pence would either refuse to recognize the legitimate electors in swing states won by Biden and instead would recognize alternate slates of bogus pro-Trump electors or he would decline to recognize either and allow the House to settle the matter, which would have ended in a Trump victory. Before joining Trump’s “stop the steal” team, he was known to the public for arguing that Kamala Harris wasn’t a natural-born citizen for 14th Amendment purposes.

He’s a crank, in other words. But a well-credentialed crank, and importantly one who was willing to tell Trump what he wanted to hear even though it amounted to argle-bargle legally. Eastman allegedly told Pence lawyer Greg Jacob that he knew his strategy would be a loser in the Supreme Court, raising the question of why he pushed it in the first place:

Why did he pursue what was, by his own admission, likely to be a losing strategy? It may be that he was holding out hope that SCOTUS wouldn’t take the case, deferring to Pence and Congress on “political question” grounds.

But there’s a more sinister possibility. It may be that Eastman was hoping the dispute would lead to action in the streets that ensured Trump’s hold on power. Most coups involve violence at some point, right? Eastman’s conniving certainly could have ended with Mike Pence being murdered, at least, a point Pence’s own lawyer made to Eastman in colorful language.

But Eastman was prepared to tolerate more violence than that in the name of victory, Trump lawyer Eric Herschmann revealed:

If that’s true, Eastman may have been willing to ignite a true national insurrection, not just one limited to the seat of government.

One would think the spectacle of the riot at the Capitol combined with Congress eventually fulfilling its duty to certify the electoral college would have finally convinced Eastman to stand down. It did not. He was still at it on the evening of January 6 once the House and Senate went back into session, while debris from the attack was still littered across the Capitol.

Soon after, other lawyers inside the White House evidently stopped taking Eastman’s calls. But he did manage to get Herschmann on the phone, at which point Herschmann advised him, and I quote, “Get a great f***ing criminal defense lawyer. You’re going need it.” Eastman didn’t need a criminal defense lawyer, though. He had something better, a personal friendship with a corrupt president. Which brings us to the splashiest revelation from today’s hearing — apparently, he sought a preemptive pardon from Trump.

Which isn’t typically what someone does unless they believe they may have committed a crime. Consciousness of guilt, in other words.

Watch this, all the way to the part where Eastman had to plead the Fifth before the committee 100+ times like a common mobster for fear of criminal liability from his testimony.

One of the worst people in America, bar none. This country has all manner of killers, rapists, and other degenerates, yet only a few citizens in the history of the United States can say they legitimately got close to staging a coup against a democratically elected government. Even so, as I write this, Herschmann’s advice has proved needless. Eastman hasn’t been charged with any crime; he retains his law license in California (for now); and as far as I’m aware, he remains a member of the Federalist Society in good standing. Unless I’ve overlooked something, not a single person who plotted to overturn the election has faced any sort of official penalty for doing so. Only the foot soldiers who smashed up the Capitol have. For the ringleaders, a coup attempt gets you nothing more than having your Twitter account suspended. And even that penalty may eventually be undone. The national humiliation will never wash off.

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