Staff say Grassley unaware of PowerPoint on coup attempt

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley was not among the Republican senators who were reportedly shown a PowerPoint presentation on January 4 that laid out options for subverting a peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden, the senator's staff told Bleeding Heartland on December 13.

Mark Meadows, who served as chief of staff to former President Donald Trump, turned over the document to the U.S. House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Hugo Lowell reported for The Guardian on December 10,

The PowerPoint, titled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 Jan”, made several recommendations for Trump to pursue in order to retain the presidency for a second term on the basis of lies and debunked conspiracies about widespread election fraud. [...]

Senators and members of Congress should first be briefed about foreign interference, the PowerPoint said, at which point Trump could declare a national emergency, declare all electronic voting invalid, and ask Congress to agree on a constitutionally acceptable remedy.

The PowerPoint also outlined three options for then vice-president Mike Pence to abuse his largely ceremonial role at the joint session of Congress on 6 January, when Biden was to be certified president, and unilaterally return Trump to the White House. [...]

The PowerPoint was presented on 4 January to a number of Republican senators and members of Congress, the source said. 

As Senate president pro-tem, Grassley would have presided over the electoral college certification if Pence had been absent.

The senator's office has not issued a news release about the recent revelations. But Grassley's communications director Taylor Foy replied to Bleeding Heartland's inquiry in a December 13 email: "Neither Sen. Grassley nor his staff were aware of the existence of this PowerPoint until it was reported last week. Similarly, Sen. Grassley and his staff had no knowledge of the Eastman memo until it was reported in September."

The memo drafted by Trump’s attorney John Eastman first surfaced as part of the book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. That memo claimed Pence “(or Senate Pro Tempore Grassley, if Pence recuses himself)” could reject slates of electors from seven states that voted for Biden. Grassley told reporters in September that he hadn't seen the memo and wasn't approached by those seeking to derail the electoral college certification.

Grassley caused a flurry of media coverage when he said on January 5, "if the Vice President isn’t there and we don’t expect him to be there, I will be presiding over the Senate" when electoral votes were counted. But later the same day, the senator's staff walked back those comments, saying Grassley meant only that Pence was unlikely to be present during Senate debate over the 2020 election results.

Foy echoed that message today.

As we said at the time, Sen. Grassley was simply stating that as President pro tempore, if the Vice President needed to step away at any point during the session, Sen. Grassley would be next in line to preside in his absence. Given that the session was expected to take some time, it was reasonable to expect the Vice President would step away for a break at some moment.

We also made clear that Sen. Grassley had no indication that the Vice President wasn’t planning to attend. In fact, we had every expectation that Vice President Pence would attend.

Grassley and Iowa's junior Senator Joni Ernst both voted on January 6 to certify electoral college votes from all states. Staff for Ernst did not reply to Bleeding Heartland's inquiry about whether she saw the PowerPoint on January 4 or was aware of its existence before last week. Since late 2018, she has held the fifth-ranking position on the Senate GOP leadership team.

Reporting has not identified the PowerPoint's author or authors. But in the days leading up to January 6, there was widespread concern about Trump loyalists staging a coup to prevent Biden from taking office. All ten living former U.S. defense secretaries co-signed an extraordinary op-ed the Washington Post published on January 3 (appearing in the January 4 print edition). They warned, "Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic."

UPDATE: I sought further clarification from Grassley's office on December 14 after Marcy Wheeler raised an important question: did Barbara Ledeen, Grassley's longtime staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, see the PowerPoint before January 6?

Foy's reply was not a denial.

Sen. Grassley was chairman of the Finance Committee in the years leading up to January 6, not the Judiciary Committee, where Ledeen worked. She has since separated from the Senate and was not part of Grassley’s Judiciary Committee staff when he became the committee’s ranking member. You’d have to ask her what, if any, awareness she had of these matters.

Foy further clarified "I don’t have her contact information and I can’t speak to her awareness of the material any more than I can speak to your awareness of it. She didn’t work for Sen. Grassley at the time, so there’s no reason why he or his office would have any visibility on this question."

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report discussed Ledeen's collaboration with Michael Flynn and others in 2015 and 2016, when she was searching for emails that Hillary Clinton had allegedly deleted. Grassley's office asserted in 2017 that Ledeen hadn't been acting on behalf of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and "She was instructed not to do any further follow-up once the committee learned of her involvement."

The New York Times reported in May that Ledeen assisted a 2018 effort to entrap President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster, using Project Veritas operatives. (That article noted that Ledeen retired as an aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early 2021.)

Axios reported in 2020 that Ledeen wrote a memo which influenced Trump's decision to withdraw a nominee for a senior Treasury Department position.

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